Ryan Peplowski diligently working on reports at his desk. Various Star Wars characters are visible on his desk.

Google Analytics 4: Pros vs. Cons

Ready or not here it comes: Google Announced the end of Universal Analytics

In March of 2022, Google announced that they will be shutting down Universal Analytics (UA) on July 1, 2023. Google announced Google Analytics 4 (GA4) in October 2020. Google Analytics 4 is the most significant update to Google Analytics since Universal Analytics was released in 2012. With the launch of GA4, many were excited to see how the interface would look. Others were curious about how the implementation process will change for website owners or marketers in general. We dove into GA4 testing with several clients and found some exciting features as well as some disappointing updates. 

Here are a few Pros and Cons we found with GA4:

1. Brand New Data – CON

One of the major cons of GA4 is it requires a new property, which means starting from scratch. None of the historical data will transfer over from Universal Analytics to GA4. The new GA4 property will start collecting new user and session data once it is set up. Because of this, we would recommend setting up your Google Analytics 4 Property sooner rather than later.

2. Event-Based Model – TBD

The reason that GA4 won’t retain any of the historical data from UA is because Google is moving away from the sessions and pageviews measurement model. GA4 introduces an event-based measurement model which will rely on events and parameters as Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Every activity that happens on a website or app is now considered an event. Within these events, we are able to drill down on parameters such as Page Title, Geo, Gender, Campaigns, and more. 

For example: A pageview is now an event, so when a user views a page on a website, analytics will record it as an event in the engagement section of GA4. 

We listed this as TBD, even though not having the ability to migrate historical data is definitely a con. If you’re an “in the weeds” kind of person you will more than likely view it as a Pro, as you can gain more insight into user behavior if you’re willing to dig. 

3. Conversions – CON

Conversions will be completely different as well. Goals as conversions were previously referred to in UA are not URL based and won’t follow any of the methods previously used. All conversions must now be events and to set the events as a conversion you will have to mark it as a conversion in existing events. 

Conversion event dashboard in Google Analytics 4 with an arrow pointing to the toggle switch to mark an event as a conversion.

This makes it super easy to track simple conversions such as video plays or file downloads, but if you want to track more complex conversions like click-to-call or purchases, you will need to head to Google Tag Manager (GTM) to set them up. 

We listed this as a con because while it will make it easier to track simple conversions, it will require technical knowledge to go in and set up more complicated conversions. This can be especially tricky for eCommerce site owners who may need to track multiple complex conversions.

4. Insight and Machine Learning – PRO

With the release of GA4 Google has made major improvements to its insight and machine learning

  • Automated insights – generated by Google’s algorithm and will alert you in GA4 on unusual changes or unusual trends with your data. 
  • Custom insights – conditions that you tell Google are important to you, when one of the conditions is triggered you will get notified in GA4 or you can opt to receive email notifications. 

We listed this as a pro because with advancements in machine learning and the ability to set custom conditions, we as marketers will be able to better understand and act on the data. 

5. Reporting and Analysis Tools  – PRO

One of the biggest pros we found with GA4 is the new reporting and analysis tools. If you are familiar with Google Data Studio, then you’re in for a treat when you get to the reporting section.

Google's Template gallery displaying the new reporting templates in GA4.

Google took a play from its Data Studio playbook introducing easy to use templates with the ability to create custom reports right in Analytics. This makes it easy to analyze data and build and save reports for easy access.

Conclusion on Google Analytics 4

Overall, it seems that the Google Analytics 4 pros seem to outweigh the cons, and many of the features will help with data analysis and defining conversion events. Again we strongly recommend switching over to GA4 now so you have time to set up and learn the new property before Universal Analytics is no longer supported. Although it may take some time to adjust, let’s face it… it’s here to stay whether we like it or not.