Photo by Mitchell Luo on Unsplash
A Guide to Google Analytics 4 & GA Alternatives for Nonprofit Websites
If you’ve logged into your Google Analytics dashboard recently, you probably noticed this message,
“Universal Analytics will no longer process new data in standard properties beginning July 1, 2023. Prepare now by setting up and switching over to a Google Analytics 4 property.”
So what exactly does that mean?
In short, you will need to either upgrade to the new version of Google Analytics or use another system to gain insight into your site traffic.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 is completely different from its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA). Instead of gathering data through pageviews, it uses a more flexible “events” system. The good news is that you have more flexibility in what you can track on your website. The bad news is that the data you’re currently tracking with Google Analytics UA cannot be migrated to Google Analytics 4. It also means learning a new tool for analyzing your website traffic.
Google Analytics 4 new events system
Google Analytics 4 centers around events to help site owners understand how visitors are using their websites, rather than simply where they are going. Events include actions like scrolling to the end of a page, downloading a file, watching a video, and completing a form (i.e. making a donation).
Your most important events can be categorized as “conversions”. There are then a plethora of reports that can be generated to measure those conversions.
Can I import my old Google Analytics data into Google Analytics 4?
Unfortunately, no. Google has not built an importer tool and has made no promises to do so in the future. Instead they encourage people to switch to Google Analytics 4 as soon as possible.
There are some data export options for your Google Analytics UA account. That of course has less value than when it’s presented as reports in the Google Analytics dashboard. Having your data is helpful, however, if you want to migrate to another analytics tool. More on that below.
How difficult is it to install Google Analytics 4?
Luckily it is relatively simple to add the Google Analytics 4 script to your site, and it only takes about an hour.
Configuring the different reports you need will take more time.
We encourage you to install Google Analytics 4 on your site as soon as possible, whether or not you plan to convert to a different tool, so you have a fallback just in case. This ensures you are collecting data in the new system and gives you a chance to review the new dashboard and features yourself.
Is Google Analytics 4 privacy-respecting?
Google has come under a lot of scrutiny for its invasion of our privacy. Privacy activists filed numerous lawsuits against Google for its collection of personally identifiable information, in violation of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). This year several European courts ruled Google Analytics to indeed be illegal.
Google Analytics 4 tries addressing these issues in the following ways:
- Anonymize users’ IP addresses - in UA, IP anonymization had to be configured
- Shorten the storage of data - your choice of 2 months or 14 months (aggregated data like total pageviews are still retained indefinitely)
- Consent mode - allows Google Analytics to still track pageviews and numbers of visits from users that decline cookies, in a more anonymous and aggregate way
- Allow website owners to delete individuals’ user data
- Ban the collection of personally identifiable information
So do these new privacy changes make Google Analytics 4 compliant with GDPR?
The short answer is no. While these are improvements in how our data is treated, it does not meet the minimum requirements set out by GDPR.
Do I still need a cookie consent banner with Google Analytics 4?
So, with no true upgrade path available from UA to GA4, the legality and ethics of Google Analytics still in doubt, and a significant learning curve ahead, it’s worth considering analytics alternatives.
Can I migrate my Google Analytics data to another website analytics tool?
Yes! There are several analytics tools that support this and are GDPR compliant, more privacy-respecting (no annoying cookie banner needed!), and an alternative to Big Tech. AND they have importers which will allow you to retain your historical data.
- Fathom (Google Analytics importer being built)
- Matomo (Google Analytics Importer)
- Plausible (Google Analytics Importer)
Should I move off of Google Analytics?
To answer whether it’s time to switch to another analytics tool, it’s first helpful to answer the question, What data do we need to collect?
In doing so, be wary of vanity metrics, and instead focus on the impact you’re seeking to make. How can you measure that?
Once you’re focused on measuring what matters, these follow-up questions can help guide your organization to the right analytics tool.
Questions to ask when selecting an analytics tool
- What ad services, if any, are you using to drive traffic to your website?
- If you’re using Google Ads, is it helpful to track the behavior of users visiting your site through those ads?
- Do you have more than one website or app and if so, is it helpful to track a user’s behavior across those properties?
If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should probably use Google Analytics 4.
All four of these systems track all of the following metrics:
- Unique visitors
- Bounce rate
- Average time on page
- Traffic sources
Website analytics tool comparison chart
If you don’t need to integrate Google Ads data with your website traffic data, or need to track users across multiple web properties in one view, a Google Analytics alternative could be a good fit. Here’s a breakdown.
|Ease of Use
|Cookie Banner Required
|Import from Google Analytics UA
|Google Analytics 4
|Starts at $14/month for up to 100K monthly pageviews)
|Free if self-hosted;Starts at $23/month hosted for up to 50K monthly pageviews
|Starts at $9/month for up to 10K monthly pageviews
We’ve decided to adopt Google Analytics 4. What should we do next?
Install Google Analytics 4 on your website(s) as soon as you can. Since you cannot import Google Analytics UA data, you want to start collecting data in GA4 now. Concurrently tracking in both UA and GA4 is totally fine. This way you are preserving as much of your data as possible while you make the transition.
- Create a Google Analytics 4 property
- Install the Google Analytics 4 script on your website(s) (Developer may be needed)
- Configure Google Analytics 4 to track desired data
- Configure desired reports
- Configure cookie consent banner (Developer may be needed)
We’ve decided to ditch Google Analytics and use an alternative. What should we do next?
If you’re switching to Fathom, Matomo or Plausible, you have a bit more time to make the change. Google Analytics UA will shut down on July 1, 2023. You should make the switch well before that to avoid any loss of data.
- Create an account with your analytics tool of choice
- Install the analytics script on your website(s) (Developer may be needed)
- Configure the analytics tool to track desired data
- Configure desired reports
- Import Google Analytics data (Developer may be needed)
- Remove Google Analytics UA script from website
We know many folks may feel safest sticking with GA4 as an industry standard, but GA4 is exceedingly complex. If you find GA4 daunting and wish to improve your privacy practices, this may be a great opportunity for you to consider some of these alternative analytics systems.