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4 Key Google Analytics drawbacks you won't realize until it’s too late

Analytics

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Published December 10, 2019 · Updated June 23, 2020

4 Key Google Analytics drawbacks you won't realize until it’s too late

The free version of Google Analytics, with its 85% market share, is the most widely used web analytics solution to date. Google’s freemium acquisition model is split between free and premium (paid) users. If you’re not paying, you still have access to the tool, but with limited features, usage, storage, and support.

From a business perspective a free analytics platform from the biggest name in tech sounds great. So what’s the problem? Like in many freemium models, you won’t realize you need to upgrade until you’ve already invested lots of time and grown dependent on the software, making it painful to start over with something new. And guess what, at $150,000 per year, the premium version (GA 360) has a hefty price tag.

Despite its popularity, Google Analytics has considerable limitations. Let’s take a look at four that stand out.

  1. What are the limitations of Google Analytics?
    1. There’s a restriction on how many hits you can have
    2. Data sampling distorts what you see
    3. There are privacy issues
    4. Customer care and support
  2. A better way with Piwik PRO
  3. Conclusion

What are the limitations of Google Analytics?

1. There’s a restriction on how many hits you can have

You max out at 10 million hits a month. It’s important not to mistake this for visitors or sessions; 10 million of those would be an ambitious goal, but hits are something altogether less difficult to come by.

According to Google’s support page, “every user interaction can be sent to Analytics as an individual hit, including (but not limited to) each pageview, screenview, event, and ecommerce transaction. As a result, a single session can result in many hits.

You can see how people generate multiple hits even during a single visit to your website. As your analytics strategies get more advanced and traffic increases over time, you begin to exponentially rack up hits. Before you know it, the 10M that once seemed like a lofty threshold will feel like an impending constraint.

What happens when you get to the limit?

You’ve reached the hits ceiling of free Google Analytics. You should be celebrating, but instead you’re pulling your hair out looking for a solution. Why so blue?

To quote Google, “If a property sends more hits per month to Analytics than allowed by the Analytics Terms of Service, there is no assurance that the excess hits will be processed. If the property’s hit volume exceeds this limit, a warning may be displayed in the user interface and you may be prevented from accessing reports.

It’s not great news. Anything over 10M might not be tracked, defeating the purpose of using analytics in the first place. As an additional risk, you might lose your insight-rich reports you’ve spent hours creating. In general, you no longer have the ability to accurately track activity on your page.

What are your options post-10M hits?

It can feel like your data and the time you spent has been taken from you. If you want to keep using GA you have choices – unfortunately, they’re not very good. Google’s team will reach out to you suggesting an upgrade to Analytics 360 and reunite you with your data and reports.

If you can’t afford this budget-busting solution, you have two routes to take. But they both diminish the effectiveness of your analytics:

  • Increase your sampling rate – this will result in GA processing less data, and you’ll be working with significantly less accurate information. The higher it is, the more diluted and skewed your reporting becomes. (See more about this in the next section)
  • Adopt a less detailed strategy – custom events, virtual page views, user timing, and other events all generate hits. These are all important aspects of an in-depth analytics model, but to decrease hits you will need to make sacrifices.

Piwik PRO vs. Google Analytics & Google Analytics 360

A product comparison that will help you choose the right web analytics software

Download your copy now

2. Data sampling distorts what you see

Sampling is the process of analyzing a subset of data and applying those findings to a larger set. This is how Google explains it: “For example, if you wanted to estimate the number of trees in a 100-acre area where the distribution of trees was fairly uniform, you could count the number of trees in 1 acre and multiply by 100, or count the trees in a half acre and multiply by 200 to get an accurate representation of the entire 100 acres.”

By using sampling, Google can reduce the amount of processing that would be needed to handle every free GA account online. While this may work well in Google’s example above, people coming to your website are anything but “fairly uniform.” If they were, what would be the point of all your advanced analytics efforts towards understanding visitors? Why map their journeys?

When does data sampling happen?

Normally, you need to cross a threshold of 500K sessions to activate sampling, but there are exceptions. Google’s support page states that you can also experience it due to “the complexity of your Analytics implementation, the use of view filters, query complexity for segmentation, or some combination of those factors.”

This means even low-traffic websites can experience sampling if their reports are advanced enough, for example, by applying:

  • custom reports
  • filtered views
  • segments
  • long time frames

Flow-visualization reports (Users Flow, Behavior Flow, Events Flow, Goal Flow) use a much lower threshold of 100K sessions before sampling data sets.

This can cause some discrepancies in reports according to Google: “The flow-visualization reports, including entrance, exit, and conversion rates, may differ from the results in the default Behavior and Conversions reports, which are based on a different sample set.

It causes inaccuracy

In general, sampling presents an inaccurate narrative of what’s happening on your website. As the percentage of sessions sampled drops, so does the accuracy of the information reported. At 10%, what you’re looking at is unreliable, and anything under that is almost unusable. It’s not possible to determine specific figures like revenue amount with this skewed data.

Like in this anecdote from an article by bounteous: “[A vendor] was worried about the revenue from paid ads because they had generated “only” $900,000 in revenue… we looked at the unsampled data… there had actually been instead 1.6 million in revenue from the ads, an 80% difference.

No easy answer for avoiding sampling

Whether sampling takes place or not depends on how many hits and sessions you’re working with, and on the complexity of the analytics setup. Unfortunately, if you want access to unsampled data you can only use basic options like the standard report, or reduce the amount of customizations in custom reports.

Another way to cut sessions is to make the time frame you’re analyzing shorter. All of these solutions restrict your flexibility when it comes to managing your analytics data.

3. There are privacy issues

Privacy laws in the US and around the world continue to grow in number and importance. The burden of compliance falls on the website owners, who need to be more careful than ever when using analytics. When it comes to Google Analytics:

  • There’s no consent management – GDPR, CCPA, and other privacy laws require that you obtain visitors’ consent before collecting their data. Only “strictly necessary” cookies that enable websites to function or provide services to the user don’t require consent. Currently GA doesn’t provide any type of solution for this problem, leaving it in businesses’ hands to find an answer.
  • You don’t have data residency choices – Google Analytics has no on-premises option and doesn’t allow you to pick cloud storage locations that would provide adequate levels of security. This restricts your ability to comply with GDPR and other industry laws (e.g., banking, and healthcare), and internal policies. When your data moves from the EU to US third-party facilities, Google applies a cybersecurity framework called the EU-US Privacy Shield – an attempt at a GDPR-friendly data transfer solution which has faced criticism since its inception.
  • Data ownership is non-existent – Google uses data collected by GA across the internet to strengthen their advertisement platform. It’s clearly laid out in the terms of service how websites using their services share information: “When they integrate our services, these sites and apps share information with Google.” The same information you use to improve your visitor’s experience, Google uses to track and serve them ads across the web. It may be a free solution, but you pay plenty in the form of data.
  • You can’t use personally identifiable information – According to Google “…policies mandate that no data be passed to Google that Google could use or recognize as personally identifiable information (PII). This means the data you have from CRMs, marketing software, transactional systems, and other sources cannot be used to strengthen information you gather from your website.

To learn more about laws that affect your analytics, read our post:
6 New Privacy Laws Around The Globe You Should Pay Attention To

Can I boost privacy and security in Google Analytics?

It’s possible to minimize data sharing in GA by changing the settings within the tool. It’s worth mentioning that sharing is enabled by default. Even after this, there’s no way to obtain ownership of your data due to third-party storage. You’ll always rely on the security measures of remote servers.

There are plugins that manage consents for GA. In fact, the market for such solutions is growing to the point of saturation. It can be frustrating sorting through all the options when so much is at stake legally. Add-on fixes also present the problem of additional maintenance, bugs, and crashes as new releases and updates are not synced between the two products.

4. Customer care and support

Setting up and maintaining analytics for your site is a complicated, time-consuming process. The only help you get from Google for the freemium version of Analytics is endless articles, tutorials, and forums. With no dedicated line of support, you’re left on your own to find the answers to your questions. You can imagine that with about 30 million sites using the freemium software, there’s no way to have a free, at scale, support solution for end users.

Where can I find help?

You’re left to your own means if you come across a problem. If there’s any silver lining, it’s that having such a huge user base has led to a plethora of communities dedicated to GA issues. But you will still have to navigate all this information and sort out everything that’s outdated, irrelevant, or inapplicable.

It’s a matter of having the time to spend learning the ins and outs of the platform or scouring the web for answers. If you’re like most people, you’re looking for a way to better understand your customers, not a new time-consuming project.

Piwik PRO vs. Google Analytics & Google Analytics 360

A product comparison that will help you choose the right web analytics software

Download your copy now

A better way with Piwik PRO

Piwik PRO is a Google Analytics alternative with more resources dedicated to privacy and customer support. Piwik PRO offers many advantages including:

  • Privacy first – GDPR compliance out of the box and takes the stress and guesswork out of operating within the privacy landscape. Operate within regulations like GDPR and CCPA with modules like Consent Manager, which collects user consents as well as manages data subject requests. 100% data ownership with on-premise and private cloud deployments gives you full control over data, which is never shared with third parties.
  • Ability to utilize PII – Every piece of data you gather from your CRM, tag management system, and analytics platform will be synced and ready to use through a customer data platform. Onboarding PII allows you to create more complete customer journeys, audience/user specific email campaigns, accurate retargeting (for example using customer match in Google Ads), and more.
  • Dedicated support – The customer success team is devoted to onboarding new users based on their individual needs. This case-by-case approach ensures everyone gets the most out of the product regardless of their diverse goals. Afterwards, service delivery managers are always standing by, ready to help with any questions that pop up along the way.
  • No sampling – It’s not enabled in standard or custom reports regardless of your data set size or date range. You always get the most accurate information to make confident, data-backed decisions.

Conclusion

Google Analytics may be free, but it’s not without limitations. For companies with high-traffic websites, a need for pinpoint accuracy, or privacy-first approaches it might not be the right solution. There are other options more suitable to those demanding needs. To find out more about alternatives to Google Analytics, reach out to us.

Author

Peter Curac-Dahl

Content Marketer

Dog petting Wikipedia peruser bound by the universal laws of coffee. Consumer of all info tech and business related. Producing useful insights with concise thought-provoking material.

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