Analytics

Google Analytics User-ID Reports: Everything You Need to Know

Want to track website users more accurately and understand buyer’s journey better? Learn how to do it with Google Analytics User-ID feature.

Stefana Zaric Stefana Zaric on February 4, 2022 (last modified on February 1, 2022) • 16 minute read

How many times have you started watching a TV show on your smartphone, only to realize it’d work much better on a bigger screen, so you switch to your laptop or TV? Probably many.

So, it’s still you, watching the same content on a different device.

Something similar happens to Google Analytics tracking visits on your website. It can track the number of unique users on your web pages, but the total number you get isn’t completely accurate since some users are just accessing the website from different devices. In today’s tech world, the overall traffic comes from smartphones as much as from desktop computers, so it’s likely that a single person will eventually log in from more than one device.

How do you count your visitors correctly, then?

As you may already know, Google Analytics can’t use a person’s personal info or IP address to give you insights into your audience structure and behavior. However, it can do the next best thing – allow you to use a unique user ID to get you valuable information about new and returning users on your website.

In this detailed guide, you’ll learn about the benefits of using Google Analytics User ID, how to set them up, and how to use them to learn more about your users’ purchase journey.

Let’s get started.

Google Analytics Website Engagement Dashboard Template by Databox

What Is Google Analytics User ID?

Google Analytics User ID is a feature that enables you to assign a unique combination of letters and numbers to each website user. Thanks to the User ID, you can associate multiple sessions across devices with a unique identifier and learn more about how specific people behave on your website and get more accurate data.

That means you will be able to confirm that, for example, the same user has visited your website multiple times using different devices or browsers. For example, you can send User IDs every time a user logs into your app or website, and later associate those sessions in Google Analytics so they’re displayed as a single user.

Here’s an example of what a User ID looks like: e8a036gf

What you should know about User IDs in Google Analytics is that the tool doesn’t assign them automatically – you need to generate and assign the IDs on your own. When assigning these identifiers, make sure they don’t contain any personally identifiable information (PII). Breaking this rule may end up with Google suspending your Google Analytics account.

Related: Google Analytics Reporting: A Complete Guide to Reports, Metrics, Dimensions, and More

Difference Between Google Analytics User ID and Client ID

It’s important to remember that User ID and Client ID can’t be used interchangeably. There are differences in how they’re generated and what information they can give you.

Here are the most notable differences:

  1. You’re in charge of generating User IDs for your website users. On the other hand, Google Analytics generates Client IDs with the tracking feature – the Universal Analytics cookie _ga, to be precise.
  2. User IDs help you identify the same user across devices and browsers, while each Client ID is assigned to a unique browser or device. So if the same person uses several devices or browsers to log in, they will be counted as a new visitor each time.
  3. User IDs can contain both numbers and letters, while Client IDs contain digits only.
  4. When you track Client IDs, you can identify the same user across devices, while tracking User ID allows you to do just that.
  5. Another difference is that in most cases, you only track logged-in users with User ID, while Client IDs are assigned to every website user.
  6. User ID can’t provide you with the information about a user’s behavior during the period before their login. On the other hand, Client ID can give you a pretty clear picture of your customer’s buyer’s journey since the first time they visited your site.

Related: Sessions vs. Users vs. Pageviews in Google Analytics: Everything You Need to Know

Benefits of Using Google Analytics User ID

There are many valuable benefits of using Google Analytics User ID reports. Here’s an overview of the reasons why you should take advantage of this Google Analytics feature.

Pulling More Accurate Data

A User ID provides you with more accurate data when it comes to the number of unique visitors that use your website.

User Segmentation and Retargeting

Setting up a User ID allows you to fix attribution issues as you are able to identify a single user and attribute corresponding interaction with your website to them.

This is important because users who log in and those who don’t usually engage with your website in different manners. If you manage to identify and segment users who log in to interact with your website, you can adjust your marketing and sales strategy to match their needs.

Understanding the Buyer’s Journey

All of this enables you to understand your users’ buyer’s journey better for different types of customers as it allows you to track their behavior across multiple devices and sessions.

Using session unification (a feature that we’ll explain shortly), you can draw important conclusions about how people engage on your website on different devices and discover how you can improve their user experience on each device type.

Learning about Website Performance

The last, but not least important reason why setting up a User ID is an excellent idea is the fact that it enables you to create a special type of report in Google Analytics.

Google Analytics User ID reports filter the sessions containing User ID and the map of their interactions with your pages. That will give you a better understanding of your website’s performance.

Who Can Use the User ID Feature?

Unfortunately, not all websites are eligible for using this Google Analytics feature. Any app or website that contains some type of login can set up a User ID, for example, social media platforms or e-commerce sites.

If you don’t already have some kind of user identification in your system, an ID that would follow the user and remain the same through sessions and across devices, you’re not eligible for using Google Analytics User ID reports.

If you decide to set up identification options on your website in the future, you’ll be able to set up User IDs at that point.

Note that there are several physical ways to implement User ID – by using loyalty cards, wrist bands, or biometric identification. However, these ways may require more time and effort.

How to Set up User ID Tracking

So, does your website have a system login? If so, you’re ready to set up User ID tracking and start collecting unique IDs to identify unique users of your website every time they use their credentials to sign into their account.

Enabling User ID View in Google Analytics

First, you should enable a User ID view in your GA account. You need to create one since it’s not visible in the regular Google Analytics view.

Here are the steps to follow to create a new User ID in Google Analytics:

  1. Open Google Analytics and log in to your website if you haven’t already. Then, click on the gear icon in the bottom left corner to open the Admin menu.
  2. In the middle column, under Property, you’ll see the Tracking Info menu. Click on it to expand it, then select User-ID.
User ID tracking info

3. You’ll be asked to review the User-ID Policy and select ON to move on to the next step.

4. Here, use the code below Universal Analytics Tracking Code to set up ID tracking. In this step, it’s also important to enable the Session unification feature. Why? Because in this case, all engagement that happens during a session before a login will be assigned to that same user and you’ll have more accurate data. Click Next to move on.

5. This is the final step, where you’ll click on Done and complete the activation of the User ID feature.

Create a User ID

Setting up the Tracking Code on Your Website

Now that you’ve enabled the User ID view in your Google Analytics account, it’s time to set up the tracking code on your website and send the IDs to GA.

You can do it by adding it to the tracking code on your welcome page – the one that’s displayed to the user after they log in.

Another option is to use the Google Tag Manager and create a Macro set to the User ID and modify your Google Analytics tag.

You can also add userId attribute to the Property definition function, but make sure you set a value for the User ID first. The best practice is to use the same value you use for the identification system, while ensuring that it’s unique, but not personally identifiable.

If you’re not proficient in coding or you have a team of developers that maintains your website, you may want to reach out to them to save your time and start tracking User ID as soon as possible.

Related: The 3 Essentials for Properly Setting Up Google Analytics Conversion Tracking

How to Use Collected User IDs?

After you’ve set up the tracking code, you should focus on making the most out of it. It’s time to learn what information you can get from it and how.

When you navigate to the User ID view that you’ve set up in Google Analytics, you can see if there’s already data sent from your website. That proves that you’ve set up the code correctly and that tracking is working.

To get insights from your website data, open your Audience tab in GA and go to User explorer. This tab will show you a table with User IDs and information about the users’ behavior on your website: number of sessions, average session duration, bounce rate, revenue, and more.

One way to use the collected IDs is to segment your website visitors – the ones who used the website without getting a User ID (which means they didn’t sign up or log in), and the ones with a User ID assigned to them. Which group engages more or converts more often? These insights can help you boost your website performance and turn more visitors into registered users.

Google Analytics User ID Limitations

As we’ve previously mentioned, it’s hard to make use of this GA feature unless you have users register or log into your system to engage with your website further. And even when you do, this user tracking system may not always work perfectly. Here are some of its limitations.

No Information Without Logins

Despite having a system login, the User ID feature only enables you to track users who actually sign in. You may enable the Session unification option, but it may not be able to help you in some cases. If a user, for example, interacts with your website without logging in, you won’t collect any information about their behavior on the website.

No Detailed Information About Users

User IDs may be helpful when it comes to identifying the stages of your customers’ journey, but note that you still can’t learn information about their demographics, interests, or even get real-time data.

Stopped by Ad Blockers

The users themselves may stop you from getting any data at all by using ad blockers, since these extensions may interfere with your User ID tracking.

Compatibility

Another limitation worth mentioning is that the User ID view isn’t compatible with all products you might be using, such as Google Ad Manager or Campaign Manager 360.

Understanding User ID Related Terminology

To fully leverage the information you can get using the User ID feature in Google Analytics, you should become familiar with some basic terms you may stumble upon. Let’s go through a few most common ones.

User ID Hits and Sessions

User ID hits refer to specific types of engagement on your website, such as pageviews, transactions, or events, that you’ve set a User ID for. If the User ID hasn’t been set for specific actions, you’ll see them as Non-User ID hits.

Similarly, User ID sessions are those in which a user got assigned a User ID. These sessions are made of User ID hits that you collect during the session, but also the ones made pre-session if you have the Session unification feature enabled.

Non-User ID sessions are regular Google Analytics sessions where no User IDs have been assigned.

Related: New vs. Returning Visitors: What’s the Right Balance & Does It Even Matter?

User ID Property

User ID Property is the one where you’ve enabled the User ID feature.

User ID View

By choosing User ID View, you display the data collected from the sessions that had a User ID assigned to them. You can check if this view is enabled by opening View Settings in the Admin tab. You’ll see that User ID reports are enabled below your website’s URL.

Non-User ID View

Any views collecting data from regular Google Analytics sessions, without a User ID being assigned to users, will be displayed in a Non-User ID view. In this case, GA will track Client IDs that are automatically assigned to your website users and count them as unique visitors.

User ID Related Reports

So, what kind of reports can you get after you set up the User ID tracking? Here are two valuable ones.

User ID Coverage Reports

User ID Coverage Reports allow you to identify how many sessions come from registered/logged users on your website, compared to the number of sessions that didn’t get a User ID. Here’s how to access this report:

  1. Click on Audience in the sidebar on the left.
  2. Select Behavior and choose User-ID coverage from the expanded menu. You’ll see both assigned and unassigned user sessions.

Cross-Device Google Analytics Reports

Another way to leverage the User ID view is to use cross-device reports to unlock more information about your website audience.

Primarily, you can learn a lot about the conversion path of your users as you gain access to data about how they engage across devices, how many sessions they had on each type, how many users interacted with your website using different devices, etc.

To access this report, click on Audience on the left side of your GA home page and select Cross-Device from the drop-down menu.

Google Analytics Cross Device report

Related: The 22 Most Useful Google Analytics Reports

Google Analytics Website Engagement Dashboard Template by Databox

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About the author
Stefana Zaric
Stefana Zaric Stefana Zarić is a freelance writer & content marketer. Other than writing for SaaS and fintech clients, she educates future writers who want to build a career in marketing. When not working, Stefana loves to read books, play with her kid, travel, and dance.
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