Almost every marketer loves to hate Google Analytics 4. That’s because, for most of us, it means embracing a new, overly complicated tool when there is a perfectly capable option heading to the trash bin. And it doesn’t help that, at a glance, Google Analytics 4 is missing features and reports that we once loved.
Still, it’s a relationship that can be salvaged. And dare I say that we might even learn to really, really like Google Analytics 4.
If you’re playing catch up, Google Analytics 4 is the latest version of Google Analytics. It’s set to replace Universal Analytics in July 2023, and if you haven’t created your GA4 property yet, the initial experience can be jarring.
Google Analytics 4 shifts away from analytics that are centered around sessions and instead places an emphasis on users – namely, how users interact with your brand from their first touchpoint to their last. These touchpoints are tracked as “events” that are meant to provide more context and insight into your relationship with every potential customer. That may sound simple enough, but that pivot does require you to reassess how you view and analyze your data.
If you’re willing to embrace that change, you’ll uncover more than a handful of reasons to appreciate Google Analytics 4. Let’s expand on a few of those features:
Tracking customer journeys in a cookie-less world
Let’s be honest: Were you really gaining a clear picture of the customer journey from the user flow report in Universal Analytics?
Didn’t think so.
Google Analytics 4 brings more clarity to how users are engaging with your website or app across devices and channels. A good way to think about it is that it is less focused on an isolated metric or predefined path, and more interested in telling the story behind your data.
It accomplishes this by relying more on machine learning and modeling – two elements that are vital to tracking your customers in a cookie-less world. Google Analytics has always worked by setting cookies on a user’s browsers, but with Google Analytics 4, the platform has adopted a new approach that helps marketers collect data, even as cookies and personally identifiable information becomes more regulated.
That means Google Analytics 4 delivers a clearer picture of what individual users are doing in the online experiences that you provide – now and in the future.
Universal Analytics may have introduced us to machine learning and artificial intelligence, but Google Analytics 4 makes it useful.
Based on your past data, it automatically provides insights about your traffic and predicts how various audiences will behave when interacting with your website. This includes identifying prospects who are most likely to make a buying decision in the near future and uncovering which channels acquire customers with the highest lifetime value for your brand. It’ll even tell you which customers are likely to lose interest.
These insights are incredibly valuable if you’re focused on creating better personalization and maximizing your ad budget.
Tracking events tells a better story
As easy as it is to find a data point or report in Universal Analytics, the session-based model has its limitations.
The crux of the problem is that a session-based model doesn’t always reveal the customer journey or uncover clues about why a particular audience was motivated to take a certain action on your website. That's because page views were actually treated as the most important metric in Universal Analytics.
Google Analytics 4 has flipped the model by tracking everything as events and making it easier to discover how different events influence your audience. Page views, conversions, app installs, and other actions are all treated on a level playing field.
Ideally, this means you’ll be better positioned to understand the relationship between these various events. It’s a richer story about how your target audience is engaging with your brand.
Never stop exploring
This is where a marketer becomes a data analyst.
The Explorations section of Google Analytics 4 is where you can go to create new visualizations and reports that were never possible to find in Universal Analytics. The tool allows you to compare data for different audience segments, funnels, paths, and cohorts.
What’s intriguing about this is that you can go beyond standard reports to find insights that might not have been immediately evident in your existing data. It just takes some sleuthing by asking questions that an out-of-the-box report might not have considered for your business.
It can be tricky to get started, but as you get comfortable with identifying the data dimensions and metrics that you want to compare, you can develop some pretty slick custom reports.
The best part is that you can identify and develop new audience segments directly from the report. This is where the data is working for you. Rather than approaching the data with a preconceived notion about a particular customer or outcome, you can follow the data to uncover audiences that you may not have been aware of before.
It’s time to get started with Google Analytics 4
Universal Analytics isn't vanishing just yet, but its days are numbered. If you haven’t already activated your Google Analytics 4 property, we strongly recommend flipping the switch so that you can start collecting data and getting more comfortable with it. If you need help getting started, feel free to reach out.