Universal Analytics (or UA as it’s known in the industry) has been replaced by Google Analytics 4 (GA4). And it’s causing quite the storm… But alas, the march of progress is unstoppable. So, in this blog, we'll explain what GA4 is, why Google has decided to replace UA, and explore what travel brands specifically need to know about the transition to GA4.
So, how will all of this shape the future of data analysis in the travel industry?
What is Google Analytics 4?
GA4 is the next generation of Google's web analytics service.
It was primarily designed to address European General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), after the EU gave Google a firm deadline to transition their analytics platform to less invasive tracking technologies.
Part of this includes reducing the reliance on cookies.
You see, UA (and the third-party cookies collecting data for it) is partly responsible for all those ads that seem to follow you around the internet. GDPR doesn’t want this invasion of people’s privacy to continue, and so UA has to die out.
But GA4 promises some advances. It uses machine learning for smarter data analysis – and for content marketing specifically, GA4 is full of new features. Here’s an overview of what’s coming and the benefits to travel marketers.
Cross-device tracking means following a user’s journey with your brand on their phone, laptop, tablet – or any other device they use.
Cross-device tracking has historically been quite difficult to achieve, and has been riddled with privacy issues. GA4 seems to have solved this, meaning that if your customer views your website on their phone, but then visits to book on a laptop later, you can track this. With GA4, you should be able to track the entire lifecycle of a booking – from the first interaction with your brand, to the last.
This means that if you are a hotel with a long lead time, you should now have much greater oversight on booking predictions. Or if you are a small tour operator and notice a big pick up in social media interactions, then website interactions, you’ve been given the gift of a crystal ball.
Armed with this cross-device data, travel brands should be able to easily identify areas where content needs improving. For example, if your website isn’t optimised for mobile, you will see users dropping out on the booking or payment page, as they move to a laptop to pay.
Or, it might show that most of your audience interact with your brand on a computer first, during traditional 9-5 hours – but book on their phone later at home. This would indicate that it might be worth prioritising spend on Google Ads, as they're more likely to be seen by your target audience when browsing online during their work day, rather than promoted social media posts, which they are unlikely to see.
GA4 also promises better cross-app tracking (tracking your customers across multiple touch points, like social media to website).
So, if a customer sees your ads in a social media app, and then later books through your website, you can track this. This will better measure the ROI on social media campaigns and digital advertising, making it much easier to improve your campaigns and optimise your ad spend. It can also show PR and affiliate linking success, say, if users discover you through a news app or sponsored affiliate post.
It can also indicate a problem with the booking process, if your engaged, interested, ready-to-pay customers are suddenly dropping off when they contact to book. That issue could be human (your sales team) or technical.
Better data accuracy
GA4 allows tracking of more complete and complex user interactions with your website. Better yet – GA4 automatically tracks essential events like page views, scrolling, outbound link clicks, and file downloads.
This means you will be able to see how people are interacting with your website, and how interested and engaged they are, without any custom integrations.
Setting up complex “goals”, like newsletter sign-ups or contact form submissions, will be a thing of the past.
GA4’s automatic tracking will make it easier to track the things we all want to measure as standard – and this answers our complaints that it's currently too complicated to measure simple things like video views. Now, we can properly test if homepage videos are actually being watched by our website visitors… which ultimately means we can decide if they’re worth doing next time budget conversations come up.
GA4 uses machine learning (ML) algorithms to predict outcomes. This will hopefully make metric tracking quicker, easier, and more intuitive – with a potential for forecasting results. This means more reliable budgeting and planning is possible. For example, if your website traffic ebbs and flows with the seasons, GA4 will anticipate this happening, and show a projection. You can then plan and budget in advance.
Plus, with an onboard chatbot built into GA4, your travel brand will be able to simply ask GA4 questions about your website – like which page is the most popular on mobile – and get a direct answer, without having to scroll through pages of data.
This means that, even for a small travel start up, the power of analytics is now open to everyone. The playing field is now level between those who have huge teams just to analyse data, and everyone else.
Higher focus on privacy
Online privacy has become a growing concern for everyone. GA4 aims to reduce the reliance on cookies and third-party data, which forces brands to switch to first-party (their own) data. Ultimately, this is better for your brand and better for your audience. It takes longer to build, but the benefits of first-party data are that it is far more reliable and specific to you and your customers.
This benefits your brands because your audience is completely unique to you – no third-party data can even come close to being as accurate when it comes to finding more of the type of people that book. Less reliance on generalisations should mean more bookings.
If you haven’t already, we really recommend that all travel brands start collecting their own data through things like newsletters.
In fact, we wrote about this topic last year. The reason why so many celebrities, bloggers and also journalists are starting their own newsletters is precisely so that they can collect their own data and are no longer reliant on third party cookies. This has wide ranging implications for your PR strategy. As a travel brand, you really should value a PR agency that puts forward newsletter editors for hosting. Find out more here.
Need advice on how to do a newsletter? Get in touch.
The benefits and opportunities in GA4
The transition to GA4 opens up some exciting possibilities for travel brands.
● Better insights into user behaviour across different devices
● Super-quick setup of your most important metrics
● Understand user behaviour, from social media apps to booking
● Streamlined reporting, centred around the customer lifecycle
● More accurate data
● Better customer data privacy
● Easier data interpretation and forecasting
This all sounds great… So what’s the catch?
What’s the catch? Is there anything you’ll lose from the move to GA4?
Well, there’s a lot to consider here. Yes, you’ll lose a few things; some temporarily, some forever…
Let’s take a look.
Comparing year-on-year data between GA4 and UA is going to be hard. Old data from UA will not be stored – meaning you’ll have to download reports you want to keep (do this now!).
This is frustrating if you are a seasonal property and need to look at data from July to July, for example, rather than month-on-month.
Thankfully, this will phase out as time goes on and your data builds in GA4. In the meantime, you’ll have to cross-reference old report downloads from UA.
Reliance on machine learning
Machine learning (ML) is a blessing and a curse in GA4.
You see, UA used data sampling to handle large volumes and fill in gaps in the data. But GA4 uses machine learning models to do this instead.
Although powerful, it raises concerns.
For startups and travel brands in unique niches, GA4’s machine learning won’t be as accurate, because ML needs to be trained on lots of data to work. Bespoke tour operators and one-of-a-kind experiences, by their very nature, aren’t common enough to have large volumes of data. For start-ups or travel brands who operate in unique niches, such a whale-watching tour operator in Scotland, GA4’s machine learning won’t be as accurate – because Google can’t draw on much to fill the gaps for very bespoke Tour Operators. So even though the playing field has been levelled in terms of skill and ability required to get great quality reports from GA4, there are still limitations facing smaller brands in particular.
It’s more important now than ever to maintain a balance between assumptions and real data. All boutique and niche travel brands should be using first-party data wherever possible, to fill the gaps in themselves.
As a reminder – your first-party data is:
• Customer testimonials
• Feedback from your team
• Your CRM
Look into the treasure-trove of data you already have to gain these insights.
What else will we be missing from UA?
Bye bye, bounce rates
This is a metric everyone in the travel industry knows, loves, and trusts.
Bounce rates told us how many people arrived on our websites, and then left without taking any action. We all know that a high bounce rate is bad, and a low bounce rate is good.
And now, it's gone.
Well, not exactly – because there’s a shining beacon of hope in its place.
GA4 offers “engagement” rates instead – pretty much the opposite of a bounce rate. Basically, instead of seeing the negative metric of inaction, GA4 measures positive actions. Now, you can track what works and replicate it, instead of tracking what doesn’t work with no real context as to why.
Third-party tracking is over
Unlike its predecessor, GA4 does not collect IP addresses or store cookies.
On the other hand, it’s really great for PR. PR might finally get the credit it deserves when we can no longer rely on third-party data.
Why does this all matter? Because we use data to tell stories…
In PR, we love data.
Analytics tells us what works, what doesn’t. It gives us insight into why things work – into how our customers work.
We can track how people use a website, how they move through it, and where they leave.
All this is critical in understanding what our audience wants.
For travel brands, Google Analytics has been critical for them in understanding their customers. We can use the data from analytics to tell the stories our customers want to hear.
Moving to GA4 can feel like an overwhelming change in how we get that data.
But it also presents an exciting opportunity for travel brands to gain deeper insights into user behaviour, optimise their marketing strategies, and enhance the guest experience.
Better data can only make for better stories, after all.
By taking proactive steps to set up GA4 and familiarise yourself with its features, you can stay ahead of the curve. Here’s what travel brands should be doing right now:
1. Act before July
“It’s never too late” doesn’t count in this instance. If you haven’t started, it’s time to move right now! Setup your website with GA4 now, and begin gathering data as soon as possible. This will make any historical data gaps smaller, and strengthen the machine learning model for future analysis. Contact your web developer for help, or consult your digital marketing team on how to do this.
2. Get familiar with GA4
Learn the landscape. Get familiar with what’s changed, what’s gone – and what’s new. Get a jump on the ML and chatbot in GA4, to get an idea of the things you can ask for insight into.
3. Start collecting first-party data
Use newsletters, customer surveys, social media polls, reviews and your CRM data to build a treasure trove of first-party data. The sooner you commit to building a stockpile of your own data, the sooner you’ll be able to analyse it for better outcomes.
If you are a small travel brand and have no idea how to do this, book an hour with our very own Head of Content and Search, Tara - she'll talk you through how to best approach your data to find your dream audience.