Straight to the point: Google Analytics 4 is a new tool, not a new version of an existing tool.
There are many, many news, compared to the previous GA versions. And some of them are major ones.
Whether good or bad news, it’s really up to you, what you want to achieve and what level of data-collection standards you have in mind.
But either you settle for a very basic data-collection, with essentially no reports other than very generic scorecards like number of Users, Sessions, PageViews and Reservations, or if you decide to level up your tracking to get something more than just that, please prepare for changes.
What follows below and what I’ll be writing in this series about Google Analytics 4 Hotels, is a detailed view on the most relevant differences with the previous versions of GA and their impact on hotels’ data-collection setup.
The real challenge of Google Analytics 4.
Here’s the deal: even though in Beta, with Google Analytics 4 you can already track more (quality) data that you could with GA3, but the way GA outputs this data in version 4 is totally different.
Succinctly put, do you want the same basic and mid-level reports you used to have in GA3? You need to set them up.
For example, if the Acquisition >> Overview report in GA3 looks liked this:
In GA4, all you have are scorecards that look like this:
More importantly, real reports are not natively available in GA4.
But, as said, the data has not disappeared, you just need to retrieve it in a different way.
Actually, two different ways:
1⃣ Analysis Hub
2⃣ GA4+ BigQuery + Google Data Studio
Analysis Hub is a new section in the Google Analytics user interface in which you can create reports and dashboards from scratch.
In a word: it’s FANTASTIC.
Extremely powerful and flexible. And also relatively easy to use but, at first, it may be confusing.
The confusion comes from what I stated in the previous article of this series: the way GA4 collects data is completely different compared to previous versions.
Thus, also reports follow a different logic, which means a different way of setting them up.
That’s why, in my opinion, the very first thing to do is deep dive into this new logic, understanding and embracing it.
As confusing as it may seem at first, it makes perfect sense as soon as you get familiar with the new way.
A glimpse of Analysis Hub’s flexibility
Let’s get a bit more practical.
One of the cool things of Analytics 3 has always been the funnel visualization, (in GA3 you can see it under Conversions >> Goals >> Funnel Visualization).
A funnel is a visual representation of all your booking engine users and how the move throughout each and every step of the booking process. How many users abandon this booking journey out of the total searches? And where exactly they drop?
That’s in essence what the funnel visualization is for.
And this is how it is in GA3:
Clean and easy to read. Yet a bit limited.
For example, if I want to drill down the funnel to see the split by device category (desktop, tablet, mobile).. that would be impossible.
Instead, in GA4, this is easy as drinking a glass of water. And you can do that with any dimensions that you like.
In the next articles I’ll probably be digging into Analysis Hub a bit more. For the time being it is enough for you to know that this is your go-to section of Google Analytics 4, if you wish to start playing with data in a serious way.
To be honest though, I was hoping in another option other than Analysis Hub, my beloved Google Data Studio.
However, at this point in time, there is huge gap between Google Analytics 4 and Data Studio…
69 vs. 528
To give you an idea of this gap, you can try to connect both GA4 and GA3 to Google Data Studio. And see the difference.
When selecting your data source in GDS, respectively GA4 and GA3, you will see something like this:
Fields are essentially the sum of dimensions and metrics in Google Analytics. Differently put, your data set.
Whilst in GA3 you can have some 528 between dimensions and metrics, representing a quite big pool of data pieces that you can combine, merge, divide… in GA4 you only have 69.
It’s a ratio of almost 8:1.
In very simple words, this means that Google Analytics 4 and Google Data Studio are not yet well connected.
It may sound scary. At first, I was concerned, too.
However, there are 2 scenarios that we need to consider:
First, being a Beta version, we can expect future implementations of new fields, in the upcoming weeks, months.
Just to give you and idea, last week, at the time of the first report of this series on Google Analytics 4 Hotels, those 69 fields were only 55.
The triad has a new player.
… aiming at having a deeper tracking now in GA4, it means expanding our the triad of tools, from:
1⃣ Google Tag Manager
2⃣ Google Analytics
3⃣ Google Data Studio
to welcome a 4th player into the game:
As mentioned in the previous article, this is unfortunately something I wish would not have happened, for 2 reasons:
First, it forces us to learn and deal with a new tool, BigQuery.
Second, the reason I love Data Studio so much, is that other than making data look beautiful, it allows many customizations that are now clearly very limited, due to the lack of data that can be passed onto it from GA4.
For example, a few lines above I talked about the limitations of GA3 when it comes to funnel visualization where I couldn’t drill down by device category.
In GDS this problem is solved with one of the native features of the tool, that allows this kind of deep-dive analysis:
Ultimately my fear is that this poor direct connection between GA4 and GDS is not going to be covered any time soon, if at all.
So, for now, let’s deal with BigQuery.
BigQuery as a mere vehicle.
At least for now, this is the best (and only) option to make the most out of your data-collection.
First, what is Google BigQuery?
It’s Google’s data warehouse to which you can send all of your data (not only GA) and mix, merge and combine as you wish.
All of your data means that you can use BigQuery, for instance, to store and combine data from your PMS, CRS, CRM, RMS, Facebook, Google Ads… whatever source of data you have can potentially be sending data to BigQuery.
It’s like a big and central database: all your data in one place.
Which is great of course, but it’s statistically proven that the vast majority of businesses and, especially, hotels do settle for an extreme basic Analytics data collection and reporting.
In other words, all this big structure that now involves BigQuery is quite unwanted, yet needed now.
Besides, visually this is how a data-collection structure would look like, if involving BigQuery:
To make it simple: BigQuery is the tool that will let you use all the 528 fields we mentioned before, rather than being limited to only 69.
I will probably be shooting some video on how to properly, fully and safely transition to GA4 via BigQuery, but that will require some time.
And there is not much documentation out there yet, on how to do GA4 related stuff.
So far the following video is the best I could found, a bit long, but it’s detailed and requires no technical knowledge.
Whilst exploring more about this BigQuery integration and reporting via Google Data Studio, in the next report of this series Google Analytics 4 Hotels we will see more about the data in Analysis Hub and how to structure some meaningful reports and dashboards without leaving the Google Analytics user interface.