With the forced changeover to GA4 fast approaching (July 2023) one question seems to keep coming up: What is GA4?
The simplest explanation is GA4 is Google’s approach to event-based (and tangentially user-based) tracking. This differs from the previous, session-based method of UA. While most people assume the switch to GA4 is simply the next evolution of Google Analytics, this is inaccurate. This explanation fails to provide insight into why Google is doing what they are doing and that they are, in fact, late to the game in terms of event-based analytics.
Event-based analytics has been seen as the future of analytics for some time now. It offers:
The granularity of the data produced also means it is far more easily manipulated by data scientists and analysts to provide meaningful insights. Many pioneers of the space have been pushing the envelope in terms of event-based analytics for years. Snowplow, Rudderstack, Segment are prime examples. It is important then, to note that GA4 is NOT some new advancement by Google, set to revolutionize the analytics world. It is their attempt to CATCH the pioneers that have been developing event-based analytics for years.
Google has seen where the market has been shifting for years and is trying to capitalize on their name by making the UA to GA4 transition seem like a simple upgrade when it is an implementation of an entirely new system. Data collection, storage, and visualization will be an integral part of companies’ digital strategies for years to come and GA4 is an example of Google acknowledging this.
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With the transition from UA to GA4 consideration should be made about whether GA4 is the best event-based analytics system for your company. There are, of course, advantages to using GA4 over another event-based system.
So, what are the costs?
None of this is meant to deter anyone from using GA4 as their data collector of choice. There are plenty of benefits that a tool put out by a company as stable and meticulous as Google provides. With the end of UA, the default crutch for digital analytics the world over, comes a chance to make the right choice about what analytics setup is actually right for a business’s unique needs. Don’t waste this opportunity.
Segment was deployed across the website and app, generating events based on user activity. These events were then used to build a comprehensive reporting system to track user behavior, the number of insurance policies sold, and total revenue generated. This allowed us to gain visibility into ROAs and help them allocate funds for paid and other marketing efforts more effectively.View customer story →
If you are a SaaS executive, particularly one offering a trial, does it make sense to transition to GA4 for the front end web experience or is this the perfect opportunity for marketing and product to finally have alignment on data collection?
Alternatives to GA4 typically come piecemeal, which is both a good and bad thing. The bad is that it means typically you will need to stand up several different systems and link them together to get a full event-based analytics tool. In short, more time and more pieces to account for. The good here is that because there are different pieces, each one is typically very specialized at what it does and you can select the exact one that works for you based on available budget, talent, timeline or anything else. It also means you will be inherently more flexible than a prebuilt system like GA4. In general terms to mirror what GA4 does you will need 3 major components:
The data collector exists to take actions a visitor performs on your website, capture relevant information about these actions and turn this information into a language and structure that works well with how computers can and want to store information. The overarching goal here is to never have a situation arise where you can’t capture some piece of information that you want and your data collector should strive to achieve that.
For GA4 the collector is built in and the JS snippets you use to pass events into the platform are the only pieces you really have any control over. Some good alternatives to this piece of the machine are:
Data storage is covered by GA4 via BigQuery. If you don’t ever want to directly access your data it is free however if you do want to access it an upgrade is required. I would highly recommend any analytics system having access to their own data so a proper setup here necessitates an upgrade in any ‘properly executed’ setup. Alternatives here would be:
Data visualization is also covered by GA4, with the caveat being that their visualization tool is probably the most generic and least customizable among the other major players (currently). The major thing to consider when choosing a tool here is comfort. They all do extremely similar things, especially if your data stream is set up well. Often the recommendation for which to choose comes down to whichever tool the power users within a given business will be most comfortable with. Alternatives for data visualization include: