GA4 is changing travel marketing: What to know and how to adjust
It’s no secret that Google’s decision to sunset Universal Analytics (also known as UA or GA3) has been a hot topic for the last few months. On July 1, 2023, GA4 will officially be the only Google Analytics product collecting data on our clients’ websites. In turn, this means changes are in store for MMGY’s analytics, martech, paid search and media teams as well as our client teams who use GA to measure the success of their websites and marketing efforts.
What is GA4 and how is it different than UA (GA3)?
The biggest technical difference between UA and GA4 is the way it tracks web data: GA4 uses event-based tracking as opposed to UA’s session-based tracking.
- Event-based tracking uses event signals to build a data set full of actions taken by users, with machine learning modeling filling in the gaps that cookies typically would have been responsible for. Event-based tracking enables Google Analytics to no longer rely on cookie tracking, providing adherence to new web data privacy policies like GDPR while also shifting to a wider focus of tracking entire user journeys by means of cross-device and cross-platform monitoring.
In UA, all historical data is stored in the platform. Due to ever-growing privacy concerns, GA4 will only store data for 14 months. While this makes it difficult to view year-over-year metrics in the platform, MMGY exports data daily so no historical information will be lost.
Other differences will include the way the user interface is configured and how goal tracking functions:
- With the change to event-based tracking, GA4 now shows slightly different metrics than UA. There are three new metrics that weren’t previously in UA: engaged sessions, average engagement time per session and engagement rate. These replace metrics no longer available: average session duration, pages per session and bounce rate.
- GA4 also combines website and app data all within the same property, a big upgrade from UA that required separate properties for each. This allows a significantly more detailed and comprehensive picture of how users navigate across websites.
- UA counts only one conversion per session for each goal. So if a user submits the form twice during the same session, only one conversion will be counted for the “Form Submit” goal.
- GA4 counts every instance of the conversion event, even if the same conversion event is recorded multiple times during the same session. So if a user submits the same form twice during the same session, two conversions will be counted.
Why does this matter to MMGY and our clients?
It is important for all users of Google Analytics to understand the impacts of the changes so they can make adjustments to how the tool is being used to tell the story of website, marketing and business performance. In many cases, there will be little change from UA to GA4, and in others, organizations will have to rethink their use of the tool and the data it produces. The MMGY analytics and martech teams are working closely to keep up with changes and minimize their impact for our clients in these areas:
While data within the platform will only remain for 14 months, MMGY will continue to house data daily via ChannelMix. This ensures no historical data will be lost, and we can show those data/YOY trends within our Tableau and Looker studio reports.
Custom report setup in platform:
Finding specific or granular data within the GA4 platform is less intuitive than in UA. However, GA4 has an “Explore” section that allows users to create and save reports within the platform. This will allow us to create report views that we used to see in UA to easily see performance data.
What is MMGY doing to prepare, and what lasting impacts will exist?
MMGY has been tracking these changes and implementing events and conversions to seamlessly transition between UA and GA4. This change will push MMGY to explore new ways of reporting GA performance through Tableau and Looker.
While GA is important, it should not be considered the be-all and end-all of measurement. We like to go deeper than GA, building out a measurement plan that incorporates the following:
- Media Efficiency: What are the most effective messages and content that influence brand engagement and purchase?
- Website Interaction: What do users do on a client’s website after reaching the site?
- Origin Markets: Which markets do travelers come from?
- Competitive Intelligence: How am I performing compared to my competitors?
- Travel Search and Booking Behaviour: What type of travel research do media-impressed travelers do after being impressed?
- Arrivals: How many arrivals did we influence?
- Social Listening: What are prospective and known visitors saying about a client brand or destination experience?
This holistic approach enables us to diversify our measurement strategy and not be tied too heavily to a single tool. We also continuously look for new ways and tools to add to this approach.
While GA4 is quite a big change from UA, this ultimately sets us up for success for a cookie-less future and ever-evolving privacy regulations. The event-based model allows us to collect even more valuable user information and gives a more holistic view of the customer journey, making our data-led decisions that much more robust. This change also allows us to adapt current reporting and provide clients even deeper insights into campaign and website performance.