eCommerce Takeaways from the Google Analytics Summit 2012

Google Analytics Summit 2012

This past week, Blue Acorn attended the Google Analytics Summit at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California. During the event, Google Analytics Certified Partners and Google Analytics Premium customers discussed the rapidly advancing future of Google’s renowned data program, Google Analytics.

This year’s summit was a two-day, two-part event with the first day reserved for covering information that will be available to the public and the second day for information intended only for Google Certified Partners and Premium customers. Although we are bound by Google Law to not disclose any of the information share in the second day, we want to share the information we are allowed to disclose, and more importantly, how it affects eCommerce.

Along with the announcement of several very nifty, new features, the summit included three major announcements:

1. Google will begin the process of tracking visitors across platforms with Universal Analytics.

2. Analysts will now be able to import data via a new Dimension Widening feature.

3. A new, smaller analytics cookie will make it simpler to track visitors and decrease bandwidth.

UNIVERSAL ANALYTICS: One ID for One Visitor for All Devices

Google Universal Analytics

This is Google’s first strong move toward switching the focus from “session-centric” data to “visitor-centric” data. Up to this point, Google Analytics has recognized three sessions as three completely unique sessions, regardless of whether those sessions were the result of three separate visitors or the same visitor. This is what we mean by “session-centric” data. Just to be clear, this wasn’t a mistake on Google’s part. After all, when Google Analytics came to market, the vast majority of online shoppers made their purchases from a single device, usually one that was at their house and relied on a wire for Internet connection. Now, the average customer has three to five devices they use regularly to access the Internet, whether it is a phone, tablet, work computer, home computer, TV, or their gaming device.

However, with the rise of mobile commerce and the lines between eCommerce and commerce becoming increasingly blurred, Google recognized that changes in how we look at our analytics needs to evolve as well.

Universal Analytics will track visitors across multiple devices by assigning each visitor an ID. Store admins can either choose to use the Google-assigned ID or override it with their own ID, which will almost always be a customer login ID. Either way, their visitors will have a unique ID that can follow them across multiple devices.

Tracking across those devices allows you to easily track all the ways customers interact with your store. For example, you could discover that your site’s visitors are researching on a mobile device or work computer, but not making their purchases until the evening hours from their personal computer or tablet. This is true “visitor-centric” data.

This may seem like magic, but there’s a catch, as magic is not yet real, not even for Google.

To track your site’s visitors across multiple devices, they must log into your site on each device they use for their sessions to be attributed to the same ID. The methods for achieving a login will vary depending on the capabilities of your store and the nature of your customers. We can’t wait to see how creative online retailers will get to obtain the necessary logins across multiple devices.

For more in-depth information about Universal Analytics, you can check out this blog article by Justin Cutroni, the Analytics Advocate at Google.

DIMENSION WIDENING AND DATA IMPORTS: Forget the Silo

Generally speaking, web analytics act as data silos. This has long been a problematic issue for analytics users, as they can not see things like repeat customer information, what they have purchased before, etc. To combine such data from multiple sources, like CRM and POS databases, they must extract the data from all the different sources and combine it elsewhere, outside of Google Analytics.

With Dimension Widening and the ability to import data, that is about to change. Soon, eCommerce managers will be able to take all of the data collected by customer service reps, ERP systems, eCommerce backends, etc. and import it into Google Analytics via a CSV file.

Imagine all of your data in one place, where it can be leveraged into valuable actions in just a few steps. You could identify customer groups for your online store, target them more efficiently, upload cost data from digital campaigns outside of the Google Realm, or chart your ROI…all inside of Google Analytics!

It is very important to remember that you are not allowed to use any PIIs (Personal Identifiable Information). That means no email addresses, names, shipping addresses, or credit card numbers. That puts security in the hands of site operators. This has been and will, hopefully, remain a Google policy.

ANALYTICS.JS: The Reduced-Fat Cookie

New Google Cookie

Analytics.js is a new, cleaner, simpler analytics code made from scratch. It offers a less complex way to track visitor interactions to an eCommerce site. Part of that “simpler” characteristic is also in the size of the new cookie, which is purportedly just 12 characters long.

One of the bonuses of the new cookie is an increase in site speed. The smaller cookie decreases the bandwidth on your site by reducing client side storage. According to Google, if everyone using analytics switched to their new analytics.js, worldwide bandwidth would decrease by 15%.

OTHER COOL STUFF – Prepare Yourselves, Data Nerds

One of the highlights of the summit was hearing all the clever, new features that will broaden the reach of Google Analytics. Among these new features, Google announced attribution modeling, the ability to track customer lifetime value, and custom dimensions.

Attribution Modeling

Attribution modeling provides data-driven models that allow you to see in which channels or campaigns your customers convert. Analysts can model which campaign is most valuable based upon the unique needs of their site and information like imported cost data. For instance, with eCommerce, the last interaction, the one where users make a purchase, is usually most important.

Customer Lifetime Value

The new Customer Lifetime Value (CLV) feature will help make CLV a tangible measure of success by forecasting the amount a customer will spend with an eCommerce site in the future. You can assess segments or all of your customer base, decide how much to spend acquiring new customers, or how much to spend retaining old ones. You will also be able to rank customers and measure the success of your marketing actions.

Custom Dimensions

The introduction of Custom Dimensions will resolve a serious issue for many web analysts, which is the relatively low number of custom variables currently available to analyze data. Furthermore, data collected from Custom Dimensions will be available in Custom Reports and Advanced Segments.

Analytics will also begin to incorporate general demographic data. This should behave like Google Trends, but it will be available in the Google Analytics UI.

SO WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?

Since its inception, Google Analytics has been a session-centric data collection tool, and it is clear that the company is now making the necessary moves to expand its capabilities to collect visitor-centric data as well. For eCommerce store admins, this means having the ability to monitor how your customers interact with your site across multiple campaigns and devices. However, it is also up to the store admins to implement the changes to their analytics, entice their users to log in, and actually use the data that they collect.

Some of these features are available for whitelisting now, and all of them will be open to the public in six months to a year.

Better data enables better customer experiences, and better customer experiences lead to more revenue. These improvements to Google Analytics mark another step forward in Google’s march into the eCommerce space, and it’s a big one.

by Conversion Consultant
Amanda is our resident scientist at Blue Acorn. You won’t find any contractions or oxford commas in her articles. She’s always quick to pick up on new techniques and even faster at teaching them to us. We count ourselves lucky to have her here. In her free time, she volunteers for the Analysis Exchange, a group that offers free web analytics consulting to nonprofits and NGOs around the world. She spends the rest of her spare time hanging out with Charley, her wicked-cool miniature schnauzer, who you can also follow on Twitter @charleydoggy.

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