This past week has been very interesting in the web analytics world.
On February 4th, around 4pm London time, Google made a change to Google Analytics, which set Service Provider and Network Domain dimensions as “(not set)” for all new data.
Google made this change without any prior notification, affecting all Google Analytics users and paid Google Analytics 360 users.
Each time someone visits a website tracked by Google Analytics (“GA”), the browser sends information to Google Analytics about the visited page and the visitor themselves. Included in this information is the visitor’s IP address. From here, Google Analytics derives the visitor’s location information i.e. country and city.
Prior to the February 4th changes, Google Analytics also used the visitor’s IP address to derive Service Provider and Network Domain information.
Service Provider information shows who the owner or registrant of the visitor’s IP network.
Network Domain shows the reverse DNS information of the IP, in layman’s terms: the domain of the service provider.
To illustrate, let’s use an example.
If the visitor’s IP is 188.8.131.52, the public information available shows that the:
Service Provider is Finnish Internet operator “DNA Oyj”
Network Domain is “dnainternet.fi”
You can try this yourself with one of the many online tools available, such as whatismyipaddress.com.
Screenshot from whatismyipaddress.com lookup
Over the years, Service Provider and Network Domain information has helped both website owners and marketers to better understand their website visitors.
With just an IP address, it’s not possible to recognize the visitor’s personal information, but it is fully possible to recognize the information of the registered organization of the network the visitor is browsing from.
Mostly, this turns out to be an Internet Service Provider (ISP), but if the visitor is searching from work, it will reveal the company.
Although, as mentioned, it’s not possible to identify the individual, it is still highly valuable information to know that an individual from the identified company has visited.
Pair that with website behavior (which pages they visited, how long they stayed, etc.), and you have very actionable marketing and sales intel on that recognized company.
Prior to February 4th, you were able to run a Network report in Google Analytics to help you recognize the Service Provider and the Network domain dimensions of your website visitors.
And one additional use case for these dimensions was to filter out bot networks from Google Analytics reports.
Now these possibilities are gone.
Let’s take a deeper dive and compare the data before and after the changes.
The first report below is showing a timeframe prior to February 4th 2020. As you can see, this is, for the most part, revealing both Service Provider and Network domain.
(Found under Audience → Technology → Network)
Service Provider and Network Domain information in GA before the change
When we select a timeframe following February 4th, we can see that both the Service Provider and the Network Domain dimensions have been set to “(not set)”. This is for all website visitors, regardless of the filters used.
Service Provider and Network Domain information in GA after the change
Google has unofficially confirmed that this change is permanent and they are not planning on reinstating Service Provider and Network Domain information in GA. In the app, they also inform that these dimensions are “No longer supported.”
No one really knows. There’s only speculation about the possible reasons.
Some think that it might be related to tightening privacy laws like CCPA. The only oddity here is that neither Service Provider nor Network Domain information can be linked to individuals, so this seems a bit off.
However, one theory is that Google could be able to use some of their other services to link this information to the individuals, making them personal information.
Another theory is that Google was under the impression that not many were using Service Provider and Network Domain information and just decided to stop supporting it.
Some suggest that maybe there was some change between Google and its IP data providers, thereby forcing Google’s hand to make the changes.
Maybe it was something else. Maybe we will find out, maybe we won’t.
Regardless, one thing that’s for certain is that the way in which Google rolled out these changes was far from optimal.
No pre-warning and follow-up statement yet, 4 days since the change.
These changes affected tens of millions of Google Analytics users, Google Analytics partners, paid Google Analytics 360 users and anyone else dependent on this data.
The surprise element has been the worst part, as there was no time to prepare.
A lot of users will be left stuck and the alternative will be to invest in a technology that offers similar information.
The anonymous website visitor identification industry was hit especially hard.
Leadfeeder, and even our competitors like Visitor Queue, Leadberry, etc. and many other B2B organizations fueled their lead generation efforts using our tools and many were left hung out to dry.
Fortunately, Leadfeeder has invested in having our own tracking technology as an alternative way of retrieving data on website visitors.
Upon noticing the change, we swiftly got our entire customer base installed with the Leadfeeder Tracker script to ensure they didn’t miss any lead data.
However, it appears that fate was not the same for our competitors’ users, based on the direct feedback we heard from Leadberry and Visitor Queue customers who switched to using Leadfeeder in the past few days.
First of all, Leadfeeder is an intelligence tool for sales and marketing, not an analytics tool like Google Analytics.
Leadfeeder does not provide users with raw IP, Service Provider or Network Domain data.
Instead, we provide more intelligent data derived from these, like the name of the company visiting, including the background information on that company. Something which provides insights for both sales and marketing.
Leadfeeder automatically filters out ISPs, something not offered by Google Analytics, after all, someone visiting from the AT&T network most probably doesn’t work at AT&T.
We also partner with a number of CRM tools to help match identified traffic to existing customer/prospect data, as well as push newly identified to your sales and marketing teams.
We offer a free 14-day trial, come see if you can gather the information you need.
Google Analytics will stay as one of our most important integration partners. Leadfeeder continues to be a Google Analytics Technology Partner.
Instead of using Google Analytics information to identify visiting companies, we will now solely use our own tracking technology for that purpose. We will continue to use Google Analytics to enrich data about visitors, such as information related to keywords, campaigns, and more.
Google Analytics is an amazing tool and we are looking forward to continuing working with their product and partner teams to provide customers even better marketing and sales intelligence.
Speaking out as one of the millions of Google Analytics users and partners out there, I think we could all agree that we would all appreciate a bit more transparency and a smoother communication flow regarding any future changes to Google Analytics features.
Founder and CEO of Leadfeeder
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