Google has been pushing its new Google Analytics 4 (GA4) for a while now. It’s been urging website owners to upgrade their existing Universal Analytics code and to run the GA4 code side by side. I first tried it out months ago, and then deleted the account because I followed Google’s advice and tried to migrate my existing Analytics data over to the new one.
I shouldn’t have done that.
Instead, I should have created a new GA4 property from scratch. I’ve been checking out the features, and it seems…a bit weird. I might have to eat my words like I did with Gutenberg for WordPress. But hey, that’s what I think! So here are my thoughts on GA4
Why is Google Doing This?
The single biggest reason for this change is cookies. Google wants to measure stuff without having to put a cookie on people’s computers. Mind you, GA as it currently stands doesn’t use 3rd party cookies on your site. It uses only first-party cookies – meaning that the cookies are placed by the site you visit, and not someone else. 3rd party cookies are already disallowed on Chrome by default, so that’s not what’s happening here. The goal is to remove even 1st party cookies.
Of course, 1st party cookies are critical for any number of reasons, involving personalization. It’s how a website into which you haven’t logged in, knows how many items in the cart you have. But for data privacy reasons, Google wants to move away from cookies.
So How is GA4 Measuring without Cookies?
Without cookies, how does Google know whether a single user visited multiple pages on your site? The idea is to use other metrics. For example, if Google knows a machine on a browser in a certain location (broad location, since IP addresses aren’t supposed to be used for tracking, and it’s unreliable anyway for mobile data) with a certain configuration is probably going to be a unique configuration. So it can analyze all that using AI deep-learning, and run the algorithm to calculate the metrics instead of measuring them directly.
Upgrading to GA4 is a Nightmare
I’m a simple guy. When I want to upgrade, I like a nice big button that says “Upgrade” and that’s it. Unfortunately, moving your website property to GA4 is a terrible experience. You have to learn a bunch of new terms. For people like me who set up Google Analytics years ago, and haven’t looked at the customization since, I didn’t even know what a “Property” was. I had to learn it all over again.
As a website owner, I’m not going to want two pieces of analytics code running on my site! So no thank you.
Start GA4 From Scratch – Don’t Upgrade
Here’s my suggestion. If you want to play around with GA4, create a brand-new property that’s unlined to anything else. Deactivate the existing GA3 website and start from scratch. If you don’t like it, you can always go back to your old analytics until GA4 either changes its features, or you’re forced to upgrade.
This will give you a clean slate and there won’t be any need to learn conversion terms. For example, in GA4, there are no more pageviews! Everything is an “event” now. In this new framework, it’s best to just jettison the old paradigm entirely rather than trying to fit the previous model into the newer one in your head. Just learn it all again from scratch.
I plan to play around with GA4 a bit on non-critical websites so I can see what’s up. So far though, it hasn’t been the best experience. Hopefully that will change soon!
I’m a NameHero team member, and an expert on WordPress and web hosting. I’ve been in this industry since 2008. I’ve also developed apps on Android and have written extensive tutorials on managing Linux servers. You can contact me on my website WP-Tweaks.com!