Data connection in Google Analytics: Solving the mystery

Data connection in Google Analytics: Solving the mystery
Monday, October 30, 2017
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This is the second blog post in the “Talk data to me” series presented by the Analytics and Research team at DAC Group. Last week’s post was about the use of Enhanced Ecommerce in Google Tag Manager.

Scenario 1: Marco owns a travel agency that has both physical agencies and an online platform to sell holiday packages. He wonders how he can see all the transactions in one place to be able to assess how each channel performs.

Scenario 2: Julie is the manager at an education business that operates across different regions in the world. She is interested in evaluating how the investment in different regions translates into actual enrolment in different colleges. All of this could help her see which campaigns are more successful or which students are more likely to convert depending on the enquiries on the website.

These two scenarios are just a sample of a larger range of lead generation businesses that face these same challenges. This is especially relevant in the age we live in, where companies must respond to changes in customer behaviour not only offline but also online .

Thus, the possibility of connecting offline information on transactions to online campaigns and behaviour can represent a true gold mine. It will mean having all the relevant data for your business in one place. And  will enable you to extract insights from this using visualisations and dashboards.

This blog post aims at covering a part of this data connection scheme. Specifically, we will talk about the 2 features offered by Google Analytics (GA) for transferring offline data from internal databases (e.g. CRM). These are data import and measurement protocol. Then, I will provide you with 4 tips when deploying these tools. Finally, I’ll state some recommended next steps in the data connection journey.

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1. Data Import

GA allows users to import files (.csv or other file formats) to expand the details of the information tracked using different sources (CRM, internal database, etc) (see google support for more information). This could prove to be useful for specific information like further detail on product description (e.g. product weight, cost, etc.) or user description (e.g. first purchase, preferred products, etc.). All of this would be tracked using custom/built-in dimensions in GA (see an example from google support).

Data import, although it can be automated, is seen as a more rigid tool. It requires creating a .csv file and make sure the right headings are applied so that GA can read it properly.

2. Measurement protocol

Measurement Protocol, like data import, helps transfer data from very diverse sources into GA. This feature is only available for the latest version of Google Analytics – Universal Analytics – which was launched in 2013 by Google and introduced a new tracking code system.

It works is by sending all the data through an HTTPS request, which is basically URL that is read by GA. This HTTPS request is made up by all the data parameters (which can be related to transactions, users or products) that are relevant for your business (separated by the ampersand sign) (See parameter reference guide). All the data parameters should be collected in GA using custom/built-in dimensions/metrics. An essential part for the Measurement Protocol to make sense is to have a unique key that matches all the records from the sources transferring the data and the GA account records.

Both features have different benefits and drawbacks. For instance, data import may be used for a more one-kind of upload, due to the need for file creation. However, the decision to choose one or the other is entirely dependent on the needs of the business.

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4 Tips to bear in mind for deploying these tools in Google Analytics

  1. Map out the architecture of how the different data in your business is going to be connected as planning is essential.
  2. Choose a unique key field to match the data form the external data source to the data in GA. In the case of Measurement Protocol it will be client Id
  3. Measurement Protocol is a tool sometimes used by ghost spammers to generate fake traffic associated to your GA account. They do this without actually visiting your website. It’s important to put mechanisms in place to control for this. More info the Moz Blog post about Ghost Spamming in GA.
  4. For Measurement Protocol to work efficiently, we advise on working together with developers to write the script that includes all the information about the transfer. If you struggle with this or don’t have the capacity to do this internally, feel free to contact us as we have experience in writing and implementing these scripts. They are designed to work with different APIs and perform diverse tasks. These include data cleaning or indicating the frequency of the transfers, among others. We also advise to consider including measures to cover for disruptive transactions or errors being passed onto GA.

How does it all fit in the grand scheme of data connection? Next steps

There are clear benefits to using these tools to transfer offline data into GA. However, using this tool to connect all the business’ offline-online data is not recommended. After all, GA can only do so much. We recommend instead using Measurement Protocol and Data import as add-ons to help optimise the functionality of GA.

Instead, the connection of customer footprints left at each step of the journey should be done in a separate place (e.g. data warehouse), facilitating a unique access to all the data. The next steps in the data connection will involve querying the data to answer specific questions about your business. Using data visualisations and dashboards the insights found will be made available to everyone in your company.

For more information on the customer journey analysis, see our blog post on Understanding the customer journey in a mobile-first world. Further information on data visualisation and dashboards will be covered in posts in the near future. Keep tuned in.