It was roughly a year ago we all learned that Google Analytics Universal was going ‘the way of the Dodo’ and would be substituted by Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
Now, the one-year deadline is close to the end - it will be met precisely on this upcoming 1st of July - so it is only fair to ask, what options do business owners and brands have to keep tight control on their e-commerce/website analytics? Is GA4 the only way forward? On the other hand, are there other options, third-party options, more efficient and perhaps even more friendly to use than Google's own upgrade? The answer is one word: Matomo.
Join us today to learn what Matomo is, why it could be the answer you were looking for to keep tight control of your analytics and handle your data in real-time, and finally, what can this open-source tool offer us that surpasses even Google’s official analytics tool. Let us begin!
The final countdown for GA4
Let’s start with the basics; what exactly is Google Analytics 4, and how is it different from the current Google Analytics Universal - also called GA3?
GA4 is an analytics service provided directly by Google that enables you to measure traffic and engagement across your websites and integrated apps. GA4 is an update of the current Google Analytics Universal. A tool widely used and mastered by mostly all SEO and e-commerce-related professionals.
So, when we talk about the upcoming GA4, we are talking about a major development for the global e-commerce community because it represents the substitution of perhaps the most used - or, in any case, the core reference - analytics tool currently available. To put it in simple words: everybody used Google Analytics Universal - GA3 - either as the primary analytics tool for their website or as a core referential tool to be later combined, improved, or benchmarked against other third-party analytics solutions.
This means that the upcoming transition is vital. And the bad news: it isn't a simple smooth transition. Unfortunately - or luckily, it is too early to know yet - Google decided to change the entire concept behind its website analytics tool. In fact, one could easily argue that Google even changed the entire concept of what is or what should be measurable in a website.
A steep learning curve for GA4
The new GA4 removes multiple core statistics highly regarded as the core metrics of any website. Things like Page Views and the dreaded Rebound Rate have been laid to rest in favor of what now will be called ‘Events’.
This new metric allows for insight and deep customization of what you want to measure on your website. Still, at the same time, it requires careful configuration and thoughtful planning ahead in order actually to make the most out of this new GA4.
Another key difference is that to enable compliance with privacy regulations, GA4 will allow you to manage how data is collected, retained, and shared using granular privacy controls, as well as allowing you to choose whether or not collected data is used for personalized ads.
This goes in line with the sudden demise of the third-party cookies, the so-called Cookiegeddon, that is already starting to hit the world and will fundamentally alter the way ads and online marketing are done.
Remember that currently, it is thanks to third-party cookies that many of the current online marketing systems can provide companies with detailed information about the users that visit their pages to segment their potential customers.
Once the third-party cookies disappear - due to more than legitimate privacy concerns - online marketing will have to reinvent the wheel. And it is precisely to provide some sort of support in light of this impending doom that GA4 has pushed forward with a new philosophy.
This new approach is also combined with the ‘all-in-one-site’ core concept: Universal Analytics used to measure screen views in separate mobile-specific properties, whereas GA4 now combines both web and app data in the same property.
If you are tracking, both web and app data in your GA4 property be sure to consider the additional app traffic when comparing page view metrics between the two.
Overall, GA4 is an entirely new animal. So much so that even the dashboard has been significantly modified. The change is so radical that experts in the field that have many years of advocating for Google Universal and Google products had to recognize that GA4 will probably have a steep learning curve before we manage to get used to it.
To top it all, GA4 will not allow us to keep a historical track of Google Analytics Universal. Migrating your data to GA4 is not currently possible. The only thing you can do is run both tools in parallel, so you can start feeding GA4 data before the substitution becomes mandatory and your Google Analytics Universal finally dies.
That’s why, at least during the transition period, it becomes almost a need to have a third-party tool that can help us bridge the gap between GA4 and Google Analytics Universal, as well as ease the complex learning curve towards this new analytic approach that is pushing Google.
But which tool could be the right one for this transition? Well, enter Matomo.
Matomo: a comprehensive solution for a Google Analytics transition?
Matomo is an open-source analytics platform that provides in-depth insights into your website and topples it by adding your app's performance. As a tool, Matomo is not precisely new; it was made public in 2007 as a free and open-source web application written by an international team of designers that runs on a PHP/MySQL web server.
It tracks real-time page views and visits to a website and displays reports of this data for analysis. As of September 2015, Matomo reached its first milestone when it was reportedly used by about 1.3% of all websites in the world.
Since then, Matomo has exponentially grown, and it has been translated into more than 45 languages.
Among Matomo’s key features is that it can provide real-time data of your website, within five seconds of the actual visit. This means that almost instantaneously, you can see what the visitors of your website are doing: what they browse, where they are coming from, which external sources sent them, the number of actions they took, and what pages they visited, all in real-time.
And the remaining data - all the other parameters not listed above - are usually shown by Matomo after 15 minutes.
Now if you add to that the customizable dashboards and privacy compliance security features, which Matomo brings as standard put to shame in terms of customization and ease to use the Google option, you can pretty much start to realize that Matomo is far simpler and more efficient than the new GA4. But let's check some critical differences to understand both options properly.
Data retention in GA4 and Matomo
In GA4, you can configure up to 14 months of data retention. And that's it. Nothing more can be done. If you want more than 14 months of data, you need to go for Google BigQuery and options that can be pricey and complex for many businesses.
In Matomo, there is no limit to the amount of data you can store. You can keep historical track of everything as long as you want and as long as you provide the proper space to allocate it. So that’s a big win for Matomo.
Pricing for GA4 and Matomo
So far, Google Universal Analytics has been a free product. And as such, it was a great tool. GA4 is still 100% free - as per Google's own statements - but there could be 360 options - a paid option - to push people to use a package solution including their paid products such as BigQuery.
Matomo is an open-source program, and as such, it has a core free option. But it also has more complete and pre-built versions. And the thing here is that, for most businesses, there might be more efficient or time-wise options than the free installation option. So, if you really want to use Matomo fast and easily, you must pay for it.
Obviously, GA4 has a small advantage in this field, but… keep in mind that with GA4, Google seems to be exploring a monetization approach similar to the dreaded ‘freemium’ where you can get a core strip to the bones version of a product or software for free… Then you have to pay for each other functionality you might need to add.
This one is another major contention point with the new GA4. Google's stand on the matter remains the same as usual: it is against Google's policy to send any information that could be used to identify a particular person. And so, Google claims that the new GA4 is built with the idea in mind to prevent any form of personal information from getting inside your property: aka, inside your website.
But this is not entirely true. From a legal perspective, it is, but from a technical one, you are most likely forced to find a third-party solution to filter those personal information bits and odds before they get inside your GA4.
Now Matomo's approach to privacy is pretty clear on the matter: absolute liberty for the user and for the website owner to block, ‘untrack’, and protect any form of information.
This is done via several opt-out of website functions as well as other pre-assembled blocking functionalities to prevent any form of personal data leakage in your analytics. In fact, due precisely to its strict data protection policies, Matomo is currently compliant with the European Union GDPR.
This privacy-centric analytics that Matomo provides is a key argument for retaining customer trust.
Comprehensive and customizable reporting
GA4 is a sandbox environment. And this is great if you know your way around the massive analytics ‘desert’. But to be honest, although GA4 indeed allows for customization of all variables via the so-called ‘Events’ metric, which can be finetuned to almost whatever trigger you might want, in practice, this massive operational freedom is problematic.
The Matomo approach is perhaps more efficient, providing comprehensive and customizable reporting, and yet, retaining basic dashboard information by default that provides a general clean overview of the traditional metrics.
In fact, if you come from a Google Analytics Universal background, you will most likely find yourself at home with a Matomo dashboard. Having over five years of experience working with Google Analytics, I found it pretty simple - in fact, remarkably similar - the current Matomo dashboard.
In that same area, cross-platform tracking and reporting is also a vital function for any current and future analytics tool. Here Google has a considerable competitive advantage with GA4: the addition of multiple data streams in one single property and a simple ‘side-by-side’ visualization system.
Matomo can also track multiple data streams from apps and websites, but it is not an ‘out of the box’ functionality. The solution in Matomo will require a degree of technical implementation. So, we have to give this one to GA4 without question.
Goal conversion tracking and funnel analysis
Here is another massive difference between GA4 and Matomo: GA4 does data sampling, and Matomo doesn’t. Now what does this mean, and why it matters for global conversion tracking and funnel analysis?
Data sampling means that Googe sometimes fills in the statistical blanks with algorithmic projections. It - sort of - forecasts the ‘trend’ in any given metric to provide you with a complete picture.
Regardless of your position about data sampling - which is an ongoing battle since god knows when - the truth is that with Matomo, the data results are exclusively based on the data collected. Period.
This, in turn, places Matomo as a ‘pixel perfect’ analytic tool that will show you exactly what it is, allowing you to understand better and plan accordingly. But not only is Matomo data precise and real but also the way the tool showcases that data - or allows you to showcase it - is excellent for planning any kind of business.
The heatmap function from Matomo, for example, is a perfect graphic business analytic tool, that allows you to understand quickly your user's journey: record clicks, mouse movements, and scroll activities of your visitors on your website.
The Matomo heatmap helps you to find out where users think something is clickable but is not, whether there are parts of the page that are rarely viewed or interacted with, what your visitors are looking for, how much of the page is visible when users view your page, and more. Heatmaps let you ultimately optimize your website and maximize your success.
Matomo: A transition or an upgrade?
Finally, all in all, we can pretty much say that GA4 will be a fundamental change in the core ideas used by Google to handle website analytics. And that this change is aimed at several different things:
To create more of a sandbox environment where users can now ultra-customize everything.
To offer a single data stream capable of collecting information from both apps and websites.
And to clearly divide the free product functionalities and the ‘premium’ functions, pushing users to buy other Google products to retain a fraction of what Google Analytics Universal initially could do.
Meanwhile, Matomo seems to be more than capable of doing everything the former Google Analytics Universal was, with added functions like the heatmap and better, more efficient real-time tracking, without data sampling - which provides an accurate view - and even more, with a more straightforward, more user-friendly approach than the new GA4 ‘ultra lean’ dashboard.
In that sense, one could say that Matomo strong points are the following:
A more efficient and user-friendly dashboard showcasing the traditional metrics for website analytics.
Stronger privacy tools to guarantee compliance with the current data protection legislation.
Better historical tracking with no limit time-wise.
Heatmap tool to help you understand in a more intuitive way how the users interact with your website.
Better real-time data and no data-sampling.
It can do - or do better even - all the things that GA4 is currently bringing to the table.
As the countdown to GA4 continues, businesses must evaluate their analytics options to adapt to the changing landscape. Matomo offers a compelling alternative to traditional analytics solutions, empowering businesses with privacy compliance, comprehensive reporting, user-centric analytics, and goal conversion tracking. By embracing Matomo, businesses can unlock powerful insights, make data-driven decisions, and enhancetheir online presence.
This allows you to use Matomo either as a transition tool or as a full-fledged upgrade to Google Analytics Universal. Take charge of your analytics today and embark on a journey towards data-driven success with Matomo!
Are you interested? Feel free to contact us at any time.