Why Google Analytics Should Be Outlawed In The Travel Industry

by , Jan 30, 2012, 6:45 AM
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Over my 20-year career in the travel and Internet industry, I have come across hundreds of cases where a travel client has used Google Analytics (GA) to track their clicks from their online advertising and seen major discrepancies on the clicks and conversions. We should all agree as an industry to put this behind us and not use GA to track clicks and bookings.

Don't get me wrong as I love Google as much as the next guy. GA is a great tool for analytics, market research and web trends but just not for tracking every single click you receive from many different websites. I have done a variety of tests over the years including me personally physically clicking on a link that was not public 10 times. I then saw 10 clicks correctly in my 3rd party professional tracking system but GA only showed four or six clicks. I did the same type of test with the engineers at TripAdvisor and the results were confirmed. I have tested with DART, Adtech, Zedo, Mediaplex, Atlas and other paid click tracking software tools and they are all infinitely more reliable than GA. I have used other free solutions like clixtrac.com which are just as free as Google but are much more accurate.

So how can this be that mighty Google has a product that so many people use for free with so many issues. What most people do not realize is that Google simply bought a company called Urchin which became GA. This free version of Urchin was not designed to track tons of links and bookings from other websites. It was a solution that was good at tracking your general website stats and visitors in aggregate. Not a tool that specialized in finding 1,000 needles in 111 different haystacks. Urchin does seem to have much more reliable solutions available for a fee.

According to Google, its GA methodology only counts certain types of clicks. If a user has not enabled cookies, flash, images or JavaScript in their browser, it is possible for their clicks to simply be tossed out. If a traveler happened to click your link two times within 30 minutes, it is possible that GA would only show one click instead of two. Since Google is a search engine company first, it also factors out a lot of clicks that it might perceive as coming from robots when, in reality, it is more likely that a human was behind most of those clicks.

Instead of algorithms and filter-based calculations, most other paid click-tracking tools we mentioned above simply tally up the actual number of clicks recorded, which is much more accurate. So, since GA cannot properly record all the clicks to your site, you end up missing a lot of bookings in your GA reports.

And speaking of bookings, it is of course much harder to track a booking than a click. Most paid tracking tools monitor the travelers that click your banner ad, text link or email but then do not book right away. Those travelers might check with their significant other before booking and then bypass your tracking link and book directly on your website days later. But with advanced tracking and reporting you would still be able to properly record all of those bookings and give credit to the websites that referred those folks that booked even 15 days after they clicked your link.

GA is missing some of those clicks and, of course, some of those bookings, which makes it even less likely to depict reality. So, before you assume that your online advertising is not working, make sure to use the right tracking software to see the full picture. You would never use the sun or the North Star to track the speed of 10 runners in a race. So, why would you use Google Analytics to track your clicks and bookings just because it was free?

7 comments on "Why Google Analytics Should Be Outlawed In The Travel Industry".

  1. Clint Dixon from Sem Advance
    commented on: January 30, 2012 at 9:53 a.m.
    Analytics is a great tool when used by someone who has spent months or years learning & working. Since most people in travel have no experience with any Analytic software proper implementation and even the knowledge of what should be tracked is at best amateur level. Any online adspend shoud be tracked by the Advertising Platform not GA... So if using Adwords, Install the Adwords Conversion tracking code to track visitors & conversions to goal properly and without the need for webmasters needing to learn GA What we should outlaw is people with no experience trying to use tools they have no knowledge how to use. Your article does nothing other than to disparage GA.... Perhaps your next article will involve research on how to track what matters....its not clicks ;) . .
  2. Mark Thomsen from Trek Travel
    commented on: January 30, 2012 at 12:50 p.m.
    Interesting article Ryan. Hard part is GA is free and for many small businesses it's the only affordable way to go. Granted we all have to determine the ROI of not only the advertising but also of the tools we use to measure. @clint, even though clicks are not the best metric, it's still part of the equation and unfortunately one that many non-marketing mangers who hold the purse strings, use. I would be curious to hear what SMB use instead of GA.
  3. morgan jones from eComIQ
    commented on: January 31, 2012 at 1:21 p.m.
    Correct that GA is not useful for tracking every single click to a website but that also is true for Coremetrics, Omnture SiteCatalyst and Webtrends as well. These analytics solutions are for "visit" tracking, not "click" tracking. Multi-Channel Funnels, a new reporting feature in Google Analytics addresses multiple visits via different sources by the same visitors to report attribution history. This new reporting enables a booking's first visit source to receive credit for the booking. You can also see the full visit path if there is more than a first visit and last visit via 2 different sources. However, I do want to make it clear that booking tracking is not lost if the click is missed. If you are not reporting conversions then your analytics implementation has issues - it is not a fundamental issue with the analytics solution itself. Finally, if you would feel better by paying for Google Analytics, it is now offered in a Premium edition that includes a SLA with guaranteed data availability, implementation and training, additional reports that are not included in the free version of Google Analytics and a simple process to "flip the switch" from Standard to Premium.
  4. David Jaeger from About Results Marketing - Los Angeles Internet Marketing
    commented on: February 1, 2012 at 12:40 p.m.
    All analytics tools have their positives and negatives. It sounds like you would far prefer web logs. Every analytics tool takes session tracking differently.
  5. Ryan Bifulco from Travel Spike
    commented on: February 7, 2012 at 7:27 p.m.
    Hi guys, thx for the great feedback. Clixtrac.com is a free click tracking tool that works great and has aligned with other 3rd party tracking tools. I agree that what matters most is bookings, but as Mark points out we do need to include clicks as a KPI too. I have run thousands of campaigns in the travel sector over the last 18 years and mostly focused on conversions/bookings. Clint, I understand your view and I agree many times a client is not properly measuring the campaign or they have not implemented GA correctly. I did not pick on GA as I said it is a great tool for SEO and SEM plus general web analytics. The reality is that many folks in the travel sector do use GA to track their clicks which is not best practice. Since they miss clicks, they also miss bookings. I hope from this article that travel suppliers will consider other tools to properly track their campaigns.
  6. Patrick Ahler from Aqua Hotels & Resorts
    commented on: February 7, 2012 at 9:48 p.m.
    The information in this post is completely misleading and Ryan is uninformed about analytics and tracking. I would highly recommend that this post be removed due to inaccuracy. I do not wish to post any further as I have no desire to discredit or harm the reputation author.
  7. MORGAN VAWTER from Piston
    commented on: February 8, 2012 at 6:09 p.m.
    The challenge you are having with Google Analytics applies to all of the other tools you mentioned (MediaPlex, DART, ClixTrac, etc.). All of these tools are third party javascript dependent tracking technologies. None of these tracking technologies will execute if either of the following scenarios is true, 1. The user has disabled third party cookies 2. The user has disabled javascript on their browser 3. The page from the banner click loads before the tracking call executes All of these technologies in the same boat. The fact that your Google Analytics code is executing less frequently than the other tracking scripts makes me think that perhaps the implementation is incorrect, or that you are using the synchronous (old version) of Google Analytics tracking script. If you still have issues with G.A. or any of the other tools tracking clicks, test setting a timeout so that the tracking code has time to execute before the page loads.

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