On February 4th, Google Analytics removed two standard dimensions from reporting – Service Provider and Network Domain – and replaced them with the dreaded (not set) label.
Although there’s been cries of anguish from some analytics companies, my view is that Google has sound reasons to remove the dimensions – and there are ways around many of the limitations.
Shortly after Google added the above alert to the hover tip within the Google Analytics interface, data in reports stopped reporting the information.
Moving forward (and unless Google reverses course on this decision in the coming days), you’re going to start seeing (not set) under the Service Provider and Network Domain dimensions:
What are Service Provider and Network Domain?
Every time a visitor is tracked on your website, Google captures the IP address in order to geolocate the user (generating Country, State and City dimensions). It also does a reverse DNS lookup to see which networks this IP address is linked with.
Service Provider is either the ISP (for a consumer) or the corporate network (for a business internet user).
Network Domain is the main domain by which the traffic was routed (e.g. Verizon, Amazon AWS etc.)
So why did Google drop them?
There’s been no official announcement from Google, but it’s likely to be a combination of three factors.
Storing of any California consumer’s network details is a violation of the California Consumer Protection Act (CCPA). This is much more specific than previous regulations, and as a California-headquarted company, Google wants to stay safely within the law.
Tip: Here's everything Shopify merchants need to know about CCPA compliance
Even if the Service Provider itself is not identifiable to any individual, it may well be used to generate a unique fingerprint for an individual user, in combination with other dimensions in Google Analytics (browser version, operating system, screen size, pages visited, etc.). Fingerprinting is user identification by covert means, and as such Google also wants to clamp down on in.
- Lack of usage
In ten years of advising high-growth businesses on Google Analytics setup, I've never seen a good use for these reports. Google tracks what are the most common reports used, and apparently they were already flagged for deprecation based on lack of usage.
How the change affects your Shopify tracking
Some analytics companies (and agencies) are worried about this change for a few reasons :
- Reason 1: Service Provider and Network Domain dimensions helped filter out spam and bot traffic, which meant less legwork for those doing the reporting. It was easier to sniff out bounce rates that looked too high (or low) to be "real". Take the screenshot below — which Service Provider do you think is probably legitimate and which one is probably a bot/spam? In short, most analytics companies would say before this change, it was easy to uncover bots/spam, and now it's not.
- Reason 2: Some larger stores used Server Provider and Network Domain dimensions as a quick & easy way to filter out internal traffic from monthly reports. And unfortunately, this change has killed these dimensions' ability to filter.
- Reason 3: Companies such as Leadfeeder and Leadberry used the Network Domain, plus a database of which companies and people used that domain, to offer a list of sales leads who visited your site. They can mostly work around the limitations by getting their clients to push another tracking script on the site, and looking up IP address themselves — which is OK, providing your website visitors are aware you are doing this in your terms and conditions.
In other words, if you're filtering your GA views by network provider, it's possible you'll see internal traffic in your reporting this month. And it might not be obvious, since it's mixed in with all of your site traffic. That is, unless you look at the GA data with better tracking.
How can you work around this?
For those that really need the lost dimensions there are two solutions:
- Use Google Tag Manager and an IP lookup service to pass network onto Google Analytics as a custom dimension.
- Use the recently launched ipmeta.io service to do this.*
- For some stores using Google Analytics, this sudden change will go unnoticed and won't really impact reporting.
- For stores that rely on these dimensions to filter out bots/spam and internal traffic for more accurate reporting, the loss of these dimensions will have somewhat of a negative impact.
Of course, we'll continue to monitor these changes (and any other surprises that Google may have in store). Don't pay too much attention to the initial outcry — every change has a solution.
Littledata users can rest easy — with our Google Analytics app for Shopify, your tracking won't be impacted by these dimensions. You'll continue to see accurate data for better reporting. ?
*The current version of ipmeta.io is free and will remain free. The premium version will add more custom dimensions with data on the company behind the visit (if its not an ISP or spider). For example, adding dimensions such as industry codes, company size, revenue, etc. In comparison to similar services, ipmeta.io will be much (about 10x) more affordable to cater to the SMB segment.