Like the October 8, 2011 announcement that Google would begin to stop the practice of passing a user’s organic search term to Google Analytics; the deprecation of the Service Provider dimension on February 4th, 2020 may live on with similar disdain. While we mourned the loss of the search keywords data that helped value our SEO efforts; at least there was a reason – better security and privacy.
This February, users around the world noticed that the Service Provider dimension no longer was populating, and instead new users only showed (not set). After inquiring with Google, Partners were informed that it was not a mistake and that the dimension would no longer be used; although the reason behind the change was not shared.
The Service Provider Dimension generally showed the name of Internet Service Provider (ISP) e.g. Comcast, Verizon, etc. Larger institutions could also configure their public access to the internet with the name of the organization or company, e.g. CIA, University of Florida, General Electric, etc. and this data would collect in Google Analytics. Some organizations used data like this to better understand their users, or to customize and personalize content; for example, displaying testimonials from fellow “Gators” when the University of Florida was the service provider of the active site visitor. At MoreVisibility, the most common usage of this dimension was to help keep data clean of unwanted spam and or bot traffic. In fact, I wrote a three part series on bot traffic in Google Analytics way back in 2012. Service Provider was an easy way to analyze traffic and exclude if from your analysis data views via filters in Google Analytics.
The loss of this data requires effort to overcome but is not insurmountable. First, create a custom dimension in Google Analytics to store the user agent of your site visitors. Some well-behaved bots (think uptime services) have unique, identifiable user agents that you can then use to filter this traffic from your analysis views. Over time, the hope is that you will gather enough data to identify traffic by user agent that you would want to exclude from your data.
Next, you should take stock in your usage of the Service Provider dimension, if you have a lot of bot traffic or a dependency on this data, then you should consider having your development team employ a server side solution that replicates the data in the now deprecated dimension. This would involve the use of an IP lookup service to return the service provider (other data is also available) and then to store this data as a custom dimension in Google Analytics. (Google has confirmed to Partners, like MoreVisibility, that it’s okay to store this data and the use of it is not why the dimension was deprecated.)
Hopefully by using one or both of these tactics, we can keep our data free from the clutter of bot traffic and better understand and meet the needs of real site users.