Now that Universal Analytics (UA) is in the rearview mirror for everyone except 360 customers, many organizations are asking how they can maximize the value they’re deriving from Google Analytics 4 (GA4). Assuming you’ve already done the work of “porting” your UA implementation over to GA4, it’s worth taking time some time to focus more on the strategic elements of how GA4 supports what your organization is trying to accomplish in terms of marketing effectiveness, and less on the technical, tactical questions about data models, event parameters, and the like.

We like to say that GA4 creates the most value for an organization when it’s being used not as a standalone measurement tool, but when it’s being used as the “central nervous system” for everything an organization is trying to orchestrate across the Google Marketing Platform (GMP) and beyond. This means that GA4 should be linked to any other GMP products you’re using, such as Google Ads, or Display & Video 360. But getting your accounts linked, while an important prerequisite, doesn’t — in and of itself — create any value. Linking your accounts becomes beneficial when you’re using those linkages to define, manage, and activate customized audiences all across the GMP.

In this post we’ll explore why using GA4 as a hub for audience creation and management is critical to unlocking value from the platform, and we’ll lay out a few easy frameworks you might consider to jumpstart your own audience segmentation in GA4.

Why define and manage audiences via GA4?

There are two overarching reasons you’ll want to use GA4 as that audience hub for GMP. First, there are a variety of benefits on the measurement side. Then, there’s a lot to gain on the activation side. Let’s tackle those in turn.

Measurement

When reported and analyzed in aggregate, your GA4 data might help you understand the highest-level trends, but it’s unlikely to be particularly actionable. In order to make your reports, dashboards, analyses, etc. more actionable, context is key. And reporting on data through the lens of specific audience segments is a fantastic way to add that context to your data.

For example, reporting on a troubling trend in terms of shopping cart abandonment might “sound the alarm” that there’s an issue with the checkout UX on your site or app. Maybe there’s an obvious problem that needs to be resolved, but often times, that’s not the case. Several questions might spring to mind. Which kinds of customers are abandoning the cart more often? Is it web visitors, app users, or both? Is it frequent purchasers, anonymous users, or some other combination of groups?

Defining KPIs for specific audience segments and then reporting against those segments makes it easier for analysts to pinpoint the root cause of issues, and helps organizations optimize performance more quickly. In addition, reporting on defined KPIs for specific audience segments can help organizations drive consistency in terms of the use of data across platforms. For example, once you’ve defined an audience in GA4, you can consistently report on that audience’s performance on your website or mobile app, and you can consistently report on that audience’s performance via your Google media platforms, like Google Ads. Now you’ve got a method by which to account for more of the customer journey for any given segment: from first impression, all the way through to conversion and beyond.

So there are clear, major measurement benefits that come from defining an audience strategy and then implementing that via GA4. Those will serve an organization well over the long-term, but in terms of where you’re more likely to see an immediate impact, we should also discuss the activation use-cases that GA4 audiences create.

Activation

When we use the term “activation,” all we mean is: what are you doing to drive better performance from that audience segment? The answers to that question are as diverse as the people and organizations reading this blog post, but we’ll lay out of a few common examples below.

  • Retargeting (illustrated below): perhaps the most obvious activation use-case, retargeting is the concept of re-engaging users who have interacted with your brand before, in the hopes of moving them further down the funnel, driving loyalty or repeat purchases, etc. When you have a robust, granular audience strategy in place in GA4, you can retarget these audience segments with highly-specific messaging, making your retargeting efforts more effective overall.

  • Suppression: essentially the opposite of retargeting, suppression is the idea that you may want to prevent certain audience segments from being exposed to your ads for some time in the future. For example, if someone has just submitted an inquiry, opened an account, purchased a product, or done some other kind of key action, you may want to avoid advertising to them until a certain amount of time has passed. Using suppression wisely can help you maximize ROI by avoiding wasting scarce media dollars on people who shouldn’t be seeing your ads to begin with.
  • Lookalike Modeling: this practice helps you expand your brand’s reach in a scalable, efficient manner. If you’ve identified high-value segments (whatever that means in your context), sharing those audiences from GA4 to a media-buying platform like Google Ads will allow you to tap into Google’s modeling functionality to find net-new people who share important traits with your existing high-value audience. With smart suppression and lookalike modeling in place, you can free up ad budgets to target net-new users when you otherwise might have wasted some of those resources on people you don’t want to target.
  • Custom Bidding: maybe suppression is too extreme a step, and you instead simply want to deprioritize certain audiences. You might use audiences to enable custom bidding strategies — for example, reducing bids for a “Recent Buyer” audience, so that you can instead bid more aggressively for people who aren’t recent buyers.

Strategies like the ones listed above assume that you have some kind of audience segmentation strategy implemented, and doing so via GA4 is a great way to do this, because it enables you to take advantage of these opportunities across any of Google’s advertising platforms. So, what are some common examples of audience segmentation that you might be able to action within your organization? Here are a handful that are worth considering.

  • Product line: for example, users who have purchased products in one category (like shoes), but not in another (like pants). This might enable you to do some targeted cross-selling, driving higher purchase frequency and stronger customer lifetime value.
  • Brand: similar to product line segmentation, segmenting by brand affinity can create new opportunities. Can you convince buyers who are partial to one particular brand to purchase products from another? Or, if your data suggests that this is unlikely, can you suppress ads for Brand X for users who prefer Brand Y?
  • Region: geo-targeting is as old as dirt, and with good reason. Breaking audiences down into regions, subregions, etc., can help you drive online audiences into stores in specific locations, can help you personalize product recommendations, and more.
  • Price-point: if you offer products or services at a wide range of prices, you may want to segment between “high-end” shoppers and “bargain hunters,” for example. This can help you drive retargeting, upsell, and cross-sell strategies that are effective because they’re realistic and focused on the kinds of products each type of consumer is more likely to buy.
  • Customer journey stage: this is a critical audience segmentation framework for many businesses. If you’ve got a long “sales cycle,” for example, map out the various actions that happen online (and even offline) that need to happen before an anonymous web visitor becomes a paying customer. Once you’ve defined that, you can break up people who are at the various stages of the journey into different audiences, and personalize the way you communicate with them to accelerate the buying process and convert more users.

Getting started with audiences in GA4

Developing a robust audience segmentation framework is no small task — but happily, getting started with audiences in GA4 is quick and easy. Once you know what you’re trying to accomplish, building audiences can take just a matter of seconds and a few clicks of your mouse. And if you’ve linked GA4 to your other GMP products, those audiences will automatically appear and be ready to activate.

We recommend starting small with some areas that will help you see “quick wins.” For example, build out retargeting audiences for people who began to fill out an inquiry form, but didn’t submit it — or who added a product to the shopping cart, but didn’t check out. These kinds of audiences are relevant to many kinds of businesses, and are a great way to prove out the value of building and managing audiences via GA4 over the long run.

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