Sep 27, 2023

Google Analytics 4 interface limitations and how to overcome them

8-MINUTE READ | By Fanny Heimonen and Isha Shinde

Google AnalyticsWeb Analytics

[ Updated Apr 4, 2024 ]

Universal Analytics (UA) has officially been sunsetted. Hopefully, everyone has already migrated to Google Analytics 4 (GA4). 

Previously, to help you get started with the new tool, we covered the main differences between UA and GA4, including tracking, data setup, etc.

In this post, we’ll discuss the GA4 reporting interface. Additionally, you’ll learn how to customize your GA4 reports using Supermetrics.

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You can also watch the video where our Head of Performance Marketing, Sofie Segercrantz, and Growth Marketing Manager, Minna Tuikka, discuss the limitations of the GA4 reporting interface.

Interface comparison: Universal Analytics vs. Google Analytics 4

When using GA4, one of the most prominent things you might have noticed is the change in metrics and dimensions. 

UA had many metrics and dimensions compared to GA4. If you’ve built your reports with UA data, you may need to update them with comparable metrics from GA4

Additionally, the UA interface gave you more freedom to customize your reports. You could, for example, choose more freely which metrics you wanted to see. There were many different ways to dig deeper into data, even by clicking on a dimension, adding secondary dimensions or segments, or using advanced search. 

However, the GA4 reporting interface doesn’t provide the same flexibility as UA. For example, the default traffic acquisition report shows you 10 metrics. You can’t add more metrics. Additionally, you can add only one secondary dimension to the report.

There is also a difference in how you can filter your data. With UA, you could easily click a dimension to dig deeper into your data, but that doesn’t work in GA4. Instead, filters are added from the top, as in the image below.

Example of traffic acquisition report in GA4

Pro-tip: If you can’t copy and paste text, like complex filter values, in GA4, we’ve got a tip for you. Instead of the usual Ctrl+C, try clicking on control and then the mouse button to copy. This little trick can be a lifesaver, particularly when dealing with complex campaign names or other specific filter values.

The GA4 reporting UI is quite limited. There are fewer pre-made reports, and you don’t have much freedom to customize the reports. With Supermetrics, you don’t need to filter and search every time you need something. You can build custom reports and update them automatically with new data whenever you need it.

Sofie Segercrantz, Head of Performance Marketing, Supermetrics

Why should you go beyond GA4 native reporting?

Getting your data out of GA4 and into your go-to reporting tools lets you:

  • Have more flexibility with building reports
  • Take full control of your data
  • Store your data for a longer period of time
  • Get real-time and up-to-date data

Having more flexibility with building reports

Once you get your data out of GA4, you can easily combine it with data from other marketing sources to see the full picture. Let’s say you pull GA4 data into Google Sheets. You can use different formulas and functions to transform your data and find the right insights.

Taking full control of your data

The most important thing to remember is that storing your data in GA4 means your data is owned, processed, and held by Google. Taking ownership of your marketing data helps you:

  • Measure marketing’s ROI
  • Get rid of data silos
  • Future-proof your marketing

You’ve probably spent a lot of time and money setting up your web analytics and paying for ads that drive traffic to your website, so taking ownership of your data is crucial. I see that there’s a whole movement towards owning your marketing data.

Sofie Segercrantz, Head of Performance Marketing, Supermetrics

Going beyond GA4’s data retention policy

GA4 has several limitations in its data retention capabilities. Data retention policies refer to what kind of data is stored, where it’s stored, and for how long. 

GA4 has a maximum date range in the explore view. The default is 2 months, but this can be extended to 14 months from the admin panel.

But what happens after 14 months is still unknown. This raises some concerns. For example, when looking at past data, how do you know if the data you’re looking at is full or sampled data?

Our understanding is that there’s a limitation for the explore view that you can extend it from 2 to 14 months. But what happens after 14 months, we don’t know yet. I think it will disappear from the explore view, but I guess the other reports will still show it.

Minna Tuikka, Senior Growth Marketing Manager, Supermetrics

Pro tip: To adjust data retention in GA4, navigate to the Admin panel, access ‘Data Settings,’ and then select ‘Data Retention’. In ‘User and event data retention’, click the dropdown menu labeled ‘Event data retention’ and extend the default two-month retention to a 14-month retention period. Click ‘Save’ to update your settings.

We recommend moving your data out of your ad platforms and web analytics tools and storing it in your own marketing data warehouse or data lake for full ownership and maximum retention. This way, there’s no need to wonder if the data you’re looking at now is the same data you were looking at years ago.

Getting up-to-date data

Regarding data accuracy, depending on the time zone, GA4 data might not be fully complete during the early hours of the day. As a best practice, we recommend double-checking your numbers throughout the day to see if there have been any changes and to ensure your data insights are accurate and up-to-date.

This is where Supermetrics comes in handy. It gives you more control over data handling with automatic refreshes and advanced custom queries.

How to overcome Google Analytics 4 reporting limitations with Supermetrics

With Supermetrics, you can easily get GA4 data into your favorite reporting tools. This gives you more flexibility to build custom reports and get the insights you need. For example, you can combine GA4 data with other marketing data in Google Sheets. From there, you can use different calculations and functions to analyze your data.

Let’s take a traffic report as an example. While the native GA4 reporting interface allows only one secondary dimension, Supermetrics lets you add multiple dimensions so you can dive deeper into your data.

GA4 traffic report in Google Sheets built with Supermetrics

Here’s a quick walkthrough of how that works with Supermetrics in Google Sheets:

  • Step 1: Install and launch the Supermetrics sidebar and click ‘Create a new query’.
  • Step 2: Connect your Google Analytics 4 account to Supermetrics.
  • Step 3: Select the desired date range from the date picker.
  • Step 4: Choose the metrics you want to include in your report. Add compatible dimensions—we recommend choosing a maximum of three dimensions so your report is clean and easy to understand. 
  • Step 5: Click ‘Get Data to Table’, and you’ll have your data ready.

You can create any type of report by adding filters, including devices, channels, countries, and more. You can schedule automatic refreshes to update your data daily.

Using Supermetrics has been helpful for me to answer specific questions, like where the traffic from a specific campaign is coming from or what the quality is like. It’s really easy to create quick one-time queries to answer ad hoc questions, but also to create and schedule more advanced reports.

 Minna Tuikka, Senior Growth Marketing Manager, Supermetrics

Wrapping up

In conclusion, GA4 offers new possibilities and functionalities over its predecessor, Universal Analytics, but it also introduces its own set of challenges. 

With Supermetrics, you can easily create insightful, customized reports with fewer limitations.

To help you make the most of your GA4 data, we’ve put together a GA4 Knowledge Center with our best tips and tricks. You can also get started with our free plug-and-play GA4 to Google Sheets template or GA4 to Looker Studio template.

Want to see what you can do with Supermetrics? Start your 14-day free trial here.

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About the author

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Fanny Heimonen

Fanny is a Demand Gen Manager at Supermetrics. She works with internal teams and external partners to drive demand for the Supermetrics brand. She's passionate about understanding customer pain points, making data-driven decisions, and continuous learning and optimization.

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Isha Shinde

Isha is a Junior Demand Gen Manager at Supermetrics. Isha loves to uncover the meaning behind data and helps customers understand the importance of data-driven marketing.

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