RECAP: Andy's Highlights from Google Analytics Certified Partner Summit!


By: Andy Batten, Manager of Digital Analytics, Red Door Interactive

Last week Bryan Olshock, Digital Analyst at Red Door Interactive, and I attended the Google Analytics Certified Partner Summit in Mountain View, CA. This being our first GA Summit, we had rather high expectations, and Google did not disappoint. The event was held at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, and was the perfect venue for the ‘geeks’ to descend and talk data. There were, of course, the perks you might expect with a Google Conference – cool games, great entertainment, tons of food – but the highlight of the conference came from the MANY announcements Google made about new Google Analytics features.

1. Universal Tagging
Tabbed as the ‘biggest change to Google Analytics’ since buying Urchin, the announcement of Universal Tagging will open up an infinite number of possibilities. Google has completely restructured the analytics tag and the way data is stored to provide much more flexibility and accuracy in reporting.

a. Track Anywhere - The updated universal tag (and APIs) allow for the ability to manually set many aspects of the GA request and send ‘virtual’ hits back to Google Analytics. With this, sites can set up offline tracking from any number of applications that have internet access including RFID readers, CRM systems, and smartphone apps (for which Google has separate analytics capabilities, but you get the idea).

b. Customizable Visitor ID - The ID value used to identify site visitors is now configurable inside the GA universal tag. Because you can now set the visitor ID value programmatically when a visitor is known, you now have the ability to see cross-device activity and pathing, and tie the activity back to the same user! Attribution just got much more accurate (…and moreso by the end of this post. Read on!)

c. Elimination of Cookies - In the ‘old’ GA tag, a number of ambiguous cookies were set in the client browser for various purposes. In Universal Analytics, Google has eliminated all but one cookie from the Analytics implementation. Because the determination of session, campaign, and other details are now completely handled server-side, the one remaining GA cookie now only includes a unique identifier for the visitor. That’s it. At the macro level, this is a HUGE change for Google and the web. With every request that happens on a webpage – images, css files, JS files, etc – all cookies are automatically appended and sent inside the HTTP headers (with some security caveats). While the small amount of text seems minor on a per-request or per-page basis,, the change will decrease bandwidth on the internet dramatically; Google just made the internet faster.

2. Dimension Widening Google announced a new feature known as dimension widening that now allows GA users to upload attributes into Analytics at the unique visitor level. Once uploaded – via API or CSV – the data can then be used for segmentation or as a primary reporting dimension in analytics reports! As the most simple use case, if you’re tracking additional demographic data inside your CRM, you can send that additional metadata into GA and produce a report to show conversions by that segment!

3. Attribution
For awhile now, Google Premium customers have enjoyed the ability to create custom-weighted attribution models and experiment with different models to understand return on spend. Google has announced that this product will soon be opened up to all Analytics users! In addition, the traditional 30-day lookback window for attribution will be expanded to a 90-day lookback window; an especially important announcement for sites with long buyer cycles.

4. Segmentation
Previously only allowing for visit-based segmentation, the Advanced Segmentation tool is being updated to allow for segmentation by visitor. This is a change Google had to make to keep up with other solutions, and means users no longer have to set custom cookies and variables in order to segment by past-visit behavior. In addition, Google will be rolling out date-based and sequence-based segmentation!

5. Cost-Data Import
Cost data has been available in Google Analytics for awhile now, but that only applied to data from Google Adwords accounts that were tied to GA. Google has announced the ability to upload cost data for any campaign into Analytics…for the entire history of your Google Analytics account! GA users can now report ROI directly inside Analytics! If it’s not evident from the above, the announcements Google made at Summit were very dramatic and game-changing. The new flexibility of Universal Tagging alone is going to dramatically change what marketers consider trackable, and there’s no doubting that the most inventive uses haven’t even been thought of yet. If it wasn’t already evident, Google is positioning it’s products to be the central point where all marketing decisions are made and analyzed. Stay tuned!

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