Google Analytics is upgrading to Google Analytics 4 – a tool that measures web traffic, advertising metrics, and now, mobile app analytics. Google is officially leaving Universal Analytics behind in order to sport features that allow you to look beyond the web and see user behavior and analytics on mobile as well.
The feedback so far? That what has been a long time coming has been a big disappointment for many.
“Automatic data capture” that’s still actually manual tagging, a complicated user interface, and basic KPIs are just a few of the shortcomings that GA users face. GA4 is not sophisticated enough to deal with the complex web of commands from mobile, at least not so far. And if companies want to truly understand how their users interact with their product, they’re going to need to consider other, more powerful solutions on the market.
Still getting your head around Mobile Analytics? Read our complete guide!
Is Google Analytics for mobile apps any good?
Google’s answer to mobile analytics is GA4. It encompasses web and mobile analytics data together on one platform, and is a major switch from a sessions-based model to an events-based model. This means that all user interactions are recorded as events–essentially any action a user takes on your website or app. Things like creating an account, logging in, or clicking “follow,” for example.
With this switch, you can track how users experience and engage with your product or mobile app, rather than focusing on vanity metrics like pages viewed and bounce rates.
Sounds like all good changes, right? Don’t hold your breath just yet. Let’s now look at some of these changes through the lens of mobile analytics and see how some of Google Analytics 4’s key features hold up.
So, what’s the takeaway? Google Analytics still falls short for mobile analytics. It’s not as robust or user-friendly as other tools on the market, and still lacks important mobile-specific features. Let’s now take a look at some of the specific limitations Google Analytics has when it comes to mobile app analytics.
The limitations of Google Analytics for mobile app analytics
Google Analytics was built around pageviews and visitor metrics. That means that it works wonders when it comes to SEO and ad performance, but doesn’t come up to scratch for anything much beyond that. Here’s how Google Analytics falls for short mobile app analytics.
1. Difficult user interface
The GA4 interface is completely different from any Google Analytics you’ve used in the past. The update is designed to work across different devices and screen sizes. And early users have reported the simplified layout has come at the expense of resizable columns. As such, it’s difficult to navigate and locate the data, new features, and different functionality.
2. Basic KPIs only
Despite the upgrade to GA4, the metrics are still relatively basic compared to other analytics tools. We can categorize these metrics simply within Acquisition, Engagement, and Monetization. Here’s a quick snapshot of the important metrics GA4 offers that you’ll need to be aware of.
As you can see, the metrics above are geared towards a general view of user behavior. How long roughly do your users spend on your mobile app? How many events did you have this week?
The problem is that to really understand how you’re doing, you need more granular metrics that get into the weeds of user engagement. Only then can you exponentially improve your user experience, because you know more about the customer journey.
3. No autocapture
While GA4 does offer automatic capture for mobile through Google Tag, you still need to do manual tracking to track basic click events and to add additional data at the event level. That means teams will need to build an implementation plan for tagging, and then constantly revise their tags as things change over time.
For mobile app analytics, any manual tracking becomes increasingly more complicated because of the different mobile development frameworks for Android on Google Play vs iOS on Apple’s app store. Multiple tagging schemas will not only need to be created and maintained for each mobile operating system, but each app version. Not ideal for app development.
4. Data sampling
Google Analytics doesn’t track everything on your site. In fact, it samples your data when performing analytics to aggregate your metrics. This can be a huge problem when you want to understand user behavior. Sampled data means you miss important user segment-level interactions. It also means the data you have could be more approximations, which is problematic if you’re basing critical business decisions on it.
5. GDPR compliance
It’s important to note that GA4 is still not fully compliant with GDPR rules. Google still needs to work with European regulators to ensure that EU citizens' and residents' data is adequately protected against US surveillance laws - something it currently is not. One issue is that GA4 doesn't have a way to guarantee where data is stored, which is required by GDPR. It's essential to stay updated on any changes and to take necessary steps to protect data privacy.
6. No migration support
One of the biggest limitations of Google Analytics 4 is the inability to migrate existing data from Universal Analytics to GA4. This means that if you don’t set up GA4 on your websites and mobile apps now, you’ll have two separate analytics systems running by the time Universal Analytics stops collecting data.
Alternatives to Google Analytics for mobile app analytics
Now we’ve covered Google Analytics’ features and limitations when it comes to mobile app analytics, let’s now run over some of the mobile app analytics solutions on the market. We promise you it’s not as overwhelming as it may seem!
Heap is an analytics solution that helps you understand how and why customers engage with your product or site. With product analytics that track behavior in your website and your apps, the platform gives you detailed information about your users that goes well beyond Google Analytics’ session and pageview metrics.
Advantages of Heap over Google Analytics:
Powered by autocapture, meaning you’ll never have to manually tag anything. All the data, all the time, in one place.
Offers granular insights over high-level statistics to paint a detailed picture of what’s going on with your users.
Enables you to rewatch customer journeys through session replay and data science to discover unexpected and alternate paths your users may take.
One single platform that combines both quantitative and qualitative data for you to view.
Easy-to-use and intuitive interface.
Mixpanel is a popular product analytics platform that lets you analyze web, mobile, and smart devices to see how and why users engage, convert, and return to your site. Unlike GA, the tool tracks behavioral analytics, although like Amplitude, GA, and Adobe, Mixpanel requires manual tracking and all the headaches that come with it.
Advantages of Mixpanel over Google Analytics:
More detailed metrics on funnels, segmentation, user paths, and product impact
Good segmentation capabilities
Interactive reports to show how users are engaging with your product
Also learn about alternatives to Mixpanel in our complete guide.
Amplitude is a user-focused solution that aims to pinpoint valuable behavioral patterns. It allows you to look beyond the acquisition and paid analytics that GA offers and dig into mobile and app analytics. While it does offer a free version, the jump to the next pricing level is significant. Because Amplitude requires manual tagging, it also requires significant administrative and engineering resources to collect the data you need.
Advantages of Amplitude over Google Analytics:
Detailed behaviors and user attributes to visualize customer journey
Collaboration features that enable people to share descriptions, dashboards, and notebooks
Integrated data governance capabilities
Interested in Amplitude but researching other options? Check out our complete guide.
Pendo is built primarily for product managers and teams, and offers insights about the product journey. The platform offers several features outside the scope of GA, like employee and user onboarding, but for teams looking for more than just analytics it may be a good choice.
Advantages of Pendo over Google Analytics:
More detailed metrics and KPIs than GA4
Easier user interface
Multiple site management capabilities
How Heap helps you overcome Google Analytics’ limitations for mobile app tracking
It’s all well and good running over the limitations of Google Analytics, especially when it comes to mobile apps. But it’s true that the power of a brand like Google comes with an automatic sense of safety. You know Google. You’re comfortable with it. Sure, it might not hit all the buttons you need but is it bad enough to really warrant changing?
While only you can answer that question, you can hear what others have to say about mobile analytics at Heap.
Yoga apparel company Alo Yoga wanted to see a more detailed story from customer acquisition to site browsing and purchase. See how they solved the problem!
Now let’s go over 5 ways Heap can help you overcome the shortcomings of Google Analytics and keep you one step ahead of tracking user behavior on mobile apps. Heap:
1. Shows you how users behave across mobile, web, and platforms
Heap captures data for every user interaction in your cross-platform experience–from mobile, to web, to in-product. It automatically pinpoints the key events that cause user friction, like clicking a button or fixing a cart issue. You can then rewatch exactly what a user does on your mobile app with Session Replay–helping you to uncover root causes of key user behaviors and take quick action to improve the user experience.
2. Goes beyond simple metrics to offer granular insights into user behavior
Aka, shows you why users behave across mobile, web, and platforms.
Heap was built to provide best-in-class data so users can generate deep insights into how people use your website or product. Heap tells you why things happen, shows you what’s working and what isn’t, and directs you to the root causes of key customer behaviors. Here’s a snapshot of the type of insights Heap can generate for you:
As far as reporting goes, Heap offers far more than GA. Heap lets you report on user and event properties, get granular insights into where app users experience friction, and answer questions without having to go back and revisit your tracking plan.
3. Handle PII with ease
GA4 is a move toward a cookieless and privacy-friendly web analytics model. And although GA4 ditched third-party cookies, they still employ first-party cookies called Client ID, which uniquely identifies your user's data. This often causes problems with GDPR, where companies must always ask permission to collect, store, and send any personal data.
In comparison, Heap’s security means you can manage GDPR, CCPA, HIPAA with ease. A DPA incorporates the requirements of GDPR into every contractual agreement, while also facilitating the legal transfer of data from the EU to the US.
4. Autocapture behavioral data on all mobile devices and streamline data collection
Tracking user and customer behavior is where Heap shines. Unlike Google Analytics, where you have to set up and maintain many triggers and tag combinations to track user events, Heap automatically captures all activity from the start. There’s no need to organize tags, ask engineering to add new tags, or clean up your older tags. Any time you have a question, you can access your historical data and find an answer.
Unlike Google Tag Manager, Heap’s event layer directly integrates with iOS and Android native apps. Heap can also pull in data from over 20 third-party integrations, including Shopify, Salesforce, and more.
That means that for product, marketing, and customer support teams, you get all the data you need without needing engineering to create new tags, change tracking codes, or build reports.
5. Mobile SDKs combine data from different platforms into a single event or property
Today you have access to something new and better: mobile analytics from Heap. With mobile SDKs and unparalleled data capture purpose-built to understand mobile-specific actions, you can give your users the mobile or cross-channel experiences they deserve.
Heap’s mobile SDKs (now including Xamarin and Flutter) help make it easy for you to combine data from different platforms into a single event or property, so nothing gets counted twice. You get a trusted and complete view of user behavior across iOS and Android, easily, with zero worries about data quality.
And that’s true for every app version. From the moment you implement Heap, you’ll never have to wait for users to update their app to start collecting data again. Want to analyze usage trends for a feature that was released years ago? No problem! The data is already available and ready for you to explore.
Ready to come on board and leave legacy behind?
Fact is, Google Analytics is falling behind in the mobile analytics race. Despite the upgrade to GA4, there are still too many limitations in comprehensively tracking activity and engagement across mobile. For businesses looking to make critical decisions based on user behavior, it’s key to measure beyond pageviews and sessions.
Ready to try something better?