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Sitecore Google Analytics – Why organisations should set up a powerful partnership

Sitecore Google Analytics – Why organisations should set up a powerful partnership
27th April 2020
News and Insights

Sitecore or Google Analytics? Organisations don’t need to choose. Find out what makes both tools essential for gaining meaningful insights that can help drive results.

Both Sitecore and Google Analytics have their merits and there are no technical reasons they cannot be run side by side. In a perfect world, you would run just one analytics solution. A tool that offers all the data and provides a complete single source of truth for a sites’ data, that all teams can operate and rely on confidently. Unfortunately, the perfect platform does not exist, so why not take the best of both with Sitecore Google Analytics?

There are three clear advantages to using a combination of Sitecore and Google Analytics:

  1. Confidence and reliability in data including access to unsampled data with no additional costs.
  2. A best of both on and off-site reporting views
  3. Complete integrations to acquisition, CRO testing and personalisation tools

Setting Up Sitecore and Google Analytics

Setting up Google Analytics in Sitecore can be relatively simple. We always recommend using a container tag such as Google Tag Manager. 

Using Google Tag Manager is well worth the additional effort to future proof the setup and allow customisation or modification at a later date. Whichever way you set up GA, you will likely need your Sitecore Partner agency to first install the tracking codes. 

Sitecore Analytics is integrated into the platform and included with Sitecore licencing. This feature offers an integrated and bespoke view that can be more specific and relevant to site activity and therefore more applicable to business objectives. The in-built analytics suite is designed to work alongside other Sitecore marketing tools, which is great for on-site activity insights.

The setup of Sitecore Analytics can be a little more complicated than Google Analytics, as the minimum requirements are higher. Knowing or setting values for engagements can seem a little daunting, but to really get the benefit of Google Analytics, a similar approach should be followed; setting up goals applying values to micro and macro conversions.  

How do Sitecore and Google analytics work? 

When running two analytics solutions side by side, there will be differences in the data. This is unavoidable without some heavy-duty server-side monitoring and processing. We always suggest using analytics as trend data. Therefore, we need enough data to offer statistical confidence. We can’t rely on a low number to draw definitive conclusions. 

Cookies and blocks

Both Sitecore and Google Analytics use cookies to track users and their behaviour. This will be the first discrepancy. Cookies and their usage have been heavily publicised (and perhaps demonised), but they are currently the best, most accessible means of user tracking. They can be blocked and deleted, which can change how we can report.  

Google Analytics is not widely seen as intrusive but being part of the wider Google suite means it can be blocked and removed by many tools. Google Analytics is not currently blocked by Apple’s ITP feature but can be blocked by common browser extensions.   

Sitecore analytics is rarely blocked by these same trackers. The screenshot below shows that it doesn’t even register as a site tracker. 

sitecore google analytics

Processing and reporting data

Both tools process data in different ways, so cannot always be compared directly. Add to this, there is common confusion across the Google Analytics metrics of:

  • Sessions
  • Unique users
  • Page Views.

Google Analytics typically defaults to sessions or page views whereas Sitecore Analytics defaults to visits. This can lead to some confusion and misinterpretation.

One major flaw of Google Analytics can arise with sampled data. As the scale and complexity of an organisations data increases, so do it’s reporting requirements. When using Google Analytics to report, these actions can be limited by sampled data.

Signified by the green shield turning yellow, the sample size can drop drastically, reducing the confidence in the data. This can be minimised by simplifying the report view (less segments or report depth) or shorter time periods.

sitecore google analytics

The most definitive way to minimise sampled data is to move from the free version of Google Analytics and upgrade to Google Analytics 360. However, this can come at a prohibitive licence fee.

In addition to availability of unsampled data, the Google Analytics premium licence also comes with complete ownership of tracked data. This can be a grey area for the Google analytics free version.

Data in Sitecore Analytics is unsampled at all times and is owned by the organisation. This can mean some slower processes, but higher confidence in the data and ability to transition it between platforms.

Why run both Google Analytics and Sitecore Analytics?

As mentioned above, neither system is infallible, and having the two to reference offers marketing teams the confidence of fall back data.

Broadly speaking, more organisations have experience with Google than Sitecore Analytics. So, using Google Analytics can speed up some simple reporting requirements and allow more team members to “self-serve” their ad-hoc reporting needs.

The reporting functions between the two can facilitate different activities. Given the background of Google Analytics, integration into other Google Products such as Google Ads and Google Marketing Platform is in place by default. As such, Google Analytics is a more suitable tool for acquisition and click stream reporting.

Sitecore Analytics’ full title is Sitecore Experience Analytics, due to the focus on user experience. Therefore, user behaviour reporting has a more enhanced functionality. The Sitecore path analyser reporting offers a far more comprehensive visualisation of user navigation and funnel tracking than any standard implementation of Google Analytics.

As it’s an integrated solution, the transition from Sitecore Experience Analytics to workflows in Experience Editor for personalisation, profiling and pattern matching is hugely valuable and way beyond the data in Google Analytics. While Google Analytics could be integrated and pass data to Sitecore for these functions, having it running through the system is invaluable.

Both platforms have different strengths and weaknesses, but if set up correctly both add value and intelligence to an organisation’s digital strategy.

How can your organisation implement Sitecore Google Analytics?

If you’re keen to start benefitting from using Sitecore and Google Analytics more effectively, we can help. We are Kagool, a top tier Sitecore Partner and Google Partner. We have been working with enterprise-level organisations across industries for over 20 years to help them transform their digital performance. Contact us to find out how we can help with your next project or to book a digital marketing audit.