A Practical Guide for Product Managers II: How to choose a user analytics tool? GA4 vs Mixpanel

What are the differences between GA4 and Mixpanel? To compare the two tools, this article compiles four indicators showing the pros and cons of GA4 and Mixpanel.

The emergence of apps has driven the industry’s need for cross-platform tracking. The marketing and traffic analytics tools that were previously used are no longer enough, primarily because companies today don’t obtain user data from a single website to make product decisions. Taking e-commerce platforms as an example, in addition to standard websites, companies also list their products on mobile apps. The user habits on the two platforms vary drastically and customers will end up having different user experiences on different devices.

As such, an analytics tool that can effectively collect data across websites and apps to track cross-platform and cross-device user experiences is the ultimate solution sought after by all product managers (PMs). This trend can also be observed from Google’s recent decision to replace Universal Analytics (UA) with Google Analytics 4 (GA4).

The move towards GA4 signals that User Behavior Analytics is the way forward

GA4 is Google’s biggest overhaul in the last four years. Compared with the current UA used by most companies, GA4 can not only track the sources that lead users to the website, but also track the complete journey of users across devices. This is much more aligned with companies’ present data tracking needs.

Other changes in GA4 include the transition from focusing on ‘traffic analysis’ to ‘user behavior analysis’. The reasons for such a transition are easy to speculate. Today, the marketing approach has shifted from the previous mindset of “traffic is king” to being focused on improving users’ propensity to engage and repeatedly return to the website or app. The difference between the old and new approaches is that the former mainly uses web traffic and channel ROI to determine marketing success, while the latter pays more attention to the user experience, engagement and behavior on the platform. Generally speaking, to improve user stickiness, companies need to know now more than ever how users interact with their websites and apps and how data collected can be used to optimize products and improve user experience.

What to look out for when choosing a user analytics tool?

What user analytics tools will benefit product managers the most? Product managers often have a clear product plan and the tools they choose usually vary based on their work habits and the industry they are in.

Here are the four main considerations in choosing a user analytics tool:

  1. Does it support multi-channel data integration and application?
  2. Does it track real-time status of user footprints with speed and precision?
  3. Will the stored/retrieved user data clearly reflect the user profile?
  4. Will the user data help companies with effective decision-making?

With the above four points in mind, product managers should have a comprehensive understanding of their users’ cross-platform and cross-device behaviors from both real-time tracking and long-term observation points of view. This understanding will further facilitate the decision-making process and help to elevate the user experience.

What are the differences between GA4 and Mixpanel?

With user data being a key component in driving decisions and product improvements, it is paramount for product managers to utilize user analytics tools to monitor user behavior continuously, and in real-time.

Currently, the most widely known product analytics tool is none other than GA4, an analytics service that integrates the GA for Firebase app data and GA web data to support cross-platform data tracking. It resolves the previous problem of requiring two sets of tools to enable complete data collection. Mixpanelis known for user behavior analytics. On Mixpanel, every user is attached to a unique identifier which assists product managers in tracking the behavior patterns of users across web and app.

To compare the two tools, this article compiles four indicators showing the pros and cons of GA4 and Mixpanel.

1. Data Integration Support

First of all, let’s look at data integration support. As Google kept building its own walled garden where user data only flows within Google’s ecosystem, GA4 is only able to integrate within Google products like BigQuery.

By contrast, Mixpanel is able to link up with different ad platforms, data warehouses (e.g. GCP, AWS, Azure), and various engagement, AB testing and attribution tools, so that product managers can combine data from different channels to uncover complete user footprints and even send more precise push notifications.

2. Real-time Data Analysis

Secondly, as the market is ever changing and the product life cycle is getting shorter in this digital era, only with continuous and fast access to the latest information can companies get ahead in the fiercely competitive market. In the face of such accelerating and intensifying competition, GA4’s frequency of renewing the data every 24-48 hours does not quite meet company needs.

In comparison, Mixpanel comes out on top with its real-time renewal. With full support for real-time analysis, Mixpanel emphasizes speedy data retrieval to keep companies fully informed at all times of the latest user behaviors. For app operators that need to have full access to real-time user data, Mixpanel is essentially a better choice.

3. Data Preservation

Thirdly, how historical data is handled is a pivotal consideration for companies seeking to optimize their product and user experience. In this regard, GA4 is able to preserve historical data for 14 months. But it does not support historical data import, which means GA4 is quite limited in its access to the storage, retrieval and analysis of historical user behaviors.

Regarding data storage and retrieval, Mixpanel offers access to historical data for up to five years. When the data expires, product managers can import historical user data as a replacement. Mixpanel will undoubtedly help companies in need of data backtracking to better understand historical and long-standing user habits on their platforms.

4. Data Completeness

As previously mentioned, data serves as important evidence to demonstrate if a certain feature provides a sufficient user experience and to verify whether or not a designed product flow is aligned with user habits. Therefore, having access to complete data within the user analytics tool is a key element that a product manager cannot afford to overlook. On this point, GA4 presents customized reports based on sampled data only, while Mixpanel analyzes all of the user data. Filtered data sampling is prone to errors. So in comparison to GA4, Mixpanel is more competitive in terms of data completeness.

Mixpanel vs Google Analytics

With all of the above considered, user behavior analysis is important because companies can no longer rely on just website traffic to determine whether or not a product update,sales or marketing strategy worked. It is necessary to have a deeper understanding of user behaviors in order to come up with more effective strategies to boost user engagement. Only with the data generated by user behavior analytics tools can companies better understand what attracts users and what drives them away without blind guessing so that companies can arrive at more accurate and effective business decisions.

In this age of hyper-targeting and personalization, companies have to understand their users better than anyone else. Further still, they need to predict user behaviors way before the behaviors occur in order to get ahead, evoke stronger loyalty and acquire more users while retaining the old ones.

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