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Google Analytics 4 or Bust: Lessons from Google Marketing Live 2021

At the recent Google Marketing Platform’s Google Marketing Livestream virtual event, Google previewed a bunch of changes coming to the platform as a whole, but some of the features that most stood out were:

  • Customer Match: the ability to encrypt and upload your customer data lists for ad targeting purposes – will be open to everyone, not just the big spenders in Google Ads. This makes logical sense; Google controls the ad network and has identity resolution capabilities, so they don’t need cookies to know who consumers are and what ads to show consumers.
  • Consented Tracking: Google Analytics 4 and Google Tag Manager now offer consent options – aka “can we track you” popups and utilities to comply with new privacy laws. These features are available right now, so if you need them for compliance, go turn them on.
  • Inferred Data: Google Ads and Google Analytics 4 will both have machine learning-powered imputation abilities to “fill in the blanks” when dealing with anonymous data that’s missing pieces, typically because someone didn’t opt-in to tracking. Google touted this especially as a solution for understanding Google Ads conversions better, but some of that behavioral imputation will be available in Google Analytics 4 in late 2021.
  • Attribution Modeling: Google showed off new attribution modeling capabilities coming to both Google Ads and Google Analytics 4. It was something of a sore point that GA4 didn’t ship with any kind of reasonable attribution modeling, but it looks like it might be worth the wait; GA4 will reportedly have both standard data-driven attribution as well as incrementality modeling built in.
  • Media Lift: Google Analytics 4 and Google Ads will inherit some of the Adometry modeling to incorporate the lift effects of both YouTube and Google Display Ads.
  • Demand Forecasting: Google Ads will offer 90-day demand forecasting for popular, relevant topics for your ads, so you know what to watch for bid pricing and ad copy. I’m especially looking forward to this feature to see what kind of flexibility it offers and how we might be able to use it for other purposes.
  • Google Ads Broad Match: using its natural language processing models like BERT and LaMDA, Google Ads’ broad match – which used to be the fastest way to waste your entire ad budget – will use those language models to deliver more relevant broad matches. Candidly, I’m surprised it took them this long to roll this out; it should be a substantial performance improvement.
  • Imputation Blackouts: Google Ads and Google Analytics 4 will offer you the ability to declare time periods as anomalies in your data so they’re not factored into your machine learning models that power your data. That will clean up data-driven attribution as well as ad performance. When would you need something like this? When you do things like forget to put tracking codes on your site or other breaking changes to your analytics infrastructure.
  • Incrementality Modeling: In addition to attribution modeling, incrementality modeling will let us understand the baseline of our marketing performance as well as the incremental effects of specific campaigns or efforts in Google Analytics 4 and Google Ads.
  • Tighter Google Ads and Google Analytics 4 Integration: One of the demonstrated features was the new Advertising Performance center in Google Analytics 4 that will let advertisers run more detailed analysis on Google Ads performance than is currently possible in Google Ads. This continues the trend of Google positioning Google Analytics 4 as a BI tool and not a reporting engine.

Do you see the theme weaving its way through all the announcements at the event?

Google Analytics 4 is mentioned everywhere. Universal Analytics – Google Analytics 3 – was barely mentioned at all, except when announcing a new feature in GA4 that had been ported over. Google made it painfully clear that no new development is occurring on Google Analytics 3 and if we want ANY of the new features and capabilities, we MUST be running Google Analytics 4. Google’s migration strategy isn’t “we’re going to turn this old thing off” so much as it is “we’re going to put all the shiny new toys in the latest thing so you HAVE to use it”.

In one of the breakout sessions, Googlers reiterated the guidance we’ve been giving customers for more than 6 months now – turn on GA4 today, set it up, start collecting data right now even while you continue to use GA3. If you haven’t already set up GA4, now is the time. Like, today. Get it done. If you don’t want to, then have someone do it for you, but getting it in place and collecting data is a necessity if you ever want to have access to its machine learning features for dealing with missing data and upcoming privacy laws. The sooner you get it running, the more data you’ll have provided it for training when it comes time to use it as your main analytics solution.

Lots of changes are coming to marketing next year as Chrome turns off third-party cookies. Chrome has 64% of the browser market share, with Firefox and Safari (who already don’t support third-party cookies) combined being 22%. All together, 86% of the browser market will stop supporting third-party cookies next year, so the clock is ticking for all of us to implement marketing technology solutions that eliminate our dependence on third-party cookies and ad tracking. If you use any part of the Google Marketing Platform, make the necessary changes now, while you have time and space to think carefully about it and do it right.


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