Custom Variables in Google Analytics, Part 1

Alex Centeno

Director of Digital at AndiSites Inc.
Alex is AndiSites' Director of Digital. He writes on all things digital, including web design, development, SEO, online marketing, photography, and video.
Alex Centeno

In our last two posts, we learned:  to setup a Google Analytics account; add a tracking code to each page of our website; and setup valuable goals and track custom events and social events.

In this post we will learn what custom variables are, how they differ from custom metrics and dimensions, and the limitations of using them in Google Analytics.

What are Custom Variables?

According to the Google Developer’s portal:

“Custom variables are name-value pair tags that you can insert in your tracking code in order to refine Google Analytics tracking. With custom variables, you can define additional segments to apply to your visitors other than the ones already provided by Analytics.”

In other words, we can further categorize our users, based not only on predefined Google Analytics parameters, but also based on our own parameters. For example, we could segment our visitors based on the answer to a question: Do they prefer dark or milk chocolate? Based on their answer we can compare the two types of respondents inside our Google Analytics platform.

The beauty of creating custom variables is that you can analyze the behavior of a particular type of user.

However, when you use the Universal JS code, custom variables are called custom metrics and dimensions.

So what are the differences between custom metrics and custom dimensions?

Custom Metrics and Dimensions

Metrics are quantitative measurements:  if you can calculate something based on your custom value, then it is a metric. Things like minutes, number of sessions, and number of page views are metrics.

Dimensions are parameters that describe the user, session, or event. For example, the dimension of city holds values like: “Paris” or “London”.

Limitations of Custom Metrics and Dimensions

Perhaps the most important limitation of custom dimensions is that they can’t be deleted. You can disable them, but it is best practice not to reuse them for something else.

20-metricsThere are only 20 indices available for custom dimensions and 20 indices available for custom metrics per property. If you need more than 20 you can sign up for a Google Analytics Premium account that provides up to 200 indices for each property.

Now you know the difference between dimensions and metrics, and their limitations.

In our next post we’ll focus on the next piece of the puzzle:  implementing custom metrics and dimensions on a website. 

If you have any questions or comments about Google Analytics or how to better market your business online, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us today!

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