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Data & Privacy SME Marketing

SMEs weren’t ready for the GA4 tidal wave


By Georgia Beattie, Founder

August 29, 2023 | 7 min read

Georgia Beattie, founder of AdBeat Marketing, has been helping onboard SMEs on to next-gen analytics platform GA4. She worries a generation of businesses won’t keep up.


After decades of blurring the physical and digital realms, the world truly lies at our fingertips, a vast expanse of knowledge and limitless possibilities. But in the sea of data, simplicity often drowns in complexity. As marketers, we get entangled in a web of measurement, tracking, crawling, and searching.

Google came to the rescue back in 2005. It acknowledged these needs - and you didn’t even need an analytics degree. To empower businesses, irrespective of size, Google gifted us a free, user-friendly tool – Google Analytics.

From its inception to its renaming to Universal Analytics in 2012 and the subsequent enhancements, the platform reached 73.7% of the top 10,000 websites by 2022.

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Universal Analytics democratized data, making it an all-access pass for everyone. Size didn’t matter; regardless of their venture’s scale, every entrepreneur could feast on insights. That was the golden era… until July 1, 2023.

For countless enterprises, that fateful date marked a plunge into darkness as Universal Analytics transformed into GA4. A collective sigh resonated among the small business owners managing their e-commerce domains solo.

Suddenly, the platform they once knew and loved was veiled, the inclusive insight obscured. A small business, existing without support from agencies or consultants, was left to navigate the labyrinth alone. Sure, online guides existed, but they spoke an alien language.

Sessions turned into events, page views… became events. Clicks? Yes, events, too. How do we distinguish between them? What became of the bounce rate insights? And why the sudden, inexplicable drop in traffic? According to a recent poll aimed at SEO specialists ‘approximately 50% of respondents used the word “hate” to describe their feelings towards GA4’.

Reddit reflects a similar sentiment- a platform likened to a chaotic digital bazaar where the word ‘optimism’ is met with raised eyebrows. However, the journey through its dimly lit corridors may leave you chuckling through your tears. A few of my favorite reviews from there included ‘GA4 is steaming hot garbage’ and ‘I have aged 20 years after the switch to GA4’.

In the corporate cocoon of the big agency folks, solutions are seemingly handed on a plate: a Google Assistant, ce for upheavals with steady updates and dedicated support. While GA4 isn’t glitch-free, ample resources aid their quests.

I took this for granted when I set up my own marketing consultancy last month, and for the likes of the SME clients I now work with, it’s a wonder they can get anything done.

For the likes of ‘Sarah,’ the local caterer who lacks our privileges, now joins the league of SMEs, investing time and money to untangle this enigmatic web. Universal Analytics (not the pinnacle of data tracking by any stretch of the imagination) was enough for her and countless SMEs worldwide.

In our grand offices and across LinkedIn, we occasionally (always) overlook the smaller businesses. The buzzwords we toss around – ‘Algorithmic hyper-personalization mean very little to most SMEs.

The anxiety-riddled content we share about the power of AI and its inevitable lead to job loss unless you start integrating it into your ‘predictive customer lifetime value modeling’ echo gibberish to them. And yet, SMEs make up 5.5m private sector businesses in the UK (as of 2022), of which a whopping 5.47m businesses were small (0 to 49 employees). And their worth? Well, the latest stats showed that In 2022, their combined turnover was £2.1trn, contributing approximately half (51%) to the UK economy.

Google’s maneuvers profoundly affect our SME community, lacking the luxury of agency wallets. From placing them at a shared business table in 2005, Google has now pulled away their seat, handed them a guidebook written in Sanskrit, stuck together with glue and despair and wished them all the best.

But thank god we live in an age where the world with free and accessible forums, videos, and workshops. SMEs still have a fighting chance of learning how GA4 and other platforms work for their business. It’s a journey of time, currency, and sanity, an arduous path for sole traders like Sarah. Yet, SMEs are tenacious; they continue to weather pandemics, politicians, and disgruntled Karens worldwide.

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So, Google may have just made accessible data inaccessible, but it can’t quell the spirit of SMEs. Resilience drives them, transforming obstacles into stepping stones to triumph. Innovation and adaptability remain their allies, even if Google steps aside. The digital world may have changed, but SMEs shall thrive, with or without Google’s aid, redefining success.

Georgia Beattie is the founder of AdBeat Marketing and regularly solves problems for SMEs.

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