We promised ourselves that we would not feel emotional, but well, this is the end of an era. Google recently announced that it will discontinue (no longer tracks, no longer supports) Universal Analytics from July 1, 2023.
Universal Analytics is a key resource for hotel retailers who have wanted to evaluate the effectiveness of their website and digital marketing for more than a decade, so retiring is a big deal.
However, as the sun sets, it rises again. Enter the successor: Google Analytics 4.
What is Google Analytics 4?
Google Analytics 4 (or GA4) is the next evolution of Google’s popular web analytics service, an invaluable tool used to track the performance of websites, applications and marketing since Google acquired Urchin back in 2005. As of July 1, 2023, Google Analytics 4 will replace the previous iteration of the service called Universal Analytics (or UA).
Ultimately, GA4 is being introduced to address the growing importance of GDPR and online user privacy, reduce our reliance on cookie data, and fill any potential data gaps with advanced machine learning. All this, making data analysis simpler. Used effectively, it will help you capture first-party business-critical data, which is even more valuable now that third-party data is becoming scarcer.
If you haven’t already done so, we strongly recommend that you set up GA4 now to start collecting data ready for the July 2023 migration.
What’s changing in Google Analytics 4?
In fact, quite a lot.
The very core of Google Analytics, the data structure, and the data collection logic it uses is changing. In plain English (or as clear as we can make it), instead of focusing on session data, GA4 will focus primarily on users and the events they complete. It is more focused on the entire life cycle of guests, not just on the pages they visit along the way.
The good news is that some of these events will be over automatically tracked (through “enhanced measurement”) within GA4. Examples include: pageviews, scrolling, outbound link clicks, and file downloads. These events are fairly common to all websites, and you’ll probably want to add more events to track the full range of user behavior as you navigate your hotel’s website. For example, analysis of reservation funnels, commitment to certain calls for action (CTAs), etc. All of them can be implemented using Google’s Custom Tag Manager.
Blah, blah, blah – where is the benefit?
Ultimately, this new event-based approach will allow for more flexible, predictable analysis when it comes to assessing guest online behavior. And all this is supported by machine learning. This should help you anticipate guest actions in the future and focus your marketing attention on some of the higher value segments of your audience. In essence, this can be an extension of your revenue management function – if you are able to better monitor and anticipate the demand for a particular type of room online, you can make the necessary adjustments to room prices and increase profitability accordingly. .
Subscribe to our newsletter below
Another advantage of this new approach is that it should allow for a better analysis of the performance of different platforms. For example, providing a better understanding when a guest explores your hotel on a mobile device but books on a computer.
The way reporting is organized and displayed is also changing. You’ll see a different layout centered around the guest’s lifecycle, with shorter reports and aggregated data that makes it easier to identify key trends. Tables on tables with difficult-to-interpret data have disappeared, replaced by scorecards and simplified reviews.
Not surprisingly, GA4 offers even greater integration with Google Ads, allowing you to build, maintain, and share audiences that can help target your paid search activity. For example, if a user completes a room reservation event, you can remove them from the Google Ads redirection audience accordingly. Or maybe a user sees the family room type page on your website – boom! – Add them to your family-related audience on Google Ads and run more personalized ads if they don’t convert for the first time. You can even import micro-conversions (such as phone clicks, email clicks, reaching the first stage of the reservation mechanism, etc.) to help further optimize your campaigns.
The possibilities are almost limitless. You can even export GA4 data to BigQuery (Google’s storage tool that allows you to analyze larger data), which opens up even more analysis options, such as creating custom attribution models.
Sounds great, but it can’t be just good news, can it?
The historical comparison (per year) will be more challenging in 2023, as data from GA4 and Universal Analytics are not always easily comparable. That’s why it’s so important to set up GA4 as soon as possible – so you have a more valuable comparison point when the switch is due in July 2023.
Also, part of what is presented is conjecture, albeit conjecture, fueled by advanced machine learning models that fill in the gaps in your data. Some may have concerns about this reliance on technology rather than the recorded data itself.
Do I have to do anything now?
Yes. Affirmative. Definitely. In fact, stop reading this and start now! If you have not yet set up GA4 ownership for your website, do so today, even if you do not plan to use GA4 fully by 2023. Why? For two reasons;
- You will collect valuable historical data that will give you a future point of comparison.
- You will strengthen behind-the-scenes machine learning models, making future analysis more meaningful.
However, do not panic. Setting up GA4 ownership does not mean that you are losing access to your Universal Analytics property and all the data you have collected so far – you can continue to use Universal Analytics in parallel until July 2023.
What will happen in July 2023?
We will all raise a glass for Universal Analytics before Google stops processing new visits from July 1, 2023. After moving to GA4, your Universal Analytics property will stop recording data, but will remain available for access for “at least six months, ”according to Google. The smart move would be to export all your Universal Analytics data in July 2023 so that you keep a copy of everything you’ve learned over the years. Set a reminder now!
The only exception to the above is for those who use Google Analytics 360. You will have until October 1, 2023 to collect and analyze data from Universal Analytics. Happy things.
It is extremely important to invest time and effort in optimal analysis setup today to make sure you have the data you need to make better marketing decisions tomorrow.
For convenience, Google has provided some guidelines on how to set up GA4 within its own supporting documentation. Of course, this is universal advice for everyone, not specifically for the hotel or tourism business. But now is the time to start.