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GA4: the time is now

by Mark Lewsey

September 7, 2021

Amongst the many things that we can’t shy away from these days is privacy. And by privacy, we mean the data kind.

The cookie-consenting, GDPR-regulating, app-tracking, leave-me-alone kind.

Yes, unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of years (and no, that wasn’t a metaphor for lockdown), you’ll be aware that user data protection has entered the mainstream and changes are happening thick and fast. Apple even released an ad about it a few months ago, alongside the introduction of their new App Tracking Transparency feature for their latest iOS update. Facebook isn’t too pleased but that’s a conversation for another time.

Built from the ground up, this is not just your current UA platform spiced up a bit; this is a whole new evolution of analytics with machine learning at its core (that’s happening as we speak). You can learn more about the key differences between the two analytics platforms here; a piece we wrote at the end of last year, which followed their big October 2020 reveal.

Since then, as promised, Google has been regularly updating the GA4 interface with new features, making the argument to start running GA4 alongside UA all the more convincing. It’s simple: the longer brands leave it to set up GA4, the less data they will have to play with, the less accurate year-on-year reports will be and the harder it will be to adapt, when the inevitable switchover eventually takes place and we’re left in the deep end.

In recent months, Google has made some exciting additions to the GA4 interface, including the new ‘Advertising Workspace.’ Here, there are two recently added attribution reports, one of which allows you to compare different attribution models and assess how each impacts the value of your marketing channels. What are attribution models? Attribution models are the rule, or set of rules, that determines how credit for sales and conversions is assigned to touchpoints in the user journey. The model comparison tool reveals how conversions would or would not increase for different channels when looking at a different attribution model to the one you’re using. This allows for greater accuracy at the test and optimising stage of your campaign strategy; an effective way to fine-tune your marketing mix.

The second of these new reports focuses on conversion paths. GA4’s conversion report gives you that all-important visibility on your customers’ ever-changing path-to-purchase. The new data table feature will give you an idea of which marketing channels initiated, assisted, or closed your conversions, allowing you to optimise your user journeys for the future and work out what is and isn’t working well.

This notion of focusing on the future rather than reporting on the past is very much a theme of GA4. Another recent addition to the platform has been predictive measures in the audience and segment builders. This is great news for advertisers. Being able to use predictive measures in the segment builder means that users most likely to purchase can be separated for comparison against all users within core reports. These include acquisition, engagement, and demographics, which allow for far more granular performance analysis. Plus, having predictive measures in the audience builder give you greater flexibility in audience creation - trading off precision against volume to get the best mix. That’s quality and quantity.

It’s clear that as we gear towards a more private world for us all, a greater power is going to be required to understand where people are moving online. The pool of users who are allowing their data to be used by third parties is only getting smaller, but machine learning is getting smarter - this is where GA4 comes in. Through new conversion modelling, Google now has a way to estimate online conversions that cannot be observed directly (whether that be through browser restrictions, Apple’s ATT hindrances or anything else) - meaning you have access to users who do not consent to analytics via clever evidence-based guesswork. This will fill the inevitable gaps in your data so that you don’t miss out on all that hard-earned traffic. It’s a win-win for all.

So, clearly, GA4 is the future of analytics. There’s no denying that; it’s just whether advertisers and brands are prepared to start preparing for it today. We vote yes. We’ve said it once and we’ll say it again - running GA4 alongside your existing UA will allow for a much smoother ride when things switch for good. Though we do not know this exact date, it is best to start practising now to not only get yourself ahead of the game, but to have a hold on existing and accessible user data, saved for a time when it may not be so easy to access.