Google Analytics: there’s more to it than meets the eye


Google AnalyticsAs we just came back from Ireland where some members of the Web Analytics European Dream Team (WAEDT) followed the Google Analytics Authorised Consultant Training (GAAC), I thought like sharing what we’ve learned back in Dublin, unfortunately – to Julien’s discontent – one week after St. Patricks’ Day. Hey, Jules being allowed into those great Google offices is already quite an experience, you can’t have it all but next time, I promise I’ll buy you a Guiness!

It was a great honor to be part of the 30 or so members of the European GAAC training in order to discuss best practices and optimal uses of Google Analytics. It’s not every day that Google reaches out to third party consultants and discussing with Danish, Italian, Spanish, Irish, German, Dutch & English representatives was really a treat, while you actually realise that issues in these countries are quite similar to what we see in our little Belgium (I know, I’m Dutch but as I’ve been here for over 15 years, one could assume I’ve been adopted, right Sieg?).

It was also interesting to see all those features explained, one after the other in order to get a more complete picture of what is actually going on with this product and how far reporting can stretch for what remains a free tool. As Brian Clifton already mentioned during the eMetrics summit in London last year about the price quality ratio of GA, it’s unbeattable. I would add to this that after Dublin, I’m actually even more convinced than ever.

But let’s start with the beginning…
GA actually stems from a company called Urchin that was bought over by Google a couple of years ago. What’s interesting is that Google didn’t only buy the product, it also convinced the entire the team to join Google. As such Alex Ortiz Rosado, who now works from Mountain View together with lovely Helen Huang, is originally part of the Urchin gang. Actually some of the other partners that were there such as Multiplica/Metriplica from Barcelona were already supporting Urchin back in those “old” days. It was thus with relief and interest that Brian confirmed to us that Google remains committed to the software version as it’s still very much on the roadmap. Very good news indeed for those clients who would prefer to have their web analytics solution inhouse and not in asp format.

Next discussion was about cookies and privacy.
IQContent‘s fine Brian Donohue pointed out to the need for a clearer privacy policy. Unfortunately as all this is bundled within Google – Google couldn’t possibly update privacy policies for all it’s products -, setting up a special PP for GA would be a bit difficult. It is however interesting to note that IP addresses are stumped out & email addresses can not be read so that they can not be viewed even by members of Google. On top of that, access to GA reports for Google members is restricted only to those who support GA, on the demand of users &/or partners. This remind me of a post by Eric Butler a year ago about the difference of Privacy statements between the US and Europe.

I remember also some time ago to have been in a discussion about cookies and whether Google uses third or first party cookies. By far, first party cookies are used so anyone who would still have second doubts about this assertion, please give me a ring, I’ll go through the UTM_a through z together with you. Which is however true is that GA serves a number of cookies, ranging from session expirators to permanent ones, expiring in 2038. Yes, Julien we all wonder what might happend in 2038 but I suppose WA will have evolved by then so, unlike what Helen mentioned with a big smile, I doubt we’ll be facing a new Y2K bug 😉

As we all know GA offers website overlay and integrates naturally with Adwords. Logical, right?
It also allows for powerful filtering possiblities, which is great for segmentation in order to assure that the data you have in front of you is actually meaningful.

But what really blew my mind were actually 2 things: cross segmentation & the ability to track the user accross multiple domains. Thus cross domain or sub-domain tracking is possible. Yes, you are reading this right! For those who are unfamiliar with the terms, it allows you to see how visitors behave accross different domains and they are not counted twice if you want to see what the overall traffic was for all your websites. Please note that this feature does require some additional coding but nothing out of the ordinary.

I learned that we could actually filter out some keywords used, if the JavaScript is adapted. It’s indeed a bit annoying when I look at my keywords and find the “expected” ones in the list, taking up a substancial part of my reports while blocking out the other little trees I’m trying to identify in the forest in order to see if we’ve got any friends (or foes) out there.
Search engines can also be adapted by ways of a specific JavaScript. Make sure you do it right in order to assure that your tags don’t miss out on any updates.

Last but not least, E-commerce tracking is available and apparently, there’s an interesting work around for the Yahoo shopping cart. Well not great for EMEA but good to know.

The only thing I keep regretting is the limitation in terms of export functionalities and mostly the fact that it can’t be scheduled. Note that the fine folks @ Metriplica/Multiplica from Barcelona have a good work around for that.

As a conclusion, I’d say that Google Analytics is a great tool to start your analytics efforts with. I just hope the other vendors caught on. Believe me, it’s powerful and it’s free!

Ho, and last one, if I may. As I was searching my LinkedIn and wondered what ever happend to this clever guy called Matt Cutler I had met in Amsterdam at the beginning of this century, I found he had created a new company that is using… you’ve guessed it, Google Analytics! My inspiration for Web Analytics actually rooted there: @ the Krasnapolsky hotel where I heard him speak of another great product, at that time. Since then, water has gone under the bridge but his writings remain, for me, as sharp, clear and usable as any other guru I’m fond of so I’m really happy Eric T. Peterson pointed out last week that Matt actually worked together with Jim Sterne on his first WA White Paper.

So far for the gossip. I still have a Newsletter to write.

Please feel free to add any comments or contact us for more information. Kind regards from sunny Brussels. Spring seems to have finally settled in 😉

Aurélie Pols


10 Responses to “Google Analytics: there’s more to it than meets the eye”

  1. Clodagh Kelly Says:

    Hi Aurélie,
    It was great to meet with you and your colleagues, I hope you enjoiyed your time in Ireland!

    Great summary of the GAAC training, we found it really interesting and useful too and are looking forward to using all the little tricks we learnt over the couple of days.

    It is a pity Google can’t provide a special PP – it has been a major concern for some our clients so it would be great if re-assurance could come from the “Horse’s mouth” but I understand the difficulties with it from Google’s point of view.

    Look forward to meeting with you again soon!


  2. Julien Coquet Says:

    Hi Clodagh,

    it’s been great meeting you, both Brians (Clifton and Donohue), as well as the rest of the attendees 😀

    Let’s definitely do this again next year, if we’re invited 😉

    One of the more memorable sound bites from this GAAC session:
    “hmmm sushi”


  3. Oliver Says:

    “My inspiration for Web Analytics actually rooted there: @ the Krasnapolsky hotel ”
    You are kidding, Aurelie, aren´t you? 🙂 September 2000 in Amsterdam? He was there presenting with Eric Richards?
    I was there too and it convinced me to start with a WA career and to becoma a Consultant with NetGenesis (the company Mastt founded) 4 months later… And the whitepaper he wrote with Jim was one of the best marketing printouts we had at NetGenesis, I still have it of course 🙂

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  6. Aurélie Pols Says:

    Hi Oliver,

    Nop, no joke, we apparently saw the same presentation.
    How uncanny is that?

    On my side, I was working for a panEuropean medical portal called Planet Medica and struggling with WebTrends Log Analyser that had landed (or should I say been dumped?) on my desk and of which I knew nothing about.
    Trying to make sense of it all, without too much technical knowledge as a business analyst. I’m sure a lot of people can relate 😉

    I suppose that that’s the reason why I started up my little business unit as I know how it is to feel terribly lost and frustrated with web analytics: I’ve been there!
    Matt was indeed a great inspiration that day and I met Eric Richards as well, a fine gentelman. I was actually quite happy when SPSS bought NetGen as it made sense back in those days but it doesn’t seem to be a focus anymore, of what I understand (correct me if I’m wrong).

    The great thing in any case and I would consider this to be a Matt Cutler legacy (if I may beso bold and I wonder if he remembers, I doubt it) is that he showed the infinate possibilities. I consider it to be our task to live up to the expectation and, together with other fine professionals, support this great industry we work in.

    Looking forward to finally meet you in Düsseldorf and once again share the same space 😉
    Kind regards,

  7. Aurélie Pols Says:

    Updated April 1st, this is no joke!

    The fine folks from GA/Urchin Experts noted some time ago (ah, keeping with it all!) that the UK Privacy Authority actually uses Google Analytics.

    An interesting pointer for all of you that struggle with trying to convince your clients Google is not bad, big brother.
    Check it out on:

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  10. Darwin Hall Says:

    “Cross Segmentation” – I didn’t have a clue GA was capable of this. I guess I’m gonna have to do some reading to learn exactly how it’s accomplishes. I would have really liked to go to the San Fran’s Emetrics. Maybe next year.

    Do you believe IPP issues will increase? Yes, it will. GA is sure to be joined by others. I have personally spoken with one of them who propose this exact thing. But honestly, I don’t think most web analyst can truly fathom the reprocussisons of the “intelligent data” being collected.

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