User focussed analytics: Google’s vision of the future

This post is a translation of Pere Rovira’s article in the Spanish blog and is published with his permission. This is his personal opinion of the new developments arriving in Google Analytics.

It’s after 2am and here I am finally writing in the blog. The Google Analytics Summit 2012 in Mountain View finished a few hours ago, I finally replied to most of the emails in my inbox and the night’s silence is only interrupted by my workmate’s occassional snores.

This year’s big summit topic was the release of Universal Analytics, Google’s new vision for the development of Google Analytics. The vision is clear and precise: a re-focusing of effort in measuring user behavior across all their interactions with a brand – a single view of the user. That is, a paradigm change: moving from session based tracking (visits) to user focused tracking. To do so, they have changed system’s entire architecture so that all the present and future functionality will focus in how to relate information back to a single user.

No longer will we have to talk about tracking websites, mobile apps, call center sales, sale points interactions, banner views or searches in Bing. We will talk about grouping everything we know about the each users interactions in a way that allows us to design and execute better business and marketing strategies. Google knows a lot about getting to know users better, we could say that it one of the fundmentals of their business, so this paradigm change seems coherent with their philosophy.

What we have seen during the 2 days of the summit, and I don’t have any doubts about this, is just the tip of the iceberg in a very ambitious project growing in the Google teams’ mind. It simply wouldn’t be accurate to say that this is just about improving their tool to compete with the likes of Adobe Analytics. The fact is that talking about the future of digital analytics means talking about our digital businesses’ future, because no digital business can thrive without a complete data driven strategy.

Google have now laid their cards on the table (with some ace’s up their sleeves). The vision is to put all information about users in their servers and, in order to analyse it, offer us the best tools, for free. Soon we will be able to upload all data about our users to Google’s servers, for free. And we aren’t not only talking about online data – we can upload anything. Everything. As they clearly said in one keynote, the product name is “Google Analytics”, not “Google Web Analytics”. It is about tracking everything using Google.

In the same presentation they also showed us how Google Analytics could collect a security card scan in real time as an action related to a specific user. How it is capable of associating this user with visits from their mobile, their tablet and their computer. Then how they they can attribute this specific user with a specific email campaign opened a few hours before and attribute it to a sale.

Of course, there is a lot of “magic” in here. There is uncertainty too because to identify a user you still need cookies and user registration. It is definitely true that, to make Google’s vision complete, we need more advanced mechanisms to identify the user  across devices, sessions and browsers. (Editor: perhaps by including data from Facebook Connect for instance)

It is also true to say that Google will now have a selection of “big data” tools, available for free, that provide a significant capability for any company looking to get to and analyse their data, and the behaviour of their customers and online audience.

  • A very powerful tool to track all kinds of data: online, offline, cosmic, ethereal, divine – the new Google Analytics, released over the coming months
  • The Google Analytics attribution tool available for everybody and not just for the premium version
  • The Google big data analysis tool – Google BigQuery

And this is the magic, what is possible and what might be possible. But, beyond all these things we should also ask – as Avinash often says - so what?

I will tell you one thing: during the two days of the summit I did not see anybody talking about a single case study. Neither Google nor any of the GACP’s (the consultants). Most people shouted noisily about the wonderful things we will be able to do with all this data, how sexy we analysts are supposed to be now and how it is amazing living in Googleland, where everything is free, easy, beautiful and fast. Like the food they serve. :-)

Most people, not all. There was another group; the ones among us who started saying, between one presentation and another, that we’ve heard all these stories before. The ones that have been in this business for a long time and know that technology is not at all related with real analytics. That analytics, as I said some time ago, is an attitude. Currently it is more about a dirty war, politics, power and bribery than about personalised reports and immaculate attribution models.

We see things from another perspective, the perspective of how we are sick of seeing companies (and the analysts within them) doing things to satisfy their “HIPPO” bosses and investors instead of their customers. And I am afraid that the solution to this issue remains – is not Google’s vision of user centered analytics but analytics centered around the user and that fights to make things better.

It seems that it is easy to forget about the user. It seems that their existence is taken for granted. That might be the reason why Google have hardly announced any improvements when it comes to data visualisation, dashboards, testing or personalisation.

Summing up, there is a paradigm change coming soon. It is without doubt that this change will bring us a much more powerful version of Google Analytics. There will be no place for excuses, we cannot say “I can not measure this” anymore. Maybe this is what Google wanted: no more excuses. Meanwhile, I hope you won’t forget about the user themselves. Of course, we will always have other tools and tech. And our brains.

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