This is a transcript from episode 53 of the OMGrowth podcast
NOTE: I am not a privacy lawyer and if you need legal advice about the data you collect, you want to hire a legal expert to provide advice to your specific circumstances.
I’m Lanie Lamarre and there are a lot of recent developments that have caused me – the “know your numbers” person! – to uninstall Google Analytics from my website and all of its assets and in today’s episode, I’m going to share with you why you may want to follow my lead.
As a certified and card-carrying member of the International Association of Privacy Professionals, I get regular emails updating me on the status of international data privacy. In January, I received one that made my heart sink: “Austrian Data Protection Authority says Google Analytics violates GDPR”. Which is a headline that basically says tracking website visitors from Austria using Google Analytics is illegal.
Shortly after, another court case determined the same outcome for France and then Lichtenstein, and now the domino effect continues. The TL;DR of what this means for you and I (and why it made my heart sink) is that if you have European residents coming to your website and you are using Google Analytics to track their behavior, you are breaching European Union laws and you are collecting information about your visitors illegally.
Naturally, I started spiraling about what this meant FOR MEEEEEEE because I’ve certainly been promoting the use of Google Analytics, I’ve been supporting the use of its products and I’ve been monetizing my expertise with Google Analytics to provide you with better ways to use those products.
Despite the fact that I built a lot of my online business around my background with Google Analytics, I felt like I had to put my sunk cost aside and get honest about how and why Google Analytics was problematic for small business owners like you and me.
I dove deep and came out feeling like it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made to pull the plug on Google Analytics and I uninstalled it from tracking all of my assets last February. I also pulled my related products from my shop and moving forward, I will no longer be recommending it as my platform of choice.
So let’s talk about what makes Google Analytics so problematic because according to W3 Techs, it is used by over 50% of all websites online and accounts for over 85% of all websites that use tracking, and it’s a good idea to clarify what we’ve all gotten ourselves into.
1) You are being made accountable for too many legal implications that you likely do not understand.
Unless you’re a data analyst who knows their privacy or you’re a privacy specialist who knows their data, or unless you hire someone who fits that bill to audit your use of Google Analytics as regularly as their Terms and Conditions change, it is unreasonable to expect that you would be able to use the tool in a legally-compliant manner.
For example, the onus to limit what is called Personally Identifiable Information (also called PII) is on you, the person who installed Google Analytics. Meanwhile, most online business owners slap the tracking code on their website, not even knowing what PII is or how they may be collecting it (which they often are). I can confirm this because as someone who used to offer its services, I’ve been on the back-end of a LOT of Google Analytics accounts and more often than not, I would see the client would be collecting data points like credit card numbers or email addresses that were being recorded in their analytics reports. These are data points that the Terms and Conditions tell you need to be blocked but unless you’re an expert, it is unlikely that you will know how to do this or even if it is being done at all.
And while all of those obligations are laid our in their Terms and Conditions, I doubt most people using Google Analytics are racing to read through those every time they’re updated, assuming they were read at all in the first place.
There are also concerns about data storage. Because Google stores its data on American servers, there are European privacy regulations like GDPR that state you are breaking the law by storing your EU-resident data on Google’s American servers, therefore making your use of Google Analytics illegal when European visitors come to your website.
Google Analytics is not an “out of the box” software you can just plug in and not have to think about. There are implications related to where you are, where your audience comes from, how you’re operating, what they changed in their Terms and Conditions, among so many other factors that too few online business owners are clear about, and I think that’s a big problem.
2) If you want to be found on Google, using Google Analytics can hurt you.
I know it sounds confusing but stay with me on this one.
Search Engine Optimization – or what the cool kids call SEO – is the process of being found through search engines like Google. A lot of aspects of your website are being measured to determine whether you’re showing up on Page 1 of a Google search or if you’re relegated to Page 20.
While keywords can be worked on to improve how “searchable” your content is, search engines also measure other factors like “page load time” to determine whether they will recommend your site over your competitor’s. When you embed tracking codes on your site, it most likely will slow down your load time and in turn, that can impact your search rank.
The script that Google Analytics requires you to embed is far from “light-weight” (especially if you start using its suite of products that include Tag Manager) and the Google Analytics script will typically impact your load time far more than most other analytics software. It’s understandable because each website visitor can count on having over 500+ data points collected about them when they click through to a site using Google Analytics tracking, and there’s a whole lot of that information that Google has to secure about your visitor even before your page starts loading.
And in turn, this will almost certainly impact your page load time and your search rank.
3) Google Analytics isn’t even close to being your most reliable source of information anymore.
Fun fact but any tracking done by Google Analytics gets the same treatment as if it were an ad – which isn’t exactly a stretch seeing as Google IS primarily an advertising company – and what happens is that anyone using ad blockers will typically also be blocking your Google Analytics data collection from firing.
This means that no matter how intentional you are about putting the right tracking in place for your campaigns, you may be missing out on a huge chunk of your story if that information isn’t being communicated because your visitors aren’t even being accounted for.
4) Google Analytics is “too much” for most small online business owners.
This may sound all-too-familiar to your experience but you login to Google Analytics and it’s like… “what am I even looking at?” And then once you have a clue as to what you ARE looking at, you start click-click-clicking about – because it’s all very interesting – but the average business owner seldom logs into Google Analytics and leaves feeling like the time they spent on the platform helped them get data-driven or make a numbers-based decision. More often than not, it turns into something you know you’ll “need to figure out later”.
Which completely defeats the point of collecting data to begin with! If you aren’t even looking at your numbers – which is often the case for people who have Google Analytics installed on their website, because the learning curve is too steep or the whole experience feels intimidating – there’s not even a point in collecting them.
Especially because – ooh, and this next one feels the most hurtful – but you’re not the only one – or even the main one – who is using this information.
5) You are exploiting your audience in exchange for the use of free software.
You send people to your website to build a relationship of trust with people you’re trying to serve – nice job!
But when you’re using Google Analytics on your website, you’re actually exploiting those same people you say you’re trying to build trust with so you can use free analytics software.
I mentioned that Google Analytics collects, stores and uses over 500+ data points and if you’re thinking “that’s way more information than I’d ever need or think to look at”, you’re correct… but you’re assuming that YOU are who this information is being collected for. You’re not! When you’re collecting this information, you’re acting something like an information broker working on behalf of Google who, according to CNBC, monetized that information we all collected on its behalf to the tune of $183 Billion in 2020.
This means that you chose to sell out your website visitor’s information – and it’s usually more than you or your visitors are even aware of and would have been willing to agree to, if the extent of which was made clearer – and you inadvertently and unintentionally sold your fans and followers out in exchange for free software you could have been paying less than $10/month to be using privacy-compliant analytics software instead.
And as I really processed the gravity of this situation, I felt some type of way because I’ve promoted and endorsed the analytics software as a great tool to help you better help the people you’re serving.
So I will no longer be promoting the use of Google Analytics… but don’t think that means I’m done with dashboards and “knowing your numbers” and identifying trends.
There are privacy-compliant options that are not only legal to use (huzzah!) but are also incredibly low-priced and light-years simpler for you to gain SNAP! insights from.
When you know better, you do better.
I still stand by the quality of my Google Analytics-related products – for instance, I still love The Dashboard Bundle for those who choose to continue using the platform – but I just won’t be promoting them anymore.
I’m also still learning here. In fact, we all are because things are shifting and changing every day when it comes to digital marketing and tracking and advertising and it’s very much a time of “building the plane while flying it” so beware of anyone who promises you they have all the answers in this field.
I’m not doing everything perfectly either because as Wired magazine stated, “Europe’s Move Against Google Analytics Is Just The Beginning”. The changes and enforcements are going to force us to re-think how we want to show up as ethical marketers – which I refuse to see as being a bad thing because no matter how inconvenient it seems to our conversion rates right now, I WANT us all to market with a little more respectfully – but as I learn, I will be sharing more of my insights and findings on this podcast and on social media.
On next week’s episode, we’re going to talk about what your better options are for tracking your visitors on your website but if you want sneak peeks, check out my Instagram Reels over @omgrowth or TikTok over at @omgrowthpod (because someone swiped my name – can you believe that?)
Because I’ve got you – I’ve always got you – and you’re my favorite.
If this is giving you some food for thought, leave me a review saying so because that’s super-valuable to me and it’s mega-appreciated. Also, consider sharing this on social and sharing this content with your biz besties because this is impacting all of us. And of course, I have a lot more to say and share about all of the changes going down in the digital marketing landscape right now and how they’re impacting you and your decisions and your options so if aren’t subscribed, that’s a good idea to do as well.