Chapter 10 of 12
Hi there and welcome back!
I know that in previous posts, I have been hawking CXL courses like those annoying infomercials sales people. “Look! It’s Easy!”
But, I promise, I wouldn’t be advocating these courses if I hadn’t found REAL, tangible value in them. I really ought to send a fruit basket to all of the instructors for how many problems that they’ve helped me solve over the last ten weeks.
In this post I want to discuss a problem that I have ran into in the past and how I found the workaround solution from my CXL Digital Analytics mini-degree program courses. First off, by a raise of hands, how many of you out there know that Google Analytics is case-sensitive? Okay, and how many of you understand the impact that that fact can have on data collection, processing and storage in Google Analytics? Well, up until about two months ago, I was aware that GA was case-sensitive, but the sheer magnitude of impact of this case-sensitivity was more or less lost on me.
Let me explain, I had had a handful of stakeholders that were complaining to me about differences in their social analytics metrics and those same social campaign metrics in GA. The problem being that their metrics were reporting significantly higher in their social analytics tools than they were in Google Analytics. Any ideas as to what the problem might be? Well, like any semi-savvy digital analyst I went through an exhaustive laundry-type checklist of what might be causing the inconsistencies in the data. They were using UTM parameters with their embedded landing page links. They were ensuring that they were using secure protocols, (e.g., https as opposed to http) which can cause cross-domain tracking issues. I even did some research into how well the social platforms play with Google Analytics, and found that that wasn’t the issue either. After researching for a few days, I kept coming up empty handed and at a loss of what the root cause was.
Then as I was reviewing a couple of my CXL Google Analytics audit courses taught by analytics expert Fred Pike, I was reminded that Google Analytics is case-sensitive (lowercase is the preferred format, FYI)…and BOOM! I recollected in going through their UTM parameter data that they had been using proper capitalization with each of their parameters, like so:
You see, because of this case-sensitivity, to Google Analytics facebook and Facebook are NOT the same thing. “PaidSocial” does not equal “paidsocial” and “LP_Campaign”, of course, does not equal “lp_campaign”. So while these links were generating significant traffic on the social analytics tools, attribution was being lost in Google Analytics.
Here’s the thing, generally speaking, with how advanced technology is becoming it’s difficult to remember that programming languages and coding don’t intuit meaning and aren’t as lenient with data inputs as we are. To a human, Facebook and facebook have the same meaning, or close enough that most people would overlook the difference and assume they are one in the same. It’s easy to miss, and easier to misunderstand why a program like Google Analytics wouldn’t process that input the same as we do.
The brass tacks of the matter are that even with the understanding that GA processes lower-case differently than uppercase, mistakes like the UTM example I provided above are still going to happen more often than we as digital analysts would like. People are forgetful, perceptively presumptuous, and quite often nearsighted and mistakes fall through the cracks. So, what can be done to account for these human tendencies? Well our good friends at Google have provided a few ways that we can prevent this type of misattribution.
First, there is the Google Analytics filter option that while processing incoming data will simultaneously standardize all alphabetical characters to a lowercase format.
Within the admin panel of Google Analytics you can filter all incoming data to a lowercase format. Personally, I make it a priority to lowercase any incoming Campaign data (e.g., Source, Medium, Campaign Name, etc.) along with the hostname, and request URI (the part of the URL that comes after the hostname: ‘www.hostname.com’) at the very least. If you would like to learn more about this, our friends at Bounteous have written an excellent piece on lowercase filters and other recommended filters for data hygiene and quality when setting up your own Google Analytics account.
If you happen to manage the bulk of your data collection through a tag management platform like Google Tag Manager, the good folx at Google have provided the ability to format variables while you configure them. If you go into the Tag Manager platform and navigate to the Variables section, once you click to create a “New” variable, you will notice at the bottom of the variable interface that there is a “Format Value” drop-down menu where you can format your variable in myriad ways. The first option is to “Change the Case to…” (reference image below)
My good friend (in my mind, at least…okay, I’m pretty sure he has no idea I exist let alone that he’s my digital analytics man-crush), and resident Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics expert, Simo Ahava has written a fantastic piece that covers this very topic, where he demonstrates the formatibility function, but also all of the different ways you can use this functionality to refine your data collection strategy.
I cannot express adequately enough just how invaluable the knowledge that I have acquired through CXL’s Digital Analytics mini-degree program. What I have learned has not only helped me resolve analytical tool issues that I had been working on and losing sleep over for months, but also helped me gain a foundational, fundamental understanding of how these tools work and how to leverage them to improve your data quality and grow your digital business. If you haven’t checked out the CXL courses and mini-degrees, I can’t recommend them enough!