5 Things Every Marketer Should Know About Google Analytics 4 (GA4)

Jul 25, 2023 Marketing Tips

by Maeve Billings

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In today’s rapidly evolving digital marketing landscape, staying ahead of the curve with data-driven insights is crucial for success. Google Analytics has been a trusted tool for marketers over the years, providing valuable data and analytics for web properties. With the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), there has been a paradigm shift in how marketers track and analyze web and app properties. GA4, announced in October 2020, brings new features and capabilities that every marketer should know. In this blog post, we will delve into the top five things every marketer needs to know to efficiently use and fully capitalize on the brand-new Google Analytics 4.

GA4: The Next Generation of Analytics

Google Analytics 4 is not merely an update or redesign of Universal Analytics (UA); it represents an entirely new analytics system. As of July 1, 2023, UA has ceased processing data, making GA4 the future of analytics. One of the key highlights of GA4 is its event-based data model, focusing on user interactions rather than just pageviews. This event-driven approach allows for more accurate tracking of user journeys across both web and mobile apps, offering marketers a comprehensive understanding of user behavior. By capturing user interactions as events, GA4 enables cross-platform tracking, providing valuable insights into user engagement across various touchpoints.

Moreover, GA4 incorporates AI-driven data analysis, empowering marketers to gain deeper insights into user behavior and predict their actions. The privacy-centric design ensures compliance with data protection regulations while still providing valuable metrics to improve user experiences.

ga4 interface

The new interface has not only had positive reviews, though. A common complaint is the lack of educational resources from Google explaining how GA4 works. This has left many marketers struggling to figure out the new tool, and support calls are often confusing due to some Google team members not being well-versed in GA4.

Key Differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics

Compared to its predecessors, GA4 brings a wealth of new features and functionalities, some of which were previously exclusive to GA360 users. One notable change is the shift towards an event-driven data model, as mentioned earlier. This shift represents a total change in how marketers analyze data, some say allowing them to understand user behavior more comprehensively.

By combining web and mobile analytics into a single platform, GA4 eliminates the need for separate tracking and reporting systems, providing a holistic view of user interactions. Google believes this integration enables marketers to gain valuable insights into how users engage with their brand across various platforms.

However, some marketers have expressed concerns about the differences between UA and GA4. It has been reported that GA4 falls short in terms of features compared to Universal Analytics, with the removal of attribution features being a particularly sore point for marketers. In addition, recreating reports in GA4 has been a difficult task for clients and marketers alike. The process has proven challenging, and some reports that were relied upon in Universal Analytics have proven tough to recreate.

AI-Powered Insights and Privacy Enhancement

With the increasing focus on data privacy and the phasing out of third-party cookies, GA4 leverages machine learning to overcome these challenges. The AI-powered insights in GA4 offer predictive metrics such as purchase probability, churn probability and revenue prediction. These metrics empower marketers to anticipate customer actions and tailor their marketing campaigns to high-value audiences effectively.

GA4’s machine learning capabilities reduce reliance on cookies, ensuring compliance with privacy regulations while still providing valuable insights. This means that marketers can continue to make data-driven decisions without compromising user privacy.

However, users have reported a significant data lag, with data taking 12-24 hours to be reported, hindering real-time monitoring and action. Data discrepancies have also been flagged, leading to doubts about the accuracy of the data served. These concerns have left some marketers questioning if they can fully trust GA4 as their go-to analytics tool.

Data discrepancies have also been a source of worry for users. Differences in information between GA4 API and the Looker Studio Connector have led to doubts about the accuracy of the data, making some marketers question the reliability of GA4.

Enhanced Debugging and Free BigQuery Connection

GA4 introduces improvements in debugging capabilities with the intention of making it easier for marketers to identify and resolve issues. The new “DebugView” in GA4’s interface allows real-time monitoring of event data, custom parameters and user properties, simplifying the debugging process (see image below). 

real time

Additionally, GA4 offers a free BigQuery connection, which was previously only available to GA360 users. This feature allows for quick and easy querying of large and complex datasets, eliminating sampling issues that are often encountered when dealing with complex segments.

New Innovations to Drive ROI

Google continues to enhance GA4 with new product innovations. One significant development is the ability to import fractional credits, based on data-driven attribution, from GA4 to Google Ads. This move away from last-click attribution allows marketers to bid for the actual value of each ad, leading to improved performance.

Additionally, marketers can now create Google Analytics 4 audiences directly in Google Ads, including predictive ones. Leveraging predictive audiences has been shown to significantly improve campaign performance. For example, McDonald’s Hong Kong exceeded its mobile order growth goal using a predictive audience of “likely seven-day purchasers” exported to Google Ads. This led to a remarkable 6x increase in app orders, a 2.3x stronger ROI, a 5.6x boost in revenue and a notable 63% reduction in cost per action.

“Google Analytics 4 has equipped us with a strong measurement foundation. We are able to get valuable insights from our first-party data with machine learning and utilize them in our marketing, driving impressive results to future-proof our business.”
— Tina Chao, Chief Marketing & Digital Customer Experience Officer, McDonald’s Hong Kong 

Google Analytics 4 represents a fundamental shift in the analytics landscape, providing marketers with advanced capabilities and a holistic approach to tracking and analyzing data. By understanding the key differences between GA4 and Universal Analytics, marketers can work to leverage the event-driven data model, gain insights from web and mobile analytics integration, harness the power of machine learning and utilize improved debugging tools.

For more technology insights, check out our recent blog on how to use user-generated content to drive engagement and profit.

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