If you have been stumped trying to figure out how to navigate Google Analytics 4 (GA4) and have googled around the web looking for answers, you’ve undoubtedly encountered a lot of negativity and frustration from digital marketers over Google’s new analytics platform. We wrote a blog on the challenges in transitioning to Google Analytics 4 so we won’t go into those woes here, but we do want to continue that conversation by exploring the following question:
Is it Time for Small Businesses to Dump Google Analytics?
Spoiler alert: it’s still too early to tell. With all the negative feedback it is not completely out of the question that changes to the platform could happen, but we aren’t holding our breath. We do feel it is worth exploring a hybrid analytics model where you keep Google Analytics in place but augment it with a secondary platform or even a DIY strategy to ensure you have some options and flexibility in your web analytics.
Again, these recommendations are for individuals, small businesses, web influencers, and creators who just need some basic reporting on website, social media, and marketing campaign traffic, and who also may value preserving the historical data of their web traffic year over year. The focus here is keeping things simple and being able to access the data you need affordably and quickly without any hassles – something that Universal Analytics did pretty well and GA4 decidedly does not.
Who are Your Website Analytics Reporting For?
This is a critical question to ask yourself before considering any analytics strategy. If you simply want to track your web data for personal or inhouse use, the type of reporting and presentation of the data may not matter that much. But if you are presenting marketing reports to potential investors or for business presentations, many of the suggestions below will be somewhat lacking.
This is where the idea of the hybrid model comes in – you retain access to Google Analytics (and Google’s data visualization platform Looker Studio) for creating presentation reports if needed, but have a “down and dirty” way to quickly access some basic analytics for spot checks and in-house strategizing.
Assessing What Specific Analytics Data is Most Critical to Your Business
This is another reason to implement a hybrid analytics strategy. If you do embrace a simpler solution and your marketing strategies evolve, you can always go back to Google Analytics to implement any reporting triggers and access the associated data there. Another example where this applies is if your business starts a mobile app – then it’s time to embrace GA4.
Demographics are likely to be another sore point in many of the analytics platforms mentioned below, but keep in mind that in a digital world with evolving privacy concerns, this pinch point will be felt pretty universally.
The Importance of Data Retention in Analytics
A surprising amount of website owners are not aware that Google has shortened the data retention period to a maximum of twenty-six months. For those (like us) who think that website analytics should be like a “black box” flight recorder showing a complete history of a website, this may seem like a travesty (we agree).
This may be especially alarming to a website owner who had a “set it up and forget it” attitude regarding website analytics and maybe now is going to sell the site or associated business and finds that there isn’t much history there or there are huge gaps in the growth timeline of the website. Having a second solution in place could save the day in this case – just make sure you are aware of the data retention period for the new solution as well.
Some Free and Inexpensive Alternative Analytics Platforms
Your Hosting Company
We love sharing good news! It is entirely possible that your website hosting company may have basic but useful web analytics reporting in your hosting dashboard or cPanel. Check here first – this may be all you need!
Website Builder Analytics
If you are using a website builder service like Squarespace or Wix, you should have access to that service’s proprietary analytics. This is one situation where we highly encourage you to have a secondary analytics platform in place since if you ever leave the service, your web data history will end with the change.
Analytics Plugins for WordPress
WordPress offers a plethora of plugin options like MonsterInsights or WP Statistics that can display basic analytics data right in your WordPress dashboard. This is a great place to start your search for a secondary analytics platform.
Matomo is an open-source analytics platform that does not use your data for outside purposes. You are also not limited by data retention restrictions and you can import your Google Analytics data into Matomo. There is both a free and paid version.
StatCounter has a simple interface that is easy to navigate and actually may be much more pleasing to busy website owners. It offers robust reporting on some key website data and there is a free version, but be warned that the free version covers only up to 500 pageviews and the data retention is limited in all plans.
Clicky is a simple but GDPR-compliant platform that offers both a free and paid version. The interface is similar to StatCounter, but there are a greater variety of tools and reporting options available in the paid version. There are also severe limitations to the free version so be forewarned.
Heap offers an appealing dashboard that looks much like Looker Studio. One big advantage is that capturing more complex user interactions on your website can be accomplished without extensive coding. Like others above, the free plan offers limited historical data recording.
Hiring a Digital Marketing Expert or Team to Handle Your Analytics and Marketing Together
If your business is growing to the point where you are also seeking some new marketing solutions and strategies, keep in mind that hiring an outside digital marketing solution may actually be more cost effective than you think.
A good digital marketing agency will assess both your needs and budget and come up with a marketing and analytics solution that not only fits the bill now but will also be designed for growth – after all they will be invested in your success and won’t want hiccups down the road as things change. They can also handle your analytics monitoring, evaluation, and reporting needs making data more accessible to you and your staff.
If you need help with your website analytics, digital marketing, or SEO, please reach out to us. We are your tech partner!