Measuring Success: How to Use GA4 for Your Marketing Strategy
Measuring marketing results is something that marketers use every day, but do they use it properly? That's the subject of WooRank's latest webinar in its series on Google Analytics 4. WooRank's Nils De Moor sat down with Chris Mercer from MeasurementMarketing.io. Together they highlight the differences Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has to offer and the framework marketers need to use to measure their marketing results more successfully.
The Right Mindset
Marketers' main goal is continuously driving traffic and conversion. Conversion Rate Optimization (CRO) is something we strive for. Still, as Mercer points out, to optimize something first, we need to measure it.
To successfully measure marketing results, the first thing that marketers need to address is their mindset. Mercer states in the webinar that measurement is a conversation. For example, a salesperson in a brick-and-mortar store can converse with a customer face-to-face. As digital marketers, we can only do that slowly. Instead, we use websites to talk with our audience and measure to listen. As Mercer puts it, "that is the only reason to measure anything is to understand their side of the conversation of what's going on."
In turn, our marketing efforts are how we respond. Marketers will work to make sure every piece of content is actively engaging in that "conversation." The less measurement we use, the less we are listening. When that happens, marketers must guess why a strategy worked or didn't work. Most marketers today aren't taking an active role in the conversation with their customers, instead relying on guesswork to try and succeed.
Embracing this conversational mindset will improve any measurement strategy and eliminate the guesswork of how we need to engage with an audience.
Tools Vs. Trade
An important thing that all marketers should remember that there needs to be a balance between the tools and how we use them. Marketers will rarely say no to a new, shiny toy. Mercer uses the example of a seasoned chef and a novice cook using the same tools. Just because you have access to a top-of-the-line kitchen doesn't guarantee you'll make a five-star meal. The same applies to measuring marketing strategies.
GA (Google Analytics) 4 is a powerful tool capable of collecting valuable data. However, we will fall short despite having a terrific tool if we need to know what or how to measure.
The Right Framework
To better understand how to measure marketing results, it helps to use the right strategic framework. With the proper framework, marketers can easily remove that guesswork from their measurement process. Also, more revenue is sure to follow once the guesswork is gone.
The measurement framework can be separated into three steps:
As the saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. The first step for every strategy should be planning. One best planning practice is listing all the questions you need to answer. Next, systematically record the information you'll need to collect to find the answer. Finally, list the actions you need to take to answer those questions and build that plan. More so, once you have the answers, what additional steps will you take then?
The next stage of the framework is building. Here is where the marketing tools, like GA 4, come into play. Thanks to the planning stage, you now know the metrics you need to measure, and you need to ensure your platform understands them as well.
In the case of GA 4, goals are known as conversion events. Setting up these events and the proper UTM codes in GA 4 will help it understand what you're after and how to comprehend your web traffic. This will help your tools better identify where your traffic is coming from and help you use measuring to see where to direct your efforts.
After planning and building, it comes time to launch your measurement framework. Regarding the conversational mindset, the launching stage of the framework is where marketers need to hone their listening skills. You've planned, forecasted questions, and built a platform to answer those questions. If you correctly measure against those forecasts, listening and responding to your audience becomes more manageable.
With the proper framework in place, we can direct our limited marketing resources and improve in the areas we need to most without guessing.
Utilizing the framework will take time and practice. Especially as GA 4 offers a whole new format, marketers must take the time to learn how to measure marketing results correctly. 90 days is a good starting point. Within that window, practice and understand the new GA 4 format as best you can.
Why Google Analytics 4
The question on every digital marketer's mind is, why is this shift to a new analytic property happening? The answer is simple because it must. As Mercer puts it in the webinar, marketers currently are in the middle of a measurement "superstorm." That superstorm has three factors bringing about considerable change to our ability to measure marketing efforts.
Those three factors include:
When Google's Universal Analytics was king, the number of WIFI-enabled devices was exceedingly rare. Now, average household appliances can connect to the internet, and people can consume content across more marketing channels than ever before. Universal Analytics cannot measure the metrics across any of these new devices and channels.
New laws associated with data privacy have also made it difficult for Universal Analytics to continue operating. Data privacy updates in several States have added strict guidelines to data collection in addition to the rules and regulations outlined by GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). GA 4 makes it easier to manage data and discard it, if necessary, in compliance with these laws.
Finally, new user behaviors, like the rise in VPNs and ad-blockers, have made it challenging to track engagement. Users are still engaging at a high rate but are doing so invisibly. GA 4 can measure aspects of each of these factors while creating a model to better theorize and forecast data.
This shows the need for better measurement and a better Google Analytics property to change with the times. These superstorm factors have forced organizations to turn the marketing department into the measurement department. With the new GA 4 property, marketers can improve their measurement skills to benefit their strategies. As Mercer states, "after a certain point, you can't keep upgrading an old platform."
This new analytic property also excels at identity reporting. It is still early, but GA 4's User IDs allow for increased modeling capabilities by measuring platform activity. As more data becomes unavailable or unmeasurable, we need to use modeling to return accurate results.
The GA 4 Platform Tour
The GA 4 platform is reminiscent of other GA properties but is more convenient and organized. The most significant difference between the GA 4 platform and other GA platforms is the use of data streams. GA 4 users can configure reports and collect data from diverse sources in a streamlined manner. For example, users can collect data from their website and an app if they have one. Before, these streams would have had to be separate properties, but now they can coexist within the same property.
The GA 4 platform is separated into workspaces. These workspaces include reports, exploration, advertising, and configurations.
Each workspace can be separated further:
The Reports tab has two categories: Lifecycle and User reports. Lifecycle reports include Acquisition reports, which work to understand how people found our site. It looks at traffic and traffic sources, offering overviews and more specific user traffic. Other Lifecycle reports include Engagement and Monetization reports. These reports look at the actions users take and the results of those actions.
User reports offer our site visitors' demographic information, gender, age, and the type of device used by the visitor to see and engage the content.
The Explore tab in GA 4 allows the user to build freeform reports. These reports allow for custom table building, letting users focus on different metrics. Also, the tab offers funnel and path exploration. Funnel exploration makes it simpler than ever for GA users to build custom funnels, which is a significant upgrade compared to Universal Analytics. Path exploration, along with Overlap reports, detail what path site visitors took at each step of the funnel and what devices they used or similarities they shared with other users.
Other explorations include cohorts and user lifetime value reports, where GA 4 users can see trends within their own audience.
Mercer states that the Advertising tab is primarily about attribution and observes modeling comparisons and conversion paths. This helps GA 4 users understand which marketing channel is helping drive traffic effectively with the help of multi-touch funnels.
Linking to Your Search Console
One little hiccup that most marketers need to be aware of is how we must link to our Google Search Console. Marketers need to link their Console to their GA 4 account, just like they did with Universal Analytics. Your GA 4 and Console account will connect to the same user email if they have permission.
When you link your accounts, you must first link your Search Console and then activate your reports. Doing so will allow you to see Search Console Reports under the Reports tab within GA 4. You need to do this to see your Console reports even if you have both accounts linked.
GA 4 Library
Go to the library at the bottom of the Reports tab to build a custom report. If you have Search Console linked, you will see the Search Console Report template. If not, then there is a problem with the accounts connected. When you see that template, click the hamburger menu in the top right corner and publish it to your Reports tab. Once you do, you can see the types of Console reports along with the out-of-the-box reports GA 4 offers.
Many marketers need to be made aware they have this option.
Answering The Public's GA4 Questions
Here in WooRank's latest GA 4 webinar, Nils and Mercer took the time to answer GA 4 questions submitted by the registrants.
1. "Why does GA 4 not match Universal?"
GA 4 and Universal are entirely different platforms built for other purposes. Rather than try and connect them, spend the time trying to connect the patterns in the data. The resulting data should match; if it doesn't, you can spend time looking for why.
2. "What are the differences between Universal and GA 4 in measuring sessions and goal setting?"
To answer this question, GA users need to update their jargon. Universal Analytics worked with "goals." While GA 4 does the same, it refers to goals as "conversion events." GA 4 tracks everything as an event. GA 4 users can determine an event and quickly set it up on the platform. It can get confusing if you continue to use old language to describe what modern technology can do.
3. "How does GA 4 measure bounce rates?"
GA 4 is unique when it comes to measuring bounce rates. This property has a more advanced way of measuring time. The traffic acquisition report tells us which channel directs traffic for the sessions. It looks at metrics like an engagement session, average engagement time, and session per user.
Universal Analytics would take a page hit, with no other measurable metric, and attribute a bounce rate to it. GA 4 is more sophisticated, telling the exact time a user stayed on and interacted with a page. This type of measurement helps provide context. Only some pages will require a visitor to stay on for a long time. What's important is to measure the length of time visitors stay on pages with meaningful content. If it is lower than we want, it is time to investigate why.
4. "Which is the best GA 4 report and why?"
Also, funnel exploration, and freeform reports offer customizable tracking and reporting that can fit the marketers' needs that other words can't.
5. "Can you elaborate on creating easy-to-read exploration reports for clicks and page scrolls?"
To answer this question, Nils and Mercer suggest returning to the measurement framework's planning stage. It is important not to measure for the sake of measuring. Marketers need to know what actions to take to get the necessary answers.
GA 4 users can create an event within a Funnel Report, stating that they want to see the number of clicks people click and then specify what they want to see click. For example, the rate people click on a URL in a session. Marketers must create detailed steps for each event to understand how they can see what they want. That way, we make sure we track each behavior correctly, and marketers know their path.
6. "How do you set up GA 4 on a WordPress site or maybe some other platform?"
GA 4 offers ways to integrate into other platforms when you add a data stream. Some methods are more complicated than others and depending on your level of skill with the property, whatever way is most straightforward is best. Plugging the Measurement ID for your GA 4 property into a plugin is an effortless way to start using GA 4 on another site.
7. "Do you need two codes to run both GA 4 and Universal Analytics?"
This answer depends on how you have your analytics set up. If you have the Universal Analytics gtag script, you can connect your GA 4 account. This depends on how accurately you've set up your script, to begin with. If you automatically misconnect your Universal Analytics script, then your GA 4 will also be incorrect. The gtag will be available in your data stream section on the GA 4 platform. Under install manually, you can copy and paste the code onto a webpage. The gtag was set up so long ago that for some, it won't say "gtag" but "analytics.js," which is separate from the old Universal Analytics code. If that is the case, then you would need two codes.
8. "How does GA 4 handle data privacy and consent?"
GA 4 will measure what it can and model what it cannot. It will model what it thinks is happening based on machine learning. Also, Google signals can share anonymous information with GA 4 users if a site visitor can't be tracked with a user ID. Those site visitors use another Google tool, for instance, Gmail. Google can tell that they are the same person, even if they are using different devices, and shares that anonymous information to help flesh out GA 4's model.
Modeling will require a bit of time to paint an accurate picture. The critical thing to remember is that the more data we collect, the more thorough the model will be.
Regarding privacy regulations like GDPR, if a site visitor requests that their data be deleted, a GA 4 user can easily do so; as before, with Universal Analytics, this was impossible.
Marketers tend to be perfectionists. Which can be difficult when dealing with an entirely new tool. Mercer strongly suggests giving yourself 90 days to learn the GA 4 platform. While powerful, it is not intuitive, so if you think you'll master it in a week, think again.
And Nils, as always, strongly suggests implementing and adapting to GA 4 as soon as possible, as the old platform will be sunset in a matter of months. The last thing marketers need is to start their measurement strategy from scratch. Practice the framework, learn the new platform, and listen to what your audience is saying.