Google Provides Auto-Implementation of GA4 – Please Don’t Use It!
If you haven’t heard by now, GA4 is here, and you need to implement it ASAP. But, before you hit that tempting ‘auto-implement’ button, we beg you, read this blog post first! Your ability to get clear, actionable marketing and advertising data could be at stake.
GA4 is Google’s latest version of its analytics service but it’s not just an updated version of the former, Universal Analytics (UA). Rather, it’s an entirely new analytical platform with several new features and functionalities. And, as mentioned above, if your business currently uses Google Analytics UA, you need to start thinking about switching to GA4…like yesterday…since UA will stop processing new data on July 1, 2023. Ensuring GA4 is properly implemented ahead of time will guarantee there is no lapse in your analytics data.
What is GA4 Auto-Implementation?
GA4 auto-implementation is a feature that automatically collects data from your website or app without requiring you to add any tracking code manually. Beginning in March 2023, Google will automatically create GA4 properties for any UA properties that have not made the switch.
While this may seem like a convenient and time-saving option, we highly advise you not rely solely on GA4 auto-implementation – heck, even Google is advising not to!
Why shouldn’t I rely on GA4 Auto-Implementation?
First things first, as mentioned in the background section of this blog post, GA4 is not just an updated version of UA – it’s completely different. Some of the main differences between GA4 & UA are:
- New Data Model: GA4 is built on an event-driven data model that puts greater emphasis on users’ behavior, whereas UA was based on sessions and pageviews.
- Goals Are Out, Conversions Are In: Goals are no longer used in GA4. You can closely knit your conversions if they are based on destination URLs or UA events for which you have set up equivalent GA4 conversion events. However, there are some key differences that will make it difficult to compare.
- Updated Channel Groupings: GA4 has created multiple new channel groupings that did not exist in UA, thus GA4 has removed the feature for adding user-defined channel groupings.
- Limits on Data Storage: GA4 will only store performance data for 14 months. This leaves a major need for alternative data storage like a data warehouse to compare Y/Y performance.
- Standard Reporting: Some people love it; others have found it confusing with little useful information compared to the reporting available in UA.
With that being said, let’s get into why you should not rely on GA4 auto-implementation.
Limited Event Tracking
The first reason why you shouldn’t rely on GA4 auto-implementation is that it only tracks a limited set of standard events and parameters from the enhanced measurements:
- Page views
- Outbound Link Clicks
- Site Search
- Form Interactions
- Video engagement
- File Downloads
GA4 will not create any custom events for you, which can limit your ability to make data-driven decisions.
If you want to track any of your goals from UA, you will need to manually create custom conversion events in GA4. For example, our Analytics team recently worked with a medical device company to implement custom events to track multiple lead form submissions on their website. GA4 auto-implemented events would not track any of these important metrics. This alone is reason enough to not auto-implement!
Possibility of Inaccurate Data
Secondly, auto-implementation auto-detects user interaction events, which GA4 can get wrong. For example, it may not be able to tell the difference between a user adding a product to the cart and a user removing a product from the cart, leading to inaccurate data and insights which is obviously not good for decision-making.
Thirdly, you cannot customize the data collection to fit your business needs, which can be a real problem if you want to track a specific button on your website. Therefore, you may need to add custom code to your website, which is not possible with auto-implementation. For example, our Analytics team added multiple custom events on buttons on a client’s website – like ‘Click to Learn More’, ‘Click to Call’ ‘Click About Us’ – that auto-implementation would not have tracked without our custom code, allowing the company to garner much more data about their user’s behavior on their website.
Fourthly, debugging issues can be timely, costing your company hours of unbillable resources. Since you have limited access to the underlying tracking code, it can be difficult to identify and fix any issues with auto-implementation. This can lead to data loss and inaccurate data.
Dependence on Third-Party Code
Lastly, you’re basically entrusting your data collection to third-party code. Google is obviously a reputable company, but relying solely on auto-implementation means that you’re giving up control over your data and entrusting it to a third party. This can be a bit risky, especially if you have strict data privacy and security requirements. (Check out our page on our proprietary Privacy Compliance Analytics solution to ensure HIPAA-compliant web data collection)
All of this is to say that while GA4 auto-implementation sounds tempting for basic tracking, we strongly advise you to consider using a GA4 expert like Wheelhouse to help you implement this new analytics platform. We’ll ensure that you track all the data points important to your business and eliminate the risk of inaccurate data and data loss. Reach out today or visit our GA4 Implementation page for details on how our Marketing Sciences team can help you make the switch to GA4.