As an effective web analytics tool, Google Analytics is mostly used to tracking data originating from a single business domain (for example, a website or a social networking page). Business enterprises also want to delve deeper into understanding their customer behavior and their digital footprint across multiple domains.

As a result of this business requirement, cross-domain tracking has emerged as a reliable tool for tracking online users across multiple domains using Google Analytics.

An example of a customer interacting across multiple domains is that of an online shopper using an eCommerce store (for shopping) and a third-party site (for making the payment).

Another example is that of tracking user analytics on the Google Merchandise Store along with the referral domain for the incoming traffic.

Through this article, let’s focus on how cross-domain tracking with Google Analytics works and how a Cross-domain analysis dashboard can benefit any business.

What is Cross-Domain Analysis?

Also referred to as site linking, cross-domain tracking (or analysis) using Google Analytics is defined as the mechanism of linking two (or more websites) and viewing them holistically through Google Analytics reports. Does every business website require cross-domain tracking as part of its data analytics strategy? The answer is a “no.” A majority of business and blogging website analytics can suffice by tracking just one website domain at a time.

Cross-domain analysis is primarily used for functions like E-commerce tracking or conversion tracking that happens across multiple domains. For example (as mentioned before), you have an eCommerce shop hosted on <myshoppingstore.com> and a third-party shopping cart that is hosted on <shoppingcart.com/myshoppingstore>, then it becomes imperative to execute enhanced eCommerce tracking for cross-domain analysis.

Next, we shall discuss how easy (or complex) is it to configure cross-domain analysis for your website.

How to Set Up Cross-Domain Tracking

For convenience, you can easily set up cross-domain tracking using GTM (short for “Google Tag Manager”). As the name suggests, GTM is a tag management tool from Google where you can easily configure and deploy analytics-related tags for a website or a smartphone app

Before implementing a tag management solution using GTM, first let’s understand the technical points involved in the setup of cross-domain tracking:

  1. For each website that it tracks, Google Analytics retrieves a unique Client ID that is stored in the form of website cookies. No website can retrieve or access the Client ID or cookies stored on another website.
  1. However, in the case of cross-domain tracking, Google Analytics must be able to transfer the Client IDs across multiple domains that it is tracking. This is achieved through the Google Analytics linking feature by which the Client ID (of a source domain) is placed in the URL link that can be accessed by the destination domain.
  1. If you are using gtag.js, cross-domain tracking can be enabled by adding the link parameter (with the Client ID and other metadata information) to the URL pointing to the destination domain.

Here is how you can set up or check for cross-domain tracking in Google Analytics. For easier understanding, let’s take an example where you are implementing cross-domain tracking for two websites (“site1.com” and “site2.com”).

  1. Login to your Google Analytics account and configure a single property. Use the same Client ID and tracking code for both domains (“site1” and “site2”).
  1. Edit your tracking code (for “site1” domain) with the following changes (highlighted in bold).

ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXXXXX-X’, ‘auto’, {‘allowLinker’: true});
ga(‘require’, ‘linker’);
ga(‘linker:autoLink’, [‘site2.com’] );

  1. Similarly, edit the tracking code (for “site2” domain) with the same changes (shown above). The only difference is adding “site1.com” in place of “site2.com.”

After completing these steps, you need to next set up the referral exclusions using the Google Tag Manager tool:

  1. Create a new variable in the GTM tool.
  1. Select the new variable and add all the domains that you wish to link up.
  1. Add the new variable to the Google Analytics Pageview tag.
  • Navigate to the “Cross Domain Tracking” menu options under “More Settings.”
  • Add your new variable in the “Auto Links Domain” field (similar to as shown below).
  • Additionally, set the “allowLinker” box to “true.”
  1. Next, you need to configure the Referral Exclusion list in order to avoid any self-referrals.
  • Navigate to the “Referral Exclusion List” section under “Tracking Info.”
  • Add the applicable domains (in our case, “site1.com” and “site2.com”) to the exclusion list.
  1. Finally, save the settings and test the setup for efficient cross-domain tracking.

Next, we shall see what a cross-domain analysis dashboard is and how it can benefit any business

Benefits of a Cross-Domain Analysis Dashboard

Based on the data collected from cross-domain tracking, a cross-domain analysis dashboard is a virtualization tool that can help you understand your customer behavior across multiple domains and for other business goal tracking.

Here are some of the benefits of designing a cross-domain analysis dashboard for your business:

Track the Conversion Path

Google Analytics data across multiple domains enables any business to track users across the entire conversion path. Conversion tracking provides business insights into focus areas like:

  • How the customers found the business website in the first place.
  • Whether the incoming traffic originated from a Google organic search result page (or through a paid search) or from other referral websites or social media pages.

Set up a Google Analytics sales funnel across websites

Using cross-domain tracking, you can execute a sales funnel creation that traverses across multiple websites. For instance, a sales funnel for an eCommerce store can include the product detail pages, shopping cart page, product shipping page, and payment page (even when they are hosted on different web domains).

Track site events

In addition to domain tracking, Google Analytics can also be used for event tracking across website domains. This enables any business to determine what their users are doing before and after landing on their websites.

Key Parameters for Cross-Domain Analysis

For successful cross-domain analysis, you must implement the following key parameters in Google Analytics:

Property

A Google Analytics tracking parameter used to collect website data. For collecting website data across cross domains, both the domains must have the Google Analytics Property.

Tracking ID

Each Google Analytics Property is identified by a unique ID known as the Tracking ID (example as shown below)

Referral Exclusion Domains

The Referral Exclusion List refers to all the web domains that must be excluded when analyzing referral traffic. For example, all traffic from the source domain are considered as direct traffic, hence this domain must be included in the Referral Exclusion list.

URL Linker

This is the Google Analytics parameter that stores the Client ID in the “_ga” browser cookie on each domain. For cross-domain tracking, the linker parameter (when invokes through the linker plugin) passes the Client ID along with a signature (valid for just 2 minutes). An example of a domain using the “_ga” parameter is shown below.

AllowLinker

The Google Analytics tracker on the destination domain needs to realize the importance of the “_ga” linker parameter in the URL. To do this, it needs to reset the Client ID value on the destination domain and instead use the Client ID included in the linker parameter. This is enabled by setting the “allowLinker” parameter in the destination site to “true.”

Conclusion

Through this article, we have discussed how cross-domain tracking using Google Analytics can enable the business to understand customer behavior across multiple domains. As a data analytics and business intelligence company, Countants have powered the benefits of Google Analytics and Cloud analytics for its global customers. 

With our customized solutions in business dashboards and data visualization, we can implement a cross-domain analysis dashboard tool that works right for your business needs. Reach out to us now if you want to leverage the benefits of cross-domain tracking and analysis for your business growth.