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Type of site
|Launched||November 14, 2005|
Google Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that tracks and reports website traffic, currently as a platform inside the Google Marketing Platform brand. Google launched the service in November 2005 after acquiring Urchin.
As of 2019, Google Analytics is the most widely used web analytics service on the web. Google Analytics provides an SDK that allows gathering usage data from iOS and Android app, known as Google Analytics for Mobile Apps. Google Analytics can be blocked by browsers, browser extensions, firewalls and other means.
Google Analytics has undergone many versions since its inception. It is currently on its 4th iteration of the platform which is called GA4. GA4, now being the default Google Analytics installation, is the renamed version for the App+Web Property that Google had released in 2019 in a Beta form. GA4 has currently replaced UA, Universal Analytics. One notable feature of GA4 is a natural integration with Google's Big Query a feature previously only available with the enterprise GA 360. This move indicates efforts by Google to integrate GA and its free users into their wider cloud offering.
Google Analytics is used to track website activity such as session duration, pages per session, bounce rate etc. of individuals using the site, along with the information on the source of the traffic. It can be integrated with Google Ads, with which users can create and review online campaigns by tracking landing page quality and conversions (goals). Goals might include sales, lead generation, viewing a specific page, or downloading a particular file. Google Analytics' approach is to show high-level, dashboard-type data for the casual user, and more in-depth data further into the report set. Google Analytics analysis can identify poorly performing pages with techniques such as funnel visualization, where visitors came from (referrers), how long they stayed on the website and their geographical position. It also provides more advanced features, including custom visitor segmentation. Google Analytics e-commerce reporting can track sales activity and performance. The e-commerce reports shows a site's transactions, revenue, and many other commerce-related metrics.
On September 29, 2011, Google Analytics launched Real-Time analytics, enabling a user to have insight about visitors currently on the site. A user can have 100 site profiles. Each profile generally corresponds to one website. It is limited to sites that have a traffic of fewer than 5 million page views per month (roughly 2 pageviews per second) unless the site is linked to a Google Ads campaign. Google Analytics includes Google Website Optimizer, rebranded as Google Analytics Content Experiments. Google Analytics' Cohort analysis helps in understanding the behaviour of component groups of users apart from your user population. It is beneficial to marketers and analysts for the successful implementation of a marketing strategy.
Google acquired Urchin Software Corp. in April 2005. Google's service was developed from Urchin on Demand. The system also brings ideas from Adaptive Path, whose product, Measure Map, was acquired and used in the redesign of Google Analytics in 2006. Google continued to sell the standalone, installable Urchin WebAnalytics Software through a network of value-added resellers until discontinuation on March 28, 2012. The Google-branded version was rolled out in November 2005 to anyone who wished to sign up. However, due to extremely high demand for the service, new sign-ups were suspended a week later. As capacity was added to the system, Google began using a lottery-type invitation-code model. Before August 2006, Google was sending out batches of invitation codes as server availability permitted; since mid-August 2006 the service has been fully available to all users – whether they use Google for advertising or not.
The newer version of Google Analytics tracking code is known as the asynchronous tracking code, which Google claims is more sensitive and accurate, and is able to track very short activities on the website. The previous version delayed page loading, and so, for performance reasons, it was generally placed just before the
</body> body close HTML tag. The new code can be placed between the
<head>...</head> HTML head tags because, once triggered, it runs in parallel with page loading. In April 2011 Google announced the availability of a new version of Google Analytics featuring multiple dashboards, more custom report options, and a new interface design. This version was later updated with some other features such as real-time analytics and goal flow charts.
In October 2012 another new version of Google Analytics was announced, called Universal Analytics. The key differences from the previous versions were: cross-platform tracking, flexible tracking code to collect data from any device, and the introduction of custom dimensions and custom metrics.
In March 2016, Google released Google Analytics 360, which is a software suite that provides analytics on return on investment and other marketing indicators. Google Analytics 360 includes five main products: Analytics, Tag Manager, Optimize, Data Studio, Surveys, Attribution, and Audience Center.
In October 2017 a new version of Google Analytics was announced, called Global Site Tag. Its stated purpose was to unify the tagging system to simplify implementation.
In June 2018, Google introduced Google Marketing Platform, an online advertisement and analytics brand. It consists of two former brands of Google, DoubleClick Digital Marketing and Google Analytics 360.
In October 2020, Google released Google Analytics 4, under the acronym GA4.
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The file does not usually have to be loaded, however, due to browser caching. Assuming caching is enabled in the browser, it downloads ga.js only once at the start of the visit. Furthermore, as all websites that implement Google Analytics with the ga.js code use the same master file from Google, a browser that has previously visited any other website running Google Analytics will already have the file cached on their machine.
In addition to transmitting information to a Google server, the tracking code sets a first party cookie (If cookies are enabled in the browser) on each visitor's computer. This cookie stores anonymous information called the ClientId. Before the launch of Universal Analytics, there were several cookies storing information such as whether the visitor had been to the site before (new or returning visitor), the timestamp of the current visit, and the referrer site or campaign that directed the visitor to the page (e.g., search engine, keywords, banner, or email).
If the visitor arrived at the site by clicking on a link tagged with UTM parameters (Urchin Tracking Module) such as:
then the tag values are passed to the database too.
Another limitation of Google Analytics for large websites is the use of sampling in the generation of many of its reports. To reduce the load on their servers and to provide users with a relatively quick response to their query, Google Analytics limits reports to 500,000 randomly sampled sessions at the profile level for its calculations. While margins of error are indicated for the visits metric, margins of error are not provided for any other metrics in the Google Analytics reports. For small segments of data, the margin of error can be very large.
Due to its ubiquity, Google Analytics raises some privacy concerns. Whenever someone visits a website that uses Google Analytics, Google tracks that visit via the users' IP address in order to determine the user's approximate geographic location. To meet German legal requirements, Google Analytics can anonymize the IP address. Google has also released a browser plug-in that turns off data about a page visit being sent to Google, however, this browser extension is not available for mobile browsers. Since this plug-in is produced and distributed by Google itself, it has met much discussion and criticism. Furthermore, the realization of Google scripts tracking user behavior has spawned the production of multiple, often open-source, browser plug-ins to reject tracking cookies. These plug-ins allow users to block Google Analytics and similar sites from tracking their activities. However, partially because of new European privacy laws, most modern browsers allow users to reject tracking cookies, though Flash cookies can be a separate problem.
It has been anecdotally reported that errors can occur behind proxy servers and multiple firewalls, changing timestamps and registering invalid searches. Webmasters who seek to mitigate Google Analytics' specific privacy issues can employ a number of alternatives having their backends hosted on their own machines. Until its discontinuation, an example of such a product was Urchin WebAnalytics Software from Google itself. On January 20, 2015, the Associated Press reported that HealthCare.gov was providing access to enrollees' personal data to private companies that specialized in advertising, mentioning Google Analytics specifically.
Support and training
Google offers free Google Analytics IQ Lessons, Google Analytics certification test, free Help Center FAQ and Google Groups forum for official Google Analytics product support. New product features are announced on the Google Analytics Blog. Enterprise support is provided through Google Analytics Certified Partners or Google Academy for Ads.
The Google Analytics API is used by third parties to build custom applications such as reporting tools. Many such applications exist. One was built to run on iOS (Apple) devices and is featured in Apple's app store. There are some third party products that also provide Google Analytics-based tracking. The Management API, Core Reporting API, MCF Reporting API, and Real Time Reporting API are subject to limits and quotas.
Google Analytics is the most widely used website statistics service. In May 2008, Pingdom released a survey stating that 161 of the 500 (32%) biggest sites globally according to their Alexa rank were using Google Analytics.
In 2012, its use was around 55% of the 10,000 most popular websites. And in August 2013, Google Analytics was used by 66.2% of the 10,000 most popular websites ordered by popularity, as reported by BuiltWith.
Google Analytics has proven useful for those in medical education who wish to better understand the web browsing habits of learners in certain settings, such as anatomy laboratories.
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