Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has been more than a migration; it is forever changing how both in-house and agency digital marketers use their analytics data to inform their campaigns and strategies.
Knowing firsthand how to report on, integrate, analyze, and activate the data in GA4 is critical to helping you get the best out of your marketing efforts.
GA4 has been around now for several years under one name or another, but it is extremely different from its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA). Plan on a steep learning curve as you navigate the new tool and discover new features and nuances.
Best-Practices for Paid Media Teams and Marketing Agencies
GA4 improvements will allow digital marketers to use the reporting platform in new ways that can increase user interactions and lead to more profitable paid campaigns. Here are a few best-practices for using GA4 and examples of how the platform will assist marketing teams.
1. Confirm your baseline data
Start off by checking the data for consistency between UA and GA4 to ensure the data is similar and that you are gathering the right data needed for your organization. If you have been using UA for guiding your paid strategy, ensure that the data is consistent in GA4.
Small differences in core metrics are to be expected between the two platforms because of how the data is measured, but wildly differing numbers could signify an issue either with your GA4 implementation or with your original UA data.
Knowing that you are starting off with trustworthy data should be important to every marketer.
2. Confirm that your Google Ads account is linked
Although this is a small step and easy to do, failing to connect your Google Ads account with your GA4 property can cause inconsistency in incoming source data, even with autotagging turned on in Google Ads.
In addition to ensuring your incoming source data is accurate, linking Google Ads and GA4 will allow you to build audiences in GA4's new and improved audience builder, as well as use the audiences created directly from custom segments you create in GA4.
Linking the two platforms will also provide additional reports within the Reporting section of the user interface (UI) of GA4 and allow you to use your Google Ads data in your attribution reporting, which can help you get a better picture of how your various campaigns are affecting your customer conversion journey.
3. Integrate downstream data
Some Google Analytics users used the measurement protocol in UA, which allowed them to bring downstream data, qualified leads, applications, and sales into UA to see how leads were converting downstream. That tied revenue back to specific ad platforms and could help determine proper channel and budget allocation strategies.
The measurement protocol is now also available in GA4. All marketers and agencies should be using the feature to help quantify their return on ad spend (ROAS) and to adjust strategies to get the highest volume of high-quality conversions.
Although it typically requires additional development, the data that a downstream integration makes available is invaluable.
4. Bridge your historical data for a longer-term reporting view
The reporting suite that many marketing teams already have built for their analytics won't be of much use after UA's sunset. Best case, you've set up your GA4 early so it collects a lot of historical data to power your reports and business intelligence (BI) tools.
However, if it has just been set up recently and you're starting to collect data now, it is recommended that you merge that data for continuity and high-level metrics that you can use for performance monitoring and time-based trending.
Now is also the perfect time to use GA4's export functionality to BigQuery. Having your raw GA4 data in a Google Cloud data warehouse allows your analyst team to use BigQuery's built-in machine-learning and forecasting capabilities. Your high-level UA metrics can also be exported and archived in a way that will allow you to merge the data to fuel your BI and campaign performance reports.
5. Use the new reporting features of GA4 to your advantage
GA4's additional capabilities—such as backward pathing, which allows you to select a desired event or page and explore how your users found the page, as well as more flexible funnel configuration—enable you to analyze and harness your data like never before.
6. Migrate any UA goal completions to GA4 conversions
Marketing teams that have been importing UA goal completions as conversions in Google Ads should migrate those goals over to GA4 conversions as soon as possible. Missing this step could leave your Google Ads campaigns without the necessary data they need to optimize when using automated bid strategies. That could cost your campaign both in efficiency and volume, because Google's algorithms would be forced to relearn.
There will be some relearning when new GA4 goals are implemented, but it should be minimal if they are consistently measured with your UA goals.
How Paid Media Will Be Affected by GA4
GA4 will make pay-per-click (PPC) marketing efforts easier and more efficient, allowing for more data-driven decisions, better tracking for conversion events, and more of a focus on digital marketing strategy.
GA4 also automatically enriches your data by using machine-learning algorithms that give sophisticated insights into future user behavior, which will help marketers foresee trends and modify strategies.
Using GA4 has implications for paid earned media and paid owned media, navigating multiple properties, and generating Google ads reports.
For example, as paid media campaigns begin to drive traffic, it's important to make the most of those valuable interactions. GA4 can help with that. It will assist in studying how users are navigating their customer journey and what action they take before moving to the next step.
If your conversion rates are low, look to identify any friction in the process: For example, e.g., your landing page might be too detailed, causing visitors to leave the page. Install a testing strategy to ensure changes are well-informed and statistically significant. Use built-in experimentation tools to help split audiences and measure the effectiveness of your control and experiment groups.
G4A: Designed for the Future of Digital Marketing
After using UA for almost two decades, most digital marketing professionals have begun using GA4 as their preferred platform. Although it will take some getting used to, the new data model could not have come at a better time, considering the nature of today's digital age.
The newest version of Google Analytics promises to give marketers the ability to better understand user behavior and gather more accurate, actionable insights, all in a privacy-centric, cross-device-focused way.
In the years to come, those elements will be crucial for the growth and success of any business with an online presence.
More Resources on GA4 and Paid Search
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