Posts Tagged ‘analytics strategy’

Dec 03

In today’s world, a visitor may touch your digital presence from a variety of devices and locations – and multiple times before they buy your product or contact you. They may visit your site from their desktop at home, then go to work and visit your site from their mobile app. Finally, their conversion may happen days later when they come home from work and then log into your system.

Conversion doesn’t start with conversion. There’s a whole process that preludes it – including research, awareness, and interest. Different segments of your traffic may have different behaviors and a different path to conversion. To truly optimize your site and understand your data, you need a full view of how users move through the decision-making funnel toward conversion and really be able to dissect and understand them. In this post, we’d like to show you how!

What is Session Stitching?

“Stitching” in this context is basically grouping visits/sessions (that otherwise wouldn’t be connected) using a unifying key(s). There are a couple “keys” we can use in Google Analytics to do this.

For example, already native to Google Analytics is the the User-ID feature, which let’s you group or “stitch” together sessions based on id’s provided by your backend system when users log into your website or app.

But do you, as an internet surfer, log into, every single time you research a product? Most likely not, only when you’re ready to buy (or if you want to see if something is Prime eligible :) ). So for marketers to really be able to connect the dots of the entire path of their visitors, we need to somehow include the visits where the user may not have logged in.

In this post, we’d like to talk about some advanced stitching techniques within GA using a combination of a couple different keys – User-ID (native to GA) and Custom Dimensions (clientID’s and userID’s stored in custom dimensions).

Note: When implementing these methods, there’s potential to store user identifiable information that violates your privacy policy (as well as the general privacy of your visitors). Check with your legal team and company privacy policy and ensure compliance.

Basic Session Stitching in GA – Native User-ID and Session Unification

As mentioned, out-of-box, Google Analytics allows you to group a users sessions based on login using the “User-ID” feature. Even further, it allows you to go backwards and associate otherwise disconnected portions of these sessions (since the user may not have been logged in during the whole visit) using session unification.

Without session unification, session 2 is separated:

With session unification, session 2 is connected:

(images from Session Unification Help Article)

What about those sessions where these visitors never logged in? We’re still missing that data. The clue/key that can provide more insight there is the clientID.

Intermediate Session Stitching – Associating Anonymous and Logged-in Users (clientID’s and userID’s)

GA identifies each device + browser with a unique clientID. If there are sessions that contain a clientID (from a device) and a userID (the user on that device logged in), we’re going to assume that any session with that particular clientID, even where the visitor isn’t logged in and a userID is absent, is that same user. This is a powerful inference – because you now have a whole new batch of sessions that you can potentially associate with the user and group together – more pieces to your funnel.



Advanced Session Stitching – Users Across Multiple Devices

A user visits your site at home on his desktop then at work on his work smartphone. There are now two ClientID’s for the same user. They don’t log in on their first visit, but log in on their second visit. They get back home, and log in on their third.

You probably can see where we’re going with this. The second we can associate a clientID and a userID, we can make an assumption that they belong to the same person/user. So if you can associate 2 different clientID’s with the same userID, those clientID’s belong to the same person/user as well. Once again, we’ve opened insights to more visits that can be grouped as the same user. Now, anywhere you see either clientID or the userID, you can group them as one user and potentially the same funnel!



How to Implement Advanced Session Stitching

While we discussed there already is a native User-Id feature within GA, in order to really enable advanced session stitching and get the full robust advantage of Google Analytics features and reporting, you will need to store the clientID as well as the userID in a Custom Dimension.

  • Create the 2 Custom Dimensions in GA.
    • userID (or UUID or AccountID or MemberID, etc) – User Scope
    • clientID – Session Scope
  • Since the clientID is the ID that GA uses internally, we’ll need to read that from the Universal Analytics cookie or ask analytics.js for the value using the .get method. Once that’s done, we can store that in a custom dimension.
  • The userID is any ID that you assign to a user when they authenticate (as long as it isn’t PII). This will be determined by your organization, and once that’s done, store that into a custom dimension.

Now you have the flexibility of segmenting and filtering based on these two parameters since they are custom dimensions! Using custom dimension session stitching to connect single users to multiple sessions and multiple devices to single users provides a customer centric approach. We can hone in on the actions of individual customers to identify patterns of movement through content and devices/browsers. Knowing this information can help us refine the sales funnel and identify new types of users for advanced segmentation through further analysis outside of GA.


Stitching sessions through userID and clientID custom dimensions certainly provides more meaningful information than GA’s native User-ID and session unification, but it isn’t perfect.

Some of you advanced analytics ninjas already may have thought, “We’re assuming that once a user logs into a device, anytime you see that device it’s that user? What if someone else is using that same device? Or what if you actually do find multiple users using the same device/browser? What if the same user has multiple login credentials?”

Also, any device that the user never authenticates on can’t be stitched, so you could be missing some pieces.

While this is all true, this is the nature of identifying trends. Sure, you can take it with a grain of salt, but stitching provides vast trends giving us direction/clarity and unique perspectives on the same data. This could lead to optimization that may not have been thought of before.


Analyzing and Stitching Outside of GA

Another consideration of the stitching sessions through custom dimensions is that the real useful analysis needs to be performed outside of GA. While the custom reports in this blog post show examples of clientID and userID custom dimensions within the GA interface, they simply identify the sessions to be analyzed. To understand the behavior in the sessions that lead to conversion, much more data will need to be exported from GA and analyzed in analysis and BI tools.

What cases have you run into that you’d like to see stitched? Comment below!

Sep 02

fitness analytics
Labor day just passed which pretty much marks the end of summer vacation. The party’s over, as they say, and it’s time to get back to work. Children get back into routine for school, students gear up for another semester, people reminisce over summer vacations and plan out the rest of the year, and of course businesses begin to buckle down for Q4 so they can finish out the year on a strong note. It’s a time to re-evaluate, tweak and re-establish goals. There’s also that iPhone 6 announcement coming next week, but I digress. :)

One of my goals for this year was to make significant strides towards being healthier. As with anything else this requires physical effort, but more-so than that, it requires mental discipline.

I’ve noticed in the last couple of years, the huge influx of wearable fitness trackers that measure everything from steps taken, to distance, to elevation, to heart-rate, to sleep. It’s impressive what data these little devices can capture and the exhaustive reports that can be produced.

Being a data geek combined with this goal of being healthier, I decided to invest in my own tracker. While there are many options available, they are all very similar and you basically have to find one that you’ll use. Features and functionality aside, if they sit at home instead of on your person, they’re a waste of money. So my main requirement was comfort. After an exhaustive search I decided to try out the Jawbone UP24. It’s an amazing little device, and pumps out quite the stream of data. Color me impressed!

I was talking to my colleague Farid the other day about these fitness trackers prior to making the decision to purchase. To be honest, this rarely happens, but on this auspicious day, Farid had some words of wisdom which echoed in my mind for days [Edited and rejected by Farid Alhadi]. He said, in reference to the large selection of devices available, “You know, they’re essentially all the same, and they don’t do much unless you use them, but what they do is provide is that little extra motivation.” Ok, he didn’t quite make the discovery of the century, I’m probably being kind of dramatic to his compliment, but you get the point. [Edited and rejected by Farid Alhadi]

“That little extra motivation”? Maybe that’s the difference between being healthy and not quite there? Could the line in the sand really be that narrow? Would data be all I need to help me run that extra mile, or do those extra reps? Really? Could it be that a dashboard of my fitness stats would help me take that step that I’ve been trying to take for so long? Wait a second…dashboards, metrics, data, insights??? this is starting to sound a little too familiar.

Here’s some samples of the type of reports that this little thing produces:

More importantly, this got me thinking. (Yes I know I’m a geek…you don’t need to remind me). Doesn’t a fitness tracker essentially do what Analytics does for a business? Just as a fitness tracker captures the performance of an individual based on pre-defined metrics, so does analytics based on similar pre-defined metrics.

1. Use it or lose it. (And I don’t mean the weight).

The fitness tracker is only as good as our usage of it. The same principle can be applied to analytics. It only works if you use it. If I leave the fitness tracker at home, or forget to wear it, or if I don’t calibrate it, the data is going to be useless. Same goes for your analytics tool. Organizations sometimes spend thousands on analytics tools and even strategies, but they don’t put a legitimate effort to use it or even use it right! Your organization’s mindset needs to make a legitimate effort to be metrics driven and put value in the tool you spent so much money on.

If you’re intimidated by it, there are plenty of consultants and trainings that can help.

2. Plan your meals and workouts carefully with a clear goal in mind.

How can you measure progress if you don’t know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there? If our measurement strategy isn’t zeroing in on the things that are key to the business, it needs to be adjusted, but you wont be able to know that without a clear cut plan. Analytics works the same way. Have a clear goal and a strategy as to how you plan to measure your goals. Once again, this might be a daunting task, but that’s what your certified partners are there for!

3. Garbage in equals garbage out.

That doesn’t only apply to your diet, but it applies to your data. If you don’t eat the right food, you wont have the right body. If I don’t enter my calories consumed correctly, I won’t really be able to measure my progress. Similarly, if you don’t measure your digital website or mobile app data correctly, your data may be garbage and thus, your insights may be garbage. The tool needs good food/data to be able to do it’s job correctly. Make sure you’re tracking your data properly, using the correct methods and code. Track the right pages, the right events, and create clean proper funnels and goals.

4. Review your progress.

If I don’t review the data at periodic intervals and adjust my exercise routine as a result, what benefit am I getting out of it? No one get’s it right the first time. It takes optimization. Maybe your diet isn’t right. Maybe your exercises aren’t burning enough calories. Maybe your body has hit a plateau and it’s time to switch things up. Similarly, with analytics, if we’re not reacting to what the data is telling us, then what good is our analytics implementation? Your measurement strategy should include periodic review to see your progress and make the adjustments necessary to truly optimize results of your site. Just as the reports above tell the wearer of the fitness device to move, Analytics reports similarly tell us which marketing campaigns need attention, which landing pages need to be tweaked, what’s working well, and what’s not. In other words, an entire action plan can be derived just by periodic review of key performance indicators.


Yes people, an individual is similar to a business in this sense. While that won’t get you on the Fortune 500 list, it’s still something to ponder :) It’s an interesting comparison, but one that resonated in my mind and helps me apply the concept of “Measure, Analyze, Optimize” we learn in the world of analytics to my daily life as well. The thought did cross my mind that perhaps I should import this data into Tableau and go all nerdy with it, but that would be a bit too over-zealous. I’ll leave that for another day, or maybe I’ll have “a little extra motivation” once I start hitting my goals. :)

One key takeaway from this little lesson I learned: Performance is an attitude, not just a device.