Thursday, February 23, 2012

Our Guide To Google Analytics IQ Testing: C is for Cookie

Cookie Monster has said on numerous occasions that C is for cookie and that’s good enough for him. But as Internet marketers, we know that cookies are so much more than that! As a matter of fact, they are one of the most important concepts covered in the Google Analytics IQ Test and you have to understand them if you want to pass the test. Fortunately, cookies are also one of the easiest concepts in the test to learn about and understand.

In order to pass the Google Analytics IQ Test, you need to score at least an 80%. There are a total of 70 questions on the exam, so you need to correctly answer at least 56 questions. Based on what I’ve personally observed, you can expect that about 15% of any given exam will pertain to cookies, so it’s worth spending some extra time studying them. I’ve organized the rest of this post into two sections: what you need to know about cookies and what you can expect on the exam.
What You Need To Know About Cookies

Google Analytics generates data about users who visit your site through pieces of text exchanged between browsers and servers called cookies. They are established when someone enters your site and analytics data is generated when they click off of your site. Google Analytics cookies are first-party cookies, which means that they are established by your website. This allows the data generated by cookies to only be viewable by the website owner.

There are four cookies that Google Analytics establishes, _utma, _utmb, _utmc, and _utmz. (If you establish custom variables to define additional segments of data, you will use the custom variable cookie, _utmv as well) Let’s look at these cookies individually. Keep in mind that the most important things to remember for the test are the names of the cookies, how long they last, and what triggers their expiration.

_utma: This cookie identifies unique visitors by assigning them a unique ID upon their first visit to your site. It will last 2 years so long as the user does not delete it. At the 2-year mark, it will expire.

_utmb: This cookie generates data about a visitor’s session. It establishes or updates a session every time a page of a site is visited. If it is not updated, it expires by default after 30 minutes.

_utmc: This cookie works hand in hand with _utmb. It expires only when a user quits a browser.

_utmz: This cookie determines what brought a user to your site. This cookie tracks things like PPC ads, organic search, and referring links. It also tracks page navigation so that you can see how visitors move through your site. This cookie expires after 6 months unless it is updated. Updates occur when a page view initiates.

Each cookie contains unique code. For example, the _utma cookie looks like this:

_utma= 17334963. 432099211. 1115376676. 1115376676. 1115376676. 1

The first number set is the domain hash and is followed by the random unique ID, the time of the initial visit, the beginning of the previous session, the beginning of the current session, and the session counter. It’s important to note the time of the initial visit can be the same as the beginning of the previous session and/or the beginning of the current session if the visitor is there for the first time or they deleted the _utma cookie in the past. These times are set in UNIX, which is seconds since January 1, 1970.

The _utmz cookie is organized slightly differently and allows you to generate a wonderful code to track your PPC activity. It begins with the domain has, but is followed by a timestamp instead of the code contained in the _utma cookie. It also contains a session number, a campaign number, and source values for things like PPC tracking (which you use in a PPC destination URL). It will look something like this:

_utmz= 17334963. 1115376676. 2. 3.utmcsr=google|utmccn=(campaign)|utmcmd=ppc|utmctr=keyword

If you have additional questions about cookies, feel free to comment on this post or visit Google’s page on cookies in Analytics.
What to Expect on the Exam

Once you understand the ins and outs of cookies, you’re technically ready for questions dealing with them on the IQ test. Sometimes it’s helpful to understand what kinds of questions may be asked about particular topics. Every IQ test question I’ve ever seen about cookies has been a multiple-choice question dealing with one of four things; the names of the cookies, when they expire, what they track, and how they are organized.
Names of Cookies:

You can expect a question or two about the names of the cookies. A common one I’ve seen is, “What are the four kinds of cookies used by Google Analytics?” The answers are, of course, _utma, _utmb, _utmc, and _utmz, but occasionally you’ll see answers like _utmd and _utme.

In my experience, common questions about the expiration of cookies have dealt with multiple cookies at once. For instance, a question you might see asks which will not expire if there is a new page view while they are active? The answer to this is _utmb and _utmz.
What Cookies Track:

The most common cookie questions address what each cookie tracks. For example one question might ask “The _utma cookie tracks what aspect of a visitor’s activity?” Answers could include what brings a user to a particular page on your site and when a user quits their browser, but the correct answer is that it assigns visitors a unique ID.
How Cookies are Organized:

I’ve only ever seen questions about the different components of the _utma cookie, but I recommend reviewing the slides on the Conversion University site to understand each component of each cookie. I’d also suggest having this page open when you take the exam.

In the next few days, some of my colleagues will discuss other key aspects of preparing for the Analytics exam. Stay tuned to PPC Hero or SEO Boy for these helpful tips and as with any of the concepts we discuss on our blogs, leave us comments if you have any questions. Good luck!

Make sure to check out the rest of the series:

Part 2: E-commerce Tracking

Part 3: Event Tracking & Virtual Page Views

Part 4: Regular Expression (Regex) Character Guide

Steve is an Account Executive at Hanapin Marketing, a search engine marketing firm focused on generating results through PPC and SEO.

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