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The cookieless future of tracking: how is Google’s GA4 impacting B2B marketers?

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25th October 2023

The new analytics update that’s shaking things up

In the fast-moving world of digital marketing, Google’s analytics tools have long been our trusty companions. By tracking users’ movements across websites, they’ve sharpened our understanding of customer behaviour and become an essential component of our online strategies.

Enter GA4: Google’s latest analytics update. Departing from traditional tracking methods, this privacy-focused tool leads marketers into uncharted (and less trackable) territory.

So, what does this new approach mean for us? Will GA4 usher in greater marketing success and more secure online spaces, or will its features complicate our work?

Out with the old, in with the new

Before GA4, Analytics (UA) was the conventional method used by website owners and marketers to monitor user behaviour.

UA involved tracking users’ movement across websites and collecting their personal data, stored in detailed text files (known as ‘cookies’) on their devices. These cookies served as markers of a user’s unique characteristics, enabling them to be identified as they browsed online.

Come July 2023 however, Google stopped processing new data for UA – nudging users towards a change. It wasn’t a technical shift but a legal one; privacy laws like the California Privacy Rights Act (2023) and the General Data Protection Regulation (2018) have mandated changes in how companies store and handle personal information.

Unlike UA, GA4 is ‘cookieless.’ Instead of gathering users’ personal data, GA4 relies on server-side data collection and processing. This approach means we can identify and track users through their specific interactions – their clicks, scrolls, and video views – rather than prying into their private information.

Key Features of GA4

But it’s not just about the cookies. While GA4’s privacy-first approach is what’s got marketers talking, it also offers a range of new and exciting features that build on UA’s solid tracking framework:

  • GA4 goes beyond traffic tracking, offering cross-platform analytics so you can monitor user behaviour seamlessly across various platforms. For the majority of us juggling both mobile and desktop sites, this is essential.
  • Ever heard of funnel exploration? Now you have. GA4 lets marketers visualise a user’s journey from curious clicker to repeat buyer, helping us streamline customer journeys for ultimate efficiency.
  • Using AI, GA4 predicts user behaviour, enhancing campaign accuracy.
  • Unlike UA’s session-based tracking, GA4 uses an event-based approach, providing a detailed view of user behaviour, click by click.

GA4’s impact on…SEO strategies

For B2B marketers promoting niche content and services, a sound SEO strategy drives organic traffic to your website and improves its visibility.

GA4 simplifies this, offering tools which identify high-performing pages and content. By analysing existing page data and events, the tool helps users to determine the type of content their target audience will engage with – enhancing SEO performance and attracting valuable backlinks.

GA4’s impact on…marketing strategies

The way users behave online is changing. It’s not just about desktop browsing anymore; multi-platform is the norm and users expect a seamless experience across all of their devices.

This is where GA4’s cross-platform analytics really come into play, allowing marketers to identify high-performing channels–as well as areas for improvement on those that aren’t gaining as much traffic. Coupled with tools to create user segments and track journeys, GA4 helps us place content right where our audience wants it.

GA4’s impact on digital advertising

Organic and paid search metrics are essential, but your digital marketing likely involves a diverse range of additional channels: email, social media, influencer content, OTT/CTV advertising and more.

By collecting audience data from across these various channels – as well as from previous converters – GA4 creates a detailed customer profile which you can use to optimise your digital marketing strategies. Using this data, you can target your audience directly through Google Ads, YouTube and other platforms such as LinkedIn.

Challenges and Learning Curves

As is true of any new interface or platform, GA4 comes with both challenges and benefits. Thanks to the new iteration’s strong privacy controls, certain features available in previous GA tools, such as bounce rate, have been removed.

But new ones have been added: the Google Signals feature, for example. This tool permits the tracking of users who are signed into their Google accounts. Although users need to be ‘opted in’ to be tracked, this allows a somewhat similar process to before – simply without cookies and with an added layer of protection. With Google Signals, marketers are still able to gain the audience data they need to optimise their campaigns.

For better or for worse, a cookie-less world restricts the types of data that marketers can collect.

But cookie-less tracking still provides valuable insights, just slightly different ones. Getting used to a new way of doing things will be a learning curve, but if marketers invest time in understanding GA4’s intricacies, they can properly maximise its potential.

The Think Tank’s Head of Digital, Ros Rowlatt agrees:

“GA4 offers marketers a new way of thinking about website performance. While Universal Analytics looked at unengaged as well as engaged sessions, GA4 focuses on specific, engaged events – the good stuff that we need to help us improve.

“Those I have spoken to in the industry have all felt frustrated with using GA4. But once you spend time looking at your or your client’s data, you can soon see how GA4 brings you more options: endless events and simpler, built-in conversion tracking.

“And for marketers who work across mobile sites and apps as well as desktop sites, being able to compile all of the data into one place is a dream!”

The verdict

GA4 represents a significant shift for marketers. But with a comprehensive understanding of its new tools and limitations, B2B marketers can stay ahead of the curve.

And if you’re struggling, you can get in touch with us. We’ve been doing analytics for a long time (since the popularisation of the internet, in fact) and know how to use GA4 to get your business where it wants to go.

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