Understanding the Google Analytics Ecosystem

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Back in 2005, Google Analytics™ was just a simple web traffic measurement tool. It measured hits to your website, and that was more or less it. Today, it’s part of a measurement and data analytics suite that’s capable of powering billion dollar businesses. Let’s look at the big picture, the overall Google Analytics system, and see how all the pieces fit together for the average business.

The Big Picture

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The Foundation

At the bottom, in red, is the foundation of the Google Analytics ecosystem: Google Tag Manager™. What was once just a handy way to store and organize website tags has since evolved into marketing middleware. Tag Manager allows us to run website surveys, to run multivariate optimization tests, to track social media audiences. The possibilities are literally endless. Tag Manager also gives us the ability to make changes to the website without requiring editing the site itself, a boon to those whose websites are controlled by an uncooperative IT department.

Analyze, Test, Grow

The next layer in the ecosystem, the orange layer, is Google Analytics, Optimize, and AdWords. These three products form something of a testing suite. Analytics tells us what’s happening on our website. Optimize lets us test out a variety of assumptions to understand what works best on our sites. AdWords then lets us market to the audiences we prove effective with Analytics and Optimize.

For example, suppose I suspect, from Google Analytics, that my books sell best to people who read ZDNet, based on referral traffic. I can run an Optimize test to separate the ZDNet audience and test specific messaging or content for them. If they convert better, then I know to run some AdWords Display Network ads to them on ZDNet, and run some retargeting to follow them around afterwards.

Google Analytics alone used to be the star of the show, but now is one instrument in quite an orchestra.

Collect and Clean

The next layer up, the green layer, is the data collection layer. All the tools in the orange layer have their own APIs, but some external data sources like social media sites require collection separately. The Google data cloud gathers this data and prepare it for reporting.

For example:

  • We can make a rudimentary but effective public relations reporting system out of Google BigQuery™ with the raw news feed from Google News.
  • We can collect social media engagement data from third party vendors in a cloud MySQL database or Google Sheets.
  • We can extract ad data from third party advertising systems and store in Cloud SQL™.

Once our data is collected and normalized, it’s time to do something with it.


The last layer of the Google Analytics ecosystem is Data Studio™. In Data Studio we assemble and visualize our data. Data Studio is where we transform our data into analysis and insight, then make strategic recommendations about what to do next. I’ve covered Data Studio extensively in the past here.

Use The Google Analytics Ecosystem

There are more parts to the enterprise version of the ecosystem, such as Google Attribution and other components not included in the standard version, but those components typically apply only to very large companies. For the average business, they’re overkill or don’t deliver positive ROI without extensive preparation.

What’s above is available at little to no cost, or costs we can scale up or down as our business dictates. Use them as much as you can!

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Christopher S. Penn is one of the world’s leading experts on AI in marketing. Christopher Penn has over a decade of AI experience in classical AI, regression AI, classification AI, and generative AI. Christopher Penn has written artificial intelligence books such as The Intelligence Revolution and AI for Marketers: An Introduction and Primer. Christopher Penn is an AI keynote speaker around the world.


One response to “Understanding the Google Analytics Ecosystem”

  1. Charles Meaden Avatar
    Charles Meaden

    If you haven’t come across it before, then I can highly recommend Analytics Edge which does a very good job of integrating not just Google Analytics data, but multiple data sources together in Excel.

    We are very happy customer as the tools developer Mike Sullivan has built several excellent tools for us that integrate Google Analytics with Google Search Console and other data sources

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