GA4—known formally as Google Analytics 4, but GA4 is what you’ll likely hear it called more often—is here as of July 1, 2023. It’s a newer, more powerful version of the analytics that one of the world’s biggest tech companies now has to offer. If you’re like our crew here at Till who love all things marketing, you might’ve been eagerly awaiting this rollout just as much as we were.
Now that it’s here, most of us are asking the same question: How does GA4 work? And how is it different from the past versions of analytics that Google offered, namely Universal Analytics, better known as UA?
Plus, there’s the most important question of all: How are we going to use the insights we get from GA4 to actually make better data-driven decisions in our marketing efforts?
If you’re asking these same questions that we did—good! We’ve been delving into GA4 and are ready to share our understanding of what it means for you, your business, and the marketing field in general.
What is GA4 and why should you care?
You already know GA4 as the latest version of the web analytics platform Google offers. It’s a resource that can analyze all the pertinent information you want to know about how people are using your business website: how they got to your website, how much time they spend there, whether they made a purchase, or even whether they started to make a purchase but didn’t follow through in checkout.
All this information is valuable for you because it helps you improve your website’s functionality and the overall customer experience. It’s also great for strengthening your marketing efforts. In short, you’re able to use this information to figure out what’s turning your visitors off or stopping them from actually spending money with you.
Here’s an example: Want a tangible idea of how analytics help you? Let’s say you want to improve your conversion funnel. You can set your GA4 to track when people add an item to their cart, when they proceed to the checkout, whether they follow through with a purchase, and how much money they spend in that transaction.
From there, compare that one customer to your overall website traffic. This shows you what percentage of your web visitors are adding items to their cart. Maybe most of your web visitors are ex-ing out of your website right away without even spending 30 seconds browsing what you have to offer. If that’s the case, you know there’s something wrong with your website presentation—the layout is hard to navigate or the copy isn’t compelling, for example.
Maybe, however, you see a significant percentage actually add items to their cart, but then they don’t follow through with checkout. That signals that your checkout process is complicated or confusing—and maybe you need an automatic abandoned cart follow-up email for that customer.
The more data you analyze about your web visitors, the stronger you can make their experience and your marketing efforts.
Key Features and Changes in GA4
Comparison between GA4 and Universal Analytics (UA)
GA4 is hardly the first version of analytics that web-based businesses have access to—it’s just the most recent and, in turn, the most powerful. So, how does GA4 compare with analytics of the past, such as Universal Analytics (UA)? Glad you asked!
Exploring the new features in GA4
GA4 offers a few distinctive features that are either new or greatly improved. Most notably, when you start using GA4, you’ll be able to focus specifically on individual users rather than the total number of visits you have on your website. (Because, hey, sometimes you have the same visitors coming to your site over and over again, but it’s helpful to know how many unique visits your site is getting.)
Then there’s your ability to look at what are known as events. These are specific activities that people do on your website, such as adding an item to their cart of proceeding to checkout. You can specify which events you want to track using GA4.
Finally, there’s overall improved data analysis and visualization optics, which makes it easier to streamline the reports you get and compare data. And on that note…
Analyzing Data in GA4
What does it mean to analyze the data? There’s no simple answer to this because “data” encompasses so much, and there are so many angles from which you can view it and compare it.
Here are a few examples of data you’re going to be analyzing when you use GA4:
- How many unique users are coming to your website
- How many times are those individual users coming to your site (referred to as “sessions”)
- How many of those visitors are actually making a purchase
- How much money you are making from each transaction
- How long each session lasts on your website
- How many people are leaving your website without any activity at all
- How many events happen per visit, such as button clicks, video plays, or form submissions
- What’s driving the traffic to your website, such as a search engine or a link via social media
- The country or territory where your visitors are located
- What kind of device your visitors are using, such as a laptop or a smartphone
- Whether this visitor is a new user or a returning user
- Whether your web traffic is driven to your site by an advertising campaign
That’s a lot of information. This is why it’s helpful for you to take advantage of GA4’s targeting capabilities. It can look at portions of your traffic based on specific characteristics of your visitors.
Do you want to look at visitors of a specific age, gender, or location? GA4 can sort them out like that. Maybe you want to look at visitors who engaged in a certain behavior, such as those who played a video on your website or added an item to their cart. You can do that, too. You can even analyze based on the tech that was used, such as all your visitors who used a computer (versus a smartphone) or used Chrome (versus Firefox).
When you create these audience segments, you have a stronger understanding of your audience—you know their characteristics, their behaviors, their preferences. You can tailor your marketing efforts based on all of that information.
Consider this: You notice that people who come to your website via smartphone and people who come via computer are equally likely to add an item to their cart. But of those percentages who actually select items, your smartphone visitors are significantly less likely to follow through with a purchase compared with your computer visitors. This suggests that maybe your checkout process isn’t mobile friendly. Similarly, maybe you notice that visitors who click through to your About Us page are 50% more likely to make a purchase compared with visitors who don’t visit that page—this suggests that something about your About Us page makes your brand resonate with potential customers. In that case, it would be smart to use your business story as the centerpiece of a marketing campaign!
Integrating GA4 with Other Tools
GA4 doesn’t exist in a vacuum or in a bubble. The thing about GA4 is that it’s one of many tools available from Google, and they all integrate seamlessly.
First, there’s Google Ads. When you integrate GA4 with Google Ads, you’ll be able to track the success (or lack of success) surrounding each ad you run on the platform. When a visitor clicks through to your website from a Google Ad, you’ll know. When that Google Ad actually leads to a purchase, you’ll know. If you want to see exactly how much revenue is coming from a Google Ad, you can. This helps you get better insight into how your audience responds to Google Ads and ultimately empowers you to improve your ROI.
Then there’s BigQuery, Google’s data storage tool. Although there’s a lot of data on your website that you can let GA4 harvest and organize, there’s much more stored on BigQuery, which gives you greater opportunity to learn about what people are doing on your website over a broader period of time.
Finally, there are outside tools not related to Google. You can sync it up to a marketing automation platform like HubSpot to track sales. You could sync it up to Marketo to look at the impact of your email marketing, or sync it up to the Salesforce Marketing Cloud to track social media success. GA4 has broader integration abilities compared with earlier versions, so there’s much greater opportunity to track.
GA4 Best Practices and Tips
Proven strategies for maximizing GA4 effectiveness
When it comes to analyzing data, there will always be the guess-and-test element, but GA4 makes it easier to make smarter, better-informed guesses about your marketing efforts. We also know a few best practices from years of working with this kind of data. Here are our recommendations on how to use this for the best overall outcomes:
- Be deliberate and purposeful in your analysis. Before you start using GA4, it’s best to ask yourself what you want to achieve. Set a clear, specific goal or objective, and then focus on the key metrics that are most important to achieving that.
- Always segment your audience, and look at many different segments. Segments based on demographics or interests will always give great insight, but don’t dismiss the opportunity you have to segment other ways, such as how long a visitor spent on your website or how they got to your website in the first place.
- Pay attention to any predictive metrics that GA4 can give you. Because of the platform’s built-in machine learning features, you can see analyses that reveal trends and anomalies. From these, you can determine opportunities you might be currently overlooking.
- Experiment! GA4 lets you use A/B testing to try variations of your website or different marketing campaigns. See whether something as simple as a different layout or a different call to action changed the way your audience responds.
- Always stay updated. The data you collect today will be different from the data you collect a year from now, so continue analyzing on a regular basis. This lets you keep up with an ever-evolving audience. Plus, you’ll be able to take advantage of new features GA4 might be rolling out.
Like we said, our team at Till never turns down an opportunity to scrutinize an audience and see what makes them respond best. So, if you want help maximizing your use of all the data you get from GA4, or if you want to build a successful Google Ads campaign based on what you know, get in touch with our team. Contact us today!