Google Analytics and Google Analytic Cookies

Google Analytics and Google Analytic Cookies

Web analytics are tools that offer objective and multi-dimensional statistics to give managers a better visual understanding of the interactions between their websites and visitors. By definition, web analytics refers to tools used to collect, assess, and report traffic data to help web analysts understand and optimize web usage. (Lee, 2012). Although this information varies based on the analytic tool used, it contains information on where, when, how long, how deep, where the visitors visit ended, and where they navigated to after leaving the particular webpage. Importantly noted, although there are several web analytic programs available, Google analytics is one of the widely used programs. 

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What is Google Analytics?

After Google acquired Urchin Software in March 2005, the company released Google Analytics in November the same year (Lee, 2012). Practically, Google Analytics is among the most straightforward and robust web analytics tools used to track and report web traffic (Enge, Spencer, & Stricchiola, 2015). The service enables website owners to measure their website visitors’ usage and their interaction with web content. According to statistics, by 2015, the web analytics stood at 1.3 billion dollars and is projected to rise up to 4.9 billion dollars five years from now (Lamb, 2017). Consistently, being one of the most popular web analytics program, Google Analytics is likely to benefit more as compared to other web analytics. As users navigate through the web pages, Google Analytics uses JavaScript tracking code to track the activities of a user on a website (Weber & Waisberg, 2015). More particularly, the tool uses a first-party cookie, _ga to store client IDs, which is a randomly selected identifier for the specific browser or device. In case there are multiple domains or sub-domains, Google Analytics offers options to specify the domain for the cookie. The client ID is then used to calculate the number of users and their behavior in their navigation sessions. 

How is it used?

Just like any other web analytics, Google Analytics is a composition of various steps that must be implemented asynchronously to accomplish the process of web optimization. Observing the best field practices, and in order to understand how Google analytics works, we analyze the steps used in a web analytics process to analyze web performance (Borchers, 2018). The first step is the definition of goals, which refers to why a website exists. For instance, an e-commerce website is designed to sell products or services, while a support website is expected to answer customer concerns and answer questions. The second step involves defining metrics. Virtually, web performance is measured using key performance indicators that help in determining whether the website is closer to achieving the initial goals. Good performance indicators are made up of four attributes that include Un-Complex, relevance, timeliness, and usefulness. The third step involves collecting data accurately and saving it in a database for future analysis. Website Analytics uses three main ways to capture web visitors’ data. The first method is the server-based data collection, which involves the registration of log file every time a user navigates to another web page. The second method is browser-based where the website uses JavaScript to send data to the server every time a visitor clicks on a webpage. The third method is -based, where the collection of information takes place as visitors navigate through the internet. After data collection, the fourth step in web analytics process is data analysis. The process requires understanding consumer behavior from the data collected. The stage is also necessary to identify and understand the core analyses essential for optimizing a website. 

At its most basic level, Google Analytics is connected to the target website through a piece of tracking code. The tracking code is a small piece of JavaScript code made within the analytics account and used to capture data about the activities of the visitors. According to Google Analytics webpage, the JavaScript libraries use HTTP cookies to recall the activities of the user on the website. Additionally, Google analytics usually supports two JavaScript libraries; analytics.js and g.js. 

Analytics.js cookie 

Ideally, the analytics.js JavaScript library is a part of a larger part of analytics and uses first-party cookies to differentiate users and stifle the request rate. When using the recommended JavaScript, this particular tag sets cookies using the highest level of the domain. For instance, if a website is blog.google.com, the analytics.js will set the cookie domain to google.com to enable tracking of users across sub-domains without needing extra configurations (“Google Analytics Cookie Usage on Websites,” 2017). Abakytics.js also uses _ga and _gid to different users, _gat to throttle request rates, AMP_TOKEN to retrieve client ID and _gac_<property-id> to retrieve campaign-related information about the user.

ga.js Google analytic cookies

Similar to the analytics.js, ga.js also uses first-party cookies to establish the domain to analyze, differentiate unique users, and throttle the request rate. The cookie is also useful in remembering the number of times the user visited the site, traffic source information, determine the beginning and end of a session, as well as recall the value of visitor-level custom variables. By default, this tag sets the cookie path to root level (/) and uses the following cookies. __utma is used to differentiate between users and sessions and is created once the JavaScript executes and no trace of __utma cookies (“Google Analytics Cookie Usage on Web sites,” 2017). The __utmt cookie is used to throttle the request rate, while the __utmb is used to determine new visitor sessions. The other cookies used include the __utmz, which stores the source of the traffic and elaborates on how the user got to the site. The __utmv is used to store variable data and is created when the developer applies the _setCustomVar method. 

Application of Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a critically important business-marketing tool that is sometimes underused by most website owners. The tool is used to track web traffic from two basic sources, which include organic and paid campaigns (Clifton, 2012).). In a broad definition, Google Analytics is used in campaign tracking, which refers to the procedure of identifying the way users discover a specific site. In a paid campaign, the tool is used to track online advertising campaign to the websites from an AdWord-generated campaign and other advertising methods. According to Google, when processing a paid-search referral, the campaign parameters, which include AdWords or DoubleClick click IDs are used in the destination URL and sent to the document location field in analytics. In case the campaign parameters or click IDs are not sent, then the session is processed as organic. In tracking organic traffic, Google Analytics carries out this procedure without any intervention from the web owners and tracks traffic in all major search engines (Whitmore, Tonkin, & Cutroni, 2013). The data from the search engines is processed by comparing the hostname and the query parameter of the document field with a list of search engines and query parameters to report the dimension values. Alongside tracking paid and organic traffic, Google Analytics is also used to process social-network referrals by comparing the hostname with a list of known social networks to generate the source dimension report. Similarly, the tool is used to process direct traffic, which is determined when no information about the referral source is available. 

Impact of Google Analytics on the Economy and Life

Google Analytics provides a set of tools used to support various primary tasks in web analysis. Virtually, the programs tracks the standard web metrics, which range from unique visitors, bounce rate, page views, and page abandonment rate among others. From a wider perspective, the web analytics tool does not only track the basic traffic to the websites, but it also largely contributes towards business success. According to Cutroni (2010), Google Analytics tracks all different kinds of marketing initiatives from AdWords, paid search, and social media marketing among other online marketing methods. In return, web analysts use the generated report to understand traffic performance and ultimately change the performance of the website. Overall, as one of the mainstream data tools, millions of both small and large business owners have adopted Google Analytics. Small and medium-sized businesses now have access to a world-class and free analytics tool that provides them with the necessary continuous improvement process for their e-commerce business. Large multinationals that used to pay huge amounts of money also have access to a free analytics tool that has enabled them to save huge amounts of money and redirect these funds to other functionalities to make data actionable.

Evolution for now and in the Future

Initially, Google used the standard tracking code, which was later replaced by a newer version, the asynchronous tracking code in May 2010. The very old tracking code, the urchin.js had been in use for a long time, and although it is still supported, Google recommended that all users should migrate to the current version of tracking code. The change was intended to reduce the time that the tracking code consumed in loading and executing. Similarly, the move was intended to speed up the website. According to Cutroni (2010), page load time is a factor in Google ranking algorithm and  it would not be right if one of their products contributed to increased load times. Consequently, the Google Analytics tracking code depends on JavaScript and cookies to gather traffic data. Although some mobile devices such as iPhones and Android phones support both the standard and the asynchronous technologies, a huge number of mobile devices do not support any of these two technologies. Google needed a different method to collect traffic data from visitors using devices that do not support JavaScript of cookies. The mobile tracking code was developed to collect data at the server, instead of the browser or device. Thus, in order to collect data at the server level, when developing a mobile site Google recommends using the language that developed the web application. In this case, Google provides four mobile tracking to enable the process and include, PHP, Java, ASP, and Perl. Alongside the mobile tracking code, Google Analytics can also track mobile apps. Ideally, as Cutroni notes, tracking mobile applications is basically different from tracking websites in that apps function differently as compared to websites. The way the user interacts with the app is completely different due to the functionalities such as lack of a mouse and keyboard, and instead, people use fingers to interact with the mobile app. In order to track mobile application traffic, Google uses the standard Web Measurement data model, which uses page views and visits to process apps traffic. The future of Google Analytics is based on the convergence of digital and analytics solutions. 

Importance of Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a powerful tool for businesses and brands alike. Through the tool, businesses are able to uncover a tremendous amount of data concerning their website, which can then be used to enhance their marketing and business development tactics (Alhlou, Asif, & Fettman, 2016). The significance of Google Analytics can be broken down into various benefits. Firstly, Google Analytics helps web owners to zero down on what matters most to their business. In this case, the acquisition, audience, and behavior of web visitors are the most significant elements for marketers (Google Analytics Help, n.d). The audience section provides a considerable amount of data about the visitors who click on your site include their gender, age, and location. It also makes it possible to access more information about their interests and the browsers and devices used to access the site. Understanding things such as the demographic composition of the website audience give business owners the opportunity to tailor their content and advertising to meet the needs and interests of the specific group frequenting your site. As further elaborated, audience analysis enables organizations to repeatedly capture the audience response from multiple sources and help them in the design and delivery of the right content and unique experience for increased revenue generation (IBM Analytics, n.d). Consequently, the acquisition section provides website owners with detailed information regarding the people who visit their sites. Combined with the all traffic tab, business owners can access the way people arrive at their website, whether it is through a search engine, social media, a blog, or another website. On the behavior section, the website owners are able to understand the way people interact with their site. More specifically, this section enables owners to understand the most popular pages on their website. The information acquired from this tab can help in making informed decisions about the most effective marketing efforts that are useful in increasing website traffic.

As technology is increasingly changing, the nature of e-commerce marketing is changing. Google analytics is a powerful tool, which enables web owners to pay attention to their website visitors. Through this functionality, web owners can create content that meets the needs and interests of their visitors. Consequently, the tool enables web owners to construct a customized and relevant site experience for the audience that keeps them coming back to the site. To the economy, Google Analytics has significantly transformed the world of e-commerce in several ways. Small, medium-sized, as well as large business, can now track their website traffic at no extra cost. Using the reports generated by the tool, businesses are able to improve the performance of their website.  Over the years, the evolution of Google Analytics has also significantly changed, and its future is based on the convergence of digital and analytics solutions

References

“Google Analytics Cookie Usage on Websites.” (2017). Google Analytics. Retrieved from: https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/analyticsjs/cookie-usage

Alhlou, F., Asif, S., & Fettman, E. (2016). Google Analytics Breakthrough: From Zero to Business Impact. John Wiley & Sons.

Borchers, A. (2018). Technology management in organizational and societal contexts. Hershey, PA: Information Science Reference

Clifton, B. (2012). Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. Indianapolis: Wiley.

Cutroni, J. (2010). Google Analytics. Sebastopol, Calif: O’Reilly.

Enge, E., Spencer, S. M., & Stricchiola, J. (2015). The Art of SEO: Mastering Search Engine Optimization. Sebastopol, CA: O’Reilly Media.

Google Analytics Help. (n.d). Google analytics home. Retrieved from: https://support.google.com/analytics/answer/7421425?hl=en&ref_topic=3544907

IBM Analytics. (n.d). Media and Entertainment Analytics. Retrieved from: https://www.ibm.com/analytics/sg/en/industry/audience-analysis-media-and-entertainment/

Lamb, J. (2017). Web Analytics Market Size, Share, Report, Analysis, Trends & Forecast to 2022. Reuters. Retrieved from: https://www.reuters.com/brandfeatures/venture-capital/article?id=12056

Lee, I. (2012). Electronic commerce management for business activities and global enterprises: Competitive advantages. Hershey, PA: Business Science Reference.

Weber, J., & Waisberg, D. (2015). Practical Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager for developers. New York: Apress. 

Whitmore, C., Tonkin, S., & Cutroni, J. (2013). Performance marketing with google analytics: Strategies and techniques for maximizing online ROI. Hoboken, N.J: Wiley.

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