We recently got the question: if we start using Google Analytics 360 and Big Query, do we still need to use a second data logger like Snowplow Analytics? A great question. I discussed this question with our data team and it turns out using Snowplow (an open source data logger) besides premium analytics tooling like Google Analytics 360 has several benefits.
In this post, we compare Google Analytics 360 with Snowplow Analytics. Similar benefits apply if you would compare [a premium analytics solution] with [an event level data logger].
1: Source attribution modelling
With true event level data, you’re completely free to use the data as you see fit. A good example is source attribution. Google Analytics has its own way of recognising direct, organic and referral traffic sources. Besides that, it attributes session data to traffic sources according to the last-non-direct-click model that they apply by default. With Snowplow’s event level data, you’ll have to set up every form of attribution manually by defining all the rules to make it work this way. It allows you to customise an attribution model to perfectly fit your needs.
2: Hit types
Another benefit is the supported hit types. Snowplow has all the familiar hit types for pageviews, events, and e-commerce. But it gets better. Snowplow, for example, also has dedicated impression events(!) to measure ad impressions and supports unstructured events that you can set up to track whatever data you want.
3: Capturing custom data
The third example is custom data. With Google Analytics 360 you can track up 400 custom variables (200 custom dimension and 200 custom metrics). You need to connect each value to one of these custom variables in your tracking code. If you don’t set this up, you won’t collect the data. Snowplow and other event level data loggers often allow you to track raw data objects (e.g. a transaction object). This allows you to capture the complete data layer of every page as unstructured data. You can decide what to use and what not to use when you start modelling.
4: Data Ownership
If you use an event level data logger like Snowplow you often get options for storing your data: you are in control of the location. If you want to stop using the tool, you can export the data and delete it. Because of this true data ownership, you might also consider sending data to Snowplow that you're not allowed to, or don't want to, send to Google.
5: The approach to raw data
A good way to look at the difference between Google Analytics 360 and Snowplow is the way they approach raw data. With Google Analytics, the data view you use to run queries on with Big Query determines what’s in the data set. It's a top-down approach. You access the raw data of a filtered view. With Snowplow, you determine what data to use and what not to use, you set up the enrichment process that determines what’s in the data set. It’s a bottom-up approach.
6: Data pipelines
With Snowplow you can create a closed data flow from ad impression to a sale. You are in control of this flow and the only one that can change things. You can even set up multiple flows, e.g. a data flow to enrich your CRM data on a daily basis, and a real-time flow for instant onsite recommendations. Besides that you can use different collector types, e.g. trackers based on first party cookies or trackers that store cookies on a separate domain (this allows you to sync cookies across domains!).
7: Betting on two horses
Besides the benefits mentioned above, we always suggest using at least two data collection tools on your website. Both to check data and as a safety net.
It’s important to keep technical aspects in mind. Google offers a full suite, with reports in Google Analytics 360 and Big Query for raw data access. Snowplow offers the code that allows you to start capturing data and enriching this data, but they don’t run this for you. You’ll have to host tracking codes yourself, decide where to store data, and create an automated process for enriching the data so you can use it. There are no automated reports or interfaces like Big Query. You’ll need resources to set this up.
True event level data
In the end, most of the benefits come down to one aspect: the control you have on the data. With solutions like Snowplow, you’ll have access to true event level data, data in its rawest form. With Google, you have access to a raw extract of Google Analytics data.
Further reading: for additional details on the differences between Snowplow and Google Analytics 360 you can read this post by Yali Sassoon , the Co-founder at Snowplow Analytics.