Analytics these days are the bread-and-butter of digital marketing. More and more companies are making most, if not all, their marketing-related decisions based on the data collected – data-driven decision making. If you are a marketer using a content management system (CMS) like Sitecore and any analytics tool such as Google Analytics or Adobe Analytics, you might have noticed that sometimes the numbers don’t always match up. And knowing when to use your CMS data, analytics platform data or both can be confusing.
This topic has come up a fair amount on recent projects and to expedite the process of knowing which is which and when to use what when, I’ve decided to write this post around some of the differences, reasons to use both Sitecore Analytics and Google Analytics, and where to look for what data.
For starters, understanding the differences in how both define fundamental terms can answer some questions that usually come up when reviewing the data. Most analytics terms are consistent in their definitions. There are some cases where the default for both are different enough perhaps to change how and when the data is aggregated. Let’s look at an example:
Most analytics platforms set a session/visit timeout and when this is reached, the data aggregation process begins and all dimensions or metrics are populated with the stats for the particular session. Between the two platforms, by default, the timeout is 10 minutes off and depending on the content, a fair amount can happen in that time. So your analytics can already appear different based on this metric alone.
Sometimes, while the definition of a term can be the same, the implementation is what sets the metrics apart. As another example, conversion rate is based on the number of triggered goals divided by the number of website visitors. So if in one system, there are 3 goals and in the other 57, this is not exactly an apples-for-apples comparison.
Another differentiating factor that comes up often but maybe not regularly thought about is IP filtering. Within Google Analytics, it is very easy to create your own filters for analytics to weed out redundant data. In Sitecore Analytics though, it is not as easy for a marketer to do the same. A developer would need to include the IP address or range of addresses within a config file so that when the data is processed, it would, like Google Analytics, triage the data to remove those matching the addresses included in this section:
Why Use Both?
Comparing Sitecore Analytics and Google Analytics, both are capable of providing the data you need. However, what is being targeted to track and what the data is going to be used for can be the building blocks for an argument to use the data from both.
Google Analytics is an extremely robust system with a ton of flexibility to set up filters, create new dimensions, metrics, channel and content groupings. In these ways, Google is definitely giving more power to the marketer. Sitecore, through each new version is passing some of this power over to marketers and business users, has a lot of this functionality still dependent on a development resource to implement.
Most of us don’t use Sitecore just for analytics though! Personalization, optimization through A/B testing, user profiling and marketing automation combined with content and asset management all in one place to limit the number of disparate systems and make updates on the fly are compelling reasons to add it to your tech stack. Sitecore also has the ability to store contact information including engagement history (goal triggers, campaigns, marketing automation state and more) within Experience Profile (xFile) whereas Google Analytics cannot store any Personally Identifiable Information (PII).
On projects where a client is using Sitecore and wants to chat analytics as well as future state for their website, including Google Analytics in the conversation is an obvious choice. Sitecore can manage the content and if the client happens to be using Brainjocks SCORE, building the content is accelerated and the ability to add goal tracking to content is easy breezy.
My preference is to set up macro-goals in Google Analytics such as general form submissions, page views, eCommerce tracking, etc. and the more granular, micro-goals in Sitecore Analytics. The former being the hub of all filtered, high-level business goals and the latter used to see how many visitors clicked on this one button, expanded an accordion, matched on a particular pattern/persona based on content tagging, and so on. What is being tracked in Sitecore is used to discover what website visitors are interested in on the site, where content is working great or could be updated but all of this to ultimately personalize the content to improve a user’s digital experience and provide desired content with ease.
Where Should I Look?
Both Sitecore and Google Analytics have several of the same metrics but what one does not have that the other does is where I focus. While each can provide page view metrics and bounce rate, the additional marketing-friendly functionality to filter IPs and set up general goals with a free-version limit of 20 in Google Analytics, it is my first choice. However, data such as personalization reach, effectiveness of A/B testing and the ability to connect this data with the content is where Sitecore will win for me.
While Sitecore Analytics can be implemented to give the same data as Google Analytics and Google Analytics 360 offers some of the user journey functionality of Sitecore, why can’t we just let each system do what they do best!
There are a ton of analytics tools to use and some better than others, not necessarily in functionality, but based on our business’ specific needs. So always practice due diligence and make sure that what you use is right for your needs. But I feel like Sitecore and Google Analytics together is pretty comprehensive! Know some other similarities or differences or have questions about the post, Sitecore analytics, Google Analytics or analytics related? Post a comment below, reach out via the contact form or you can always message me on LinkedIn or Twitter @sitecorejo!
Stay golden! (Just because it is not a Golden Girls theme does not mean I cannot still close with this tagline, does it? lol)