Our Head of Data, Jak Mortimer, discusses how Google Analytics 4 is changing the ways advertisers and businesses view and measure success by taking a look at attribution.

He also advises strategies for a smooth transition, and how to mimic Universal Analytics style tracking in Google Analytics 4.

Our toolkits for measuring success are always changing. Google Analytics 4 (GA4) represents a leap forward in understanding user behaviour, but it brings to light new challenges in conversion tracking and attribution that marketers and businesses must navigate.

UA to GA4: what changed?

At the heart of GA4's innovation lies its event-based model, a departure from the session-based tracking of Universal Analytics (UA). This change promises a richer understanding of user interactions but has left many marketers observing a perplexing trend: a marked decline in reported revenue from paid search channels.

Understanding the attribution conundrum

GA4 uses a different attribution model than UA. While UA credits the last click before a conversion, GA4 distributes the credit across multiple touchpoints to reflect the customer's complex journey. 

Although this approach is more precise, direct conversions from paid channels may be underrepresented in GA4's reports, which is causing concern among stakeholders who are used to UA's straightforward metrics.

Changing how we perceive success

The shift to GA4 requires a rethinking of how we perceive and measure success. The event-based model, with its emphasis on a holistic view of the customer journey, offers a more complete picture of conversion drivers. 

However, it also necessitates a deeper dive into the data to understand the impact of each marketing effort fully.

Strategies for a smooth transition

  • Educate and communicate: clear, ongoing communication with stakeholders about GA4's attribution model and its implications is crucial. Highlight the benefits of a comprehensive view of the customer journey.
  • Leverage GA4's flexibility: utilise GA4's customisable attribution settings to tailor reports that align more closely with your business goals and campaign strategies.
  • Combine insights: consider integrating GA4 data with other analytics tools and platforms to ensure a rounded view of performance metrics.
  • Focus on the big picture: encourage stakeholders to consider broader success indicators, such as customer engagement and lifetime value, beyond immediate conversion metrics.

Mimicking UA style tracking in GA4

Suppose you're used to reporting in Google Analytics (UA) and would like your experience in Google Analytics 4 (GA4) to be more similar. In that case, you may want to adjust the attribution settings to meet your requirements. 

GA4 uses a data-driven model by default for attributing conversions, which is quite different from UA's last-click attribution approach. However, you can adjust these settings to have a more familiar analysis landscape. It's also crucial to make sure that your conversion events are accurately defined and tracked in GA4 to maintain data integrity. 

Although GA4 and UA are fundamentally different, tweaking these settings can help bridge the gap and make the outputs in the new system more recognisable.

Looking to the future

The adoption of GA4 represents an opportunity to refine our understanding of digital marketing's effectiveness. By embracing its advanced tracking capabilities while navigating the initial challenges of attribution changes, businesses can unlock deeper insights into their marketing strategies' true value.

As we continue to adapt to GA4, the focus should remain on leveraging its comprehensive analytics capabilities to drive informed, strategic decisions that propel businesses forward in a data-driven world.

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