How has GA4 impacted eCommerce websites?

Published on June 7, 2024 by Alex Eade

Digital evolution and brand competition means that staying ahead of the curve is essential for eCommerce businesses. The best way to optimise your online presence and enhance user experience is by using your customer data and website analytics to make the right decisions. 

Over the past year, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) has emerged as a powerful tool replacing Universal Analytics. It offers advanced insights and improved tracking capabilities, as well as a more user-centric approach to data collection and analysis. 

This article includes the opinions of our SEO and eCommerce experts, delving into their experiences of the first year of GA4’s implementation, and examining whether it’s had an impact on eCommerce websites. 

What is GA4? A quick refresher

GA4 is the latest iteration of Google’s web analytics platform, replacing Universal Analytics in 2023. 

Unlike Universal Analytics, which relies on session-based tracking, GA4 uses event-based tracking, with the aim of more precise data collection and a better understanding of user interactions across different devices and platforms. 

Key features of GA4, relevant to eCommerce, include cross-platform tracking, which allows businesses to follow users across websites and mobile apps seamlessly, and enhanced user-centric data that focuses on individual user behaviours rather than aggregated data. 

GA4 also includes AI-driven insights and predictions, which could help eCommerce businesses to identify product or consumer trends, forecast outcomes, and make important data-driven decisions to optimise their marketing strategies and increase their revenue. 

What’s the adoption rate of GA4 for eCommerce websites? 

Since the switch in July 2023, the adoption of GA4 among eCommerce websites has been strong.  According to recent industry reports, approximately 70% of websites have Google Analytics products on them and more than 13 million websites worldwide have adopted GA4. However, the level of set-up and correct use of this platform varies wildly.   

The journey to adopting GA4 has not been without its challenges and this is a pain point we’ve noticed with a lot of our clients. Whilst the basic set up is the same (if not easier than!) Universal Analytics, there have been anxieties around the transition from UA to GA4. This switchover is complicated for eCommerce data because they use very different models for data collection.  

Many businesses have struggled with configuring the new event-based tracking system and ensuring that it accurately reflects user interactions across various platforms, which is why we stepped in to support with the correct set-up. Additionally, the shift from a session-based to an event-based model has led to big changes in how data is interpreted, causing some initial confusion and adjustment issues in reporting. 

Data Collection and Insights using GA4

‘In theory, it should enable you to get better, more granular data about your products. The problem is that GA4 doesn’t necessarily have an off the shelf solution like UA did, so you need to put more effort into creating dashboards to fit your needs, but once you’ve done that you should have better, more custom data.Mick Scanlon, Head of Paid Media 

GA4 enhances data granularity and quality through machine learning, which provides more accurate and detailed data. This allows businesses to track user interactions more precisely and understand complex customer journeys and purchasing behaviours. For instance, GA4 has introduced advanced metrics like engagement rates, purchase probabilities, and lifetime values, offering deeper insights into customer preferences and buying patterns. 

The platform has a focus on user journey mapping, meaning that eCommerce businesses can visualise the entire customer journey across multiple touchpoints, from initial interaction to final purchase. This helps pinpoint pain points as well as the most effective channels and tactics that lead to successful transactions, enabling more informed decision-making and website optimisation strategies.

The potential impact on eCommerce marketing strategies

One of the key improvements GA4 brings is better audience segmentation. Event-based tracking and enhanced user-centric data means that e-commerce marketers can create more precise audience segments based on specific behaviours and interactions, leading to the creation of more targeted and effective campaigns. 

List collation in GA4 also allows for enhanced Google ads retargeting campaigns by offering insights into user journeys across multiple devices and platforms. This allows marketers to deliver more personalised and timely ads to users, increasing the likelihood of conversion. 

For example, an eCommerce site might have GA4 data which can help marketers to identify users who frequently view certain product categories but haven’t made a purchase, then target these users with tailored messaging through Google ads featuring promotions or related products. This improves ad relevance and maximises return on investment. 

Our Technical SEO, Sam, has used product views and ‘add to cart’ metric capabilities to report to a client which products are getting the most engagement on their website, so we can ensure we are targeting the right things in our SEO, paid search and content strategy. 

Can you improve eCommerce UX with GA4?

Analytics data has played a crucial role in enhancing the user experience on e-commerce and shopping websites for a long time. However, by providing detailed insights into user behaviours and interactions, GA4 enables businesses to better refine audience personalisation. This means eCommerce sites can offer more relevant product recommendations, tailored content, and personalised offers, creating a more engaging shopping experience. 

As we’ve already mentioned, GA4 supports advanced user engagement and retention strategies by tracking user journeys across different touch points which means businesses can identify pain points and areas for improvement across the whole purchase process, leading to things like more intuitive navigation, faster checkout processes, and better customer support. 

For instance, an eCommerce site might use GA4 insights to discover that users frequently abandon their carts at a specific step in the checkout process, prompting a redesign to streamline that step. Website giants like Amazon, ASOS and Shopify-powered stores have successfully leveraged GA4 data to optimise their user interfaces and enhance overall user satisfaction, demonstrating the platform’s powerful impact on improving eCommerce user experiences.

Has GA4 impacted sales revenue for eCommerce sites? 

‘The monetisation API has made data accuracy better than it was in UA – with the caveat that it must be implemented correctly.’ Sam Monaghan, SEO Manager. 

Data-driven decisions tend to be more profitable than decisions made by gut feel – that’s why using analytics properly is so important. One of the key benefits of GA4 is its ability to track user behaviour more accurately through its event-based model, offering a clearer picture of the customer journey. The more accurately you understand how consumers interact with your website, the more you can identify and address pain points in the sales funnel, optimise your product listings, and enhance promotional strategies. Data is power! 

“Technically GA4 hasn’t impacted anything directly, as it’s just software. It has affected how eCommerce websites report on the analytics that they have as we now have things like Consent Mode V2 and there’s more AI learning under the hood which might help them with engagement factors.”Steve Job, SEO Manager.

GA4’s AI-driven insights and predictive analytics can also help eCommerce sites to more accurately forecast trends and future customer behaviours, allowing for better inventory management and targeted marketing campaigns. GA4 can help marketing teams to predict which products are likely to see increased demand, helping businesses prepare accordingly and reduce problems with selling out of popular items or expensive overstock situations.

Challenges and Limitations of GA4

So far we’ve been pretty positive about GA4, but as with every marketing tool, it’s far from perfect. Businesses have had to use resources on implementation and education with our Head of Delivery, Rob James, noting that “there’s been an added cost to businesses as they’ve had to pay out to roll out a new tracking system and then adjust their reporting structures to match that.”  

There are a few key areas where we’ve seen our clients having issues with the platform and there are limitations to what it can provide for eCommerce websites in particular. These are our top five: 

  • Complexity in Setup and Configuration

Set up and correct configuration to ensure you’re tracking the right things can be overwhelming and time-consuming, especially for businesses without dedicated analytics teams. This is why we’ve done it for lots of our clients – and can help you with it too, if you’re still struggling with set-up or want our SEO team to cast their eye over what you’ve already done to make sure it’s correct. If it’s not set up correctly, you’re not collecting or working with the right data, and this can be a huge problem for reporting to your board and impacting your bottom line. 

  • Limited Historical Data Comparison

A massive issue for many businesses is that GA4 does not seamlessly integrate with historical data from Universal Analytics, making it challenging to compare past performance with current metrics. When you set up GA4, it doesn’t pull across historical data, and unless you download it, you’ll lose access to that UA data on 1st July 2024. This limitation makes it difficult for businesses to conduct long-term trend analysis and understand changes in performance over time. 

  • Data Sampling in Reports

Similar to Universal Analytics, GA4 can apply data sampling to reports when the volume of data is large. This means that not all data points are used to generate reports, which isn’t a problem in most circumstances but it can lead to less accurate insights. For businesses relying on absolutely precise data for critical decision-making, sampling can obscure true user behaviour patterns and lead to misguided strategies.

  • Steep Learning Curve

We’ve all gotten used to UA, and marketing reports have been set up to use UA data. Changing this and working with new data and processes in GA4 is a learning curve and something all marketers need to dive into. GA4’s interface and data model requires users to learn a completely new system. The terminology, reporting structure, and analysis techniques differ significantly from Universal Analytics. This steep learning curve might have slowed down the adoption process in your business, requiring additional training and resources, and potentially causing delays in obtaining actionable insights.

  • Data Privacy and Compliance Challenges

With increased tracking capabilities come bigger concerns about data privacy and compliance with regulations like GDPR and Consent Mode V2. Businesses need to implement robust consent mechanisms required by Google and the law and ensure that their data collection practices are transparent and lawful. Ensuring this compliance adds to the operational burden, and any misstep can result in legal consequences and damage to the business’s reputation.

Has GA4 impacted eCommerce? It depends…

So, has the transition to GA4 impacted eCommerce websites? The typical SEO answer would be, it depends. It depends on the set up, understanding, and analysis of the data, as well as what marketers do with that data. By providing advanced tracking capabilities, enhanced data granularity, and a user-centric approach to analytics GA4 could provide better data for more informed decision making in the right hands. While the adoption rate has been robust, the journey has not been without challenges. Setup, a steep learning curve, and issues with historical data integration and retention in UA have presented obstacles for many eCommerce sites. Despite these hurdles, the potential benefits of GA4, such as more precise audience segmentation, and AI-driven insights, position it as a powerful tool for driving growth and optimising online operations. Businesses that effectively harness the capabilities of GA4 and their consumer data, will be better equipped to stay competitive and meet the ever-changing demands of the online market.

If you would like support with your analytics, whether that be set up, auditing, or training, or would like to find out more about our retained SEO services, please get in touch.