A fresh, balanced look at the current iteration of Google Analytics (GA4) in 2024. Is it becoming the tool it was supposed to be?

Like the rest of the tech world, the analytics industry is constantly changing. Visit any conference floor, and you’ll find hundreds of MarTech tools on offer. For over a decade, Google Analytics was one of the few constants in the industry – but that all changed with their announcement of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) 360. This wasn’t just a new piece of tech; this was a change to the “home base” of digital analytics, and its impact is still felt across the industry today.

GA4 was officially launched in fall 2020, but it’s currently still in development. Google releases new features almost every month, and we’re slowly seeing Google Analytics 4 become the tool it was promised to be. There’s a lot to like about GA4 in its current iteration, but many companies have encountered a plethora of issues in trying to make the most of this tool. We sincerely hope that the weaknesses discussed in this article are addressed in future releases – but for now, we need to work with what we’ve got.

Based on the client feedback we’ve received, we’ve put together an objective view on Google Analytics 4 360 and its capabilities. Here are some of the major strengths, as well as the weaknesses to look out for, when using GA4 360.

GA4 strengths: Audience Building, Funnels, Events and Journey Analysis

Google Analytics 4 gets a lot of flak these days, so let’s start by focusing on the strengths and benefits of GA4. Plenty of companies still utilize GA4, and many find a lot of value in the tool and its ability to inform important marketing decisions.

GA4 strength #1: Integration with Google Marketing Platform (GMP)

Unsurprisingly, Google Analytics 4 easily connects with other tools in the Google Marketing Platform (GMP), like Google Ads. The flow of data into GA4 is extremely valuable in this context, as it provides easy opportunities to build audiences that can in turn be shared with Google Ads. These audiences are great for building out remarketing campaigns, and they open up a wealth of options for targeting the right people and increasing the ROI of your ad campaigns.

The audience building tool within GA4 uses a combination of ads data and site data, and it couldn’t be simpler. Here’s an example: let’s say one of your users clicks on an ad, visits your site, and adds a product to their cart, but never checks out. In GA4, you can easily create an audience that targets users who follow a similar path, then send that audience to Google Ads. From there, you can quickly create a remarketing campaign to target those specific users and craft messaging that encourages them to return and complete their purchase.

Connecting GA4 with Google Ads truly allows you to take immediate action on your data, turning your GA4 property into a complete remarketing machine.

You can also use GA4’s audiences feature to create simple audiences that don’t include an initial ad impression or click. Instead, you can build audiences around specific pages viewed or products purchased, then feed these audiences into Google Ads and create campaigns around them.

The entire purpose of capturing data is to do something with it. The connection between Google Analytics 4 and Google Ads truly allows you to take immediate action on your data, and these new features mean you can avoid the hassle of working with different data sets and platforms. In other words, you can turn your GA4 property into a complete remarketing machine.

GA4 strength #2: Modify Events for Deeper Insights

Google Analytics 4 has taught us what an event-based schema would like in our reporting, and it brings us the ability to do so much more with our events — right from within the tool.

One feature of GA4 is the ability to customize and modify events, without updating the tagging on the backend or bothering your dev team. For example, let’s say you want to create specific event based on a pageview. You have a form on your website that’s followed by a thank you page, but your current tagging strategy doesn’t include a form submission event.

To address this, you can create a custom event within GA4 based on a user visiting the thank you page. You can then create filters and audiences around this event, making for easy reporting. You can even attach value to these events if, for example you’ve determined that every form submission is worth 10 cents.

This feature also brings incredible value when you combine it with the audience feature we discussed earlier. You can easily create an event based on when a user joins one of the audiences you’ve created, then track entrances to that audience as a key event (conversion). This enables you to report on complicated user journey-based success events that would be difficult to track with code alone.

On top of everything else, this feature allows you to correct typos in your data and even create custom events in your reporting so you don’t have to recreate filtered reports over and over again.

GA4 strength #3: Leverage Funnels and Pathing in GA4 for Powerful User Journey Analysis

Google Analytics previously made it very difficult to create a funnel or pathing report. You’d typically need to create multiple segments and utilize an additional tool like Looker Studio. With GA4’s revamped Explorer reports and the availability of custom reporting, this has become so much easier to accomplish directly within the tool.

With GA4 Explorer reports, you can easily create extremely valuable pathing reports. Just quickly set your starting points and/or end points to visualize how users are moving throughout your site. This is a great way to find opportunities to improve the customer journey on your site.

GA4’s funnel reports deliver a lot of value as well. You can easily view abandonment rates across important funnels and even across devices.

One of the most unique new features within funnel reports is the ability to see elapsed time within a funnel. This valuable feature isn’t offered out-of-the box in other analytics tools. With the flip of a switch, you can view the average time users spend between each step, then use this data to find potential areas of confusion and difficulty in the user journey.

GA4’s funnel reports deliver a lot of value as well. You can now easily view abandonment rates across important funnels and even across devices. If you’re an eCommerce business, the obvious example is to use this reporting feature to examine your checkout flow – however, there are many other use cases that can be implemented to extract value from this visualization option.

GA4 weaknesses: Collaboration, Report Scheduling and Segments

As with any tool, there are issues and considerations to keep in mind when thinking about implementing Google Analytics 4 as your analytics tool. Google is constantly working to make fixes and updates to the tool, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it will turn out to be the right tool for you. Here are some GA4 weaknesses that you should be aware of.

GA4 weakness #1: Asset Management – Challenges with Collaboration, Report Scheduling, and Segments

One major issue that often comes up is the lack of collaboration options within GA4’s reporting features. While the Explorer reports can be a great option for visualizing your data, you won’t be able to collaborate. Google Analytics 4 does grant you the ability to share out any reports you build within the tool, but you’re limited to sharing them in read-only mode – meaning collaborators won’t be able to make any updates or changes to the report. This can be extremely limiting if you frequently work on your reports as a team.

GA4 also lacks the ability to schedule reports, despite how well-used this capability was in Google Analytics. Many Google Analytics users expected to see this feature after migrating to GA4, and were surprised to find that it was no longer available. However, this is listed in the roadmap of upcoming features — so hopefully we’ll see this feature released in GA4 sooner rather than later.

GA4 grants you the ability to share reports built within the tool, but sharing is limited to read-only mode. This can be extremely limiting if you frequently work on your reports as a team.

With GA4, you can’t save the segments you create in your reporting; they’re a one-time use feature. As a result, the segments you create will also be missing from other tools, like Looker Studio. That said, you can create audiences and use those to similar effect — but this workaround comes with its own limitations. One of the main limitations: audiences aren’t retroactive. If you did want to use audiences in place of segments, you’d need to predict your needs early and create all of your audiences before running any of your reports.

The main solution to these problems is to rely on a different visualization tool, like Looker Studio. Looker Studio provides you with similar visualization options, and you can use it to collaborate and edit other people’s reports as well as to schedule reports. However, it comes with its own limitations – so do your research before you go through the trouble of connecting to a GA4 data source.

GA4 weakness #2: Overcoming Confusion with GA4 Dimensions and Metrics

When it comes to the dimensions and metrics available in Google Analytics 4 and the documentation surrounding them, things can get confusing very quickly – in fact, inaccuracies in the documentation around GA4 aren’t uncommon. One source of frustration for users is the limitations GA4 places on which dimensions and metrics can be used together.

Here’s an example demonstrating the limitations around item scoped events and dimensions within the tool: when using the Explorer reports feature to report on eCommerce data, GA4 only allows you to use item scoped dimensions with other item scoped metrics. There’s no way, for example, to combine item scoped dimensions with event scoped metrics. This means you’d be unable to view the dimension of an item name with a metric like “purchase” as the value, since this metric is event scoped.

One potential workaround would be to add an item scoped metric like “items purchased”. However, these are different metrics and are used in different reporting scenarios – so the fact remains that you won’t always be able to get what you want out of your reporting.

This was a frustrating find for a lot of companies, as GA4 originally included the ability to pair these dimensions and metrics together. However, Google later decided not to allow these pairings in the tool, resulting in a lot of broken dashboards and confusion. GA4 is still a “new” tool, which means change happens constantly — sometimes this brings exciting new feature releases, but it can also lead to the loss of valuable capabilities.

GA4 weakness #3: Potential Inconsistencies in GA4 Reporting: Leveraging BigQuery

Many of our clients have encountered issues and inconsistencies when attempting to report on their data in GA4. For example, some have noticed that when they begin reporting on their data post-migration, they aren’t able to achieve the same quality of results they saw with Universal Analytics. This isn’t because the data necessarily inaccurate; it’s due to the limitations faced in building these reports. These limitations can include cardinality, thresholding, or any of the other issues we discussed earlier.

Some GA4 users have noticed that when they begin reporting on their data post-migration, they aren’t able to achieve the same quality of results they saw with Universal Analytics.

Once a client has encountered a significant number of problems with GA4’s out-of-the-box reporting features, they’ll typically attempt using a different tool like Looker Studio. In addition to running into the same problems as before, they’ll often encounter new problems like running out of GA4 property tokens when accessing the API.

After a lot of trial and error, clients tend to land in BigQuery. GA4 seems to lean heavily into pushing clients towards BigQuery for their data needs – but once again, this solution comes with its own issues. For example, you may find that session traffic source data isn’t yet available when you attempt to export your data to BigQuery. At this point, many companies find themselves making the tough decision to move to a different analytics platform entirely.

Optimizing Your Use of Google Analytics 4

“All (data) models are wrong, but some are more useful”
– George Box

GA4 360 will always have weaknesses, just like any other analytics tool. Fortunately, there are ways to improve your usage of Google Analytics 4 and extract value from it, as long as you remain aware of the issues you might encounter. After all, the true usefulness of a data model depends on how well it answers the questions it claims to address, regardless of limitations.

Explore Alternatives to GA4

If you’re struggling to make Google Analytics (GA4) work for you, don’t give up hope. We can help you maximize the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of GA4. Or if you find that GA4 isn’t meeting your needs, we can help you explore the alternatives. In fact, one of our digital analytics consultants, Taylor Cruz, will publish an article next week on the alternatives to GA4. BlastX Consulting has 25 years of analytics and MarTech mastery, and we are here to support you to find and manage the analytics platform that best meets your needs. If you’re overwhelmed by the options or just need a little bit of guidance, reach out to our trusted team today.