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Does GA4 Actually Suck? & What to Do About It

In this week’s episode of “We Are, Marketing Happy,” the podcast that brings joy to healthcare marketing, our host, CEO, and founder Jenny Bristow, dissects a topic that’s stirring up the digital marketing world alongside Mark Brandes, Hedy & Hopp’s head of all things analytics and decision science. 

This episode sheds light on the mixed feelings surrounding GA4, digging into its challenges and revealing how to harness its full potential. Jenny and Mark go beyond critique, offering practical advice for organizations deeply invested in GA4. Whether you’re grappling with catch-all tracking, seeking clarity on website performance, or looking to beautify your data analysis with Looker Studio dashboards, this episode is packed with actionable solutions. Join us as we transform technical hurdles into opportunities for joy and insight, ensuring your marketing efforts are both happy and effective.

Episode Highlights:

[0:45] – Introduction to GA4’s Mixed Reception: Insights into the digital marketing community’s varied reactions to Google Analytics 4.

[1:20] – The Challenge with GA4: Mark and Jenny discuss the steep learning curve and common frustrations with the new platform.

[2:55] – Embracing Measurement Planning: Highlighting the importance of a well-crafted measurement plan for accurate data analysis in healthcare marketing.

[4:10] – Implementing Dashboards for Better Analytics: How custom dashboards can make data from GA4 more accessible and actionable.

[6:00] – The Future of Healthcare Marketing with GA4: Optimizing Google Analytics 4 for enhanced decision-making in healthcare marketing.

[7:30] – Practical Tips for GA4 Transition: Jenny and Mark offer advice for organizations adapting to Google Analytics 4, focusing on setup and tracking strategies.

Links & Resources

Connect with Jenny

Connect with Mark

Check out more about how Hedy & Hopp can help you do more with your data!

Jenny: [00:00:00] Hi friends. Welcome to today’s episode of “We Are, Marketing Happy,” a healthcare marketing podcast. My name is Jenny Bristow. I am the host, but I am also the CEO and founder of Hedy and Hopp. We’re a full-service fully healthcare marketing agency. We work with healthcare providers, payers, and innovation groups all across the country.

And I am so excited today to have our very own Mark Brandes join us. Mark is the head of all things analytics and decision science here at Hedy & Hopp. So, welcome. 

Mark: Yeah, thanks for having me on Jenny. 

Jenny: So we’re going to talk about a really fun topic today. And that is that a lot of people basically are feeling like Google Analytics 4 sucks.

So what are your thoughts about that?

Mark: They are, and I can’t say I fully disagree. But I do think there are some things that are great about Google Analytics 4, but I also understand where people’s frustrations come from, because I have the same frustration, especially working at an agency [00:01:00] where we have to move around from different clients, and I need quick information out of those tools. And GA4 is not something you can get quick information out of. You have to really put some effort into it, build some things to have the reporting be the same to access some of the data. And so I, I agree.

And I think what we’ve seen is that you can actually, um, create measurement plans that help you really understand what you can measure. And I think that helps really identify what you’re pulling out of the platform that can help. You can also then extend with things like dashboards. So we can talk a little bit about how that would work.

Jenny: Oh, I love it. I love it. And I know we give a little levity to the topic, right? But like, I think the reason why it’s important to address it is there’s a lot of organizations that for one reason or another are tied to using Google Analytics, even with all of the HIPAA and. The patient privacy stuff with a lot of the workarounds, for example, the one that we implement with server-side Google tag manager.

We developed that [00:02:00] program because a lot of people wanted to stick with Google Analytics simply because of the sunk cost of time and energy they’ve already put into setting up the tool and or integrations or dashboards they’ve already set up. So I think on today’s topic. I think we’re going to set aside the fact that yes, there are other tools you can use, right?

The Piwik Pros, the Mixed Panel, like there’s lots of other analytics tools that you could use, but today let’s focus on if you are using Google Analytics for whatever reason, organizationally, if your team has decided you’re sticking with it, then how can you make the most of it? So I’d love for you to start, if an organization is sticking with Google Analytics 4, and they’re just generally frustrated, what’s the first thing that they should do?

Mark: Yeah. And there’s a comfortable nest there, right? Like they’re kind of comfortable. You’ve been using GA and I think that’s one of the things that makes GA more tough is because the interface makes people uncomfortable and you kind of lose that comfort that you had. Right. And so that’s, I think pretty jarring for people.

But yeah, what [00:03:00] we can start to do is for one, when we work with clients, we see a lot of implementations where either their team or an agency or somebody else has come in and they’ve set up what I call just kind of, catch-all tracking. Right? So they’ve gone in and said, we want to track all these links.

Okay, well, let’s track that the link happened and we’ll grab what page it happened on and what page is going to and that’s great until it comes to analytics time, until it comes to the time to the analysis and then things become more difficult. You have to start piecing through all that. You have to pull stuff out.

You have to see was that this link? Was that link? You also have times where it’s not as easy as that. Sometimes it has a JavaScript that comes through. Right? Because you opened up a window instead of opening up a new page. So there’s different things that can break when you do that kind of tracking and that doesn’t really get caught when you kind of just do a throw it all catch it all type of tracking.

So, from our position, it really helps to understand, okay. what are the things that are really important to us on our [00:04:00] website? What’s our website there for? And I think that is a place that we help with having those conversations with really getting down to the heart of, What is this website doing for our business?

And then how can we tie things on the website back to the success of our business? And we do that through a process called measurement planning. So it’s really detailed out and we  define, okay, we want to track when this thing happens on the site. Well, we can help define what does that mean in terms of Google Analytics is this event with this parameter on it.

So we can help define all that. And not only that, but it also helps. Catalog everything and really put it into place. I’ve had so many clients tell us, this is amazing. We’ve never seen this information. We’ve, we know all this, but we’ve never seen it in this format and it helps them understand like, okay, I get what we’re doing now.

I get what we’re tracking. I get where this is coming from. 

Jenny: Yep, absolutely. And I think whenever people think about measurement planning. That sounds like a step that’s a “nice to have”. So I think reframing that conversation internally [00:05:00] where it’s not a nice to have it’s a “must have” if you’re spending money online and need to understand what the ROI is, etc.

So, when you start with the foundation of a strong measurement plan, let’s talk a little bit about how that enables you to make really accurate and detailed, reporting or dashboards. 

Mark: For sure. So a good example is when we moved to GA4 well, in UA, you used to have events that had event category, event action, and event label.

Everybody was so comfortable with that. It made sense, right? You could categorize all this. You could drill down inside your reports. All that’s gone now because everything is an event inside of GA4 and you only have one field for the name. And so you have to either shove all those category, action, and label into that name, which we’ve seen some people do.

We’ve also seen them do, the label as the event and then put category and action as their other parameters to get added onto it. But those are difficult to pull out of the actual interface itself. Trying to drill down into those isn’t the same. When you click on an event, it doesn’t take you to those [00:06:00] next levels.

It takes you to another screen where, yeah, you can look at those levels, but it’s difficult. And you can go into, say, the Explorer reports inside of GA. For you can set up a table there. You can set up a pivot table to help you look at all those different things. But that takes time and effort understanding how the tool works a sense of what pivot tables are, which isn’t the easiest topic for everyone.

And so getting to some of that information, and that’s what I mean by a GA4 feels like it’s terrible, right? Because I can’t get anything out of this. I can’t find the information I’m looking for anymore. And from my perspective. Usually, the information is there. We just haven’t identified what it is, and we haven’t made it easy to bring it out.

And so, yeah, once we have that measurement plan in place, what we can do is really set up a dashboard. And I know sometimes in some circles, dashboards get a bad rap, but I think the way that we approach them is to really have them be an extension of GA4, to bring back some of that reporting field that you had inside of UA, right?

You can drill down into here. You can look at this specific [00:07:00] topic. You can look at your, your month or your date range breakdown. You can see a time chart over that for those specific things. And so that’s something that’s missing at a GA4 currently is your ability to do that. And we can bring that back.

And then you can add it back with adding on something like a Looker Studio dashboard. The great benefit is that Looker Studio is free. So, it’s something you can add on. It’s really the time and effort that takes to set it up and that’s again where we can help with our expertise. We can help you once you have that measurement plan in place, we can help you set up the dashboards. We’ve got somebody on our team who makes beautiful dashboards. Their works of art, in my opinion, but even better. The reason I love that is because it helps you want to come back to the dashboard. It’s not just a spreadsheet looking thing that you come and you just kind of get through.

It looks nice. It’s appealing. And so you want to come back to that dashboard. It’s like, yeah, I do want to go check my dashboard. It’s nice to look at. It’s got my. Yeah. Brand colors. It’s got a good feel to it. And so that’s something that I [00:08:00] find is great because it doesn’t make going through the data at shore.

It makes it kind of a little more happy, a little more fun. 

Jenny: I love it. Our whole focus of our brand is infusing joy. And I think our dashboards definitely do that one thing. Whenever I’m talking to prospective clients and I’m sharing some examples of our dashboards, we see their jaws drop because some examples you can literally drill down by business type.

Or by location. So let’s say you’re a 60-location specialty provider. You can see how one particular location is performing as far as traffic spend campaigns, et cetera. And that’s all because the measurement plan that was done up front made sure all of the tracking and implementation was set up correctly.

So definitely a step not to be missed. 

Mark: Exactly. 

Jenny: Yep. Well, thank you, Mark, for being on always appreciate your perspective and ability to turn something super technical into something that’s easy to digest. So thank you again for being on this week. I love it. And for listeners, thank you so much for tuning in this week.

Be sure to tune in for a future episode of “We Are, Marketing Happy.” Have a great day.



About the Author

The Hedy & Hopp digital production team is the glue that keeps all activation work running. From auditing websites and tagging, to content strategy and CRM implementation, our digital production unicorns ensure the tiniest detail is reviewed and accurate before it gets to our clients. Their determination in finding solutions for any challenge makes this team marketing happy.

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