Google has been unraveling their new Universal Analytics platform piece by piece over the course of this year. With the transition from ga.js to analytics.js, businesses have the ability to segment their web traffic at an incredibly granular level.
Two of the most exciting new functionalities of Universal Analytics are Cross-Device Measurement and the Google Analytics User-ID feature. Leveraging these features adds significant value to any business with sophisticated marketing. The beauty of this feature is it allows online and offline businesses to track their performance with Google Analytics.
This is how Google Analytics User-ID works.
Someone on Google Search is looking for a new Insurance Policy. This individual visits your website and a hit is recorded. A hit is the most granular piece of data in Google Analytics and refers to an action or behavior the visitor takes on your website. Examples include be it filling out a gated content form, leaving your site or using a mobile browser.
Whenever a visitor completes an action, this data (a.k.a. hit) is sent to Google Analytics. Google Analytics User-ID feature enabled, Google creates a unique Client-ID (not User-ID) to associate that visitor with the hit. Client-IDs are stored on the device and sent to Google Analytics with every hit. If the client-ID already exists in your Google Analytics account, then this is considered a returning visitor. Otherwise, Google classifies this visitor as a new visitor.
As a part of Universal Analytics ability to track cross-device behaviors, each Client-ID Google creates is device-specific. Said differently, Google will create a different Client-ID for a visitor on a tablet and a visitor on his or her laptop. However, Google allows you to override these auto-generated client-IDs with your own ID (referred to as a User-ID). This unique User-ID can be pulled from your point-of-sale (POS) system or CRM database and used to associate specific web behaviors with actual people and gain valuable insights into your web traffic.
Changing the Google generated Client-ID to your own User-ID doesn’t affect the data (or hit) associated with it. Using a User-ID enables you to track the same user across multiple devices. This User-ID could come from your POS system, kiosk at the mall, or internal database or CRM system.
This means you cannot send Google an email, address, name or any other piece of information that personally identifies someone visiting your website or app to Google Analytics.
User-ID and Sessions
Google Analytics uses sessions to segment data by visitor and the time spent on your website. By default, a session begins with the first hit Google Analytics receives and ends with 30 minutes of inactivity by that same visitor. If 30 minutes have passed since the last hit was sent, and the same visitor returns to your website, a new session is initialized.
Google Analytics realizes that 30 minutes might not reflect the needs of every business. For example, if you have a 45 minute video on your website it makes no sense to have a 30 minute session time out because if that visitor doesn’t click anything for the duration of that video, that one visitor will be associated with two separate sessions. Therefore in your configuration settings, under Session Settings, you can alter the session length to be shorter or longer.
Another useful feature in Universal Analytics is called Session Unification. Session Unification associates hits collected by Google Analytics before the User-ID is assigned, with the auto-generated Client-ID, as long as those hits happen within the same session in which a specific ID value is first assigned.
Create Separate Google Analytics Property Views
By creating specific Views, we can segment our data to show only hits/sessions with User-IDs associated with them and use another View to view hits/sessions without a User-ID. As is law in Google Analytics, you should always maintain an unaltered View in each Property of your Google Analytics account. It’s important to note how these Views will alter the data being collected.
In your User-ID View, visitors are being grouped together by unique identifiers, therefore the number of visitors to your site will likely be significantly lower when compared to another unaltered View for the same Property.
Also, consistent with other Google Analytics features that track user-specific data, you can only change the date range to the past 90 days. Finally, with a User-ID View you’re able to see how the same visitor engaged with your website via several devices (mobile, desktop, tablet, etc.).
See Google’s developer documentation for more detailed information about how these features can be implemented.