Switching from Adobe to Google? What You Should Know (Part 1)
In the past few months, I’ve had the same conversation with at least 5 different clients. After the most recent occurrence, I decided it was time to write a blog post about it. This conversation has involved a client either having made the decision to migrate from Adobe Analytics to Google Analytics 360 – or deciding to invest in both tools simultaneously. This isn’t a conversation that is new to me – I’ve had it at least a few times a year since I started at Demystified. But this year has struck me particularly because of both the frequency and the lack of awareness among some of my clients at what this undertaking actually means to a company as large as those I typically work with. So I wanted to highlight the things I believe anyone considering a shift like this should know before they jump. Before I get into a discussion about the feature set between the tools, I want to note two things that have nothing to do with features and the tools themselves.
- If you’re making this change because you lack confidence in the data in your current tool, you’re unlikely to feel better after switching. I’ve seen far too many companies that had a broken process for implementing and maintaining analytics tracking hope that switching platforms would magically fix their problems. I have yet to see a company actually experience that magical change. The best way to increase confidence in your data is to audit and fix your implementation, and then to make sure your analysts have adequate training to use whichever tool you’ve implemented. Switching tools will only solve your problem if it is accompanied by those two things.
- If you’re making this change to save money, do your due diligence to make sure that’s really the case. Google’s pricing is usually much easier to figure out than Adobe’s, but I have seen strange cases where a company pays more for Google 360 than Adobe. You also need to make sure you consider the true cost of switching – how much will it take to start over with a new tool? Have you included the cost of things like rebuilding back-end processes for consuming data feeds, importing data into your internal data warehouse, and recreating integrations with other vendors you work with?
As we take a closer look at actual feature differences between Adobe and Google, I want to start by saying that we have many clients successfully using each tool. I’m a former Adobe employee, and I have more experience with Adobe’s tool’s than Google’s. But I’ve helped enough companies implement both of these tools to know that a company can succeed or fail with either tool, and a company’s processes, structure, and culture will be far more influential in determining success than which tool you choose. Each has strengths and features that the other does not have. But there are a lot of hidden costs in switching that companies often fail to think about beforehand. So if your company is considering a switch, I want you to know things that might influence that decision; and if your management team has made the decision for you, I want you to know what to expect.
A final caveat before diving in…this series of posts will not focus much on GA4 or the Adobe Experience Platform, which represent the future of each company’s strategy. There are similarities between those two platforms, namely that both open allow a company to define its own data schema, as well as more easily incorporate external data sources in the reporting tool (Google’s Analysis tool or Adobe’s Analysis Workspace). I’ll try to call out points where these newer platforms change things, but my own experience has shown me that we’re still a ways out from most companies being ready to fully transition from the old to the new platforms.
Topic #1: Intended Audience
The first area I’d like to consider may be more opinion than fact – but I believe that, while neither company may want to admit it, they have targeted their analytics solutions to different markets. Google Analytics takes a far more democratic approach – it offers a UI that is meant to be relatively easy for even a new analyst to use. While deeper analysis is possible using Data Studio, Advanced Analysis, or BigQuery, the average analyst in GA generally uses the reports that are readily available. They’re fast, easy to run, and offer easily digestible insights.
On the other hand, I frequently tell my clients that Adobe gives its customers enough rope to hang themselves. There tend to be a lot more reports at an analyst’s fingertips in Adobe Analytics, and it’s not always clear what the implications are for mixing different types of dimensions and metrics. That complexity means that you can hop into Analysis Workspace and pretty quickly get into the weeds.
I’ve heard many a complaint from analyst with extensive GA experience that join a company that uses Adobe, usually about how hard it is to find things, how unintuitive the UI is, etc. It’s a valid complaint – and yet, I think Adobe kind of intends for that to be the case. The two tools are different – but they are meant to be that way.
Topic #2: Sampling
Entire books have been written on Google Analytics’ use of sampling, and I don’t want to go into that level of detail here. But sampling tends to be the thing that scares analysts the most when they move from Adobe to Google. For those not familiar with Adobe, this is because Adobe does not have it. Whatever report you run will always include 100% of the data collected for that time period (one exception is that Adobe, like Google, does maintain some cardinality limits on reports, but I consider this to be different from sampling).
The good news is that Google Analytics has dramatically reduced the impact of sampling over the years, to the point where there are many ways to get unsampled data:
- Any of the default reports in Google’s main navigation menus is unsampled, as long as you don’t add secondary dimensions, metrics, or breakdowns.
- You always have the option of downloading an unsampled report if you need it.
- Google 360 customers have the ability to create up to 100 “custom tables” per property. A custom table is a report you build in advance that combines all the dimension and metrics you know you need. When you run reports using a custom table you can apply dimensions, metrics, and segments to the report in any way you choose, without fear of sampling. They can be quite useful, but they must be built ahead of time and cannot be changed after that.
- You can always get unsampled data from BigQuery, provided that you have analysts that are proficient with SQL.
It’s also important to note that most companies that move from Adobe to Google choose to pay for Google 360, which has much higher sampling thresholds than the free version of Google Analytics. The free version of GA turns on sampling once you exceed 500,000 sessions at the property level for the date range you are using. But GA 360 doesn’t apply sampling until you hit 100,000,000 sessions at the view level, or start pulling intra-day data. So not only is the total number much higher, but you can also structure your views in a way that makes sampling even less of an issue.
Topic #3: Events
Perhaps one of the most difficult adjustments for an analyst moving from Adobe to Google – or vice-versa – is event tracking. The confusion stems from the fact that the word “event” means something totally different in each tool:
- In Adobe, an event usually refers to a variable used by Adobe Analytics to count things. A company gets up to 1000 “success events” that are used to count either the number of times something occurred (like orders) or a currency amount associated with a particular interaction (like revenue). These events become metrics in the reporting interface. The equivalent would be a goal or custom metric in Google Analytics – but Adobe’s events are far more useful throughout the reporting tools than custom metrics. They can also be serialized (counted only once per visit, or counted once for some unique ID).
- In Google, an event refers to an interaction a user performs on a website or mobile app. These events become a specific report in the reporting interface, with a series of different dimensions containing data about the event. Each event you track has an associated category, action, label, and value. There really is no equivalent in Adobe Analytics – events are like a combination of 3 props and a corresponding success event, all rolled up into one highly useful report (unlike the custom links, file download, and exit links reports). But that report can often become overloaded or cluttered because it’s used to report on just about every non-page view interaction on the site.
If you’ve used both tools, these descriptions probably sound very unsophisticated. But it can often be difficult for an analyst to shift from one tool to the other, because he or she is used to one reporting framework, and the same terminology means something completely different in the other tool. GA4 users will note here that events have changed again from Universal Analytics – even page and screen views are considered to be events in GA4, so there’s even more to get used to when making that switch.
Topic #4: Conversion and E-commerce Reporting
Some of the most substantial differences between Adobe and Google Analytics are in their approach to conversion and e-commerce reporting. There are dozens of excellent blog posts and articles about the differences between props and eVars, or eVars and custom dimensions, and I don’t really want to hash that out again. But for an Adobe user migrating to Google Analytics, it’s important to remember a few key differences:
- In Adobe Analytics, you can configure an eVar to expire in multiple ways: after each hit, after a visit/session, to never expire, after any success event occurs, or after any number of days. But in Google Analytics, custom dimensions can only expire after hits, sessions, or never (there is also the “product” option, but I’m going to address that separately).
- In Adobe Analytics, eVars can be first touch or last touch, but in Google Analytics, all custom dimensions are always last touch.
These are notable differences, but it’s generally possible to work around those limitations when migrating to Google Analytics. However, there is a concept in Adobe that has virtually no equivalent in Google – and as luck would have it, it’s also something that even many Adobe users struggle to understand. Merchandising is the idea that an e-commerce company might want to associate different values of a variable with each product the customer views, adds to cart, or purchases. There are 2 different ways that merchandising can be useful:
- Method #1: Let’s consider a customer that buys multiple products, and wants to use a variable or dimension to capture the product name, category, or some other common product attribute. Both Adobe and Google offer this type of merchandising, though Google requires each attribute to be passed on each hit where the product ID is captured, while Adobe allows an attribute to be captured once and associated with that product ID until you want it to expire.
- Method #2: Alternatively, what if the value you want to associate with the product isn’t a consistent product attribute? Let’s say that a customer finds her first product via internal search, and her second by clicking on a cross-sell offer on that first product. You want to report on a dimension called “Product Finding Method.” We’re no longer dealing with a value that will be the same for every customer that buys the product; each customer can find the same product in different ways. This type of merchandising is much easier to accomplish with Adobe than with Google I could write multiple blog posts about how to implement this in Adobe Analytics, so I won’t go into additional detail here. But it’s one of the main things I caution my Adobe clients about when they’re considering switching.
At this point, I want to highlight Google’s suite of reports called “Enhanced E-commerce.” This is a robust suite of reports on all kinds of highly useful aspects of e-commerce reporting: product impressions and clicks, promotional impressions and clicks, each step of the purchase process from seeing a product in a list, to viewing a product detail page, all the way through checkout. It’s built right into the interface in a standardized way, using a standard set of dimensions which yields a et of reports that will be highly useful to anyone familiar with the Google reporting interface. While you can create all the same types of reporting in Adobe, it’s more customized – you pick which eVars you want to use, choose from multiple options for tracking impressions and clicks, and end up with reporting that is every bit of useful but far less user-friendly than in Google’s enhanced e-commerce reporting.
In the first section of this post, I posited that the major difference between these tools is that Adobe focuses on customizability, while Google focuses on standardization. Nowhere is that more apparent than in e-commerce and conversion reporting: Google’s enhanced e-commerce reporting is simple and straightforward. Adobe requires customization to accomplish a lot of the same things, but while layering on complex like merchandising, offers more robust reporting in the process.
One last thing I want to call out in this section is that Adobe’s standard e-commerce reporting allows for easy de-duplication of purchases based on a unique order ID. When you pass Adobe the order ID, it checks to make sure that the order hasn’t been counted before; if it has, it does not count the order a second time. Google, on the other hand, also accepts the order ID as a standard dimension for its reporting – but it doesn’t perform this useful de-duplication on its own. If you want it, you have to build out the functionality as part of your implementation work.
Here’s a quick recap on what we’ve covered so far:
|Sampling||Standard: Above 500,000 sessions during the reporting period
360: Above 100,000,000 sessions during the reporting period
|Does not exist|
|Cardinality||Standard: 50,000 unique values per report per day, or 100,000 uniques for multi-day tables
360: 1,000,000 unique values per report per day, or 150,000 unique values for multi-day tables
|500,000 unique values per report per month (can be increased if needed)|
|Event Tracking||Used to track interactions, using 3 separate dimensions (category, action, label)||Used to track interactions using a single dimension (i.e. the “Custom Links” report)|
|Custom Metrics/Success Events||200 per property
Can track whole numbers, decimals, or currency
Can only be used in custom reports
|1,000 per report suite
Can track whole numbers, decimals, or currency
Can be used in any reports
Can be serialized
|Custom Dimensions/Variables||200 per property
Can be scoped to hit, session, or user
Can only be used in custom reports
Can only handle last-touch attribution
Product scope allows for analysis of product attributes, but nothing like Adobe’s merchandising feature exists
|250 per report suite
Can be scoped to hit, visit, visitor, any number of days, or to expire when any success event occurs
Can be used in any report
Can handle first-touch or last-touch attribution
Merchandising allows for complex analysis of any possible dimension, including product attributes
|E-Commerce Reporting||Pre-configured dimensions, metrics, and reports exist for all steps in an e-commerce flow, starting with product impressions and clicks and continuing through purchase||Pre-configured dimensions and metrics exist all steps in an e-commerce flow, starting with product views and continuing through purchase
Product impressions and clicks can also be tracked using additional success events
This is a good start – but next week, I’ll dive into a few additional topics: pathing, marketing channels, data import/classifications, and raw data integrations. If it feels like there’s a lot to keep track of, it should. Migrating from one analytics tool to another is a big job – and sometimes the people who make a decision like this aren’t totally aware of the burden it will place on their analysts and developers.