It is with a mixture of sadness and trepidation that I write this blog entry about the recently announced end of support for Google’s Universal Analytics. Since Universal Analytics was introduced in 2005, it has become a familiar, day to day companion to those of us in the business of website optimisation. I have grown, at the very least, fond of its simple layout and intuitive structure.
Whether you’re a website designer, SEO specialist, PPC expert or digital marketing manager, Universal Analytics has likely been a diagnostic arrow in your digital quiver for some time. For 17 years UA has been our window to the mind of Google, providing vital insights on the health of our websites.
Change is inevitable
Like a man wandering the aisles of some vast supermarket looking for the new location of the Branston pickle, I can’t help feeling aggrieved. I know this tactic is part of a wider strategy by some faceless marketing savant, designed to expose me to exciting new options, but most of me just wants be able to quickly lay my hands on the diagnostic tools to do my job… and a cheese and pickle sandwich.
Change is inevitable. Change is constant.
Google Analytics 4
There is nothing like the fear of loss to make you appreciate what you have. Universal Analytics is not perfect by any means but it is flexible, quite intuitive once you get your head around it and comprehensive. Perhaps I’d be a little more optimistic about support for Universal Analytics being withdrawn if there was an adequate substitute. However, Google Analytics 4, in it’s current guise at least, falls short of the mark.
UA offers a buffet of data and invites you to stack your plate high. GA4 feels more like schools dinners. You will get what you are given, and no, you can’t have seconds. By comparison to UA, Google Analytics 4 feels like a sealed unit. From the outset GA4 seems to like being awkward, as if it is waiting for you to ask the right question, rather than being proactively helpful.
The data that UA users have come to expect is still there, somewhere, but not nicely laid out by default. GA4 is a bit two dimensional. At first glance there is no drilling down into channels to look at specific metrics by traffic source for example. The Secondary Dimensions (replaced by a blue + sign) feature is still there but without greater segmentation it’s harder to make sense of the results in the default view. To get some meaningful insights you have to build your own reports.
Data is served
Google, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
It’s early days for GA4 and a lot can change in 16 months. It seems unlikely that, given Google’s long history in providing data driven insights into website traffic that they would discard the gains of the last 17 years.
One would hope that those with a direct line to Google are kneeling in prayer by their beds or sacrificing something innocent to the big G. With a bit of luck this stream of feedback is having a positive impact on the direction of travel for GA4.
The serenity prayer recommends that we “accept the things we cannot change” and let’s face it, what choice do we have? So in the spirit of enthusiasm for change (and to counter balance this slightly grumpy post), we will follow up this blog entry with a “What’s changed in GA4 and how do I cope” type post filled with joy and optimism.