Have you ever wondered how people use your site across different devices? Are people using their computer to register on your site but then interacting with it on their phone or tablet? How many of those “unique” users in Google Analytics are really the same person? By implementing User-ID, you can answer questions like this from within the standard Google Analytics reporting interface.
The User-ID feature overrides the typical way that Google Analytics stitches interactions into sessions and identifies unique users. By using your own identifier, you can associate engagement data from multiple devices and different sessions with unique IDs. This feature can also improve content analysis and help you generate more relevant and compelling content:
- Rather than assuming that your content is equally useful to all, if your users have told you their preferences, you will be able to associate this information with their behaviour each time they visit
- You will therefore be able to see what content is attractive to users with specific preferences, and what is not
- If you send out emails to attract readers to fresh content, such knowledge will allow you to customize your emails, which should fuel higher open and clickthrough rates
Moreover, with additional configuration you will be able to do the following:
- Unify user sessions across different devices without asking for a log in
- Segment your registered users based on personas or user types
- Import user information from other systems or databases into GA
- Unify historical behaviour pre-registration session data
3 things you need to get started with User-ID
1. You must be running Universal Analytics
- User-ID tracking will only work with the Universal version of Google Analytics
- If you are using Classic (ga.js) code you will need to update to the Universal version (analytics.js)
2. You must supply GA with a unique, persistent, and non-personally identifiable User-ID value for each visitor
Check with your IT staff or website vendor whether they can provide you with an ID that meets the following requirements:
- Unique and persistent: the User-ID value must be unique to each visitor and must be the same for each time that person logs in
- If you use a CMS and ask users to login/register then the best unique identifier to use would be the primary key from your CMS’s user database
- If you are using a marketing automation software you might be able to use its API to retrieve a customer ID upon registration and send that ID to GA as a User-ID
- Non-personally identifiable: As with any data sent to GA, the User-ID cannot personally identify an individual visitor to anyone looking at the data in Google Analytics (See next item for more details on privacy considerations)
3. You must abide by GA’s User-ID Policy and all applicable privacy laws
Here are a few key things to note in GA’s User-ID policy:
“You will not upload any data that allows Google to personally identify an individual”
- This means the User-ID cannot contain the user’s name, email address, username, etc. Essentially, the same rules about Privately-Identifiable Information (PII) apply to User-ID as for any other data in GA. Note that even hashed/scrambled PII is still considered PII by Google
“You will give your end users proper notice about the implementations and features of Google Analytics you use”
“You will only session stitch authenticated and unauthenticated sessions of your end users if your end users have given consent to such stitch, or if such merger is allowed under applicable laws and regulations.”
- This paragraph is currently not included in the User ID Policy posted within the GA Developers Guide, but is displayed in GA before you activate the User-ID feature. Once a visitor has been assigned an ID, it is possible to track them with this ID in future sessions, even if they do not login again (e.g. by storing the ID in a cookie). This clause means that you can only do this if allowed under the relevant privacy laws and with the consent of your users
Limitations of User-ID
User-ID is not perfect and you should not expect it to solve all your problems or answer all your questions, but it can be a really powerful tool if used correctly. It can also be a really “creepy” tool if used incorrectly and can lead to a lot of problems. Plus standard Google Analytics limitations on data accuracy still apply.
What if I don’t have a login?
By its nature, User-ID requires visitors to authenticate in some way, usually via a login or registration. But if your site does not force users to login with every session (or you don’t have a login at all), you may only be able to capture a small proportion of your visitors with User-ID.
You could argue that this defeats the purpose of using User-ID tracking at all. However, even that small proportion would be valuable for you to understand, especially if those users logged-in to make a purchase, registered for an event, or signed up for a newsletter. These are likely your most loyal and valuable visitors, and User-ID will help you identify, analyze, and understand them even better.
Don’t be creepy
User-ID is not intended as a way to “stalk” users. While you can get really granular you should be cautious about how that information is used. Although User-ID values cannot be personally-identifiable to Google, it is possible for you to tie those IDs back to your customer database or CRM system. Hence, you can identify individuals offline and use User-ID to associate each customer’s profile with their online activity.
For example, GA may tell you that user #314159 added 3 items to their shopping cart, but never completed their purchase. If in your customer database, you know that #314159 is actually John Smith, you could send him an email saying “Hey, we noticed you almost bought these products. Would you like to checkout now? Let us help you.” This may come across as being overly intrusive and could actually deter customers from doing business with your organization.
A more useful approach may be to ask yourself questions like: Why did this user start, but not complete the purchase (or registration, signup, etc.)? Did they see something that stopped them from continuing? Did they encounter a technical issue? Is there a pattern here or is it just an outlier? Once you have a theory, you can do some further analysis and even run tests to see if you can adjust this behaviour.
The data is not perfect
If User-ID tracking sounds applicable to your business and website, check out some additional links under “Further Reading” below. Next month, we will post a follow-up article on the technical details of implementing User-ID.
- Understanding User-ID by Justin Cutroni
- Google Analytics User-ID policy by Google
- Google Analytics and the EU privacy law #3 by Brian Clifton
- What is Privately-Identifiable Information by June Li
- Planning for a smooth migration to Universal Google Analytics by June Li