Looker Studio & GA4 Blog Post

Building a GA4 Report in Looker Studio is Frustrating – Here’s Why

In Analytics, Google Analytics 4, The Digital Marketing Blog by SeanLeave a Comment

Until Google announced that Universal Analytics (UA) would be going away, my use of Google Analytics 4 (GA4) was mostly experimental. As a marketing analyst, it was fun to explore the new data model and analysis tools available to me. The world was full of opportunities.  

Things got a lot less fun when I started using GA4 as our main reporting platform for our clients. Don’t get me wrong, I believe that GA4 can be a very powerful tool for data analysis, but the learning curve is steep. 

The 1st of July 2023 deadline for when UA stops processing data is approaching, so we’re providing training and transitioning our clients to use GA4 as their main reporting platform. Click here if you want to know how we can help you too.

The most frustrating part of this transition has been using GA4 as the main data source for our Looker Studio (formerly Data Studio) reports. 

I’ve heard marketers mentioning they’ve used Looker Studio to build reports that are easier to read in comparison to GA4’s dashboards, but I haven’t heard them mention how frustrating the process can be.

Buckle up, I have a lot to say. 

The Challenge with GA4 & Looker Studio

In many ways, GA4 still feels like it is in development, with many changes launching regularly, which are hard to keep track of. As a result, we’re monitoring their update page closely and keeping our clients in the loop about the major changes. 

A lot of the features requested by marketers have been released by Google, such as the landing page report and date dimensions, but there is a disconnect between what’s released in GA4 and the integration with Looker Studio. Let me explain. 

When new metrics and dimensions are released in GA4, they might not be available in Looker Studio straight away. This means the report you were so excited to create for your client isn’t available yet. 

You now have to wait, keep checking, and constantly make iterative changes to your reports as you never know what features are about to be released. 

Now, I don’t think of reports as static pieces of work. I want to continuously improve the reports I build for our clients. What I don’t want though, is to feel like I’m building a sub-par report now and playing catch up for months. 

The level of detail we could previously achieve with UA, and the reliability of the Looker Studio connection that had fewer data quota limits, is something I can’t yet replicate with GA4. 

In my 10 years as a marketer, I’ve never experienced a platform change that has felt as challenging as this one. At the time of writing this article (May 2023), the integration between Looker Studio and GA4 feels like Google’s afterthought.

Limited Available Metrics & Dimensions

This is by far the biggest source of my frustration. 

When GA4 introduces a new metric or dimension, I naturally start thinking about how I can use it to drive insights for our clients. In some instances, I’ve been waiting for these metrics/dimensions to be released for a long time. 

However, as I mentioned, when a metric/dimension is released in GA4, it doesn’t mean it’s readily available in the Looker Studio integration. I can use them in explorations or to customise reporting dashboards in GA4, but I can’t build a Looker Studio report with them. So far, this has happened with bounce rate, landing page, average session duration, and more. 

One of the most annoying situations, and this isn’t yet available in both Looker Studio and GA4, is the missing ‘Month of Year’ dimension. For measurement periods that span across multiple years, this dimension is crucial to report on monthly performance. Shoutout to Marek Rost who shared a custom dimension that recreates this successfully for Looker Studio reports. 

In the screenshot below we can see all available date dimensions at this time. 

Date Dimensions in GA4

Even though there may be workarounds, like in the example above, I would much rather Google release this dimension to begin with, or at least when the hour and date dimensions became available in November 2022

Small things like these add up and it becomes challenging to build the report I envisioned would answer my clients’ marketing questions. I’m finding that both our internal team and the client require more support after delivering a report, and I often have to explain how the data doesn’t quite answer all their questions. 

So, what can we do? 

💡 The solution: Use the new metrics/dimensions to customise your explorations and reports inside GA4. Ensure you share them with others in your team or business who will need to analyse the specific data set. Keep monitoring your Looker Studio/GA4 integrations and update your report as the new metrics/dimensions become available. 

Data Quota Limits 

Something that started happening quite often late last year was that I’d configure and test the report, send it to the client, and they would email me to say the visualisation wasn’t working for them. I thought I was going crazy when this started happening. 

I later found out that if you’re seeing error messages in visualisations that were previously working, the issue might be related to the data quota limits. On the 7th of November 2022, Looker Studio reports that were connected to GA4 started being subject to the Google Analytics Data API quotas.

To increase the data threshold, you would need to subscribe to Google Analytics 4 360, which is rumoured to start at $50,000 per annum. This pricing is quite prohibitive for small and medium-sized companies, which will push them to choose other, more affordable analytics solutions or opt to simplify their Looker Studio reports. 

A scenario as simple as the following can break your report: Your single-page report containing more than 10 charts and tables pulling data from GA4 will hit the concurrent request quota for a single view.

The below ‘Data Set Configuration Error’ message can start appearing quite often in visualisations, and we typically find them during our reporting week as more users access the report, which frustrates us and our clients. 

Looker Studio Data Set Configuration Error

💡 The solution: Build reports with the data quotas in mind (e.g. more pages with fewer visualisations). Ensure all stakeholders are aware the reports may break if the quota limits are met. Consider using BigQuery or other reporting solutions if you are frequently impacted by the quotas. 

The BigQuery Push

As mentioned above, one of the ways to get around the data quota limitations is to use BigQuery before sending your data to Looker Studio. 

You don’t have to worry about the tokens you’ve consumed as long as you don’t directly pull the GA4 data into Looker Studio. 

Free GA4 Properties have a daily limit of 1 million events exported to BigQuery, which is a lot more than Looker Studio can handle. 

This incentive to use BigQuery isn’t a bad thing in itself. BigQuery is what Google describes as a ‘cloud data warehouse’ and allows you to run Structure Query Language (SQL) queries on large data sets. For most small businesses, it wasn’t needed until now, but it is quickly becoming something to consider. 

In terms of pricing, BigQuery costs $0.020 per GB of active storage and the first 10GB of data to be processed each month is free. It can be paid for on-demand or at a flat rate depending on your business’ needs. You can access Google’s pricing calculator here

We will be having a lot more conversations with our clients about the use of BigQuery in the near future, depending on their needs. 

💡 The solution: Consider BigQuery if you’re frequently meeting your data quotas with Looker Studio, but keep in mind that you may need a data analyst with SQL knowledge to work the integration. Alternatively, you may want to find another reporting solution that integrates with GA4.  

Final Thoughts 

Phew, rant over. 

I want to end on a positive note: Change is good. In many ways, GA4 will allow everyone to make more insightful decisions and its powerful data modelling features will allow marketers to thrive in a privacy-centric world. 

We don’t know what’s coming next for GA4, but we’re expecting a lot of new releases as we approach the deadline. Google seems to be listening to the community and is gradually releasing widely requested reports, metrics/dimensions and features. Two good examples are the re-launch of the bounce rate dimension and landing page report (if any Google reps are reading this article, can we have annotations back please?).

All I hope for is that the Looker Studio integration gets a bit more TLC from Google, and then I’ll be one happy marketer. 

Thank you for sticking with me if you read this far and do let me know your thoughts. Tag us at @sitevisibility on LinkedIn or Twitter to continue the conversation. 

Alternatively, if you’re looking for support with your reporting or GA4 account, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can leave us a message via the form below. We’d love to help! 

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