Google Analytics 4 (GA4) Mythbusting

ga4 Ari Messer

GA4 is a remarkably powerful new tool. Yes, it looks and feels different from the old version of Google Analytics, but it’s capable of even more granular reporting on marketing channels, checkout steps and conversions — and that comes with a lot of benefits.

Back in February I had the honor of presenting on GA4 at the Logical Position offices in Portland. Logical Position works with thousands of brands on Shopify and BigCommerce, and they wanted to get ahead of the curve with the migration to GA4. Their team had some great feedback about how DTC brands have been thinking about Google Analytics, including Universal Analytics (UA or “GA3”), the version we were all used to for a really long time.

The funny thing is that while both the GA4 and Google Ads products have continued to evolve, the top myths we discussed back in February remain the same. One of the myths was even debunked by Google themselves this past weekend, but still it persists!

Here are the top four myths about GA4, and the truths at the heart of the data. They’re especially relevant for Shopify Plus brands looking to lower CAC and increase LTV this year, but relevant for pretty much anybody doing business online.

Myth #1: UA isn’t really going away

Here at Littledata we’ve been talking for over a year now about how Google was going to “sunset” (phase out) Universal Analytics, but there’s been a lot of chatter online about how Google might change their minds.

Well, they didn’t.

Google started to phase out UA on July 1st as planned, and merchants started receiving notices like this in their UA accounts: “This property is scheduled to stop processing data very soon. Once this goes into effect, you’ll need a Google Analytics 4 property to measure website performance.”

Yet AI systems trained on old or misinformed content appear to be propagating the myth that Google would push back the sunset. In early July Open Ai’s ChatGPT was giving this incorrect response when asked about the sunsetting of UA:

Two top-level things to remember about the sunsetting of UA and move to GA4:

  1. Whatever you do, do not automigrate! This is especially true for ecommerce sites as Google didn’t design the process to work well for Shopify or BigCommerce
  2. You will still have access to your UA data until July 2024 — so rather than struggling to export or compare, I recommend focusing on GA4 in Q3 this year and getting to know the upgraded platform

Google’s own announcements have been confusing, but they’ve always been clear about the overall timeline: UA would stop processing hits on July 1, 2023, and only GA360 users would have an extended timeline with a one-time “processing extension” until July 1, 2024.

And that’s exactly what happened.

Tip: Even if you think that you’ve migrated to GA4, it’s important to check that you’re tracking orders and conversions

Myth #2: GA4 is only for data scientists

This is one of the biggest myths about GA4, especially in the Shopify world. The idea that GA4 is only for data scientists is still prevalent on LinkedIn, made worse by excessive noise from so-called attribution tools that don’t respect user privacy or don’t track post-conversion events.

In fact, GA4 is designed to make it easy for anyone to explore their data.

Sure, it’s a new tool that looks and feels different, but with a little bit of extra time to understand how it works, event-based tracking and custom funnels will be your new best friend. As Krista Seiden said to us last year, the biggest challenge might be just the mindset.

Read Seiden’s complete interview here.

And your checkout funnel reports, for example, don’t need to look very different at all. Like much of the free reporting in GA4, they’re customizable — in fact GA4 only offers custom funnels — which means that you can and more accurate retargeting (see below) to fit your business.

Help us stop this myth and tell the truth about GA4! Get in touch if you’d like GA4 training for your clients or your team.

Myth #3: The marketing attribution in GA4 is broken

Where to begin? There are a number of myths about marketing attribution in GA4, but the most prevalent is that it’s somehow incomplete or a “black box” like some attribution platforms.

This isn’t true, there have just been some changes that take some getting used to. For example, Google’s data-driven attribution models now exclude direct visits from receiving attribution credit, unless the path to conversion is only direct (one direct visit or several). This actually makes sense for most stores, but can be confusing at first.

A good place to start for understanding marketing attribution in GA4 is building a building a Source/Medium report since it’s a familiar format for UA users. I would also highly recommend playing around with the model comparison and conversion paths reports, which come out-of-the-box with GA4. You can find these by browsing to Advertising > Attribution in your GA4 dashboard.

Larger DTC brands might be interested in some other trends we’ve seen around advanced attribution reporting:

  1. Sending data to BigQuery so you have complete row-level data for historical analysis and more complex attribution modeling. This is easy with GA4, though understanding how to use data from a warehouse does take some learning. Feel free to reach out if we can help recommend analysts or agencies to help with this.
  2. Feeding data from GA4 into other platforms. This helps maintain consistent session and conversion data while offering more ways to model and enhance the data. Many Plus brands are taking advantage of our new partnership with Source Medium to dive deeper intro attribution in this way.

Attribution comes down not just to what you report on, but also what you filter out. Remember to make sure that you understand how Shop App / Shop Pay and Amazon referrals are treated in GA4, if those channels are a big part of your online business!

Myth #4: GA4 is just a way for Google to sell more ads

Ok, maybe.

But isn’t that a good thing for merchants?

I can’t speak for those ecommerce brands that rely on spotty client-side tracking. But for those more sophisticated merchants using server-side tracking in GA4, we’re seeing CAC go down and conversions increase across the Google Ads network.

It’s unclear exactly what’s changed outside of the unified conversion window. But once you have accurate conversion data in GA4, Google Ads start performing better across campaigns, including broad campaigns, specific retargeting (such as abandoned checkout campaigns and product interest matching) and audience creation.

With “similar” or lookalike audiences now a thing of the past, I recommend diving into Google’s own docs around audience expansion and optimizing targeting to understand how this works. In their own words:

Optimized targeting expands to users that are likely to convert by creating a profile of what a converter looks like based on real-time conversion data. For example, that data could include Google searches for specific running shoe brands or clicks to a popular sportswear website. While…manually-selected audience segments provide a starting point, optimized targeting looks for conversions outside of her selected segments.

Although Meta (Facebook and Instagram) and Google still represent a strong majority of ad spend for most of our merchants at Littledata — in most cases more than 80%, often 90%+ — newcomers like TikTok are becoming contenders for brands with a presence on the apps and the right tech for retargeting.

Google knows that it needs to keep evolving to stay competitive, and the updates to GA4 can largely be seen as a way to maintain market share on ad spend over time. Gone are the days of “spray and pray” marketing, and ecommerce is no exception.

And this is just the beginning. We remain highly optimistic about GA4 as Google continues to put its massive resources into expanding and improving the platform. Get in touch if you’d like to chat about a GA4 data audit to make sure you’re set up for success!

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