Google Analytics | Online Marketing

Google Analytics 4 Review: Wins, Losses and Learning Curves

As a digital marketing professional, the ever-evolving landscape of technology and data analytics is what keeps my job dynamic and exciting. So, when the news came that Google would be sunsetting Universal Analytics and ushering in Google Analytics 4 (GA4), I knew that a new challenge was about to begin. Over the past month, I’ve dived head first into GA4, using it for reporting and analysis, and it has been a journey of discovery, adaptation, and innovation. In this blog post, I’m excited to share my personal experiences and insights as I traversed the landscape of GA4—unveiling its unique features, facing its challenges, and harnessing its potential for driving data-informed decisions. 

A Data Renaissance: Unveiling Insights Beyond Expectations

Google would like you to think the migration to GA4 was a “paradigm shift”, in fact, most articles on the topic use those exact words. I’m not sure if we need to use such passionate language, GA4 is certainly an upgrade, like switching from a bicycle to an e-bike, but it’s not like they invented some kind of flying single-person mode of transport. While it’s true that GA4 doesn’t inherently collect more data than its predecessor, in fact, due to the limited data retention one could argue that GA4 collects significantly less data. 

The way GA4 tracks and processes that data, that has at least brought about a transformation in our insights. GA4 tracks every single interaction in a single session, which means that multiple conversion events can be recorded and used to build a more complete picture of what actions are taking place in a single session. In the past, if a user submitted a form multiple times in a single session, Universal Analytics would only count it once. GA4, however, meticulously tracks each instance, providing us with a more accurate representation of user engagement. This has, in fact, increased conversion rates by up to 10% in some of our Google Ads accounts when compared to UA data in the same period last year. This doesn’t mean that there are suddenly more actual conversions, we are just able to track conversions in more detail across platforms and devices. This has given us a clearer understanding of our audience’s behaviour and has empowered us to tailor our strategies more effectively.

Redefined Metrics: From Bounce Rates to Engaged Sessions

One of the most intriguing shifts I’ve encountered is the demoting of the well-known “bounce rate” metric.  GA4 is placing greater emphasis on “engaged sessions” by replacing bounce rate with this KPI in the standard report views like Traffic acquisition. Instead of defining a bounce solely as a user who lands on a page and leaves without interacting, GA4 introduces a new perspective with “engaged sessions.” Now, if a user spends more than 10 seconds on a page, they are considered engaged —even if they don’t click on anything. The bounce rate metric has been relegated to the Exploration reports.

This shift in perspective has changed the way we consider user engagement. It recognizes that interaction isn’t limited to clicks; users can still be actively absorbing content without making a click, especially on pages with a lot of informational content. This nuanced approach aligns more closely with the way users interact with modern (read: mobile) websites, and gives us a more accurate assessment of engagement.


Diving Deeper: Enhanced User Journey Mapping

One of the most remarkable improvements GA4 brings to the table is its ability to provide a more comprehensive view of the user journey. Unlike Universal Analytics, where user interactions were often siloed into individual sessions, GA4 allows us to stitch together these interactions across multiple sessions. This means that we can now trace the intricate paths users take, even if they revisit our site on different occasions or devices.

This enhanced user journey mapping has opened up new doors of understanding. We can now identify touchpoints that were previously hidden from view and gain insights into the complete user experience. This has been invaluable in refining our content and design strategies, ensuring that we provide a seamless experience that guides users towards conversion. GA4’s holistic perspective on user journeys has undoubtedly enriched our decision-making processes.


Empowering Flexibility: Event Tracking Unleashed

The new event tracking model is more intuitive than the one in Universal Analytics. With GA4, we have the freedom to define events on the fly, without the need for extensive configuration. This flexibility has revolutionized our ability to gather data on specific interactions that matter most to our business goals and those of our clients. While the use-case is great, Google did promise a simple, streamlined process for setting up these events… Our experience however has been very different. The process is only simple, if the website is cookie-cutter. The slightest customization, and the event tracking becomes just as complicated as in UA.

The enhanced event tracking doesn’t just stop at the acquisition of data—it extends to its utilization. GA4’s event-based approach allows us to build custom reports that highlight precisely the insights we choose. Whether it’s tracking clicks on a new feature, interactions with video content, or engagement with dynamic elements, this control over event tracking has enabled us to fine-tune our campaigns with unprecedented precision.


Closing Thoughts: Navigating a Brighter Data Frontier

The first month of using Google Analytics 4 has shown us the evolution of data analysis in action. GA4 doesn’t just offer a new tool; it represents a fresh perspective on understanding our digital landscape. But transitioning to GA4 hasn’t been without its challenges. The abundance of data and features was certainly overwhelming at first, and finding specific data points still can feel like searching for a needle in a haystack. Regardless, the intelligent tracking mechanisms, coupled with its ability to fill in the gaps with machine learning, have unveiled insights that are already shaping our strategies after just a few weeks. With each passing day, our mastery of GA4 grows, unlocking a world of data-driven possibilities that hold the key to crafting more meaningful, effective, and engaging digital experiences. As we continue this journey, I am excited to see how GA4 will continue to shape the future of digital marketing for years to come.


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