Cross-domain analytics tracking: Why you may not need it
Implementing a cross-domain tracking solution isn’t the answer to poorly configured websites. Here's why.
Over the past couple of months, I’ve seen a sharp increase in requests for setting up cross-domain tracking for a variety of different clients and websites. The process to implement cross-domain tracking can be tricky and if not done correctly can fail or cause inaccurate information to be collected in the client’s analytic tools. To those looking to implement it on their own, there are many blog posts and columns on the correct way to configure cross-domain tracking and even how to debug it (if it isn’t working as it should) on the web. There is no need to write another one, however, what these posts don’t contain is why a business should or should not implement cross-domain tracking. What are the benefits of cross-domain tracking and are there any risks associated with it? If you’ve heard about cross-domain tracking or are merely curious if your organization can benefit from it, read on.
What is cross-domain tracking?
According to Google Analytics, “Cross-domain tracking makes it possible for Analytics to see sessions on two related sites (such as an e-commerce site and a separate shopping cart site) as a single session.“ In simple terms, cross-domain allows you (a business analyst, analytics analyst, business owner, etc.) to view a website visitors session as they navigate from one domain to another as part of a single customer journey from the point of acquisition to conversion.
When and when not to implement cross-domain tracking
Implementing a cross-domain tracking solution isn’t the answer to poorly configured websites. We’ve received requests for it to solve this problem. “If you go to our site with domain.com everything is fine, but you also get there with www.domain.com and everything is also fine, but as you navigate the site, sometimes a user gets the www and sometimes they don’t. We want cross-domain tracking to fix this in our analytics reports.” Our answer is yes cross-domain tracking can help, but you’re better off having your admin fix it with one line in the .htacess file to either show the www or not show it every time.
Another favorite request is, “We have a few sites domainA.com, domainB.com and domainC.com and want to see how many people navigate between them.” This may sound like a perfect reason to implement cross-domain tracking, but when you dig a bit deeper with the client and ask them, “Do you have links between your sites?” or “Are the sites related in some specific way?” and you get the answer “No!”, then what they are asking for isn’t cross-domain tracking, but rather “session stitching” which is far more complex to implement.
What cross-domain tracking, is truly intended for is connecting the data flow between related sites. For example, perhaps you have all your marketing landing pages on a sub-domain of www1.domain.com and clicking on the call to action takes the user to a different domain (perhaps to complete a form) (i.e., ecommerce.domain.com) and once they’ve completed this task they are then returned to your public site of www.domain.com with additional conversion opportunities. In this customer journey, a visitor would encounter three domains and as a business owner, you need to know which ads drove conversions and potentially if running A/B testing on landing pages which landing pages yield conversions. This is the perfect scenario to implement cross-domain tracking.
Perhaps you operated multiple domains in support of a common target audience (each one specializing in different services) that do link to each other and the services promoted on each of them. Once again, this is a perfect reason to implement cross-domain tracking as part of a roll-up analytics report.
Final use of cross-domain tracking
While a bit of a stretch, if your organization operates multiple websites that aren’t linked together you can through some custom reporting and the use of Attribution Modeling and Multi-Channel reporting, view if a user visited associated websites (including which ones) before converting on the final one. This last option can be extremely tricky to implement, expensive and fraught with holes that may limit the reliability of the data. However, to some people, a bit data is better than no data at all.
Ultimately, talk to your analytics provider and ensure that the need for cross-domain tracking is truly in line with your corporate measurement plan. Then and only then, is it going to be worth the investment of time and money to implement it.