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Analytics

Date posted

01 Jul 2024

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Google Analytics 4: Stop hating, start advocating

Google Analytics 4 continues to receive a lot of criticism. A poll from search engine roundtable, based on a sizable sample of 1,739 responses, paints a very bleak picture when it comes to Google Analytics 4 sentiment:

  • 75% of respondents have a negative perception of Google Analytics 4. 
  • 50% of respondents went as far to say they hate Google Analytics 4!

Strong words and sentiment indeed! Whilst the survey may contain some bias towards SEO professionals, its findings likely point to a broader industry trend of negative sentiment.

Though the results from the survey were neither surprising nor unexpected, it did get me thinking. 

What I am about to say in this article will divide opinion but I believe this picture of doom and gloom surrounding Google Analytics 4 is not wholly justified nor is it fair. And here’s why. 

Put simply, the industry took Universal Analytics for granted. For the best part of a decade, we had the luxury of access to a highly granular Universal Analytics dataset coupled with a UI that many marketers could use easily. For most businesses this was all available for free.

For example, real-time reporting, intra-day reporting and an intuitive and familiar Universal Analytics UI meant that we always had a wealth of insights at our fingertips immediately. When you pause and think about this for a minute, ask yourself how many other tools or platforms there are that democratise such granular data quickly without asking for your money?

The industry dined out handsomely on Universal Analytics, our appetite was insatiable. We could satisfy our stakeholders with immediate information on how our marketing campaigns and websites were performing, we could do this easily and (for most businesses) for free. We got greedy.

But, critically, this also made us lazy. We became so accustomed to getting granular data for free that we took it for granted. Even when dual tagging sites with both Universal Analytics and Google Analytics 4, and knowing the end was nigh for Universal Analytics, we continued to bury our heads in the sand. Our ingrained laziness, developed over a decade, meant we continued to rely upon a dataset that we knew would become obsolete.

Then along came July 1st 2023, the sunset of Universal Analytics for free customers, and widespread negativity leading to sentiment showcased in the above survey. The industry knew this day was coming way in advance, and we had plenty of time to get used to Google Analytics 4. But we chose not to. We need to collectively take some of the responsibility here in not being prepared despite this transparency.

The saying goes you don’t know what you’ve got until it has gone. In reality, we knew what we had, but we were so desperate to cling on to it that we have lost sight of the bigger picture.

The future with Google Analytics 4

Yes, Google Analytics 4 does have its frustrations, just like any new or revised product would have. Yes, Google Analytics 4 does take a shift in mindset to get used to the new dataset and undo 10 years of dining out on the Universal Analytics dataset. Yes, Google Analytics 4 is not perfect, but then what tool is? 

In the sea of negativity and criticism surfaced in the survey, there are in fact some really exciting new features in Google Analytics 4 which are not getting the airtime they deserve. And, let us not forget, we still have access to a wealth of data in Google Analytics 4, which we have a great deal of flexibility in collecting and analysing, for free.

Therefore, it is time for us to take a breath, pause and reflect. I urge the industry to stop hating and start advocating Google Analytics 4.

Start advocating Google Analytics 4

Google Analytics 4 is here, and it’s here to stay (at least for the foreseeable future). As of July 1st 2024, Universal Analytics is confined to the archives alongside classic analytics and urchin analytics.

Rather than obsessing over what we no longer have, let’s switch our thoughts and ways of thinking to what we do have and how we can use this to change the way we think of measurement for the greater good. 

Here are five reasons to start advocating Google Analytics 4:

1. Improved attribution capabilities

Last click attribution has been the bane of our lives for many years – we made do with an increasingly outdated and archaic way of assigning conversions to marketing channels because, unless you were an enterprise Google Analytics customer, attribution solutions in Google Analytics were few and far between.

It is bizarre to think that we accepted last click attribution for so long – attribution is such a critical aspect underpinning web analytics, yet we just accepted last click and brushed its shortcomings under the carpet. Another example of our collective laziness. It was a critical area where Universal Analytics was weak yet we were not overly vocal about it, and sentiment clearly wasn’t as negative as what we are seeing for Google Analytics 4.

With Google Analytics 4 we now have data-driven attribution! We have multi-touch attribution that we have been craving, and we have this for free. That’s right, data-driven attribution is available to all and no longer a feature reserved for enterprise customers. Google has listened and Google has delivered a solution we have been asking for. Yet this momentous shift, and the benefits this will provide us, is lost in the swathe of wider discontent.

Let’s take a moment and celebrate that we now have a vastly more flexible attribution solution in Google Analytics 4 that allows us to be better, more informed marketers. The marketing landscape may look quite different with data-driven attribution in play, but let’s not forget that last click has not been fit for purpose for many years. 

What I particularly advocate is the new attribution settings section in Google Analytics 4 admin. It provides a way of toggling your attribution model should you need alongside setting lookback windows.

Check out our extensive guide to attribution in Google Analytics 4 on the RocketMill blog for more information on attribution in Google Analytics 4.

2. Access to raw data 

In Universal Analytics, and preceding versions of Google Analytics, access to the raw underlying dataset was limited. This made us heavily reliant on using the interface and its pre-built reporting capabilities, or utilising the Google Analytics API to programmatically extract data we needed for advanced analysis. Those on the enterprise version of Universal Analytics could go a step further and export raw data into BigQuery, enabling both advanced analysis and integration of Google Analytics with other datasets.

With Google Analytics 4 we all now have the ability to extract our raw Google Analytics 4 data into BigQuery! This is no longer reserved solely for enterprise customers, and Google has pushed the door wide open for SMEs to do more with their data.

This is another fantastic initiative to democratise access to the underlying Google Analytics 4 dataset. Whilst we may have lost some immediacy of data within the Google Analytics 4 interface, we now have greater flexibility to do advanced analysis that is simply not possible within the interface or explorations. We should reflect on this positive step forward and applaud it.

We made a bold call back in 2018 that, by 2023, we would be moving away from pre-built reporting in the interface and towards more customised and advanced analysis. It is evident this is certainly the direction of travel with the launch of Google Analytics 4.

Whilst this means broadening our learning into the world of BigQuery and SQL, this should be viewed as an exciting opportunity. At RocketMill, we’re helping many of our clients by building enhanced data models that allow new ways to analyse Google Analytics 4 data, and identify new opportunities to improve marketing and website performance, delivering competitive advantage. 

3. Explorations

I mentioned earlier that Universal Analytics made us lazy, and this was ingrained by the UI providing lots of pre-built reporting but limited custom reporting capabilities. It tuned us into a specific way of thinking that we are finding it difficult to move away from.

I applaud the introduction of explorations into the Google Analytics 4 UI as well as reducing the volume of pre-built reporting. These moves will reduce our laziness and get us thinking and critiquing our data again.

Millions of businesses around the world use Google Analytics 4, yet each business has its nuances. Explorations gives us the control back to view data in a way that is customised and makes sense to our individual businesses.

4. Flexible data schema

One of the shortfalls of Universal Analytics (and yet another example of the industry accepting a key shortcoming) was its rigid data schema. This is best demonstrated when collecting events in Universal Analytics. We were restricted to three event parameters (category, action and label) which may have been forward thinking in 2012, but was notably behind the curve in the latter days of Universal Analytics. The result would be to shoe-horn as much information into a dimension as possible, using a delimiter such as a pipe (|) leading to confusing disjointed data that marketers would be afraid to use.

With Google Analytics 4 we now have a flexible event schema! This is a hugely positive step forward as the end result is granular data that is structured in a more intuitive and less restrictive way. This will increase adoption that will, ultimately, lead to competitive advantage and better performance.

With this flexibility, there is still a need to be prudent. Good measurement isn’t about measuring everything. Making sure you do measurement frameworks the right way will be critical to maximising the flexibility and use of your Google Analytics 4 dataset.

5. Data consolidation

When Universal Analytics was launched in 2012, the world was a different place and measurement capabilities across the industry were relatively nascent.

Universal Analytics was primarily built for websites first. Whilst app analytics could be measured via Google’s Firebase platform, the data schema across app and web were very different by design. Therefore, for businesses that have both app and web ingrained into their business strategy, Universal Analytics could not provide an integrated view of the user journey across app and web. Yet another example of Universal Analytics falling short.

The great news is that with Google Analytics 4, both website and app share the exact same data schema. This is incredibly powerful for businesses that utilise both web and app. By using data streams, it provides the capability to create a single Google Analytics 4 property that combines web and app data – exciting times ahead for many businesses.

A consistent measurement framework across your web and app instances will be critical for successful data consolidation and subsequent adoption. Be sure to follow our recommendations and best practices for doing measurement frameworks the right way.

Speak to us if you are looking to consolidate your web and app data using Google Analytics 4.

Start utilising these features in Google Analytics 4

So there you have it, five compelling examples of why we should be advocating Google Analytics 4 – but these features risk being overshadowed by the air of negativity we’ve collectively created as an industry.

Here are some next steps to start championing Google Analytics 4 data across your business and to start using it in the right way.

  1. Democratise multi-touch attribution into your marketing KPI reporting, using the data-driven attribution modelling capabilities in Google Analytics 4.
  2. Export the underlying Google Analytics 4 dataset into BigQuery. It opens up a whole new set of opportunities to conduct advanced data analysis which in turn will give you insights that deliver a competitive advantage to your marketing activity.
  3. Utilise the explorations reporting in the Google Analytics 4 UI to deliver the customisation and business context that you need to understand your audience and deliver marketing performance.
  4. Utilise the flexible event schema in Google Analytics 4 to collect parameters to better understand audience behaviour and intent. Ensure this is underpinned by a measurement framework to avoid tracking measurement for measurement’s sake.
  5. Take advantage of the consistent data schema that now exists between app and web to consolidate measurement across web and app.

If you need help or advice to utilise these amazing new features in Google Analytics 4, speak to us.

Get help from our analytics experts

Google Analytics 4 means a different way of thinking about your web analytics data. Whilst this can be seen as challenging, particularly as we have all been used to Universal Analytics for so long, help is at hand.

As Google Certified Partners in both Google Analytics and Google Manager, we possess the breadth of capability and depth of expertise to partner with businesses and maximise their use of the Google Analytics 4 dataset. Our analytics team has put together an array of content on the RocketMill blog to help gain clarity and understanding of the Google Analytics 4 dataset.