Consolation and alternatives for Google Analytics users
So, GA4 will replace Universal Analytics, and your historical website data will be gone. Bad news for GA users, but there's a silver lining.
My condolences to all Google Analytics users. On July 1, 2023, Google will kill Universal Analytics, delete all your historical data and force you to use the heavily criticized Google Analytics 4. Some marketers think the product is so bad that it can make you cry.
Google also has some serious privacy issues to deal with. In April, the Austrian Data Protection Authority and the French Data Protection Authority (CNIL) decided that using Google Analytics is illegal. The authorities state that GA violates GDPR with illegal data transfers between the EU and the US.
The latest news is that the Italian Supervisor Authority came to the same conclusion in June.
The negative user sentiments make you think Google deliberately tries to scare people away. Maybe that's not far from the truth.
I’m speculating here, but Google's strategy to force their users to GA4 with an overwhelming feature set seems like an enterprisey move and a plan to focus on the paying customers. Trim the fat and kill the free accounts.
Your historical data will be gone because GA4 has a new, event-based data model.
Still, it's incredible how long GA has held the hegemony in web analytics and defined how analytics products look and the type of metrics they use.
While GA still holds the lion's share of website traffic analysis tools, a storm is coming, and people have begun to search for alternatives.
So for everyone in mourning, I wanted to offer some consolation and tell you that the end of GA is the beginning of something beautiful and a perfect time to reimagine web analytics.
And there are already great alternatives out there.
Web analytics alternatives
So, where to begin? Let's roughly divide the solutions into four categories.
1. Traffic statistics
Tools like GA help you understand which channels drive traffic to your website, what pages your visitors look at and how many people convert.
Some tools, like Matomo, are more complex with more extensive feature sets, while some, like Plausible, offer barebone statistics to analyze your traffic.
They often let you manually build conversion funnels to try and understand how people behave before they act.
The issue with these funnels is that they don't give you any insights into user experience or what people think about your content. What happens in between traffic and conversions is a grey area.
The best metrics most traffic tools give you on content and UX are bounce rate and time on page, both of which can't tell you whether your site visitors are genuinely interested or confused. According to UX guru Jared M. Spool you can interpret bounce rate to support any argument you want.
2. Event tracking
Event trackers like Mixpanel, Amplitude, and Heap record interactions such as button clicks. They excel at product analytics and help you understand, for example, who are your most valuable users or what makes your product users churn.
These tools brag about how they capture everything a user does, which is highly questionable in terms of privacy. A quote from Heap's launch post from 2013 sums it up pretty nicely:
“There's a matter of user privacy that's worth discussing here, but it's a tangled enough topic that it's probably worth saving for another day — or, as it'll probably get brought up down below, for the comments.“
They thought privacy was too complex back then, and it still isn't their favorite topic in 2022.
3. Conversion rate optimization
Services like VWO or Optimizely let you do A/B testing. You can, for example, create variants of your pages with some design changes and see which variant performs the best.
To get statistically significant results with traditional A/B testing, you need a lot of site traffic, which means you might have to wait weeks or months to finish your test. These time frames are a luxury smaller businesses don't have.
A/B testing is an effective approach to use science to design and deliver deeply-frustrating user experiences.
The other problem with A/B testing tools is they can slow down your site and introduce annoying flicker effects.
4. Website visualization
Software like Hotjar gives you heatmaps and session recordings. They are great if you want to visualize user behavior or get feedback from your users.
But, these tools are problematic for a few reasons. First, analyzing enough session recordings to generate statistically significant insights will take forever.
Second, you have to work without context - you don't know why someone behaves as they do or end up on your site in the first place.
You should also consider the privacy risks for personal data when you're recording single-user sessions. Visitors should know they are being recorded.
Insight-led web analytics
GA was released in 2005. It's astonishing how little web analytics has evolved in seventeen years.
Even with the latest technology and all the fuss about artificial intelligence, machine learning, and automation, analytics tools have been unable to help us fight against information overload and deliver the actionable insights we all crave.
That's why data nerds still import all the data from analytics tools into excel spreadsheets and fiddle with their custom macros to find something actionable.
With Volument, we are creating something new: a story-driven analytics platform.
Volument shows your most important moments - website updates, marketing activities, website bugs and issues - on a single timeline, and shows you what impact they had on traffic and visitor engagement. See what works, why and what to do next.
Our product is a good fit for anyone looking for an easy solution without the time or interest to dive into data spreadsheets.
How does it work?
- Privacy-friendly tracking Privacy always comes first. Visitor tracking needs to be transparent without any compromises. Our tracker is anonymous and doesn't collect or store personal data. All data is stored in the EU, and we will never give your data to third parties.
- Insight-led user interface When someone mentions web analytics, most think of dashboards and graphs. But, what if web analytics was like a story showing your most important moments, the highlights and the struggles, and suggesting you take action? We built our user interface around insights, and we tell you in plain language what works and what you should do next.
- Content-focused data Content connects you with your customers and fans, and content is actionable, unlike, for example, your market. Volument reveals unique details about your content and gives you suggestions to make your visitors more engaged.
For a more technical explanation, go here.
The cool thing is that you can use Volument for free without any hidden agendas. We think web analytics should be free so startups and business founders can test their ideas and try to reach product-market fit.
This is our plan to reinvent web analytics for a privacy-first world.