We’re in a digital era. Online behavior is increasingly easier to track, analyze and utilize thanks to cookies, social media and big data. Slate reported that when a user lands on a single site, an average of 50 outside sites and companies are contacted through third-party cookies. Google is the king of data, that’s no secret, and a recent study by KnowPrivacy found that 88 percent of internet sites report visitor stats to Google. The search giant defends this access, claiming that the data is used strictly to make relevant online advertising decisions and in no way oversteps privacy.  As of October 2013, Google has slightly lowered the dam behind its grand reservoir of online data and began letting site owners see the interests and demographics of users coming to their site through Google Analytics. The new reports shed light on the previously unknown faces of website audiences. Site owners, who may not be able to afford expensive surveys to determine their target audience, can use these new invaluable insights to see exactly who their visitors are and how those visitors interact with their brand online. For example, this site can now see the demographics of online readers per article, and in one instance, found exactly how many sports readers tend to access the site via twitter, from their iPhone, live in Austin and are between the ages of 25 and 34.


Google’s Intention

Some online marketers speculate that Google decided to release the new demographics and interest reports to throw site owners a bone after Google infamously encrypted an average of over 80% of the keyword data shown on Google Analytics earlier in the fall. While this might be a contributing factor to the new reports, what is more likely is that the new reports bridge the gap between Google Analytics and Adwords, making site owners more likely to use Google’s display advertising targeting features.  Now site owners can see which demographic is performing and converting well on their site and target that same exact demographic through online ads through Google Adwords.

What Can You See?

Regardless of the reasoning behind their existence, the new demographic and interest reports provide an exciting new layer of on-site insights.


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*It should be noted that Google does not report on users under the age of 18.


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Interests: Affinity Categories 

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Google defines the Affinity Categories as broad content categories that identify users in terms of their lifestyles. It is no surprise that the top affinity category for a news publishing site is “News Junkies & Avid Readers.”

Interests: In-Market Categories 

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This interest category identifies the groups of users that are in the market for specific product categories. This data can help publishers get advertising revenue from the top in-market categories. It can also help e-commerce companies define exactly what products their visitors are interested in. Keep in mind, though, Google has just started developing In-market categories so the category list and their coverage in certain geographies may be sparse, but over time more categories and coverage will become available.

Interests: Other Categories

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This interest category provides a more focused view of the type of content users are interested in compared to the Affinity Categories.

It should be noted however, that a single visit can be classified in multiple categories. One visit could be also counted multiple times in the visit metrics in these reports.

Intermixing Demographics and Interests

By clicking on a specific demographic, like gender, in the standard reports, you can see even more specific demographics on that original demographic like the average age of that specific gender.

Taking A Deeper Look Using Demographic and Interest Data

Creating Segments

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You can now add segments based on demographics and interests values, so everytime you run a report, you can just include or exclude the traffic that came through a specific segment. For example if you set up segment that just included 18-24 year olds in Austin and clicked on the standard “All Traffic” report you could see just the traffic sources of that all the 18-24 year olds that live in Austin went through to get to your site.

Custom Reports

Most of the demographic and interest categories can be pulled up as a dimension in Custom Reports, which means that they can be compared with almost any metric and other dimension that your heart desires. For example using a Custom Report you can see:

The Gender Ratios of Specific Pages or Certain Sections of Your Site

Page Path Level 1: /Sports/

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Using a custom report I found out that in the last month, 82 percent of users that read a sports article on this site were male.

The Ages of visitors using Certain Device Categories

Device Category: Mobile

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The Content/ Interests of Users Coming from a Referral Source

Source/ Medium: Google / Organic

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This report is showing the interests of people coming from this site’s Google Organic Traffic. While it definitely doesn’t fill the void that keyword data once filled, this data could help SEO marketers see what type of content category is performing the best in the Search Engines.

The Top Hour by Age

Age: 18-24

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Proves that users within the college student age range aren’t checking out this site at 4:00 am.

How Does Google Know?

The demographic and interest information is taken from the users who have the DoubleClick third-party cookie associated with them. While no one except Google knows for sure, most online data experts agree that Google considers the past behavior and browsing history of the user to infer the demographics for the analytic reports.There is even some speculation that, similar to how Google uses personal data to target Ads on its Display Network, Google also uses past search history and Google Profile (including Google Plus) data to determine the demographic and interest data for users. While some experts disagree, this speculation seems to be confirmed by Google, for in their support page that gives basic information about the new demographic reports, under the text “How Google determines visitor demographics” they linked to the Adwords Display Network behavioral targeting guide. This guide claims “some sites might provide us with demographic information that people share on certain websites, such as social networking sites. We may also use demographics derived from Google profiles.” When I checked out my Ad Settings, sure enough, Google said it used my Google Plus Profile to infer how old I was.

Accuracy & Limitations of the Data

On a personal level, you can see exactly who Google thinks you are based on your online behavior by checking out your Google Ad settings. Sometimes the results can be humorous. A year ago I worked as a marketing intern a local start-up and I worked with a lot of Mom Bloggers. As a result, Google thought I was a woman aged “35-44” that liked “crafts and sewing.”  Regardless of the many similar humorous Google Ad setting antidotes found online, Google claims that their demographics are 80-90% as accurate as demographics that our declared by users. However, Junta Sekimori from à la data, did an impressive experiment using Facebook advertising and found out that while the new reports had accurate gender data, when it came to guessing the age of the users, Google got it wrong more than it did right. The experiment goes to show that the data coming from the new reports should serve as a broad guide that is among many other factors driving business decisions.

Google also claims that “The demographic and interest information in these reports is normally based on a subset of your overall data since Google cannot always determine these user characteristics. The subset percentage is visible in the Overview report.” On average the new demographic and interest reports that I pull up on this site’s Google Analytics account is based on 30% of our overall visitors. Depending on the amount of traffic a site gets, 30% is a very large sample that should soundly represent the rest of the site’s visitors. The reasons that Google doesn’t include demographics on all of the incoming visitor data may be because:

1. For privacy reasons, Google applies thresholds to the data to prevent site-owners from knowing the demographics of individual users.

2. Some users might be using private browsing or incognito mode to prevent Google from gathering cookies.

3. Some users might of opted out through Google’s Ad settings from getting their online behavior data collected.

Despite of the inaccuracies and limitations that comes with the new reports, when it comes down to it, the data is based off of a large sample of visitors’ past online behavior. So even if Google gets the exact demographics wrong, decisions based on those insights might still result in positive results. For example, if Google infers that I am older because of my mature browsing history, I might still be receptive to content targeted to an older demographic. Some Inbound Marketers who have used the reports to make decisions have seen positive results. For Instance, Mathew Barby from Find My Blog Way, used the reports to create a campaign that had a 3% conversion rate, which was way above his site average.

 Creative Ideas on How to Use the New Reports

For Publishers 

1. Pitch audience statistics to advertisers who looking to target similar audiences

2.  Create target audience personas with their demographics and interests that the editorial staff could use to tailor their content

For Marketers

1. Track which demographics are converting the best and what conversion barriers exist for others through E-commerce tracking or goals tracking

2. Target Audiences that convert well but are low in traffic through tailored social media, Display Network and remarketing campaigns

3. Investigate the top demographics for each referral traffic source and tailor the content on the controllable referral sources (social media etc) accordingly

4. Use Google’s Content Experiments to do A/B tests to see if site changes tailored to a specific profitable demographic results in a higher conversion rate

5. Switch up the traditional marketing and product plans to target a previously unknown profitable customer demographic. Seer interactive used the new reports to target women for a motorcycle client and saw positive results.

How to Implement the New Reports

Warning! Implementing the new reports will result in not recording visitors who use ad blocking software in Google Analytics at all! The doubleclick.js file is blocked by most ad blocking software. While ClarityRay reports the percentage of users who use ad blocking software in the US is quite low at 8.72%, if you appeal to a tech savvy audience this percentage could be much higher. To combat this, LunaMetrics has compiled a list of GA tag adjustments that will include ad blockers with the doubleclick.js file and let you know exactly what percentage of your audience uses ad blocking software.

Disclaimer- Google also suggests adding the following copy to your privacy policy if you choose to implement the new reports.

Disclaimer- As of writing this post, Google’s new Universal Analytics (UA) does not currently support the DoubleClick.js tag and as a result does not support the new Demographics and Interests reports. Only those who still use the classic version of analytics can implement the DoubleClick.js tag. Check UA’s Upgrade Center for current updates.

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Step 1- Adding the DoubleClick code to your site’s Google Analytics tag

-You can manually do this by following Google’s Guide

- If you use Drupal as your CMS, follow this guide

- If you use WordPress as your CMS and use the Yoast SEO plugin, follow this guide

Step 2- Enable The New Reports On Analytics

1. Go to the Admin Settings and Click on “tracking info” under the property settings.

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2. Make sure “Display Advertiser Support” is switched on


3. Click on “Overview” under the “Demographics” report under the “Audience” Section and click “enable”

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4. Then Click on “Validate tracking code”

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5. You are all set up! Note that it may take 24-48 hours before the new data starts coming into your Google Analytics profile