Steve Ganem, Product Director of Google Analytics, on what’s ahead for GA4

Now that Universal Analytics has ridden into the sunset, we talk to the Google exec about what's coming for GA4.

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As we bid Google Universal Analytics (UA) its final adieu, we caught up with Product Director of Google Analytics, Steve Ganem, about its successor — Google Analytics 4 (GA4). We wanted to know how it is meeting the needs of digital marketers, its privacy compliance, and what’s on the roadmap for enhancements. (The interview was edited for brevity and clarity.)

Q: Why GA4?

A: Universal Analytics was built for a different time and a different internet. Universal Analytics was released more than 10 years ago. Think about how much the internet — and the way people behave — has changed in the past five years, let alone more than 10. 

In 2012, we were in a world where people interacted with businesses through their websites and advertisers could count on cookies and fully observable journeys to get the information they needed. That’s just no longer a reality — and it shouldn’t be. Not only has the way people interact with and consume content changed but so have their expectations for privacy. 

GA4 was built for this new reality — and to be durable into the future as things continue to evolve. Designed with privacy and AI at its core, GA4 can measure customer journeys that span a variety of devices and touchpoints, without compromising user privacy. People aren’t just using websites and clicking on display ads anymore — it’s a complex journey, moving from screen to screen, with all different formats, and we need measurement that measures just as nimbly.

Additionally, GA4 is durable to privacy and regulatory changes, built to handle increasing data sparsity with innovative, privacy-preserving technology. 

Q: What features of GA4 do you think are underutilized?

A: As I mentioned above, GA4 was designed for the world we are living in and the features are much more capable and powerful than its predecessor. GA4’s audience builder, as an example, can be used to orchestrate marketing campaigns across ads, push notifications (via Firebase), SMS, email and others through the Audience Export API. Additionally, it includes predictive capabilities to help advertisers reach the right people at the right moment. 

We also find that businesses aren’t using the reporting features to their fullest potential. GA4’s reporting is fully customizable and businesses can tailor the experience to meet their specific needs. With features like Business Objectives, customers can easily set up out-of-the-box, customized reporting based on their specific business and goals.

Dig deeper: How to create and configure custom dimensions in GA4

With Explorations, businesses can get even deeper, actionable insights about their customers. Previously only available to Google Analytics 360 customers, in GA4, Explorations are available to all customers and can be set up to help businesses do things like create segments and audiences, focus on the most relevant data with filters and segments and perform ad hoc queries to dig into specific queries.

And, for 360 customers, there is now an option to assign distinct reporting experiences to different users within an organization based on their specific goals and needs.

Overall, the reporting in GA4 — for both standard and 360 customers — has become much more sophisticated and it’s a great opportunity for businesses to explore.

Q: What is one of the biggest challenges you hear from customers as it relates to GA4? How are you addressing that challenge?

A: Universal Analytics was around for a long time and so it is natural that people became very accustomed to the way it worked and “looked.” People became used to where things were and how they were measured, which is completely understandable. But, as I mentioned earlier, UA was built for an older world — one where the way people interacted with businesses was completely different from the way they do today. 

So, because of that, we often hear from customers that it can be challenging to find the same use cases in GA4. There are a few reasons that this can be challenging. First and foremost, it’s new, and it takes time to get used to new things. Second, and most importantly, GA4 was intentionally designed to measure differently in a way that reflects the way people now engage with businesses and content — hits and sessions aren’t reflective of today’s reality. 

That means that use cases aren’t always 1:1. The information and insights are still there, but they may look different than they did in Universal Analytics because we’re measuring different things — with good reason. 

The Setup Assistant was created with businesses of all sizes in mind. It was designed specifically to help customers get set up with GA4 and make sure they have all of the right pieces in place to get the information they need. This doesn’t have to be a one-and-done situation; it’s a helpful resource and I urge customers to go back to it as they continue to get accustomed to GA4.

In addition to creating more educational materials (some helpful links herehere and here), we’re also investing in AI-based solutions to help customers find features and get their job done more efficiently. 

For example, Analytics Insights are something GA4 customers can already take advantage of. They use machine learning to help businesses understand and act on their data. For example, with automated insights, Analytics Intelligence detects unusual changes or emerging trends and notifies businesses automatically. These AI-generated insights live throughout GA4 and you can click the “Insights” icon at the top of any Report to see suggested questions and insights to help you better understand what’s happening and what your next steps should be.

We are always looking for opportunities to make GA4 as intuitive as possible and are excited about how that will continue to evolve. 

Q: What does the future of GA4 look like?

A: Google Analytics has long helped businesses understand user engagement on their websites and apps, as well as the performance of their marketing efforts. Google Analytics 4 does this in a more complete, holistic way. Not only does it bring together web and app into one, seamless experience, but it also gives businesses even more cross-channel insights, enabling them to understand their efforts across more than just Google. We will continue to make it easier to bring in offline data to give businesses a complete picture of their customers and improve their ability to measure and activate. 

Built with AI at its core, Google Analytics 4 will continue to use best-in-class modeling to give businesses the insights they need to make strategic decisions, all without compromising user privacy. We will build on our stable of intelligence features to help businesses identify important trends and help them capitalize on growth opportunities. 

We’re excited to move into this future where GA4 is our only analytics platform — one where we can continue to innovate and invest in making it the most effective, holistic and durable analytics solution for our customers.

Q: One big issue advertisers had with GA4 (and UA) was conversion reporting discrepancies. How does Key Events solve this? Is it working?

A: Yes, by unifying the concept of Conversions between Google Analytics and Google Ads, we have finally addressed a long-standing customer challenge that the numbers in Google Analytics are not consistent with the view in Google Ads.  We will continue to build on this concept, offering more advertiser features powered by Conversions in our Advertising Workspace. 

Solving this required us to distinguish between important customer interactions (“Key Events”) and those driven by your marketing efforts (“Conversions”). We plan to also invest more in Key Events reporting to help product development teams optimize important flows in their customer experiences.


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Anu Adegbola

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