Google Analytics 4: The good, the bad, and the ugly

Lauren Lauren Lauren Fitzpatrick
Google Analytics 4: The good, the bad, and the ugly

It’s the change nobody really asked for and few people are excited about: Google Analytics 4. On July 1, Google will sunset Universal Analytics, forcing a move to its unpopular successor.

The transition has been confusing for creators and publishers. GA4 is less intuitive and more complicated to set up, making it hard to find the reports you’ve come to rely on. The GA4 API has a longer delay in reporting, data discrepancies, and data thresholds, limiting the information you can access.

As if that wasn’t enough, Google has been automatically creating GA4 properties for sites that already have GA4 set up. If GA4 has you wanting to throw your laptop out the window, you’re not alone.

A little Last of Us-inspired humor from video ad agency Umault

Unlike Google’s deprecation of third-party cookies, the shift to GA4 has been right on schedule. A new Analytics reality is upon us, and as always, we’re here to guide you through it with resources, information, and expert support.

The good

While Universal Analytics was built around pageviews and sessions, GA4 redirects the focus to engagement metrics tracked through events: actions that occur on your site, like loading a page, clicking a link, or an app crashing. It’s a big re-frame in terms of how you interpret data, but it’s a good one in the long run.

Understanding how your audience engages with your site is integral to long-term business growth. It’s one of the reasons we renamed RPM this year and something we’ll continue to focus on in our products and services.

GA4 gives you more ways to collect and analyze engagement data, empowering you to make more informed decisions. You’ll have a better idea of how your audience engages across platforms and devices, giving you ways to improve their experience and drive better results, whether that’s selling more products or adding more subscribers to your email list.

The bad

GA4 is complicated to set up, even for longtime creators. Your go-to reports and features aren’t where they used to be—if they exist at all. We’re getting used to a new Analytics vocabulary, focusing on engaged sessions, dimensions, and events instead of bounce rate, demographics, and pageviews.

And on top of all that, Google keeps displaying countdown timers and pop-ups in your Analytics dashboard, urging you to create a GA4 property when you’ve already done so.

You’ve got enough on your plate without learning an entirely new analytics system from the ground up. That’s why we’re here! We’ve created extensive resources to help Raptive creators navigate GA4, from our Google Analytics 4 quickstart guide to our video series that walks you through finding common reports, using primary and secondary dimensions, and customizing your reports so you can make confident data-driven decisions.

The ugly

There’s no getting around it: the GA4 API is not as good as the Universal Analytics API. First, there are delays: the API takes up to 48 hours to fully update, so the most recent data it pulls into your Raptive dashboard does not include yesterday’s data. That’s a big change for creators who are used to accessing next-day RPM!

Then, there are inconsistencies: the GA4 API is sending data to your Raptive dashboard that doesn’t always match what’s shown in your GA4 dashboard.

And we’re not done yet! GA4 counts sessions differently, so most sites will see a different number of sessions when compared to UA. This impacts RPM metrics (although remember, earnings are separate from this), so your RPM may look different after the switch to GA4—making year-over-year comparisons tricky, if not impossible.

The silver lining: Although Google only plans on making historical UA data available until the end of 2023, the previous data stored in your Raptive dashboard isn’t going anywhere.

Speaking of reporting metrics, Google also restricts the amount of data it surfaces for certain reports, bucketing granular data into an ‘other’ category. This is a known limitation on Google’s end and impacts page-level reporting for large sites, preventing you from drilling deeper into pages that don’t fit neatly into a larger category.

None of these issues directly impact your revenue, but they do change the way you analyze data.

We’ve been working with Google’s team, strongly recommending changes that minimize GA4’s impact on your workstream, but the ugly truth is that we’re all facing a new Analytics reality unless Google decides to improve the experience.

What happens next?

We’ll continue to be in your corner, advocating for a better experience from GA4. We’re in direct contact with Google, pushing for solutions to GA4’s shortcomings. We know how important your data is to your business, and we want creators to remain in control.

All Raptive creators will soon be seeing GA4 data in their dashboards, and we’ll keep delivering in-depth resources to help you navigate the changes, gain confidence, and get the most out of this new data.