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Helping Google Analytics Speak Your Language: A Practical Guide to Custom Dimensions Part 1

By Damaris Lasa posted 03-13-2018 11:55 AM


Whether you’re a marketer or an analyst, you probably want to get more out of your analytics data. Custom Dimensions allow you to record data about your pages, screens, users, and user experience that Google Analytics would not capture by default.

In this post, you’ll learn what Custom Dimensions are and how to set them up in Google Analytics and Google Tag Manager.

Do the Heavy Lifting First (i.e., Taxonomy)

The procedures for pulling Custom Dimension data into GA are fairly straightforward, as outlined below. The hard work that you have probably already completed is your taxonomy: classifications about your pages, your products, and your customers. Make sure to take those few extra steps to incorporate your taxonomies into GA. Your reporting will provide better insights and actionability and keep more people in your organization engaged overall.

Custom Dimension Examples

Extra Information About Your Pages: Author

Author is an example of one custom dimension we use on When a visitor views a page on our blog, the name of the author that is on the page is sent to Google Analytics and stored in the custom dimension called Author. This value would not be tracked by default. We configured this custom dimension and now we can send the name of each author to GA and use this dimension in a custom report to analyze certain metrics by author like Pageviews, Unique Pageviews and Average Time on Page as shown in Figure 1. Custom dimensions are just like the predefined dimensions in GA, except you get to define what they are and choose the values yourself.

Figure 1. If we capture Author as a Custom Dimension, we can create a custom report with Author as the primary dimension.

Insight and action: Asmaa’s posts are generating the highest Average Time on Page. Ask Asmaa to write more!

Extra Information About Your Users: Loyalty Level

If your organization has taken the initiative to create a user classification, such as loyalty level, it is incumbent upon us – as Google Analytics implementers and analysts respectively – to capture this data as a Custom Dimension and to use it in our reporting, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. A Customer Loyalty dimension used in a custom report.

Insight and action: User’s with the gold customer level, not platinum, are demonstrating the highest Ecommerce Conversion Rate. Perhaps put more effort in moving your customer from silver to gold than from gold to platinum.


When capturing custom dimensions, make sure to avoid any personally identifiable information. It’s acceptable to merge Google Analytics data with PII data (such as CRM) outside in another platform (such as BigQuery), but the Google Analytics terms of service still clearly prohibit any PII within Google Analytics itself.

Extra Information About Your Users and Sessions: Loyalty Level

As one example of a Custom Dimension about your user sessions, let’s say that you’re a publisher who monetizes pageviews or screen views through CPC or CPM advertising and you have integrated your DoubleClick for Publisher (DFP) data into Google Analytics 360.

The Publisher Pages report will very helpfully indicate advertising performance for each page, but why limit yourself to just predefined dimensions? If you capturing a Login Status dimension for each session in which a login occurs, you’ll also be able to view advertising performance based on the login state of your users as in Figure 3.

Figure 3: DoubleClick for Publisher metric by logged-in and logged-out users.

Insight and action: Logged-in users are generating greater revenue per session for you as a publisher. Encourage signups and logins.

Extra Information About Your Products: Color

When you’re sending Basic or Enhanced Ecommerce data to Google Analytics, you can take advantage of product-scoped custom dimensions to provide descriptors – such as color, size, brand, manufacturer, or any other product variation – that go beyond the predefined Google Analytics ecommerce dimensions.

Figure 4 below displays a custom report defined with a Color Custom Dimension as the primary dimension. By taking advantage of the Plot Rows feature in the Google Analytics UI, we note a spike in Product Revenue for blue clothing in May.

Figure 4: With Color recorded as a product-scoped custom dimension, we’re able to create a custom report that shows an unexpected spike for sales of navy blue clothing in May.

Insight and action: Align marketing and merchandising for next May to take advantage of this unexpected trend of increased sales of blue clothing in May, especially if you can demonstrate the same trend in previous years..

Where Can I See Custom Dimensions in Google Analytics?

The examples above demonstrate Custom Dimensions that we have used as the primary dimension in a custom report; there are several additional Google Analytics functionalities that allow us to use Custom Dimensions, as listed below:

  • Secondary Dimensions
  • Custom Segments
  • Custom Reports
  • Audiences for AdWords Remarketing, Optimize*, and DoubleClick for Publishers*
  • Core Reporting API

*Integration available for Google Analytics 360.

Sending the Custom Dimension Value to GA

The diagram in Figure 5 shows how the default dimensions are sent to Google Analytics. The blue box represents a packet of data – otherwise known as a hit – that is sent every time a user views a page.

Figure 5: You can send one or more Custom Dimension values along with the predefined dimensions included in a pageview, event, or Ecommerce hit.

When the GA tracking code (analytics.js) executes on the page, it sends a pageview hit to GA with all of the predefined, built-in dimensions like source, medium, page, browser, country, etc. These pre-defined dimensions are helpful but they’re general.

Going back to our example, the small, red, extra box in the image represents the Author custom dimension we added at E-Nor. Each time you add a custom dimension to your implementation, you’re populating a new field in the packet that gets sent to GA with the Pageview hit. You can also add Custom Dimension values to Event and Ecommerce hits.

To set up a Custom Dimension in GA, go to Admin, select the property where you want the dimension applied, click ‘Custom Definitions’ and ‘Custom Dimension’, then click ‘New Custom Dimension’. For our example in Figure 6, the name would be Author and the scope would be hit to make sure the value is sent with each hit (we discuss Custom Dimension scopes below). To complete the setup, check ‘Active’ and click ‘Create’.

Creating a Custom Dimension “Slot” in GA

Figure 6. Creating a Custom Dimension in Google Analytics Admin

Once the custom dimension is created, you will be given an example code. Check the dimension number and make a note of it because you will use it in your Custom Dimension settings in Google Tag Manager for the “Index” input later. This tells Google where to store the information you will send.

Setting up a custom dimension in GA is almost like creating the new column for it in a Google Analytics report. Next, you need to determine how to extract the actual values for the new custom dimension (the name of each author) from the page and send it to GA.  That will be covered in part 2 of this post.



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