Google Analytics from session-driven to customer-driven

17 Oct

At last week’s Google Analytics User Conference, Google provided some insights into the future of Web and Google Analytics. Sagnik Nandy explained that Google is working on a new way of using analytics in which ‘the session’ is no longer the center of attention, but the customer. With help of a nice example he indicated both the necessity to change Analytics in the near future, as the difference with the current way of working.

“In the everyday life we talk with people. People that are still the same person when we talk to them again in the future. In real-life, a conversation isn’t called a ‘session’. We speak to each other from person to person on a continual basis, not from time to time in a session, and we certainly don’t call it a session.”

The importance of a “Customer-centric Analytics Platform” is becoming bigger and bigger. The fact that Google is privately working on a new way of measuring for some time now, doesn’t come as a surprise. The new platform is currently being tested on and it is expected that the first real version for users will be available somewhere around the fourth quarter of 2012.

The idea behind Customer-centric analysis
Sagnik gave a short explanation of the how and why behind the decision to make analytics more customer-centric. Google’s goal is threefold:

Reduce cookie-usage/dependence (bandwidth and speed)
Simplify single-user tracking (reliability and value)
Over multiple devices
Over multiple domains
From multiple sources (crm, etc.)
Data processing has to take place completely server-side at Google (flexibility)
Summarized, Google wants to realize this in the near future by sending visitor-data solely based on one unique identifier (user-id). Based on this user-id Google wants to process all the data on the servers of Google and subsequently ‘tie it together’. Google can select the user-id for you, but as a user you can also use your own ID’s and pass them through to Google Analytics.

Reduce Cookie usage to one single visitor-id
By reducing the amount of cookies drastically and by sending through data solely based on one single user-id, a lot of bandwidth can be saved.

Currently, Google analytics uses several cookies for the measurement of visitor behavior.

_utma – cookie that is being placed at the first visit
_utmb – cookie that represents an active session
_utmc – isn’t used anymore
_utmz – contains the origin of the visitor (referral, direct, Google, campaign etc.)
_utmv – for the usage of custom variables
_utmx – for the usage of the website optimizer
Google Analytics Cookie typesWith help of these cookies all data and behavior of a visitor is being sent to Google Analytics. With every page view all cookies are being read, all campaign data is sent each time again and all cookies are being updated etc. Although this happens in a split second, overall, it costs a lot of bandwidth and capacity. Certainly from Google’s perspective, who receive and have to process data from millions of websites.

The processing of data to achieve the same reports as we have right now remains possible because Google still has the possession over the same data. With help of the user-id, Google Analytics is perfectly capable of reconstructing the entire session (and the follow-up sessions). The original source of the visitor is already set since the first visit with his or her referral data. Specific campaign-data can still be set with parameters, like we are already able to do so right now.

Measuring over multiple devices
Measuring a user over multiple devices (computers, laptops, tablets, smartphones, apps etc.) proved to be difficult up to now. Because visitors and customers are increasingly using all kinds of devices within one single transaction, it becomes more and more important to measure the usage over these devices.

Example: Someone collects the initial information about a product on his or her work. In the evening, husband and wife use the iPad to collect some additional information about the specific product and during the weekend the product is ordered via the laptop.

Within this single transaction three devices are used, but the last and converting visit on the laptop will get all the credits.

In the new situation you have the possibility to generate a user-id. This means that registered users can be provided with their own ID, which can be used for Google Analytics. With that, it is possible to track logged-in users all the time, even over multiple devices or domains. The only ‘cave-eat’ that remains is the fact that you have to motivate your users to login. For the use of apps this will be easier, but online this will remain a serious challenge for a lot of websites. In addition, you could also start working with cookies yourself to keep on tracking users that have logged-in in the past and keep on using their user-id.

Concluding, it should become possible to send data to Google Analytics from every kind of source. When a customer completes a transaction offline, but you have his or her user-id, you can also send that data to Google Analytics. Google Analytics will subsequently link that transaction to the specific customer. Specific activities that you have saved in the CRM, can now also be included in Google Analytics in the same way.

Data processing within Google Analytics
Finally, Google wants to create a situation in which all the data processing takes place on the servers of Google. Currently all the data is more or less delivered ready-made. Processing the data afterwards, gives Google the possibility to apply custom configurations on this data, which can vary by Google Analytics user or profile.

For example, think of setting the cookie duration. Currently you have the possibility to set this on a profile level. In the new situation you could set the cookie duration for different sources or websites, according to your own needs or situation, at for example affiliate-channels. For specific campaigns you could limit the cookie duration to 10 days, while you could set the cookie duration at 60 days for organic traffic.

Of course this is just an example of the possibilities that Google Analytics has to offer in this new situation. With extensive configuration options you are even more capable of adapting the data and reports to your own needs.

Session-centric analytics vs. customer-centric analytics platform
This is a development that was received with great interest and will be discussed more and more the next few months. Google Analytics is starting to involve the community and use their feedback to finalize their product. What do we want as users? Which problems and opportunities do we face or see with this new way of measuring? Are there any problems or pitfalls Google overlooks, or are there any technical developments available which can help to refine Google Analytics even more?

Nevertheless, the focus is shifting towards the customer, not towards the ‘John Doe’ visitors. With help of the ‘John Doe’ information you will still have the same possibilities as the ones Google Analytics currently offers you. But measuring what a customer does, what their interests are and how to respond to this behavior is what a marketer drives or should drive.

Of course we, as well as Google, are very curious about your opinion and ideas around this topic. So do not hesitate to leave a comment!


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