What is BigQuery?

By Jason Sanderson
9th May 2024

Ever since the GA4 migration, BigQuery has become something that you really can’t ignore, and with the flexibility and control it gives you over your own datasets, why would you want to?

What is BigQuery?

In simple terms, BigQuery is a database of tables – but enormous ones. This makes the warehouse solution extremely effective at handling huge datasets without the end user needing to worry about managing the storage and computing time needed to analyse data in a timely manner.

The product, hosted as part of Google Cloud, is separate from Google Analytics and can be linked to various other Google Suite tools (such as Google Search Console) or just used in silo. Specifically for Google Analytics, it provides a method to store the raw event data, and every associated attribute, in such a way that any analyst with SQL like knowledge can craft complex queries without the typical limitations of a web UI.

BigQuery has been an option within Google Analytics Universal for a long time, but the high cost of GA360 placed it out of reach for many businesses. But now it’s available to every account as either a free or paid tier.

The table below outlines the differences between the two platforms, but it’s simply a case of having daily data limited to a 2-month period vs all data available almost instantly.

The cost varies depending on use, but the paid tier doesn’t start until you have exhausted the storage and querying limits for the free tier, as below. This means for most brands you could expect less than £30/month, but actual costs may be much closer to £5/month.

Tier Free Paid
Processing Once per day Streaming, almost instant
Events/day 1 million Unlimited
Availability Rolling 60 days All historic
Storage 10GB Unlimited (first 10GB free)
Querying 1TB (min 10mb per query) Unlimited (1st 1TB free)
Access No DML statements

No Transfer services

With DML statements

With Transfer services


What are the benefits of BigQuery?

Every business is likely to gain different benefits from BigQuery based on their dataset and requirements. However, these are the most common benefits:

1. Debugging – access to the raw hit data greatly increases our ability to efficiently debug and understand whether an issue is a GA4 bug, a configuration issue, or a problem with the data collection. Raw data provides us with the ability to test prior to any GA4 sanitisation and modifications.

2. Intraday analysis – GA4’s limited daily processing prevents the ability to use the current day’s data in a reactive format. Paying for the BigQuery integration provides direct access to the data stream, re-enabling this ability. Typically, hooking BigQuery to Looker Studio allows us to visualise the output for analysts within the business that lack SQL knowledge.

3. Complex querying – The GA4 web UI and segmentation features can cover a lot of business queries but do have limits. With BigQuery the limit is purely around the analyst’s knowledge of SQL and the scope for complicated logic is wide open.

4. Ownership of data – being able to take the data out of Google’s ecosystem and retain access to that knowledge could be considered a value on its own. This is especially the case with recent complications around data handling in the EU.

Given all the benefits of BigQuery, we strongly recommend that every brand should take advantage of it. You will have total ownership of your data, and if you choose the paid tier, you’ll even have controls over budget limits.


Jason is our Head of Data & Analytics and the go-to problem solver for everyone in the agency when Google Analytics is being confusing again.

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