2023 brought on a massive change for digital marketers who specialize in performance marketing strategies like search engine optimization (SEO) and paid media with the industry-redefining switch from Universal Analytics (UA) to Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
People don’t like change—it's just a fact. They especially don’t like change when it comes to their established work processes that have been getting results. However, no amount of grumbling can change the fact that GA4 is here and here to stay.
In this article, we’re going to tell you why that’s a good thing. We’ll highlight the changes, outline the benefits, and provide some example situations where it makes sense to use GA4 reporting for organic and paid traffic. Let’s get into it!
The first difference to understand between Universal Analytics and the newest version of Google Analytics is how they collect data: the former uses a session-based model, while the latter uses an event-driven model.
Sessions refer to people being on a website. They tell you how many people were on your site and when and that’s it. Event-based web analytics go a step further: they tell you what actions active users are taking on your site.
Event-driven data collection allows you to see how users from different sources—such as organic versus paid search—are interacting with your site or app.
On GA4, you can then compare the performance of different sources by using the acquisition overview report. You can then measure the impact of your paid search campaigns on your conversions by using the Google Ads linking feature and the attribution reports.
Again, the key here is the insight you’re getting into interactions, rather than just the sessions as a general overview of traffic.
GA4 is your friend. It will automatically collect and provide you with event measurements, but also provides recommended events with predefined names and parameters. If that sounds incredibly helpful, it’s because it is!
You can also create custom events for any specific actions you want to track, such as clicks on a button or downloads of a file. You can also add event parameters to make them more detailed, such as value, currency, category, or label.
Bonus tip: Mark events that are important for your business goals as conversions so you can track and optimize them in GA4 and Google Ads.
How Universal Analytics and GA4 create reports is another big difference.
As you might already know, UA provided a standard set: user acquisition reports, as well as those for audience, behaviour, and conversion. However, GA4 offers customizable reports so website owners can create and tailor them to their needs.
Specific is always better, and custom reports help digital marketers better focus on collecting data related to metrics that matter to their SEO and paid media efforts.
Having a custom report helps marketers identify trends and opportunities that would otherwise go unnoticed in generic reports to inform more strategic decision-making in organic and paid search optimization.
Step one is identifying your key performance indicators (KPIs) and the metrics that align with your SEO and Paid Media objectives. From there, ensure these key metrics are displayed prominently for quick and easy monitoring.
Dashboards can combine standard and custom reports, making it easy to get an overview of website performance. We recommend experimenting with reporting interface configurations regularly to adapt to evolving strategies and goals—stay flexible!
GA4 also includes several new analysis features not available in UA, one of which is the ability to create custom insights. These use machine learning algorithms to identify trends and anomalies in website data and provide recommendations for improvement.
There’s more: GA4 also includes a new machine-learning-driven predictive metrics feature to forecast future website performance. These metrics can help website owners plan and optimize their marketing strategies based on expected performance.
Custom insights can uncover hidden patterns in user behaviour, enabling marketers to make data-driven decisions. This is especially true for a user-acquisition report, which can show you how people got to your site in the first place.
On the other hand, predictive metrics encourage marketers to proactively adjust their strategies for better results. Here, life cycle reports might be more useful as they detail a user’s entire journey on your site.
You should regularly review the recommendations provided by GA4 and implement relevant changes to your SEO and paid media strategies. While you’re at it, stay on top of the latest machine learning developments to ensure you’re in the know.
For predictive metrics, use the forecasts to anticipate future performance and allocate resources accordingly. Adjust your advertising budgets and content strategies based on these predictions to maximize your ROI—cha-ching!
When it comes to cross-device tracking, GA4 has replaced UA’s cookie-based system with a system they call User-ID. Why? To provide a more holistic understanding of the customer journey across devices. Let us explain.
Purchases are often non-linear, often beginning on a desktop computer before being later completed on a mobile device. GA4 allows you to see this, as it tracks user behaviour across devices that are all connected to their Google account.
The result of forgoing cookies for this User-ID system is a much more complete understanding of the customer journey.
User-ID tracking means marketers can now follow users seamlessly as they switch between devices to get insights into the full customer experience.
For organic and paid search, this means understanding how users interact with your website or app across various platforms for more effective targeting and optimization. You should expect differences between mobile and desktop—now you can analyze them.
Ensure user authentication is encouraged on your website or app. This encourages users to log in and provides you with a more seamless tracking experience.
You should also regularly review cross-device tracking reports to identify user behaviours and preferences across platforms. Use these insights to tailor your content and marketing strategies for improved engagement and conversions.
We’re almost done signing GA4’s praises, but not before we discuss how it gives marketers deeper control over data streams.
On GA4, you can collect data from multiple sources (such as web, iOS, and Android) in a single GA4 property to compare and consolidate user behaviour across platforms. You can also customize your data collection and processing settings for each data stream, such as enhanced measurement, consent mode, data retention, and data deletion.
From there, you can integrate your data streams with other Google products and services such as Google Ads, Google Search Console, Firebase, and BigQuery to gain access to more features and insights. It’s next-level stuff.
Data streams show you how users from different sources (such as organic or paid search) interact with your website or app across different platforms. Do this by simply using the platform dimension in your reports or explorations.
Doing this allows you to measure the impact of your organic search traffic on your website or app by using the Google Search Console linking feature and the search overview report in GA4. It will also help you optimize your paid search campaigns by using the Google Ads linking feature and the Google Ads reports in GA4.
The result is a unified view of user behaviour across platforms. By integrating data streams with other Google products and services, marketers can leverage a wealth of additional insights to make informed strategy decisions.
Track and optimize the cross-platform user journey of your website or app by using the cross-platform User-ID feature. You can also track and optimize the website SEO performance by using the Google Search Console data—it shows you keywords, landing pages, impressions, clicks, and click-through rates of your organic search traffic.
Track and optimize the ROI of your paid search campaigns by using the Google Ads data that shows you the cost, revenue, conversions, ROAS, and attribution of your paid search traffic. Just ensure you set up data collection correctly for each platform and source if you want to produce comprehensive reports that give you a holistic view of user behaviour.
Lastly, we recommend experimenting with different settings and data integrations to fine-tune your reporting and gain valuable insights. Stay updated on best practices for data collection and integration to optimize your organic and paid search strategies.
Okay, this is the last one. On GA4, you can analyze your data in more depth and detail by using various techniques and tools such as explorations, analysis hub, funnel analysis, path analysis, cohort analysis, segment overlap, and user exploration.
This is helpful because the predictive metrics (such as purchase probability and churn probability) that GA4 calculates based on your events and conversions can lead to more effective targeting of your most valuable users.
You can also improve your website or app design and user experience by using the scroll depth, page view duration, video engagement, file download, outbound click, site search, and other enhanced measurement events that GA4 collects automatically.
Simply put, deeper tracking capabilities in GA4 provide insights into how users from various sources engage with your content and convert.
Not only can you see how users from different sources (such as organic or paid search) complete the events and conversions you have defined via the conversion overview report, but you can compare the effectiveness of different sources in driving conversions by using the conversion rate metric or the return on ad spend (ROAS) metric.
Identifying valuable users through predictive metrics allows marketers to tailor their strategies to target them more effectively. These enhanced measurement events provide a wealth of data for optimizing user experience as well as content engagement.
Experiment with different tracking parameters to refine your reporting!
GA4 provides parameters to track and optimize the performance of your e-commerce website or app such as view_item, add_to_cart, and purchase. It also provides content parameters —such as view_item_list, select_content, and share—as well as subscription events and parameters such as subscribe, renew, and cancel.
Ultimately, you want to segment your audience based on predictive metrics and create personalized marketing strategies to maximize ROI. Leverage these enhanced measurement events to enhance user experience and content engagement.
That’s GA4 in a nutshell! We hope you found this helpful, and feel a bit more confident switching over from UA to this new, groundbreaking platform.
While you learn the ropes, we encourage you to leverage the know-how and expertise of the GA4 experts at The Influence Agency. We won’t say we wrote the book on it, but we definitely know a thing or two—we wrote this article, after all!