Google Analytics 4 presents a new way of collecting data, with customer lifecycle-framed reporting and reports organized around the customer journey.

With GA4 set to replace Universal Analytics (UA) on July 1, 2023, organizations need to begin preparing for the transition now — if they haven’t already — taking into stock the much more deliberate way GA4 gathers and uses data.

Now that customer journeys span websites, apps, the Internet of Things (IoT) and in-store experiences, it’s more important than ever to understand how users interact with all these touchpoints.

GA4 allows CX pros and marketers to see beyond the simple website experience to gather a more holistic view.

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Making Data Visualization More Powerful

The move to GA4 will require marketers to think differently about how they tag and map experiences, according to Jenna Fair, partner development senior director, technology, at Tealium. However, it can help marketers “find those points of friction and those happy paths that encourage real changes in the customer experience.”

Fair explained that many attributes and events gathered by default in UA need to be defined in GA4 in a much more manual process.

“The ubiquity of Tag Management Solutions helps to make the tagging of events simpler,” she said, “but marketers will need to be more thoughtful in the way they define the events they want to analyze. In GA4, events are everything.”

Instead of automatically assigning pre-defined events and attributes to reports, GA4 depends on the end-user to create dashboards where data visualizations must be deliberately planned and laid out. The data is stored in a way that makes visualizations more powerful and configurable at the expense of more time and thought put into setup.

“GA4 has the potential to create much more truthful and interesting data stories, but care must be taken to set it up and make sure the data is accurate,” Fair said. “Because GA4 is more of a blank canvas, it can answer many more varied questions.”

She added that while this openness comes at the price of a steep learning curve, in the right hands, a complete data story can come to life.

“UA was like MadLibs. You can fill in a few blanks and get an entertaining data story,” she said. “GA4 is like a Moleskine notebook. It’s up to the data users to bring the sentences to life on the page.”

Moving From Goal Tracking to Event Modeling

Dennis Fois, CEO of Copper, said that while UA did a great job tracking page views and clicks, the metrics it provided left holes when trying to paint a complete picture of a customer’s journey.

“By removing data siloes, marketers can now have a birds-eye view of a user’s entire interaction with a website or app and easily make decisions on how to improve and adapt their marketing and CX approaches based on that data.”

Fois explained that GA4’s new measurement model — and the move away from page views and clicks — offers marketers more flexibility in reporting and understanding of the customer lifecycle.

Learning Opportunities

“GA4 does a lot of things out of the box that used to require additional analysis,” Fois said. “For example, you can easily run an anomaly report that shows you days on which your numbers spike or drop heavily. This feature is really powerful.”

Fair added that GA4’s simple integration with Data Studio can empower digital marketers to bring data together from all sorts of sources (especially Google Big Data) and make better business decisions.

“Much more care must be taken to make sure that the data being sent to the tool is defined well and that those definitions are understood by the entire team,” she said. “The data must be standardized across channels in a more deliberate manner because now companies will have a single source to analyze multi-channel customer interactions.”

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Holistic Understanding of Customer Journeys

Fair explained that because companies have more granular control and flexible use of their data, they can create more complete pictures of what their customers are experiencing when they touch the brand.

“Understanding customer interactions with the brand in a holistic way can lead to more far-reaching hypotheses on how to improve the overall customer experience,” she said.

Fois also admitted that GA4 has a learning curve because it is quite a departure from UA.

“However,” he added, “once you get to know it, it’s actually more beginner-friendly than its predecessor — in addition to offering more flexibility. Now, marketers don’t need to have an encyclopedic level of understanding of their analytics platform — and new team members can jump in and begin creating reports much faster than with UA.”

With GA4, businesses don’t need to rely on their analytics guru as much as they did with UA — the whole process has become more democratized.

“And with more of the team able to analyze data, the department as a whole can better discuss and brainstorm ways to improve their strategies,” Fois said. “Plus, the sooner you get started with it, the sooner you’ll realize the power of the machine learning-based journey modeling, which will ease you into a cookieless world with more confidence.”