Incubeta Ignite: Data: The Road Ahead

Read Time: 3 mins

The consequences of the industry’s misuse of data have finally caught up with us. Restrictions and technical limitations, enforced on us by legislation, web browsers and technology platforms, have curtailed many of our practices. With the turn of the decade upon us, Kate Jervis takes us through the road ahead for data.

Restrictions and Regulations

One of the biggest challenges we now face is that the “perfect” single customer view doesn’t exist. Of course, it never really has existed, however it’s something the industry has long been aiming for. Now, due to the impact of GDPR, it’s no longer a sustainable objective to work towards. What we’re able to track has fundamentally changed. 

GDPR wasn’t the first legislative restriction placed upon tracking; in 2011 the EU Directive stated that consent was now required to drop non-essential cookies. However, this wasn’t too limiting with the ICO providing guidelines which suggested implied consent (pre-ticked boxes for accepting cookies) was reasonable, and so we were still able to work towards tracking a complete view of the customer.

This all changed with GDPR legislation coming into play towards the turn of the century, and best practice guidelines from the ICO highlighted an important industry development; analytics cookies are considered non-essential and therefore need explicit user consent before they can be dropped and recorded.

Whilst they provide businesses with useful information that can help site optimisation for user experience, analytics cookies aren’t part of the functionality a user is requesting when they use an online service. If a website didn’t have any analytics on-site, a user would still be able to access the site itself, hence the classification as non-essential. Recent stats before GDPR came into effect show that between 8-20% of analytics tracking is being blocked, and so with all these legislation changes, it’s certainly likely that this number will grow.

Remaining Optimistic

Despite this, there is still a lot to be optimistic about and there are a few different solutions being discussed. Perhaps the most promising technical solution involves cross-industry unification, a blue-sky possibility conceptualised by the IAB; they talk of a world where information would travel with the consumer throughout the digital supply chain, giving any advertiser or website who is compliant with privacy regulations access to the consumer’s information. It may be a long way down the line, but it’s important to remember that the challenge of cookie-less tracking is not a singular business challenge – it’s an industry-wide issue, and therefore the true resolution lies in all our hands as a collective.

But in the short-term, what else is an option? There’s fingerprinting, or even a move from user-centric analytics to sessional data. Or if we were to stop thinking about the technical options for a second, we might realise that we could have a positive mindset, and work with what we’ve already got! We’ve become so obsessed with everything being measurable that our ability to take action has been seriously hindered. We will never be able to have the perfect customer view that we’ve pictured for years, so it’s time to let it go. Looking back from ten years ago to now, we have better technology, better insights and better skill-sets than we’ve ever had before, and so it’s time to start from where we are, instead of living in the past.

Best Practise: Data Studio Dashboards

In the midst of Q4, you’re probably drowning in data already. Or you’re likely to be post-Black Friday! At times like these, no one wants to spend hours churning through reports, or figuring out on-site journeys from those rather confusing Google Analytics flow reports. We all just want to know what’s working, and what’s really been going on with our customers.

To help with the data overload, here are our top 10 tips for creating easy-to-use Data Studio reports that are bound to impress your colleagues.

1. Define your requirements

You’ve created your first Data Studio dashboard and added your data source. You are then presented with a blank canvas. Pretty intimidating, right? Deciding in which direction to take your dashboard may seem overwhelming at this stage and to overcome this, you may be tempted to dive straight in and get creative. However, doing so at this point can result in a confusing dashboard that doesn’t answer all your questions, or match what you had initially imagined.

To avoid this, it’s a good idea to define your requirements early on. Considering what key information you want to convey in your report, and who your audience will be, helps provide a framework for what you build.

Thinking about your KPIs is a good place to start. Do you really need all those metrics, or will sessions, transactions and conversion rate suffice?

2. Keep the styling simple and consistent

Data Studio offers a great variety of opportunities for customisation, and for those of us who spend our days in Excel it can be pretty enticing to get as creative as possible!

However, you’re probably after a professional and streamlined look, so try not to get too overzealous. Might be best to leave the word-art and rainbow colour scheme at the door. Sticking with a couple of complementary colours and one or two fonts will make the report easy to read and allow the audience to absorb your key points.

3. Utilise different ways of displaying information.

Data studio offers 11 different chart types, making diverse presentation of data easy to implement. Having a variety of visuals in your report will engage the viewer and help them understand what you are trying to convey more easily. When you’re choosing your chart type, have a think about what it is you’re trying to communicate. If you have more than 3-4 data points, a pie chart might not be the best solution; if you’re showing how a metric has changed over time, a line graph is likely your go-to option.

4. Add time filter controls

Adding the date range widget allows you to view data dynamically and maintains the relevance of the report, as it is easy to update the widget as time passes. Goodbye weekly reporting – or more like daily over Black Friday! – and hello to a single report that never expires.

5. Utilise Google Analytics segments

This is by far one of the most useful feature releases Google have done for Data Studio. It’s pretty impossible to create a base dashboard that meets everyone’s needs. You might be focused on customer retention, whilst your colleague is all about customer acquisition – and the report you create for the digital team on a Monday purely focuses on Mobile traffic. The magic of Data Studio is being able to create one report, with the option to bring in various Google Analytics segments in order to aid finding customer insights for different audiences.

6. Experiment with customisation

Don’t be afraid to play around with different functionalities and customise charts as needed.

A time series chart, for example, can be manipulated to appear as just a trendline rather than a detailed graph. This can be helpful in visualising top line trends at a glance. We’ve found it particularly helpful to use overall numbers (i.e. total revenue, total orders) and their % change year on year at the top of all our reports, before we delve into the details further down. This helps to easily contextualise any granular insights on performance.

7. Multi-page reports

Having all the relevant data presented on one page has merit in that the information can be communicated at a glance. However, if your dashboard starts to look cramped, this may have the opposite effect – making the report hard to read and potentially losing the interest of your audience!

To avoid this, Data Studio offers a multi-page functionality. A good tip when utilising this feature is to give each page an overarching topic. This will help keep the report organised and easy to navigate. It’s also a great idea to use the opening page as an Executive Summary, with the following pages drilling down into more detail for those that need it.

8. Data blending

Google recently introduced a data blending functionality that allows different data sources to be combined, or ‘blended’. For example, combining data from multiple GA views is now possible. This is a huge time-saver for those users who don’t have access to a data warehouse where the data is already blended for them. Perhaps you want to include a data source of margin data from Google Sheets for all your products sold. Voila: you can now generate insights across numerous sources with a few clicks of a button.

9. Use your report as a template

Data Studio allows you to create copies of your dashboard – super handy if you need to generate multiple reports with similar styles for various purposes. You can simply copy your dashboard and use this copy as a template, no need to start again from scratch!

10. Provide some detail

Customising charts and visualising data can be fun, but don’t forget to give some detail to your analysis. Not everyone is data literate and so it’s good practice to provide an explanatory label for each chart you create, including any caveats they need to be aware of (i.e. site was down for 3 hours on x date). Sometimes it’s even helpful to add a brief line of commentary, if you feel it’s particularly relevant for the point you want to communicate.

Is your Google Analytics GDPR-compliant?

It’s now been 6 months since GDPR came into effect, and the initial panic appears to have settled. However, it’s not over yet! It turns out GDPR isn’t a problem you can solve overnight, and then tick it off your to-do list.

In the past few months, we’ve seen some businesses struggle with Personally Identifiable Information (PII) being captured within their Google Analytics. And so, here’s a short how-to guide, for ensuring you aren’t picking up that pesky personal data along with all your valuable customer insights.

How can GDPR be breached in Google Analytics?

In Google Analytics, there are some obvious ways GDPR can be breached, for instance:

  • Collecting customer information via form fills, for instance postcode or address
  • Having an on-site privacy policy that doesn’t match your data retention settings in GA
  • Loading data in via Data Import which includes customer PII
  • Capturing PII-related custom dimensions that aren’t using hashed or salted encryption.

Most of these areas will have been assessed by any pre-GDPR audits that took place across data-collecting platforms, as a breach of GDPR through these means are pretty obvious (if you haven’t had a GDPR audit, get in touch with us here). Despite that, there are still a few ways that Google Analytics can mistakenly collect PII data if you’re not careful. The are two ways we see PII breaches in GA:

  1. Page URL’s. The basic Universal Analytics tag collects the URL of every page viewed, and passes this unfiltered through to Google Analytics. Occasionally PII can make it’s way into a URL, particularly during redirects from an email service provider.
  2. Search Terms. Users seem to love accidentally searching for their own email addresses, and of course, this ends up straight in your Search Terms report.

To identify whether you are collecting PII data through either of the above, navigate to the relevant report (For Page URL: Site Content > All Pages, for Search Terms: Site Search > Search Terms) and search the @ character in the in-report search function. This will show up all instances of email collection in the time period you have selected.

I’ve found some PII in my GA reports – how do I fix this?

If that’s the case, do not fear. There are a few ways the issue can be eliminated.

There is PII data showing in my All Pages report

Issue: URL captured contains ‘customer_email’ as the query parameter which is included for reporting

Report: Behavior > Site Content > All Pages

How to Find: Search the @ character in the in-report search function

Solution:

> If you use GTM

This is the preferred solution, as it ensures no PII data is passed from the URL from the outset.

You need to create a Custom JavaScript variable in GTM, which will perform a PII check in each URL collected. If the URL contains an email address, you can replace the email address with a word or phrase such as null, or undefined.

In the example code below, we have chosen to replace the email address with the word ‘redacted’. The variable, in bold, can be replaced with whichever URL variable you have set up.

function () {
  var pagePath = {{Page Path}};
  var query = location.search.substr(1);
  var em = /^(([^<>()[\]\\.,;:\[email protected]\"]+(\.[^<>()[\]\\.,;:\[email protected]\"]+)*)|(\".+\"))@((\[[0-9]{1,3}\.[0-9]{1,3}\.[0-9]{1,3}\.[0-9]{1,3}\])|(([a-zA-Z\-0-9]+\.)+[a-zA-Z]{2,}))$/;
  var r = '';
  var result = [];

  if (query) {
    query.split("&").forEach(function(part) {
      var item = part.split("=");
      var qStr = item[0];
      var dCo = decodeURIComponent(item[1]);
      var ma = em.test(dCo);
      var s;
      if (ma) {
        s = qStr +"=REDACTED ";
      } else {
        s = qStr + "=" + dCo;
      }
      result.push(s);
    });

    var r = pagePath + '?' + query.replace(query,result.join('&'));
  } else {
    var r = pagePath;
  }
  return r;
}

Then you need to update your Universal Analytics tag to include the Custom JavaScript variable in the ‘Page’ field, as shown in the below screenshot:  

> If you want to make the change in Google Analytics itself

If you don’t use GTM, the PII issue can be solved via the GA View Settings in the Admin section. Within the View Settings, include the relevant query parameter in the ‘Exclude URL Query Parameters’ box for instance customer_email, or whichever the term is which precedes the PII data in your URL.

> If your Universal Analytics tag is hard-coded on-site

If your tagging is hard-coded on-site, you can add the below line of code to your Universal Analytics script to amend the URL’s before sending data to GA for reporting. The ‘new page value’ is where an altered page path is sent to GA, which will be coded by your site developers. The new line of code should be fired on all pages on the site along with your hard-coded GA script.

ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’, ‘new page value’);

Your updated hard-coded script on the site should look something like the following:

<!-- Google Analytics -->
<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i['GoogleAnalyticsObject']=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,'script','https://www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js','ga');

ga('create', 'UA-XXXXX-Y', 'auto');
ga('send', 'pageview');
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’, ‘new page value’);
</script>
<!-- End Google Analytics -->

There is PII data showing in my Search Terms report

Issue: Users perform a search on site using their email address (it happens more than you think!)

Report: Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms

How to Find: Search the @ character in the in-report search function

Solution:

The solution to this is much like the approach identified in section 1 (‘there is PII data showing in my All Pages report’) however, the change CAN’T be made within Google Analytics itself, using the option of excluding URL query parameters, as this will remove all on-site search tracking.

The same GTM solution can be used, as detailed already, with the same results. The hard-coded option can be used, however your on-site developers will need to ensure that the ‘new page value’ which is passed to Google Analytics only excludes search queries where an email address is present, otherwise all on-site search tracking will be excluded from reporting.

Summary

PII data can be found in Google Analytics, typically passed from URL’s, Page Titles and Search Terms. However, these instances can be prevented easily enough using the above tips! The best option is implementing fixes in GTM, as it means PII is excluded from the very start of the data collection journey, but there are also options in GA or through hardcoding that are available. 

If you need any help with the above, or are concerned about GDPR compliance in your Google Analytics, give us a shout.