The Most Widely Misunderstood Tool in BI in Google Analytics

Without a doubt, Google Analytics is the most widely used web traffic analysis tool on the internet. Yet, what organizations expect from it, is oftentimes not in line with its purpose. In this article, I elaborate on the raison d’être of Google Analytics and what that means for your organization.

“How much is our online revenue in Q3 this year?” is a question that often gets an answer by a digital marketing expert looking at the revenue metric in Google Analytics. That number starts circulating within the organization until a clever person points out that the number is wrong “because it doesn’t match the number that is reported by Sales or Finance.”

Sounds familiar? I’ve been in that situation multiple times. The time and money that is being spent to bring the numbers in Google Analytics (or any other web analytics solution) in line with other numbers within the company is downright intolerable. It all starts with the misunderstanding that Google Analytics is a reporting tool. It’s not: first and foremost, it is an analytics tool.


Analytics vs Reporting

This brings us to the — not universally agreed upon — difference between reporting and analytics.

  • Reporting is “the process of organizing data into informational summaries in order to monitor how different areas of a business are performing.”
  • Analytics is “the process of exploring data and reports in order to extract meaningful insights, which can be used to better understand and improve business performance.”

Google Analytics’ functionalities clearly demonstrate it is an analytics tool. Let’s go back to that first question. One could report on the online revenue. But the most accurate answer will come from pulling the data from a transactional database. Google Analytics serves a completely different purpose. Its goal is to answer the question of what is below that number. What caused a year-over-year increase? Which campaigns were successful? Why were they successful? Which landing pages attracted more organic traffic and led to more sales? Did users find the products they were looking for? How did they try to find them? Etc.


Systematic underreporting

Still not convinced? What if I told you that at least 5% of all metrics within Google Analytics are underreported, and that number is steadily rising? With privacy gaining important within today’s technology stacks, browsers have made it increasingly harder for websites to track the behavior of their users. Consequently, more and more users are blocking tracking tools through browsers and their extensions. No wonder you get mocked with your inaccurate numbers.

My recommendation: web analytics numbers shouldn’t leave the (digital) marketing team. They are put in place to improve campaigns, conversion rate, content, etc. They help marketing experts evaluate and improve their own work. When management requests online revenue numbers… redirect them to the BI team.


It’s still called Google Analytics, not Google Reporting

Organizations are increasingly taking control of their data. Data that used to be locked up behind the user interface of marketing and analysis tools is increasingly made available. Data solutions sprout like mushrooms and companies are on a spending spree to find the right tool, hires, and consultants that can bring all their data together: a key trend that the people at Google gladly took note of.

Google Marketing Platform is increasingly integrated in their cloud solutions. Google has released Web+App Tracking, an event-based measurement protocol that can be integrated in BigQuery — Google’s data-warehouse-as-a-service, a popular component in Google Cloud Platform. At the click of a button.

Moreover, last month, Google announced server-side tracking. A game-changer that would get ride of systematic underreporting because it cannot be blocked at the side of the client. Through App Engine, it is another solution that has close ties to Google Cloud Platform.

With these recent evolutions in mind, we can expect web data, measured through Google Analytics’ measurement framework to finally become truly in line with an organization’s data ecosystem.

But the interface is still Google Analytics… not Google Reporting.