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Google Analytics 4 (GA4) for marketers: Impacts on your PPC campaigns

It’s no secret that Google is planning to retire their much-loved Universal Analytics (UA or GA3) platform, instead offering the all-new and upgraded Google Analytics 4, commonly known as GA4.

The existing platform is due to begin phasing out on 1st July 2023, with the paid-for Universal Analytics 360 remaining in action for an extra three months until 1st October 2023.

If this fills you with dread or confusion – fear not! This quick guide will help you understand what’s involved with switching to GA4, how to maintain visibility of your web traffic, and applications Google Analytics 4 may have for your business’ marketing.

What’s changing?

If you’ve used GA4, you’ll have quickly noticed that there’s some stark differences to its predecessor. Instead of including lots of convenient ‘off-the-shelf’ reports, GA4 adopts far more advanced methods of data collection, structuring and exploration. This can be daunting for less data-savvy users. Whilst GA4 is far more flexible and powerful than Universal Analytics, you’ll need to get comfortable with building out reports and explorations.

Whilst GA4 does offer an improved integration with Google Ads, you will lose all your existing UA-based audiences and conversions. These will need to be re-established within the new GA platform.

Why the need for change (and headache)?

Previous versions of Google Analytics have collected data from users using third-party cookies on websites. Cookies are essentially little bits of code that collect information about a user’s session online, often used by a different domain than the one a user has visited (third-party). This information can then be visualised in Google Analytics.

In an increasingly privacy-focused world, third-party cookies have been deemed intrusive, sparking a desire to discontinue their use. GA4 is the first Google Analytics platform to make this move, instead using ‘event-based’ tracking, collecting data on the actions users take on your website rather than users themselves. It also goes beyond just website tracking to include mobile apps as well, a useful functionality for businesses who offer both.

What are the benefits of Google Analytics 4 for marketing?

Improvements to conversion tracking

Universal Analytics is far from perfect when it comes to setting up goals and conversions. If you’ve ever set these up, you may be familiar with the frustration of only being able to set up a limited number of goals per Universal Analytics property. This meant you couldn’t set up a new short-term goal for a one-off or seasonal campaign.

For e-commerce users, there were also limitations around tracking multiple conversion goals such as sales that occurred within a single session.

Fortunately, GA4 solves a lot of conversion-related issues. As it’s event-based, you can customise and mark any of these events as conversions. This allows more flexibility, allowing unlimited creation and archiving of conversion events. As these conversions are no longer session-based, you’ll also keep an accurate record of conversion volumes.

More sophisticated audience building

An exciting advancement on the Segments function of Universal Analytics, GA4 provides a more powerful method of building out custom audiences in-platform.

This is particularly useful if you have a clear idea of your target audience and wish to report on marketing performance for these individuals specifically.

GA4 offers full integration with Google Ads. Conveniently, by linking the two you’ll be able to use any configured audiences in your advertising campaigns. This ensures consistent targeting and reporting all the way from your ads to your analytics, unlocking potentially important insights into customer journeys.

Predictive analytics

Building on the above, GA4 is augmented by machine learning algorithms that allow for new methods of measurement in an increasingly cookieless world.

New statistical modelling underpins much of how GA4 interprets your data set. Since UA used third-party cookies, and therefore able to track data user-by-user, it was able to give a more pin-point reading of unique sessions to your site.

In GA4, this information is estimated. Since the platform is event-based and logs each session start as an event, it has to use a statistical estimate to provide a unique session count. As with all machine learning, the quality of output is heavily dependent on the input – which may cause accuracy issues for smaller sites with lower traffic volumes.

Whilst this sounds concerning, it also enables new analytical developments. This includes predictive modelling of your dataset, which shows how Google expects users to behave on your site in the future. This could have many applications, but one particularly interesting feature is ‘Purchase probability’, which shows the likelihood of a recently-active user completing a purchase-related event in the next 7 days. Using this type of metric to build PPC audiences could enable marketers to reap massive rewards.

Making the leap: switching to GA4

With preparation being the key to success, it pays to be ahead of the pack when it comes to setting up GA4. As with Universal Analytics, no retrospective data is available before installation. So, those who set up Google Analytics 4 sooner rather than later will have more historic web traffic data accumulated in their analytics account, rather than starting afresh in June.

Those who start using GA4 now will also have the added benefits of better understanding and experience with the new platform; the chance to configure their required reports, explorations and audiences and the opportunity to ensure full integration with other tools such as Google Data Studio (now Looker Studio).

At Door4, we’re on hand to make your transition to GA4 as simple and stress-free as possible. So, if you need any help or advice on adding GA4 tracking to your site, setting up new conversion actions and audiences, or how Google’s machine learning can enhance your PPC results.

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