Sunsets are beautiful. Well, not all sunsets. In fact, some of them, like the recent phasing out of Universal Analytics for Google Analytics 4 (GA4), have caused a lot of upset and anguish in the marketing community.
The concern over UA’s winding down shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. We humans aren’t always fans of change and unpredictability. While UA was not perfect, it was a known quantity. Moreover, it was built into most people’s marketing and advertising infrastructure and workflows.
Now that everyone has had some time to adjust, it’s time to see how GA4 works for advertising teams. Are things better or worse? Has Google’s new web analytic platform created exciting new opportunities or annoying new problems?
Let’s find out.
GA4: The positives
UA was a solid platform. It was around for a long time, and people got comfortable with it. However, it had some shortcomings. In particular, the way it treated web and app analytics as different things.
Customer journeys have evolved a lot in recent years. Google built GA4 to recognize these changes, and the idea is that this new data model will revolutionize data collection, measurement, and reporting.
So, what are the big positives of GA4 now users have had time to adjust to the tool?
GA4’s predictive analytics capabilities are a strong selling point. It uses Machine Learning to look at historical data and find patterns that forecast things like predictive revenue, purchase probability, and churn rate. If you have enough data, this feature is huge.
Apple iO14 privacy changes, GDPR, and ad blockers have hurt the marketing world. It hit data accuracy and left significant gaps in how teams attribute conversions. Predictive analysis can help fill these gaps using algorithms and support marketing and advertising teams to overcome the restrictions that have resulted from user privacy restrictions.
Buyer journeys are multi-touch and happen over a wide range of devices. Tracking conversions in the present day requires more sophisticated tools that show how users got from point A to point B.
Being able to detect users across different platforms and devices during other sessions and times gives a fuller and more accurate picture of the user journey. Marketing teams can plow this data back into their campaigns and even understand their users a lot better.
Good integration with Google Ads
Another big plus with GA4 is that it integrates smoothly with Google Ads. However, this benefit is about much more than handy configuration; it also helps with remarketing because Google Ads uses Google’s first-party proprietary data.
The upside here is that teams are mitigating the loss of third-party cookies and allowing for the creation of high-intent audiences and, hopefully, more conversions.
Many people have praised GA4 for its ability to collect data; others have said that reporting is not its strong suit. The jury is still out on that for the moment because Google has plans to make the reporting elements stronger.
UA came with around 80 standard reports, while GA4 has about 20. However, the Exploration tool is here to help. Yes, it has a steep learning curve and takes a bit of configuration, but it facilitates powerful customized reports.
GA4: The negatives
Despite GA4’s upsides and potential to “future-proof” your marketing analytics, not everyone is delighted about the new tools.
Here are some of the issues that users have highlighted.
UA was such a mainstay that teams relied on it to collect historical data from their site. However, GA4 only keeps 14 months of user information. The most obvious problem here is that it prohibits year-over-year comparisons.
Some users have suggested that while the GA4 interface looks and seems simple, it takes a lot of work to get your head around. Part of this is because it’s new, but it’s also to do with complexities, like working with new data streams.
UA tracks sessions, while GA4 tracks events. However, some users have been concerned that this led to conversion tracking discrepancies. Indeed, one team found that GA4 was tracking between 15% and 40% fewer conversions on Google Ads.
Problems of this nature are nothing new to digital marketing teams. For example, Meta and Google Analytics often report different results on the same campaigns, with users suggesting Meta results are overcounted.
In this particular case, the difference is between client-side and server-side tracking, with some browsers blocking the tracking pixels.
GA4: The upcoming improvements
GA4 is built to help advertising teams understand consumer behavior across various digital platforms. However, it can do far more, such as assisting teams to adjust to a shifting regulatory and technological landscape.
Recent feature announcements announced by Google include
- Customized reports tailored to specific departments or roles
- Better access controls and reporting improvements for data governance
- Faster exports to BigQuery
These updates show that while there is a period of adjustment between UA and GA4, Google isn’t finished with their new platform, and they are actively working on ways to make it better for marketing teams.
You can find out more about these changes here.
Attribution model changes
As of October 2023, GA4 is saying goodbye to some attribution models, namely:
- First Click
- Time Decay
Last-click attribution models will still be an option. Google wants to shift to alternative ways to look at the customer journey, so we’ll see a more Machine Learning-assisted, data-driven type of attribution. These changes are in response to the cookieless future we are all moving toward.
While there have been a few understandable teething problems, Google built GA4 in response to regulatory and technological headwinds. Now that people have gotten more used to GA4 and all its intricacies, it’s emerging as an efficient analytics tool.
The key thing to consider is that it is still a work in progress, and Google has announced improvements that will arrive in both the short and long term.