One major draw to Google Analytics is its free plan. While this plan is acceptable for general traffic data, it's essential to be aware of its limitations.
1. Sampling of Data
If you're on any Google Analytics plan other than their Analytics 360, they use something called sampling.
According to Google, "In data analysis, sampling is the practice of analyzing a subset of all data in order to uncover the meaningful information in the larger data set. For example, if you wanted to estimate the number of trees in a 100-acre area where the distribution of trees was fairly uniform, you could count the number of trees in 1 acre and multiply by 100, or count the trees in a half-acre and multiply by 200 to get an accurate representation of the entire 100 acres."
In other words, sampled data can be wildly inaccurate. We encourage you to read more about "how accurate is Google Analytics?" but it's necessary to know that their free plan uses sampled data. If you want unsampled data, you'll need to get on their 360 plan.
2. Custom Properties
There are also limitations on the type of data these plans can collect. Generally, GA tracks browser, session, and device data and doesn't focus on individual users. There are ways, also not easy, to track individual users.
However, these users cannot be identified by Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and can only have up to 20 non-PII custom properties for the free plan and around 50+ for the 360.
3. Hit Limits
Additional limitations with the free plan are access to hit-level data and the number of hits. The free plan is limited to 10 million hits/month compared to around 1 billion hits/month.
4. Report Limits
The free plan only allows for about 50k rows of sampled data, while the 360 plan removes this limit. Other report limitations include custom reports and custom funnels. These are only accessible in their 360 plans.
So creating a custom funnel with custom steps is not possible with the free plan.
For integrating with BigQuery, Salesforce, or Campaign Manager, all these require a 360 plan. Historical data from other sources are limited in both versions. There are different 3rd party integrations for the free plans, but these are not native integrations.
Only Google Analytics 360 includes native integrations with other platforms.
6. Cost of Google Analytics 360
If you want their flagship plan, that's going to run about $150,000/year -- no, those zeros are not typos. Access to non-sampled data and native integrations does not come cheap.
7. Which plan is right for you?
Depending on your budget and how much traffic your site generates will help you decide which plan is best. However, it's worth examining other alternative tools that have the best of both without the enormous price tag.
A platform such as Woopra offers a free and a paid plan that is a fraction of the Google price with a suite of features that rivals Google Analytics 360.
Even with the free plan, Woopra never uses sampled data and focuses on individual user profiles.
This means each visitor to your site has their own profile with a complete history of their tracked behavior. The added ability to send PII information to identify users, plus the several built-in integrations available, make it possible to understand your user's complete journey on your site.
Create unlimited custom reports to analyze your users from their first visit from a marketing campaign to feature usages, all the way to becoming a paying customer.
With alternative platforms such as Woopra available in today's analytic landscape, there are far better options than Google Analytics to consider.