Can Google Analytics Serve As a Partner Tracking System?

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April 7, 2022

At Seperia, we refer online traffic from our review sites to hundreds of brands – on a performance partnership basis. We typically get paid for new signups or leads (although there are other models too). Within such a partnership model our ability to monitor the precise user’s journey in real time – is crucial to maximizing the results for all parties involved: users, advertisers and us.

When a partner has a robust tracking system such as Impact, or Appsflyer (for apps) – this side of the partnership is easy.  However, sometimes advertisers do not have a good system in place, but rely on their company’s CRM (which is inaccessible to publishers) or on an internal partner portal (which is almost always outdated / inaccurate / inaccessible). Sometimes it’s a matter of budget, data privacy concerns, resources or priorities.  Whatever the reason might be – the fact is that without a robust tracking system with real time performance data accessible to partners, optimization is hampered and results suffer.

However, nearly 100% of websites already use Google Analytics. GA is an enterprise-grade web measurement platform and is basically free –  can it reliably serve as a partner tracking system for those currently lacking it?

The answer is yes and no. Spoiler: on a limited basis it can be a great solution. As a broad scale solution for working with many different partners – less. Let’s quickly dive into what’s required from a modern partner tracking system, and whether or not GA meets these requirements. Note: this is a quick overview, not a comprehensive technical analysis of GA.

Core tracking of conversion sources
GA can definitely do the core tracking as well as support different attribution models to suit advertiser business logic and avoid duplications. Here it’s clear V. Note that you need to have proper GA tracking for all relevant conversion events, and most importantly the conversion on which the partnership is based. (Lead, Registration, Full Registration, Sales, etc..)

Making data accessible for partners in real time
In a given GA property there are 25 available views. Each publisher needs to get access to their own dedicated view (which will include only their traffic) – clearly you cannot work en masse this way. However, it can still work for a few select strategic partners, or if the company only works with a few sources.

Reporting System 
GA has a great reports system, probably better than most partner platforms have to offer. 

Data Connectivity 
Here GA is great – it has a comprehensive read / write API. It can be fed data from external sources (CRM, spreadsheet), and also enables publishers to export the data programmatically to their own systems. Also, GA has built in connectivity with Google sheets, another easy way to connect data. 

Supporting Subid Parameters 
A modern tracking system supports at least 3 subids, which are wildcards that allow publishers to segment the traffic according to their own internal logic, and optimize accordingly. Google analytics has 5 utms, 1 would probably be reserved as the static source ID, which leaves another 4 to use freely, definitely a V here.

Providing Marketing materials and landing pages
Affiliate systems typically offer landing pages and banners, widgets, articles….etc. for publishers to use within their sites / blogs / social assets. GA isn’t designed as an affiliate marketing platform, so it doesn’t have this at all. However, in the “limited use” mode, this can be overcome by a direct relationship between the advertiser and publisher. 

Data Security & Privacy
it’s google… 

Some platforms allow publisher payments to go through them, and take care of issues of bulk cross border payments, currencies, invoices,…etc. GA clearly isn’t handling any financials. 
As an advertiser, the bottom line is that if you already have GA implemented on your site you can work with GA as your tracking system for a small number of partners. You will need to do a certain implementation that will serve the data needs of your partners, but you’ll still save time and money compared to the alternatives. Another advantage is the familiarity of most people with GA, meaning your partners can probably make use of the rich reporting system, with little learning curve, to optimize the traffic they send you. 
If you want to work on a large scale, with dozens or hundreds of partners, you’ll have to look elsewhere.