The state of GA4, one year after the big migration

It’s been just over a year since Google Analytics 4 (GA4) replaced Universal Analytics (UA). In March of last year, Google automatically migrated all UA properties to GA4. 

The changeover was met with much gnashing of teeth, pulling of hair and some justifiable complaints. GA4 is fundamentally different than its predecessor. It measures interactions (“events”), not visits. It is designed for a digital world without third-party cookies. Understandably, marketers who cut their teeth on UA were unhappy with learning new ways to do new things. 

Google didn’t help itself or its users by wrapping all this in a UI which, to use a technical term, “Sucks.” Even so, because it’s part of the Google-verse and its price point (free) can’t be beat, it is still the dominant digital analytics platform. 

We talked to Sharon Mostyn, CEO of Mostyn Marketing Group, to find out the current state of all things GA4-related. (Interview edited for length and clarity.)

Q: It’s been a year, have people adjusted to the UI?

A: Everybody still hates it. It’s certainly not an easy UI. Even setting dates is difficult. It defaults to giving the last 28 days of information, this year that wasn’t even applicable in February. That’s not all. Your other choices are the last seven days, last 30 days, last 90 days and last 12 months. Well, May has 31 days. So the last 30 days doesn’t do it for me. Great, but that doesn’t match how reporting works. You know, if I have a quarterly report, I’m not looking at the last 90 days.

Q: Anything users like about GA4?

A: There are some good things. The new key events are a positive thing. Now we have three different levels of events. There are page views and things like that, key events, like newsletter sign-ups, and conversions, like, making a sale or getting a lead. 

Dig deeper: 5 GA4 issues and why they’re a good thing

Still, whenever I recommend Google Analytics, especially for a smaller client, I’m like how do I explain to them? You want them to set it up right. You want them to set it up through GTM so they can put in their Facebook pixels and their Google Ads conversion pixels and their LinkedIn conversion pixels and all of those things, but it’s another step, and it’s already complicated enough just getting them to put Google Analytics on a site.

Q: What else has changed about GA4 in the past year?

A: Other than key events,I haven’t really seen much. 

Q: What particular problems have you run into?

A: I was running a report one time that I wanted to segment by country. I put in here’s the country and I want to see how many people, page views, etc. and it would run just perfectly. And then I would run it an hour later, and I couldn’t pick by country. 

And there’s things like the hyper log where each line of the report is calculated independently. So if you’re looking to do something by source, say, your total users. Your users for search paid search, organic search, social media, whatever, if you add those up, they don’t necessarily match what the total number of users is. And that’s a challenge.

 I spent three or four hours on a chat with a Google rep one night asking, “Why is this not adding to the total?” And she’s like, ”Well, we’re only off by 3%.” I said, “But 3% on 100,000, is a lot.”

Q: You can’t beat GA4’s price, but are there other programs you recommend?

A: It depends on the client, what they do and what they use. If they’re enterprise clients, certainly, Adobe Analytics and things like that are possibilities. And for smaller businesses, there are things like Matomo and Piwik PRO and things like that, but those clients don’t have the resources or time to spend on this. They’re too busy trying to get things done.

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Q: The clients who have adopted other systems, what made them do it?

A: Because Google is not HIPAA compliant, some of our healthcare clients have either made the move to a different healthcare HIPAA-compliant system or have added a buffer solution that makes them compliant. 

What it all comes down to is the balancing act between what’s working and what’s not. We have some clients who are now running GA4 concurrently with Adobe. Most of our clients still have Google Analytics on there but are testing out the Matomas and the Piwiks of the world.