Do you really need Google analytics once you have a CDP?

Customer Data Platforms (CDPs) are becoming increasingly popular in Sweden, because they are seen as one solution for marketing in a cookieless world. However, getting a CDP, either through purchase or building it in-house, is usually expensive and/or technically complex.

On the other hand, web analytics hasn’t been in the spotlight as much, not since the debate around GDPR compliance. It was at its most intense in July 2023 when Sweden data protection authority (IMY) fined major companies in Sweden, partly for their incorrect use of Google analytics (GA).  This caused a lot of concerns in Sweden, and many companies struggled to quickly change or remove their implementation of GA to avoid similar penalties.
A few days later the Data Privacy framework was introduced. This meant there now was an agreement for data transfers between the EU and US. This calmed the debate and eased the sense of urgency when it came to GA, and for some, the projects to transition to GA4 started up again.

However, given the history of the previous frameworks (the Privacy Shield 1 and 2), there are still some lingering concerns about Google analytics, and therefore it makes sense to explore other paths.

With both those challenges in mind – we’re going to look at a CDP vs Google Analytics and the following questions:

  •  “Can I use Google analytics 4 as my CDP?” or
  • “Can I replace Google Analytics with a CDP?”.

Don’t get me wrong, both questions are valid and interesting from different points of view. If you’ve already implemented GA according to all the rules, why not build upon it rather than getting new products? Or, if you have already selected and implemented a CDP while GA was facing those compliance issues, why not use the CDP for web analytics?

Well, they have a lot of differences and serve different needs, so to make it as clear as possible I put together this table below.


Area Google analytics CDP
Purpose For analyzing traffic and user behavior in digital channels Manages customer data used for marketing 
Data collection GA is limited to digital channels A CDP collects data from both online and offline sources
User profiling Aggregated user behavior data Creates customer profiles with detailed information
Reporting Detailed reporting possibilities, but only on digital metrics Depends on the CDP, but usually customer-oriented reporting
Marketing insights Focus on website user engagement and content effectiveness  Integrates marketing, sales, and customer data for more holistic insights
Privacy compliance A separate consent management tool is needed Has tools for handling multiple types of consent

Why do you need it?

Lets dig deeper – A web analytics system, which is what GA is, is designed to track and report website traffic and user interactions. It’s meant to collect website traffic data on how users navigate and engage with a website. You use it for reporting, understanding user behavior, optimizing website performance, as well as improving the user experience and the conversion rate onsite.

The purpose of a web analytics system, no matter which one you chose, is to provide insight into how visitors are using your website or app. They help you find problem areas and fix them, along with if you know how your website performs according to your goals, you can make decisions on the basis of what actually works.

A CDP (Customer data platform) is meant to centralize and unify customer data from multiple sources, to create a 360 view of each customer. This view is achieved by aggregating data from different tools and touchpoints, such[GU1]  as CRM systems, website interactions or offline transactions. It creates this holistic understanding of each customer’s interactions and relationship with the company, which enables personalized communication (And a better customer experience, provided you use it right).

CDP vs GA – complementary or competitors?

You probably noted that I said “users” when describing web analytics tools and “customers” when discussing CDPs. That is a thing to keep in mind. A CDP creates a view of the customer, GA focuses on the user engagement.

While there are some similarities between a CDP and a web analytics system, they differ in scope and focus. They both collect information on what the visitor does on the website, can enrich the data by receiving information from other sources and export audiences to other systems. GA will anonymize the actual person, while CDPs collect and maintain personal identifiable information.

A CDP takes a much broader scope than a web analytics system, as it aggregates data from both offline and online sources, focusing on customer profiles instead of a user visits or behavior. Try thinking of it as a CDP being a completed puzzle with different data points around one customer. A Web analytics system focuses on one specific part of that puzzle.

So, to answer the questions from the introduction:

Could you use GA4 as a CDP?

The short answer is “Maybe”, but it depends on your business model. It is possible to get some of the CDP capabilities using a combination of GA4 and BigQuery, but it’s not necessarily a good solution for you. There are absolutely companies building their own CDPs, using this or another approach with different suppliers. For some this might be a good solution, particularly for digital businesses with a high degree of technical know-how.

It could also potentially be a cost-effective solution if you don’t have high amounts of data processing needs, but I see some risks and considerations to be made. For one, I do think it’s a bit short-sighted to try this way of building your own CDP in the EU. You would be putting all your eggs into one basket. With the recent history of GA not always being compliant in the EU, why risk building your CDP with only Google?  

Also, there are limitations when it comes to handling real-time data processing, privacy, scalability and unifying profiles. All these along with the maintenance to keep this running poses a lot of challenges.  

But for some smaller and mainly digital companies, this could be worth a try.

Could you use a CDP as a web analytics system?

This is an interesting thought, but when I searched the web for the subject I couldn’t find any examples of anyone taking this approach and that is probably a good thing. A CDP is not built to work as a web analytics tool. Yes, it collects web behavior data, but not nearly as detailed as a dedicated web analytics tool. It would fall short in areas like funnel analysis or heatmapping.

The only way I could see this working is if the website or app doesn’t really have any goals . Then very basic reports like number of sessions and pageviews are enough. For any conversion or funnel optimization needs, I don’t see it working well.

The conclusion here is that the overlapping features are not enough for any of them to be the only tool. However, using them as complementary will give a lot of benefits.

Combining web data with customer data will give a more holistic view of the customer. It will give the possibility to analyze website behavior alongside customer segmentation and therefore be able to both gain more valuable insights, but also make better, more personalized campaigns and offers for the customer.

In conclusion – for the time being it is my advice to use a CDP and Google analytics as complementary tools. Both of them are best at their respective tasks. Although, since this area is always evolving, future trends could point towards CDPs getting more web analytics capabilities and vice versa.

Are you interested in web analytics and how to work with digital marketing and web analytics in a cookieless world? Then I recommend you also read this article on the cookieless future.