Google Analytics

Dimensionator is Dead, but DMA lives in the New GA

Posted at April 17, 2012 | By : | Categories : Google Analytics | 6 Comments

Geographic analysis in Google Analytics is one of the most useful features.  However, reporting based on “city” can be very misleading because it is too narrow.  Likewise, reporting by “region” (State, in the US) is too broad.  Google Analytics lacks Zip Code resolution, so what’s left?  It would be great if Google Analytics reported by DMA’s (designated marketing area) – the geographic definition of media markets in the United States that have been used almost universally by marketers for decades.

A few years ago now I wrote a post revealing how you could access DMA data in Google Analytics.  Yes, that’s right, Google Analytics has “market” area data for GA, and has for many years.  The issue is, they just don’t expose it in 99% of the GA reports where it would be so useful to have!

I even went so far as to have one of our engineers build a nifty little tool we called “dimensionator” to make accessing DMA and many other “hidden” dimensions in Google Analytics quick and simple.  The only problem is… Dimensionator doesn’t work in the new version of Google Analytics, and it’s looking like quite a challenge to make it work (sidenote here: if you’d like to see dimensionator live on, let us know on Twitter – enough interest and we might just ba able to bring it back).

So, what to do?  There’s an awesome treasure-trove of Market area Geographic data locked away in Google Analytics so how can you unlock it?  I’ll show you… and this trick works in the NEW GA too!

The Problem with City vs. Markets in Google Analytics

If you rely on reporting by “city” in Google Analytics, you’re probably severely under-counting traffic, or you’re going through great pains to try and get the right data.  Here’s an example of the vast difference when reporting the “city” of Los Angeles vs. the Market Area of Los Angeles.

“City” Report for Los Angeles in Google Analytics finds just 45 visits from L.A.

“Market” Report for Los Angeles in Google Analytics finds 120 visits from the L.A. market area in the same time period.

How Geo-Resolution Works

The reason why there’s such a difference is that the geographic resolution engine in Google Analytics relies on a method of reverse-lookup against the IP address of visitors in the back-end (note: IP’s aren’t made available anywhere in Google Analytics – they’re solely used in the back-end on a sort of throw-away basis as near as I can tell).  That lookup determines the Point of Presence (a key part of how the Internet works) location for where that IP address is registered.  This could be a business address if it’s an IP assigned to a dedicated customer, or a consumer ISP’s network POP.  In the case of consumer ISP’s like Cable and DSL providers, those POP’s (points of presence) can be anywhere from mildly related or wildly unrelated to where the visitor actually is.

For example: I’m sitting in a Starbucks in downtown San Francisco as I write this, and whatismyip.com says I’m located in two different places that are nowhere close to here (two databases report two different locations).  One says I’m in Glendale, CA and the other in Arcadia, CA.  This is a pretty extreme example that puts me hundreds of miles from my actual location!

Most consumer ISP’s will be quite accurate within the market area, and only loosely accurate to the city level.

Take a market like Los Angeles where there are many suberbs in the larger metro area.  The actual city limits of Los Angeles are pretty narrow.  If you’re using an ISP that has a network POP even just a couple miles away, you’re likely to be reported as in a different City.  Visits from the literal “Los Angeles” mean network points of presence that are literally in the city limits of LA, which is a relatively small area compared to the market area (see this map – the highlighted area is the city of Los Angeles – there’s lots of other populated ground around that which won’t be considered in the city, compared to this map, showing the LA “region”).

Accessing DMA Data in Google Analytcs

So, how do you go about accessing DMA in the “new” version of Google Analytics?  It’s actually not that hard.  Here’s my primer, in a quick Screencast video.  Enjoy!  Questions?  Fire away on Twitter.

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  • B V

    August 29, 2012 at 8:22 am

    Hi Caleb,

    Interesting, is this still available within GA?When I attempt this, rather than returning the Market it returns Metro informationThanksBronwyn 

  • Myles Rose

    July 10, 2012 at 7:45 am

    Can you save the market (dma) attribute into a custom segment? thanks for the great info.

    • Caleb Whitmore

      July 26, 2012 at 5:52 pm

      Myles,

      No, not at this point.  But I hope they make it a permanent part of the product!

      -Caleb

  • Brendan Halloran

    April 19, 2012 at 7:18 pm

    Great post Caleb. Is this specific to the USA only? Are there other similar approaches that can be taken for other countries?

    • Caleb Whitmore

      April 20, 2012 at 6:44 am

      It is for the United States only as far as I know.  I don’t know if the system of DMA’s exists in other countries in the same way, or if Google Analytics processes the data against it.  It certainly would be good to have, since the “city” identifier is too narrow!

      One thing that you can do is leverage the Google Analytics API to extract the resolved Latitude/Longitude of visits, and then plot those using mapping/graphing tools to come up with zip code based reporting, counties, etc…  With Lat/Long you have total flexibility – you just need another tool to tie lat/long to geo identifiers that make sense.

      Thanks for reading!

      -Caleb

  • Caleb Whitmore

    May 8, 2012 at 4:43 am

    Arnaud,

    DMA is only for the US/Canadian markets.  I don’t know if other countries have equivalents of some sort.

    -Caleb

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