Why is GA4 so slow?

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Oliver Bailey


July 27, 2023

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is the latest version of Google Analytics. It was released in October 2020 and is designed to be more privacy-focused and future-proof than its predecessor, Universal Analytics.

One of the biggest complaints about GA4 is that it is slow. 

There are a few reasons for this.

  1. GA4 uses a different data model than Universal Analytics (GA3); being event-based, rather than sessions and pageviews based means GA4 needs to collect more data in order to generate reports.
  2. Google is reportedly still building features and supposedly improving performance, so there’s a chance the platform hasn’t been fully optimised if they are focussed on shipping new features.
  3. Being more privacy focussed means GA4 uses different methods to collect and process data which could also be having an impact.

Google’s recommendations include:

  1. Using the real-time report to show the data being collected - I’m not sure how realistic it is to expect organisations to rely on this for anything other than validating data collection.
  2. Using the sampling feature - collect less data and in theory it should take less time to process.
  3. Using the export feature - export the data to a spreadsheet or other data analysis tool for greater flexibility and to access the data quicker.
Will GA4 ever get quicker?

The fundamentals of GA4 are different to GA3.

GA3 records sessions, which are defined as a group of user interactions that take place within a 30-minute period. That means if a user visits your website or app multiple times within 30 minutes, those visits will be counted as part of the same sessions.

Having a defined session means GA3 knows when a session has started and ended, so the data is relatively simple to process.

In contrast, GA4 does not use a fixed session. Instead, it tracks events as they occur (any interaction your user has with the platform). It then uses Machine Learning and an algorithm to group events together into sessions, taking into account the time between sessions, the type of events, and the user’s behaviour.

Without a defined session window, the algorithm needs time to identify when a session has ended and this takes a lot more time to process. There’s also a few other reasons why event-based data can be slower to process.

Real-time data collection means real-time processing which can put strain on processing resources.

  1. Event-based data can be noisy and contain lots of irrelevant data.
  2. Events need to be aggregated at an individual event level, which can be a more complex and time-consuming process.
So in answer to whether GA4 will ever get any quicker - they may be able to improve performance but the fundamental ways that GA4 captures data means it is unlikely to ever be as quick as GA3 was.
Is there an upside?

Yes, an event-based data model collects way more data than UA did and we can therefore get a lot more insight into user behaviour than ever before. If you need access to your data quicker, Google’s Looker studio can access the raw data and visualise it much quicker than it takes GA4 to process it.

If you need help with your GA4 implementation or setting up new reports, get in touch and one of our certified GA4 consultants can help you.

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