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Google Analytics and Sitecore Analytics: A side-by-side approach

Vice President, Marketing Science

april 12, 2016

Many of our Sitecore clients have an established Google Analytics setup when they introduce Sitecore into the marketing technology landscape. Common questions include “How does Sitecore Analytics fit into the picture? Does it replace Google? How do they work together?”

Our philosophy on this remains simple. Each platform brings different strengths, and they should be used side-by-side in a complementary fashion. Organizations will see the most gains by leveraging Google Analytics’ maturity in filtering and segmentation, while focusing on Sitecore for granular, enriched data and real-time optimization closely tied to content.

The following table outlines a quick comparison of the two platforms and their strengths.

Google Analytics
Sitecore XP / Analytics

Established market maturity; sophisticated reporting, filtering and segmenting capabilities

Ability to tailor visitor experience in real-time, using visitor data for targeting

Deep integration with AdWords

Simple reporting with ability to segment on content profile and engagement value

Ecommerce and funnel drop-off visualization

Access to raw, visit-level data

Attribution modelling

Page and site effectiveness model based on engagement values

Tracks with a client-side code snippet; browser and user particularities may impact accuracy

Tracks on the server side; edge caching and CDNs have implications here though a JS snippet is available to track remotely

Ability to track across sessions and properties with ClientID and Measurement Protocol

Ability to merge sessions with Session State and track offsite interactions with Federated Experience Manager

Tracking in Google Analytics

We recommend that you should track everything you need to take advantage of Google’s powerful segmentation and reporting capabilities, in order to make recommendations, optimizations, investment decisions and ultimately to understand your website’s performance.

Tracking Element


There are a few types of goals offered by GA, and a dollar value can be assigned to a goal outcome.

  • Destination (specific location loads)
  • Duration (sessions that last a specific time (10 mins spent on support site)
  • Pages per session (5 screens have been loaded)

Goals are tagged on conversion points on your website, and are one of the most important KPIs to track improvements on your website’s performance. Funnel visualization and goal values let you assess performance with real dollar values and deeper insight into user behaviour.


Tied to website elements, events can be tracked with Category, Action and Label values.

  • A limit of 500 events can be tracked per session
  • Classified under content and reflect content-level interactions

Events are tied to website elements (not page loads) and categorized under content, and allow tracking of content-level interactions in a more granular fashion than goals.


A useful example would be tracking content consumption such as percentage completion of an article, based on how far a visitor scrolled down the page.


If you’re using AdWords, you can link your AdWords account to your Google Analytics account.

Linking these accounts will let you segment traffic sourced from an ad click or impression and enable data sharing between the two platforms.

Custom Campaigns

For campaigns running on different platforms, you can track campaign-driven traffic with a number of different parameters:

  • utm_source – advertiser, site or publication that is sending traffic
  • utm_medium – cpc, banner, email, social
  • utm_campaign – individual campaign name
  • utm_term – paid search keywords
  • utm_content – can be used to differentiate similar content or links within the same ad

Tracking custom campaigns will allow you to measure the effectiveness of particular campaigns, such as a newsletter or Facebook dark post, and build campaign-related segments.


Tracking in Sitecore Analytics

Sitecore’s Analytics database is called the xDB, and it’s all about scale and granularity. The xDB infrastructure has been designed for high-performance data collection at granular levels of detail; there's a powerful combination of Sitecore's content profiling capabilities supplementing the segmentation that can be done in Google Analytics or other tools. Google Analytics also begins to sample data more aggressively as volumes increase, and that’s when the xDB export becomes very attractive within BI tools such as Tableau, Apache Spark or the like.

There are three compelling reasons to track data in Sitecore, in parallel to what you are tracking in Google Analytics.

1) For use in real-time optimization.

If you’ve done the legwork to apply data enrichment principles to your xDB, you will have a wealth of visitor information at your fingertips, accessible to marketers looking to target specific content.

Your ability to personalize content and automate lead nurturing based on campaign origin, triggered goals, engagement value thresholds and visitor profile is directly tied to effective data tracking. You can enrich your data even further by feeding Sitecore additional context that can help, including:

  • Using the FXM to track offsite activities
  • Pulling in public data sets such as DemandBase or open databases
  • Integrating with another business platform such as a CRM (for example to pull in a membership expiry date)

2) To enhance segmentation power in analytics tools.

We first explored this concept with our Sitecore-Google Analytics integration which allowed us to segment in GA based on interactions that occurred in Sitecore, such the display of a personalization variant or a triggered goal. For example, we endeavoured to understand whether a piece of targeted content influenced conversion rate.

(It’s worth noting that Sitecore 8 has a great new feature called the Personalization Experience Report that conveys impact of personalization on trailing value/visit; that is, the value generated by page views occurring after the visitor has encountered the page where the variation is displayed. Again, the importance of data enrichment is highlighted in order to make this report meaningful.)

The following table indicates the most useful and accessible Sitecore session variables that could be shared across platforms for deeper insight via tag rendering. Other tag management platforms such as Tealium can also be configured to consume these events and share them broadly.

Sitecore variable
Temporal rule for tag push

A|B Test Variant displayed

As it happens on page render

Personalization Rule Variant displayed

As it happens on page render

Profile match

Value is updated on each page render; as scope is session, GA will take the last value of the session

Goal triggered

As it happens on page render

Engagement value


Value is updated on each page render; as scope is session, GA will take the last value of the session

3) For use in detailed data analysis and/or insight at the individual level.

For business scenarios that call for a “single data view” across multiple platforms, Sitecore adds a powerful piece of the puzzle with enriched interaction data.

a)  For organizations nurturing individual leads, such as a B2B with a low volume of clients driving high-value transactions, the Sitecore Experience Profile is intended to provide a one-stop-shop for all relevant information about individuals. The xDB can be extended to include customer data from CRM, campaign data from email platforms and other relevant data that will contextualize the individual for a sales team.

b)  For organizations looking to used advanced analysis techniques and models such as customer lifetime value, machine learning, predictive analytics, customer segmentation and next-best-action, an enriched xDB provides the non-sampled volume and granularity most valuable to these “big data” scenarios.

a. If you’re using xDB Cloud, you can now request an export of data via the Service Catalog.

b. If you’re using xDB on-premise, helpful modules such as the Experience Extractor let you pull your data into a variety of formats.

c. If you’re on Sitecore 9, you’ll be lucky enough to use xConnect to extract xDB data easily.

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