4 minute read
From vanity to value: Shifting the focus in metrics with GA4
The launch of GA4 has shifted the way marketers can measure and analyze data. With its advanced tracking capabilities and comprehensive insights, GA4 opens up new avenues for marketers to understand user behavior and improve decision-making. All well and good, as long as marketers don’t fall prey to vanity metrics.
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) — which became mandatory on July 1, 2023 — represents a significant shift from its predecessor, Universal Analytics (UA). By leveraging machine learning and advanced tracking methods, GA4 delivers enhanced measurement capabilities that empower marketers to delve into previously unexplored metrics. While some of our most-lauded metrics are going away, this may actually be a good thing.
Say goodbye to sessions — sort of
One of the most notable differences is the move from session-based tracking to an event-driven model. This means that every interaction on a website or app can be tracked as an individual event, providing a more granular view of user behavior. GA4 also put its focus on Active Users, not Total Users, which can impact the numbers significantly.
This shift in tracking may leave some marketers scrambling for the sessions data they’re used to seeing. Pages / Session and Average Session Duration aren’t tracked the same way in GA4, and Destination goals are much harder to track than before.
Instead of viewing this as a loss, we see this change as an opportunity. Now is the time to measure what matters, connect on a personal level, and reduce reliance on vanity metrics.
Looking at the metric in the mirror
Vanity metrics refer to data points that may seem impressive on the surface but fail to provide meaningful insights or contribute directly to business objectives. Examples of vanity metrics include social media likes, page views, or raw website traffic.
Sessions data has many of these vanity metric attributes — these metrics only track the surface level of a visitor’s interaction with content.
Pages per Session in UA was a cursory attempt to measure engagement. The more pages a user views, the more they’re interested in your content or company, right? Not necessarily.
High Pages per Session could also indicate a user is having trouble finding what they need. Low Pages per Session could mean ad campaigns and landing pages are effectively driving conversions with one visit. GA4 has Views per Session and Sessions per User metrics, but many of the same limitations still apply.
Average Session Duration, which is the average time between a session’s first event and its last, is also fairly meaningless. In a bygone age of browsing, visitors would open a site, peruse for a bit, and exit. In that case, Average Session Duration is a fair measure of engagement.
But it has a glaring drawback. If someone only visits one page, their Average Session Duration is zero (and Bounce Rate is 100%). In-app browsers, mobile use, and multiple tabs, combined with shorter attention spans, are not conducive to multi-page browsing and drive that metric down.
Does a 0:00 session duration mean the visitor didn’t convert, engage with the content, or enjoy the experience? Not at all! In fact, on a page designed to quickly inform — think business hours, location, or FAQs — a low to zero Average Session Duration is probably a good thing. GA4 attempts to correct this oversight by only including engaged users, but how they define engagement and how your business defines it may be completely different.
Focusing solely on metrics without understanding their meaning or impact on the business can lead to a false sense of accomplishment, misguided decision-making, and misallocation of resources. High website traffic or a large social media following might seem promising, but they don’t guarantee conversions. Ultimately, vanity metrics can distract from the primary objective — driving meaningful engagement to create conversions.
The power of GA4
Adjusting to GA4 will take some time, but many of its metrics are more suited to understanding a customer’s actual journey, and more representative of browsing behavior today.
GA4’s granular event-based tracking provides greater insights into how visitors are engaging with your site. This includes exploring touchpoints, analyzing user behavior, and identifying influential factors. Armed with these insights, marketers can refine their strategies, optimize campaigns, and personalize experiences. Improved cross-device tracking, for example, shows how visitors interact with your brand across multiple touchpoints — rather than artificially inflating sessions data.
Integration with Google Ads means marketers can access more comprehensive data about ad campaigns from impressions through to conversion. This integration enables better optimization of marketing budgets and the ability to deliver personalized experiences that resonate with target audiences. GA4 also supports more extensive e-commerce tracking, enabling businesses to measure specific actions such as product views, add-to-carts, and purchases with greater precision.
With advanced data modeling and machine learning capabilities, GA4 can identify patterns and predict future outcomes. Cross-platform tracking can help attribute conversions to specific marketing efforts across various channels and devices.
Moreover, GA4 provides enhanced audience analysis, enabling marketers to segment their customer base and identify high-value customer segments. This valuable information allows for targeted messaging, personalized recommendations, and tailored marketing campaigns that can significantly impact conversion rates. Essentially, creating marketing that is designed to connect with purpose.
Prioritizing meaningful metrics
So which metrics are meaningful? Well, it depends on your business, but you’re looking for events that directly impact business objectives and conversions.
Metrics such as engagement rate, average order value, customer lifetime value, and return on investment (ROI) provide valuable insights into the effectiveness of marketing efforts. The ability to see and leverage that data lives in marketing automation — not GA4. Think of GA4 as a valuable outer layer to your overall metrics map that can help you continually refine and optimize your approach.
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Conversions remain key
While vanity metrics may look impressive, they often lack a direct correlation with business outcomes and conversions. By prioritizing meaningful metrics aligned with business objectives, marketers can make informed decisions, optimize campaigns, and drive tangible results.
Whichever metrics you use to measure them, conversions — desired actions from prospects and customers, like a purchase or form submission — remain the cornerstone of effective marketing strategies. And conversions can only come from meeting your customers and prospects where they are, and truly connecting with them.