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Navigating Google Analytics and GA4's Promises

The Twisty Tale of Tracking

Gather around, and discover the breakthroughs and evolution of Google. Gain a deeper understanding of the progress Google’s new iteration, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has made, and the challenges still faced.

Many considered Google Analytics (GA) to be the Superman of digital marketing. But, just as Superman has his kryptonite, so does GA with the intricacies of digital tracking. Lately, there have been a lot of reports about the new benefits of GA4 and the enhanced ability for tracking it provides, and to a point, it does. Today, we unravel the often-untold inaccuracies and limitations of this tool and see if GA4 makes a difference. Spoiler alert: it's a mixed bag!

The Good, The Bad, and The Analytics

No one can deny the power of GA. However, by diving deep into the data, a seasoned marketer will know that numbers can sometimes be deceptive. Google Analytics is fantastic as a free tool, but as new paid tools and tracking options have opened up, some holes are more evident than they were.

1. Cookies

Cookies were and still are fundamental for GA. However, studies have highlighted the declining efficacy of cookies due to browser restrictions and anti-tracking measures.  The effect is that if a user blocks cookies or uses incognito mode, their activities may go unnoticed. And this is growing.

GA4's Solution: Embracing a more privacy-centric approach, GA4 uses machine learning to predict gaps in data when users opt-out or aren't tracked due to cookie restrictions. However, this remains an estimation, not exact data.

2. Cross-device tracking

Many users switch between devices before making a purchase. Universal Analytics struggled with this cross-device tracking, often misattributing conversions.

GA4's Solution: Improved cross-device tracking, but really only when you’re logged into across all your devices. Not logged in and again it reverts to estimates.

3. Dark Social impacts

A significant chunk of online referrals comes from "dark social." The effect is that shares through direct messaging or certain apps elude GA, leading to underestimations.

GA4's Solution: A more sophisticated approach to categorising direct traffic aims to provide clearer attribution. However, truly capturing the essence of dark social remains a unicorn.

4. Sampling challenges

GA resorts to data sampling for large websites or over extensive date ranges. The effect is sampling might misrepresent the actual scenario, excluding anomalies and outliers. And it’s likely to unless the sample is accurately and evenly spread across the data set which cannot be guaranteed.

GA4's Solution: GA4 reduces the reliance on data sampling, particularly for standard reports. Still, for ad-hoc queries over vast data, sampling might creep in.

5. Bots

A significant portion of internet traffic to websites is from bots. These bots inflate engagement metrics, presenting a skewed view.

GA4's Solution: An improved model to detect and exclude bot traffic makes GA4's data more genuine. You may have noticed you’re data doesn’t look as good as it used to, especially in terms of time on site. However, staying ahead of ever-evolving bots is a continuous challenge.

Evaluating the Evolution

GA4 indeed shows an evolutionary leap from Universal Analytics. The focus on user-centric data, machine learning predictions, and more detailed tracking offers substantial advantages. But it doesn’t quite fulfill all its predecessor’s gaps.

While GA4 has notably addressed concerns like sampling and bot traffic, areas like dark social tracking and cookie restrictions still pose challenges. However, Google's proactive approach to improving and iterating its products means that GA4 is undoubtedly a step in the right direction.

In a Nutshell

The intertwined tale of Google Analytics and GA4 teaches us an age-old truth: Progress is a journey, not a destination. While GA4 is a sound improvement, experienced marketers should still use it as one of many tools in their arsenal not the centre of truth, always striving to corroborate its data with other sources.

In the world of digital marketing, adaptability, critical analysis, and a blend of quantitative and qualitative insights remain the keys to success.


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About the author

Connect with Cath

Cath is Head of Strategy at MPA. A seasoned professional in marketing and media, Cath has worked across multiple Agencies and Clients from multinationals to start-ups

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