Google Analytics Announces Major Updates

Last week, Google made major announcements about upcoming changes to how Google Analytics will function and contribute to the future of digital marketing measurement. At Three Deep, we view all of these changes as improvements to the program, but it should also be noted that a few changes may affect how people currently have Google Analytics configured.

Universal Analytics

The first major announcement of the week was Universal Analytics, which is a version of Google Analytics that allows us to move away from a session based tracking paradigm over to a user based tracking method. This allows marketers to measure activity by users across multiple computers, devices and mediums. With the proliferation of mobile devices, tablets and multiple computers, this form of measurement is becoming more and more important. It's also important that Google Analytics adjust to measure the world outside the web, because otherwise the tool is in danger of being left behind for new tools that do a better job of measuring activity in these new mediums.

Without getting too technical, Universal Analytics is achieved by minimizing the reliance on cookies to track visitors, replacing cookies with server-side processing of visit data to increase speed and flexibility. When you send data to Google's servers, you can also attach a user identifier to that visit that will be used to match up visitors across devices, which is then matched up by Google server side to create a unified picture of how your users interact with various touchpoints.

If you want to learn more about the announcement and get more detail, I live-blogged the Universal Analytics announcement last week, complete with screenshots and explanations from the event.

Import Cost Data from Third Party PPC Programs

The AdWords reports in GA are among my favorites, because they allow for end to end analysis right in the tool (you know how much you spent and how much you earned, allowing for an ROI). One of my pet peeves with this report has been that you only can do this level of analysis with AdWords data, and you would need to download data and match up details in excel to do this analysis for Bing, Facebook or LinkedIn.

Now this is something that you can do by uploading your cost data into Google Analytics using the API or an application provider like Next Analytics (an excellent tool and friend of Three Deep).

Read Google's announcement on this integration here.


Dimension Widening and Offline Measurement

With Universal Analytics, we will now be able to import external data into Google Analytics to be used in measurement. This external data can be turned into dimensions that we can use to further enhance our reporting capabilities within the tool (for example, we can create a dimension such as gender or age).

You will be able to create up to 20 custom dimensions in a free GA account. This will give significantly more flexibility than what can be achieved currently with Custom Variables. It will also eliminate the need to code each page with custom variables, allowing for retroactive data matching since all dimensions will be based on the data you import.

You can use dimension widening to better understand activity that is happening offline, outside of your standard website metrics. Does your website generate a lot of leads and phone calls? You can now import lead status and sales data into Google Analytics for complete online/offline customer measurement.

Websites must have universal analytics configured to take advantage of Dimension widening and Offline Measurement, because this data is tied to the Unique ID that you assign to your website users.

Implications on Cookie Integrations

One of the things that we should also address is that some of these changes by Google to a virtually cookie-less tracking solution will take away our ability to do crazy integrations with cookie data. This may mean that some integrations will be phased out in their current form (like pulling data out of cookies and pushing into your CRM system, and phone call tracking replicating cookies). For lead generation sites that rely on these integrations, this is a drawback and a loss of functionality.

However, the good news is that these will ultimately be replaced by a simpler method for achieving the same effect (integration between your offline and web analytics data). It also paves the way for many more advanced integrations and mash-ups. The long term benefits of moving away from cookies outweigh any minor setbacks we may see along the way. I wouldn't be surprised if phone call tracking solutions begin to tout their improved Google Analytics integration in the near future.

Exciting Times Ahead

As someone who is fascinated by web measurement and passionate about unlocking insight from website visitor data, I am very excited about what we have in store for the future. Google Analytics has long been the leader in making web measurement easier to grasp and now they are helping marketers measure activities well beyond the screen.

Whether you are just learning about web analytics or have been measuring for years, these announcements and product upgrades will only help bring measurement to the forefront of the decisions we make as marketers in the future.

Are you as excited about these advancements as we are?