Google Analytics 4 comes into play and this is definitely big news for all of us, because the way GA tracks and treats data is different, as opposed to any previous version of GA.
Therefore, also the way we approach data collection and, more importantly, how we make use of these data in order to get actionable items.
That’s why I thought of listing the 11 things that, in my opinion, you should be aware of before upgrading to Google Analytics 4.
Let’s dig in.
1) It’s a new tool, not a new version.
I’ve said it many times in my previous articles, GA4 is definitely a new tool, even though officially it is a new version, as opposed to:
- Version 3 (gtag.js)
- Version 2 (Universal Analytics)
- Version 1 (Classic Analytics).
However, for the very reasons that I just mentioned above, the overall concept behind Google Analytics 4 has changed.
As a matter of fact, we’re not talking about improving what we were already doing. This is a totally new way of collecting and using data.
As frustrating as it sounds, considering that we would all need to learn something new and discontinue what is no longer well supported, believe me this is for the best.
2) Upgrading to GA4 is not necessarily an update.
Usually upgrading means that you replace the current version of whatever tool with a newer version.
But, again, GA4 a new tool that brings along a new way of tracking data.
Therefore, in this very case, upgrading to GA4 means that you will be running GA4 AND any previous GA version you have been tracking data with in parallel.
In other words, the Google Analytics version you have now will keep on working just as it used to work before; GA4 will run as a separate tool.
Essentially you’re going to have two user interfaces for tracking data.
And nothing that you need to do because the upgrading process is essentially a 20 second step: head to your Google Analytics Admin menu and you will see the link to upgrade to Google Analytics 4. Follow the instructions and in 3 clicks you’ll be done.
3) Prepare to change your tracking setup.
I just said that upgrading to Google Analytics 4 is a matter of 3 steps and 20 seconds, but what this automatic upgrade Google is simply going to take the data tracked via any previous version of GA you have in place and mirror it into Google Analytics 4.
In a nutshell, the tracking keeps being tracked with the old modelling, therefore not making the most out of the new functionalities brought along by the new version.
Moreover, it will come the time when all previous GA versions will either be discontinued. Or, best case scenario, the time when Google will stop focusing on older versions.
Ultimately, if you are using a tool, you might want to make the most out of it, right?
Even though you might be OK with any basic tracking you currently have and therefore you don’t feel the need to invest time and energies on this upgrade, consider that also that basic tracking may be totally gone soon.
Now let’s dig into what really matters, meaning the core of the data tracked in GA4 and what we, hoteliers, can get out of it.
4) Change Data Retention Period.
This is going to very first thing you’d need to do after upgrading to GA4: extend your data retention period to 14 months.
Data Retention simply tells Google how long it will keep your tracked data for.
With previous versions, by default, you could choose to set this option to be Do not automatically expire.
In GA4, first of all the default option is 2 months only (sigh!!). Secondly, you can extend your retention period up to max 14 months.
Imagine, for example, that you want to compare last-month data with the data of the same month last year: in GA4, and if you don’t extend to 14 months, it would be impossible.
In you GA Admin panel, head to Data Settings >> Data Retention:
5) GA4 is (finally) User-centric.
Here we come with the first KPI now being almost deprecated by GA4: Sessions.
Finally, I’d say. Everything, before, was based on Sessions: bounce rate, conversion rate, etc.
However and especially in the Hotel industry, as opposed to other industries, people seldom book a hotel room in the first place.
Furthermore, users often starts their booking journey on mobile devices, to the then eventually complete it on desktop devices.
These are all reasons why Sessions is essentially a metric that can misguide our evaluation and decisions, to say the least.
There’s a lot to talk about these topics, but for now our starting point is about understanding (and embracing) the fact that we need to focus more on Users and their booking journey as a whole, not just the individual Sessions they take.
6) Google Analytics 4 and the Google Data Studio are not yet the best friends.
I’m a Google Data studio lover.
I love that tool. It’s extremely powerful. And what you can do with it is totally mind boggling.
However, in this very moment, Google Data studio doesn’t pick up everything from Google Analytics 4.
This is because GA4 is still in beta. As a matter of fact, many data analysts said that these beta version has been released too early.
I instead like the fact that we can already play around with, even though it takes longer to learn.
But clearly there are still gaps that need to be filled compared to previous GA versions. And this re Google Data Studio is one of them.
7) Easier for advanced users and way more difficult for basic users.
If you really want to level up your data measurement data collection… you need to learn the tool, deeply.
In other words, there are no “easy solutions“.
I personally think that Google really wants to filter in those who really want to seriously play with data, leaving out those who have been using Analytics for basic tracking and data collection.
For example, if you have been using GA for tracking Sessions, Users, PageViews, Bounce Rate… in other words, if you use Google Analytics as is, with no customizations at any level, and you’re not planning on leveling up your data collection, you’re going to have some tough time.
Even the basic reporting is not going to be there, in GA4.
Nor the basic KPIs are necessarily going to be there by default, as you will need to set them up.
The main reason behind this, is because Google Analytics 4 is event-based. Everything is an event.
And what is an event? A Click is an event, a PageView is an event, a conversion is a event, a page scroll is an event, the hotel (direct) reservation that you get through your booking engine… that is an event, too.
This is quite a smart move as Google now gives us the flexibility to track whatever we want and the way want, without sticking to any particular and rigid data modelling and structure.
8) Get familiar with it, now.
Take advantage of the fact that you can start working with GA4 while keeping any previous GA version.
The sooner you start, the sooner you will get familiar with it.
And the sooner you will get comfortable working with it.
9) Basic reporting has gone.
This is related to what I said before. GA4 makes things more difficult for basic users. And easier for advanced users.
One reason is because even the basic reporting is not there anymore. Instead, by default, what you have are not necessarily reporting, but likely scorecards, which can give an overall understanding, but not a deeper clue on your hotel performance.
10) Improved Goals.
We used to consider Goals mainly from a macro conversion point of view, meaning that only reservations were considered goals. And very few other things.
But now everything can be turned into a goal.
For example, A user who submit a request using the contact form on your website can be considered a micro conversion.
Or a certain average time spent on your page can also be considered a micro goal.
These goals were even possible before in any previous version. But you need to kind of put your hands onto your coding part, in order to make that possible.
And now it’s made a little bit easier, because everything that is tracked as an event can literally and in one click be turned into a goal. Or, as called in Google Analytics 4, a Conversion.
This is extremely important because before completing a booking, as we’ve seen, users might go through multiple sessions in which the most relevant actions, meaning micro conversions, are steps that get them closer to the booking moment.
11) Google Analytics 4 and Google Ads are becoming one.
They’re still two tools.
However, many of the things that you can track in Google Analytics 4 can then be used in Google Ads for running your campaigns.
For example, in Google Analytics 4 you can create a custom audience to include users who made a search for, let’s say, 3 or more nights.
Now you can use this custom audiences in Google Ads to run your Remarketing campaigns, targeting specifically these users who made a search for 3+ nights, for example offering a special benefit or discount.
This way, Google is becoming a little bit more like Facebook, which is more advanced from this targeting perspective in my opinion.
All right, this is one of my 11 things that in my opinion you should know before upgrading to Google Analytics 4.
I know it might be a little bit scanning, especially for basic users, because there are many, many, many news.
However, I personally like the direction Google with version 4.
Especially, one of the things that I like the most is that Ga4 is now finally User-centric.
I think this is going to be a major disruptor in our data tracking and data collection.
Let me know what you think and I’ll see you again with the next article.