Google’s transition from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) caused a lot of confusion among digital marketers. Few have embraced the change optimistically and some have outright walk away from the industry due to the new challenges posed by the switch.
Others have tried to make the best of it by learning how to get the most out of GA4 and sharing that information. The growth in training courses and learning resources available across the web are a clear indication of official channels leaving needs unmet.
Let’s dive into some of the perceived flaws and real challenges of moving to GA4 and then we’ll take a look at how the industry is overcoming them through education.
New Data Model
One of the major points of frustration was the change in data model. Google moved from a session-based model with Universal Analytics to an event-based model of tracking and measuring data with GA4.
From my observations it’s not that many are upset with the new data model itself – it’s that by changing the model you are effectively comparing apples to bananas post platform migration. Minor nuances in collection method can throw off reports even if a metric has the same name in each platform.
Every dimension, metric and report etc. in Universal Analytics was centered around a user session and events happened within those sessions. In Google Analytics 4 all data is event-based and doesn’t necessarily have to be tied to an individual user session.
The new data model offers more flexibility in tracking and reporting which provides a more in-depth view into user behavior. These benefits came at a high cost though. Losing the ability to make historical comparisons and learning a new complex set of configuration options was too much for many digital marketers and analysts.
As someone that’s gone through major shifts in tracking, and reporting for large companies I’m all too familiar with the heartburn over losing historical data or the ability to compare new metrics against old ones.
Businesses need the ability to compare performance over long periods of time and when changes in tracking and reporting challenge their ability to do so it can be pure chaos.
The fire drills experienced by teams when performance is down pale in comparison to the turmoil experienced when performance changes are unknown. Just like a monster in a Lovecraft novel – the unseen and unknown changes in performance will always be the scariest.
Thankfully Google put together this handy comparison of metrics between GA4 and UA. And while it shouldn’t be assumed that just because a metric has the same name it will be measured and reported the same – it is helpful to know that not all is lost.
Unique pageviews may have been disappeared and bounce rates may skew, but at least we can maintain semblance of normalcy if we keep these things in mind.
The learning curve with GA4 is pretty steep for many. While the platform itself isn’t necessarily that challenging to learn, it’s tough to unlearn many of the things we’ve come accustomed to using and doing in Universal Analytics.
From my own experience it can also difficult to wrap your head around the customization options prior to data populating. The ability to create custom events from default events is great, but it feels very opaque during setup.
Things start feeling much more straight forward once data is being collected and reports are populating. So, if you’re feeling lost setting up a new GA4 property just hold tight. Things will make a lot more sense soon.
The customization options in GA4 are complex and can be very confusing – especially to anyone already familiar with UA. Creating custom events by adding parameters to existing events isn’t nearly as intuitive in the platform as it may sound on paper.
In other areas, the overuse of AI capabilities and reliance on Google “just figuring it out” has left some including myself uneasy. For example, if you enable enhanced measurement Google Analytics will track form submissions and other interactions. Unfortunately, there are few options for configuring how these metrics will be measured before GA actually starts collecting and populating data. It sort of feels like a “let’s track everything and clean it up later” approach.
GA4 Training Courses
Having gone through the GA4 certification process I can say it left some unanswered questions. Although it was made to be beginner-friendly the courses really glossed over far too many details – especially in regards to migrating over from UA. In my opinion far too much of the Skillshop course content was sales and feedback focused and not nearly educational enough. More can be learned in an hour of setting up a new GA4 property than doing the official certification course.
Seeing the confusion and disappoint among fellow digital marketers with Google Analytics 4 it seemed like a great opportunity to develop training courses and workshops. Interestingly enough, the few organic impressions nuaveu.com has received from Google search during its first few weeks live have all been for GA4 training search queries (according to GSC).
I’m confident in our ability to teach you and your team how to make the most of GA4, but there’s also a lot of great options out there to be aware of too – check out this list of GA4 courses Search Engine Land put together.
Whether it was the new data model, changes to the UI or the inability to port over their UA configurations one-to-one – Google left a lot to be desired. There’s been an explosion of Google Analytics courses online and I’m proud to be joining the trend.
Nuaveu is here to help if you’re feeling a lost or irritated with your web analytics implementation!