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Implementing Google Analytics on multi-national websites

14 July, 2010
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Increase revenue by 100 percent in all markets! Double your customer base! Reduce support calls to the call center.  Every successful business needs objectives and a set of goals to strive toward.

You can reach all these goals  without using web analytics, but it will cost you much  more!

Why we need accurate analytics

Successful marketers  realize the importance of using web analytics to better understand their customers’ preferences and online behaviors.

See what works…

By using web analytics you can understand where people are going, where they came from, where they drop out and what might help them to convert. We can deliver more targeted and relevant email campaigns by measuring open, clickthrough and unsubscribe rates. We can monitor and optimize our Adwords campaigns in real time.  To do all this, we need our web analytics package to report accurately!

Recipe for success…

Our goal is to create a seamless shopping experience for the customer and to ensure that our web analytics tool shows consistent data for each market’s Google Analytics account including conversion and e-commerce reports. When this project has been completed HRG will be able to adopt a flexible budget structure(pay per performance) for online marketing activities which is essential to achieve online success in the future.

Implementing Google Analytics on  multi-national websites

On a normal website it takes a decent developer approx. 15 minutes(!) to implement Google Analytics.

If you have multiple domains and several seperate web applications , Google Analytics implementation requires a bit more effort. Google has several suggestions on how to get tracking installed correctly when you have multiple domains or sub domains.  All the workarounds are great, but they become difficult to manage as circumstances change and your family of websites (and other web applications) grow.

In real-life  a mix of top-level domains, sub domains, hosting services, several CMS platforms and a booking engine application makes it difficult to get Google Analytics working the way we want it to work! I guess this is the disadvantage of using Google Analytics rather than other web analytics packages. On the other hand I’m sure that if we get Google Analytics working properly, it will be alot easier to switch analytics packages in the future(if we need to).

The web analytics challenge at Hurtigruten

At Hurtigruten we operate websites in 15 markets with 15 different domains. Our organization is divided in 3 major sales areas(Nordic, Central Europe and UK/US/Rest of the world).

Background of our web efforts

Historically, each Hurtigruten market has been independently run with seperate websites, web agencies, booking engines, etc. During the last 24 months, we have worked on getting organized(some results). We have tried to get control over all our domain names, websites platforms, advertising accounts and analytics accounts. Each market is autonomous, but during the last few years the individual markets are increasingly cooperating on web strategy, online marketing, booking engines,  sales support and web analytics.

The global Hurtigruten domain strategy states that we should use the local top level domain in all our major markets and important emerging markets. (We should also choose to either use http://www.hurtigruten.tld or http://hurtigruten.tld . Currently we are not consistent on this approach, but we are moving slowly towards removing the www from our domains, since this is considered more user friendly. It does not really matter if we use www or no www, but we must be consistent. http://www.hurtigruten.no should obviously redirect to http://hurtigruten.no). This approach will also affect the way we structure our URL’s in our booking engine and our Google Analytics implementation.

Local autonomy – global cooperation

Our goal is to provide each sales area with accurate and relevant web analytics for their area. This means that each market needs their own setup when it comes to Google Adwords ,  Webmaster Tools and  Google Analytics . In addition to  local reporting in each market, we need  to see our web activities from a global perspective. This requires a global Google Analytics roll-up account.

We are in the process of gathering all our Google Adwords accounts into one Global Client Center. This will simplify Adwords billing and reporting. In addition each local Google Adwords account has been correctly connected to the respective Google Analytics account. This will give each market more accurate reporting. We also have a Global roll-up account that provides us with a birds eye perspective of all our 15 websites.

The next challenge in our quest to getting Google Analytics working properly is making our URL structure consistent across the websites and booking engines.

How Hurtigruten is solving the Google Analytics challenge

We’ve done a lot of research on the subject of implementing Google Analytics across multiple websites and web applications. We have investigated how other global companies have implemented web analytics and a web analytics-friendly URL-structure. It seems that very few large companies have implemented Google Analytics correctly for multiple domains and web applications .  I think the reason is that there exists very little official Google documentation(Analytics Help, forums, etc) on how to implement Google Analytics on multinational websites. For that reason, I went straight to the source and asked a contact at Google Analytics for advice.

My contact at Google Analytics sent me this:

“The best practice in this situation would be to set up a separate GA + AdWords account for each website to managed by each region independently. In addition, a single account should be set up across all properties; this account would serve as a corporate rollup reporting account. So, on each website, you’ll be sending traffic to 2 accounts: the individual regional GA+AdWords account and then the corporate account to which all the website are sending their traffic.”

When I revisited the issue a few weeks ago, I discovered a more formal write-up that explains the advanced Google Analytics implmentation in more detail. The advanced google analytics implementation write-up is great, but it does not cover our challenge of multiple website and one booking application.

Current set up for Hurtigruten websites and booking engines:

Proposed set up for Hurtigruten websites and booking engines:

The next step is to merge our booking engines into our website setup to enable accurate Google Analytics reporting for each local market across both the website and our booking engine.  We will not physically merge the two applications. We do not want to create unecessary dependencies between web applications that may cause problems in the future. We are merely looking to make the URL-structure consistent throughout the customers visit to our different web properties by using proxy URL rewrite. I’ll post an update later.

In the future, a visit to our Norwegian website will look like this:

  1. http://hurtigruten.no
  2. http://hurtigruten.no/b2x/no/nok/Travel-details
  3. http://hurtigruten.no/b2x/no/nok/cabins
  4. http://hurtigruten.no/b2x/no/nok/Passengers
  5. http://hurtigruten.no/b2x/no/nok/Extras
  6. http://hurtigruten.no/b2x/no/nok/Excursions
  7. http://hurtigruten.no/b2x/no/nok/Review
  8. http://hurtigruten.no/b2x/no/nok/Payment

In the UK, a visit would look like this:

  1. http://hurtigruten.co.uk
  2. http://hurtigruten.co.uk/b2x/en/gbp/Travel-details
  3. http://hurtigruten.co.uk/b2x/en/gbp/cabins
  4. http://hurtigruten.co.uk/b2x/en/gbp/Passengers
  5. http://hurtigruten.co.uk/b2x/en/gbp/Extras
  6. http://hurtigruten.co.uk/b2x/en/gbp/Excursions
  7. http://hurtigruten.co.uk/b2x/en/gbp/Review
  8. http://hurtigruten.co.uk/b2x/en/gbp/Payment

In Germany, a visit would look like this:

  1. http://hurtigruten.de
  2. http://hurtigruten.de/b2x/de/eur/Travel-details
  3. http://hurtigruten.de/b2x/de/eur/cabins
  4. http://hurtigruten.de/b2x/de/eur/Passengers
  5. http://hurtigruten.de/b2x/de/eur/Extras
  6. http://hurtigruten.de/b2x/de/eur/Excursions
  7. http://hurtigruten.de/b2x/de/eur/Review
  8. http://hurtigruten.de/b2x/de/eur/Payment

This approach will simplify our Google Analytics setup and it does not require any custom coding on buttons. It will also make it easier to upgrade our web analytics software in the future. Please let us know if you have suggestions on how we can improve our Google Analytics implementation.

Sources:

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