Goodbye GA3, hello GA4.
It’s been a couple of months since GA4 officially launched on July 1st, 2023, and the feedback from multiple marketers could be better.
In summary, GA4, compared to Universal Analytics GA3, is an entirely different way of tracking users and sessions. For context on the change from GA3 to GA4, mobile browsing has almost a 55%+ market share versus desktop browsing; GA3 couldn’t track mobile, so companies bought software like Tune and Appsflyer to help track mobile users and inbound acquisition channels. In response, Google developed its version of a mobile tracking solution called Firebase. Having two separate tracking products was not ideal for Google. GA4 moves off of pure web-based sessions and introduces a three-tier web analytics system, Firebase (mobile) being the 1st level, Google Analytics 4 the analytics tool (web) as the second level, and then the 3rd level piping information into data studio/looker (reporting). In industry, we’ve seen varying analyst reviews of GA4, from minor bashing to absolutely scything issues with the tool.
What’s good with GA4?
- Adding in your mobile app data is accessible.
- Ability to quickly adjust session timeouts. For clients with heavy browsing and content, for example, a news site that could have someone lingering for a while but not engaging with the website, you can adjust what’s counted as an actual session for your business.
- For audience reporting, in GA3, you had to create multiple filter sets for reporting. With GA4, you can quickly set up audience overlays and report on the audience in any segment you want.
- In GA4, Google Signals solves cross-device user tracking. Previously, these users would have been double-counted on the desktop and mobile web. GA4 collects this via a user’s touchpoint to any Google logged-in state property, logging in with a Google account (Youtube, Gmail, etc.) and using Chrome or Gmail on your phone.
- For e-commerce, GA4s channel attribution is exceptionally sophisticated and tuned to your business. This model could render most 3rd party attribution companies obsolete.
- GA4 is more focused on user behavior than GA3, which was sessions based. So GA4 gives you a cleaner view of your site’s conversion rate.
What are some top issues with GA4?
GA4 is hard to use from a user perspective. In previous reports in GA3, to get to some data focused on UTM campaigns was easy: click Acquisition > Campaigns > All. GA4 requires a deep understanding of segment channels by first-user touch or session campaigns.
“Google Thresholding Applied” – Data lag due to privacy Google has decided to delay/block conversion reporting from 24 to 48 hours, especially for pages or channels with low conversion. Google doesn’t want clients to be able to triangulate and get PII data on users.
Channel grouping issues. GA3 can create conditionals for channel groupings; you can’t do this in GA4. Google is forcing everyone to use standardized UTM tracking. If you do not follow this protocol, paid and organic campaigns will be bucketed into the wrong “default channel groupings.” Also, GMT Eastern time for GA is GMT-04:00. Most CMS platforms like Shopify run on GMT-05:00 because Shopify is in Canada. CMS Platforms won’t match conversions properly to GA4.
Issues with attribution in GA4. Google removed four attribution models (first click, linear, time decay, and position-based) in Google Ads and Google Analytics. The change has produced mixed reactions among marketers, with concerns about losing valuable insights and potential biases toward Google Ads. Existing conversion actions using the removed models will automatically convert to the data-driven attribution model, or advertisers can manually change to the ‘last click’ model. GA4 neglects any top-of-the-funnel modeling.
Tracking Facebook Ad performance in GA4 has been difficult for many advertisers. Use proper UTM code syntax in FB using URL Parameters Facebook for source and PPC/CPC for medium implemented into FB ads URL builder. Due to the differences between how Facebook and Google Analytics collect data, there are often discrepancies in the data obtained from the two platforms. Typically, Facebook ads over-report conversions compared to Google Analytics. For example, some marketers report seeing discrepancies as high as 80% between Facebook and Google Analytics for click, session, and conversion data.
GA3, aka Universal Analytics, has been the go-to for marketers for years, making it a familiar tool. However, with the introduction of Google Analytics 4 (GA4), there is an inevitable learning curve. However, change can be challenging, staying updated. With new product developments is. GA4, though different from Universal Analytics, presents new features that can significantly benefit a brand’s online growth. Marketers are encouraged to invest time in understanding and leveraging GA4’s capabilities. Our team works hard to ensure we ingest your historical data GA3 data and backfill four years; we also can fully ingest GA4 data into the Alembic platform in one click and give you a better view of the impact of your marketing.
We have a complete write-up on Things to know about GA4 vs. GA3 here.