If your business relies on customers or subscribers returning to your site, possibly from different devices (laptop, smartphone, etc.) then it’s critical you start tracking unique customers rather than just unique visitors in Google Analytics.

people-linked

By default, Google Analytics tracks your customers by browser cookies. So ‘Bob’ is only counted as the same visitor if he comes to your site from the same browser, but not if he comes from a different computer or device.

Worse, if Bob clears his cookies or accesses your site via another mobile app (which won’t share cookies with the default browser) then he’ll also be counted as a new user.

Tracking users cross devices

You can fix this by sending a unique customer identifier every time your customer signs in. Then if you send further custom data about the user (what plan he / she is on, or what profile fields they have completed) you can segment any of the visits or goals by these customer attributes.

There are 2 possible ways to track registered users:

  1. Using Google Analytics’ user ID tracker
  2. By storing the clientId from the Google cookie when a new user registers, and writing this back into the tracker every time the same user registers

In both cases, we also recommend sending the user ID as a custom dimension. This allows you segment the reports by logged in / not logged in visitors.

Let’s look at the pros and cons.

Session stitching

Tracking customers involves stitching together visits from different devices into one view of the customer.

Option 1, the standard User ID feature, does session stitching out the box.

Session unification off

You can optionally turn ‘session unification’ on which means all the pageviews before they logged in are linked to that user.

Session unification on

With option 2 you can stitch the sessions, but you can’t unify sessions before the user logs in – because they will be assigned a different clientId.

screen-shot-2016-12-01-at-15-50-13

So a slight advantage to option 1 here.

Reporting simplicity

The big difference here is that with option 1 all of the user-linked data is sent to a separate ‘registered users’ view, whereas in options 2 it is all on the same view as before.

Suppose I want a report of the average number of transactions a month for registered vs non-registered visitors.

With both options, I can only do this if I also send the user ID as a custom dimension – so I can segment based on that custom dimension.

Additionally, with option 1 I can see cross-device reports – which is a big win for option 1.

Reporting consistency

Once you start changing the way users are tracked with option 2 you will reduce the overall number of sessions counted. If you have management reports based on unique visitors, this may change. But it will be a one-time shift – and afterwards, your reports should be stable, but with a lower visit count.

So option 1 is better for consistency

Conclusion

Option 1 – using the official user tracking – offers a better route to upgrade your reports.

For more technical details on how this tracking is going to work, read Shay Sharon’s excellent customer tracking post. Also, you can watch more about customer tracking versus session tracking in this video.

Have any questions? Comment below or get in touch with our team of experts!

 

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Edward

Founder of Littledata, Technical Lead and Product Consultant. He has broad experience helping companies with business strategy, product development and technology management.

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