Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Mastering Google Analytics 4

by Richard Hayes, head of search at Catalyst

Google may describe Google Analytics 4 (GA4) as ‘the future of analytics’ but does it really live up to the hype?

In today’s marketplace analytics are often the backbone of a business’s operations and decisions. Done well, good data analysis can help businesses evaluate and measure success, optimise performance and maximise profit. More than ever it can make all the difference between a good business decision or a bad one, exponential growth or decay.

The arrival of GA4 – which officially became Google’s default free analytics service following the sunsetting of standard Universal Analytics (UA) this July – marks an important evolution of data-led insights and analytics. For the first time, it brings together both website and app data to help you better understand the entire customer journey. It also features new predictive metrics to allow you to make data-driven decisions on a larger scale and, in turn, ensure that your digital presence is properly optimised to deliver better results. 

Inevitably though, as with most major product upgrades, the migration has courted its fair share of negative attention. Amongst the marketing technology world it has suffered backlash for perceived bugs and limitations compared to its popular decades-old UA. Two months into the hard crossover to GA4 and the consensus is that many marketers and SEOs still remain torn as to whether it’s a positive or negative change. For some it may even be that they are yet to fully establish how it is different to UA and how it will impact operations. 

Here at Catalyst, drawing on our experience of using GA4 however I’m glad to report that, while it is certainly not the finished article, there are huge business benefits to be had. 

Big business benefits 

Foremost is the fact that rather than being subjected to fragmented data and disorganised independent sessions, GA4 enables you to now benefit from a complete understanding of your customer journey across all touchpoints.

Having taken inspiration from third-party software, it has incorporated features that keep everything collected in one convenient place. This means that you can measure data from across your website(s) and app(s), collating it all and making proactive plans and reactive decisions based on evidence over guesswork.

Another big benefit is data-driven attribution. Historically, all conversion credit has gone to the last ad clicked, but this final ad may only have had a small part to play in converting the customer. GA4’s new aptitude for data-driven attribution provides unique insights into the decision making process, and will help you to streamline your whole marketing effort in order to deliver a greater ROI. Also, this data can be exported to Google Ads and the Google Marketing Platform in order to help optimise your campaigns.  

What’s also great is that using the aforementioned machine learning and GA4 AI will enable your marketing spend to go much, much further than before. This is because GA4 allows you to cut out less efficient avenues of marketing and can help reduce potential customer drop off. Amid today’s gloomy economy when every pound counts, this is a major plus.

Importantly too, GA4 has been designed to help you manage and minimise the risk of breaching data protection laws in your country, helping you to monitor cookies and metadata in a safe way to ensure compliance, while still allowing you to preserve key measurement functionality. 

Finally, a huge benefit is that it makes it easier than ever to meet data governance needs. Need various teams to have access? No problem. Need to outsource your GA management to an external agency? Easy.

As your business grows and, in turn, Google Analytics requirements what’s great is that GA4 makes it much simpler to meet your increasing demand. Using Analytics 360, you’re able to implement 125 custom dimensions, 400 audiences and 50 conversion types per property, which should be plenty for most organisations. 

Con considerations 

As to be expected with any new product though, GA4 does not come without any cons.

Principally is the fact that when you set up a GA4 account with your site, Google will start collecting GA4 data. This means that any historical data will not show in the GA4 view, so you won’t be able to compare new data with previous years until you’ve been using GA4 for more than a year.

The good news is historical data isn’t deleted, it’s stored away in your Universal Analytics account, and you’ll be able to access it until July 1, 2024. As a result, we’d recommend exporting your historical data into a CSV file while you start accumulating new data in GA4. 

It’s also important to factor in the fact that it will take some time getting used to GA4. There are a lot of changes to wrap your head around and if you’re familiar with the legacy version of GA, then making the switch and getting it running smoothly for you will most likely be time consuming. As a result, you may find this delaying your analysis work (at least for a little while), and could impact key business decisions.

A change for the better

It’s often said that the only constant is change and it was probably inevitable that after ten years Google would seek to upgrade its beloved free analytics tool. Of course, with this comes a host of new features and functionalities for marketers and SEOs to get to grips with, all of which will take time. Equally, there are still areas which need improvement for Google to address over time. However, in the now, the good news is that GA4 offers some big business benefits which will undoubtedly pay dividends.