Google Analytics is the most commonly used web analytics platform on the web, used by over 28 million websites. It is free to use and easy to set up, though being a Google-owned entity, GLAMR institutions choosing to implement it should be especially diligent in considering user privacy concerns (Young et. al, 2019).
Google introduced a new version of the software in 2020, Google Analytics 4 (GA4) that differs significantly from the previous version, Universal Analytics (UA). New accounts created after 2020 use only GA4 by default, however it is still possible to add new UA accounts or run both UA and GA4 concurrently within the same site. There are code syntax, reporting, and user interface differences between the versions, though in general, the practices related to tracking use or re-use are similar whether using GA4 or UA.
There is also a more full-featured enterprise version of the tool, Google Analytics 360, that is aimed at large businesses and marketers. It would be prohibitively expensive for most GLAMR institutions to use. The rest of the information on this page will focus on the free versions.
Consult the Web Analytics data collection method guide for more general information about each of the following strategies.
Practitioners can use a list of referrers to help determine the context of use or reuse. Strategies can range from using URL patterns as the basis for segmenting different kinds of incoming traffic to actually visiting the referring pages in order to analyze the links in context.
Referrer reports are available via:
Traffic Acquisition. Search ‘referral’ and filter to “Session source/medium”.
Note that due to recent changes in how browsers report referrers in HTTP headers, the full referring path will often be unavailable.
Traffic to digital objects originating via social media might signal a distinct type of sharing that institutions would consider to be re-use. Google Analytics tracks social media separately from other referrals.
Traffic Acquisition. Search “social” and filter to “Session source/medium”
Web analytics packages support granular, targeted tracking of specific interactions within a site. Practitioners may identify elements of their web user interface that signal re-use when clicked by a user (e.g., share, download, or export buttons), and track that data for reporting purposes.
Data collection in GA4 is almost entirely performed via event tracking, whereas in UA, “Events” are more of an optional, ancillary feature for capturing page interactions. Regardless, configuring event tracking on interface elements such as links to share, download, or export objects can help to isolate user activity that may qualify as re-use.
How to set up events:
How to see event reports:
Some digital asset management software supports an “embed code” feature to empower users to re-use digital objects by putting interactive versions of them in external sites (often in an
<iframe>). The service providing the source of the
<iframe> should have a separate web analytics property. External sites embedding the objects are logged as referrers within that property.
Both GA4 and UA make it possible to manage separate analytics properties within the same account. Having an
Property hierarchy helps keep reports organized and enables sharing some common configuration between properties.
Some GLAMR institutions have used IP-derived service provider data in Google Analytics to measure digital collections traffic coming from academic or government institutions. In 2020, Google discontinued reporting Service Provider and Network Domain; data in these fields will now only appear as “not set.” This practice is no longer supported by any version of Google Analytics.
Practitioners should follow the practices laid out in the “Ethical considerations and guidelines for the assessment of use and reuse of digital content.” The Guidelines are meant both to inform practitioners in their decision-making, and to model for users what they can expect from those who steward digital collections.
Privacy concerns around Google Analytics:
See A National Forum on Web Privacy and Web Analytics: Action Handbook (2019, p. 3) for a complete list of configuration and implementation changes GLAMR practitioners should specifically consider if choosing to use Google Analytics.
Young, S. W. H., Mannheimer, S., Clark, J. A., & Hinchliffe, L. J. (2019). A Roadmap for Achieving Privacy in the Age of Analytics: A White Paper from A National Forum on Web Privacy and Web Analytics. Montana State University.