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Google’s new Universal Analytics: The next step in customer-centred analysis?

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19th Nov 2012
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In this series of Smart Insights Best Practice Advice, Dave Chaffey of SmartInsights.com shares tips on best practice to get better results from digital marketing. This week, Dave examines Universal Analytics, Google's new interface for integrating customer data into Analytics.

Google Universal Analytics ia new interface for integrating customer data into Google Analytics to enable more customer-centred analysis.

I must admit I found the explanation from Google about the launch of Universal Analytics short on details of the options for businesses to apply the features of its new “Measurement Protocol” data integration feature announced at this weeks Google Analytics Summit. With headings in the announcement post such as “the world is mobile” and “your business is unique” it wasn’t as clear as I’ve come to expect.

So, I’ve been talking about the implications for digital marketers of Universal Analytics (UA) to analytics specialist Dan Barker who helps many businesses on Google Analytics (GA) setup and using it for sales optimisation and who is better at reading between the lines than me!

Dan describes Universal Analytics as:

“A new ‘data platform’, using the familiar GA interface, but capturing data in a different way, and allowing you to record and join together other types of data.

Whereas ‘standard’ GA relies on cookies to join together the dots, and uses ‘sessions’ as its main building block, ‘universal’ can be all server based, and attempts to make ‘users’ its main building block. You use an anonymous ID to link together all data related to a user, and – if you like – that anonymous ID can be something that ties into your CRM”.

Note though, that the Google Help page on UA clearly states “Don’t use personally identifiable data in your Google Analytics account”. So although anonymous IDs can be used, these will have to be integrated with companies own systems, data warehouses and other services they use for web and email personalisation. It will require major integration projects to apply. It’s definitely a service to support “big data” projects.

Dan goes onto explain:

‘Standard’ Google Analytics is designed really for data related to websites. ‘Universal’ has been built so that it does all of that, but is open much more if you may want to track other different types of data: call centres, purchases in your shops, apps, data from different websites joined together, etc. You could do some of that within ‘standard’ Google Analytics, but it was never built with that at its core”.

So, you can see that UA offers great potential for integrating data, but it’s less relevant for small businesses, indeed if you’re wondering, there are no new reports associated with this new feature, it’s all about providing an interface and infrastructure for data integration. Most businesses I work with aren’t fully exploiting the basic core features of analytics such as Advanced Segments, Goal Tracking, Event tracking and Custom reports.

Dan concurred when I asked him about who is likely to use it saying:

“I think in the short term, it will be really useful for large businesses who have a strong, fairly technical analytics team (either in-house or external) and who feel clear that they have hit a barrier with Google Analytics. The real value of it is for people who have put lots of thought into their different systems, and how they want to join together their data. For most businesses it makes sense to wait, plan out which data they would use alongside their web data, which systems they would bring that in from, and (perhaps most importantly) how they’d use the data! Migrating would be similar to switching from GA to Omniture SiteCatalyst, or Coremetrics, or any of the other analytics platforms where there are risks involved and you’d probably want to run the two side-by-side”.

I also asked Brian Clifton, author of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analyticsabout his thoughts on possible applications. He gave another interesting scenario for using Universal Analytics:

“Can you imagine something like this being used at the Olympics? Everyone ticket has a bar code that is scanned at an event – that anonymous info can be sent to GA in real-time to see how people move around from event to event.

Taking that a step further, retailers could use the same bar code as a coupon code in their stores i.e. if you are an Olympics ticket holder, receive a 10% discount in our store today. At the point of purchase that info (and all the transaction info) can be sent in real-time to GA i.e. real-time offline transaction transaction tracking. Exciting times!”

I hope you find this summary useful in assessing the relevance of Universal Analytics for you. Justin Cutroni’s post is useful in giving more technical details. Matt Trimmer of Google Analytics Certified Partner iVantage also gave me this technical summary:

“At its heart, this is a new and fourth version of the Google Analytics JavaScript file which is called by any site running GA. Now called “analytics.js”, this file will cause a change in web, no, not web, organisational analytics of seismic proportions.

No longer will visitors to your site receive four first party cookies from GA, but one. This one cookie will contain a unique visitor ID that will enable your website to read and store it when someone logs in, for example. This new “measurement protocol” then allows you connect your information about the anonymous visitor ID in Google Analytics. If that visitor’s ID then logs in again on your site, but this time from an IPhone, Google Analytics understands that it’s the same visitor using your site, but on multiple devices. Goodbye visit-centric analytics, hello visitor centric analytics”.

This is just one new feature in Google Analytics announced at its Summit. Although UA seems to have most of the attention, I’m personally more interested in what i think will be more widely applicable tools in business for attribution modelling, lifetime value assessments and Recency, Frequency and Monetary value assessment.

Dr Dave Chaffey is CEO at Smart Insights (Marketing Intelligence) Limited, a digital marketing portal and consultancy who provide advice and software to help businesses succeed online. He is author of five bestselling books on Ecommerce including Internet Marketing: Strategy, Implementation and Practice and has been recognised as one of 50 marketing gurus worldwide who have shaped the future of marketing.

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