Google Analytics 4 Learnings and Challenges to Overcome

Matt Crowley - October 5, 2022

Our team has been working on GA4 implementations since the product was released (and even before with it’s predecessor, App + Web tracking). There are many significant improvements with GA4, and it is a great platform. However, any new platform brings new challenges.

Over the course of the time that we have been working on implementations for our clients, we have uncovered many tactical insights that have informed our future implementations. Although the number of tactical lessons learned is quite long, I thought it would be helpful to surface a few common themes and challenges we have seen at a higher level. Each of these can be overcome but are important to be aware of as you head into your implementation.

1) Configuration and Testing Takes More Time than You Expect

The one constant that we have experienced across almost all of the GA4 implementations we have worked on, is that they always take more time than expected. On the surface, Google has added a lot of new functionality that should simplify configuration and decrease the time required for implementation.

For example, Google has added functionality to allow you to set up several different common events, like tracking file downloads, with the click of one button! These are called enhanced measurement events and allow out of the box tracking for common events such as file downloads, form interactions, and video engagement.

Although that is an awesome new feature, and should save a lot of time, everything isn’t as simple as it seems on the surface. Here are a couple of challenges we have experienced with using enhanced measurement events, causing us to have to take additional time on implementation.

  • Enhanced measurement events only work as expected in an ideal scenario where the site is built in a way that works perfectly with the GA4 enhanced measurement specifications. However, many sites we have encountered do not… For example, although form interactions can be “automatically tracked” with a click of a button, this wouldn’t work for many of our clients. This is because their forms aren’t set up in a simple manner. One example is clients who are embedding their forms using an iFrame as part of a configuration through Pardot. With the form living within an iFrame, interactions couldn’t be picked up by the out of the box enhanced measurement events. Therefore, we had to implement a custom form tracking solution using GTM and set up custom events.
  • Enhanced measurement events follow a specific format, including the event name and parameters that come with them. For example, file downloads use the event name “file_download” and contain parameters like “file_name”. That is great if you are simply interested in seeing data on the files people downloaded, but what if you are running advertising campaigns and need to measure specific types of file downloads as conversion events? This requires you to create separate events for each conversion you want to track. Although you can do this on top of enhanced measurement events, there are many drawbacks to that approach. We have found it more effective in these situations to still set up the events using a custom methodology.

2) New Changes are Constantly Rolling Out Requiring Ongoing Maintenance, Critical Thinking & Collaboration on Timing

Google is working very intensely to build out GA4 functionality and they are rolling out new changes at a lightning pace. Luckily, as a Premier Partner, we are fortunate to have insight into upcoming changes that are not known to the public. However, with such a fast of a pace of new developments and releases, it can be very difficult to plan properly.

For example, if you’re ready to implement a new configuration for GA4, but that configuration will change in 1 month, do you implement your configuration now and change it later once Google rolls out their update or do you wait until the updates are rolled out from Google? What if you decide to wait, and then Google’s release is delayed? There is no “one size fits all” answer, and it depends on your unique circumstances. So, this adds complexity and time as even seemingly simple configurations can require a lot of critical thinking and collaboration.

Additionally, as new changes are rolled out, it requires you to revisit all the prior changes you have made to assess if anything is impacted. Is there additional work that you need to put in place to update your old configurations? Although this isn’t new, the pace and frequency of this requirement is. It’s not uncommon to implement something, and then have to revisit that in 2 months after a new release from Google.

So, GA4 is not a “set it and forget it” solution. Like any other software your company will rely upon, especially for critical data to inform decisions on marketing, you will need to maintain and constantly work to improve your use of the tool. Don’t set GA4 aside to gather dust once your base implementation is set up.

3) There are Still a Lot of Unexpected Behaviors Requiring Post-launch Testing

We are encountering unexpected behaviors with GA4 on a regular basis, which makes post-launch testing critical. Even after thoroughly testing changes in a staging or QA environment, once rolled to production, it’s critical that everything is rigorously tested. We have seen unexpected challenges with reporting on the data from events, and challenges with surfacing granular data in reporting tools like Explorations and Data Studio.  Some of these challenges can be overcome with the right data architecture, and others will have to wait until Google releases improvements to certain areas like their Data Studio connector.

4) Ultimately, GA4 is Not an Out of the Box Solution

If you run a very simple website, and don’t need to rely on customized web analytics to inform your business, GA4 may be a very quick and easy set up. However, we have not seen this for any of our clients. From businesses that are focused on lead generation, to healthcare, and ecommerce, there has been no “easy button” to set up and maintain GA4. It is a powerful tool that is still developing rapidly. Invest in a long term solution to build out your capabilities and focus on long term growth and usage of the tool.

If you are looking for help with implementing GA4 or auditing your existing usage of the platform, please reach out to info@morevisibility.com.

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