Google Analytics to Snowflake

This page provides you with instructions on how to extract data from Google Analytics and load it into Snowflake. (If this manual process sounds onerous, check out Stitch, which can do all the heavy lifting for you in just a few clicks.)

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics (GA) lets you track the performance of websites and applications and measure advertising ROI. It includes a tag manager, an analytics dashboard, and a tool to optimize websites based on GA data.

What is Snowflake?

Snowflake is a cloud-based data warehouse that's fast, flexible, and easy to work with. It runs on Amazon Web Services EC2 and S3 instances, and separates compute and storage resources, enabling users to scale the two independently and pay only for resources used. Snowflake can natively load and optimize both structured and semi-structured data and make it available via SQL. It provides native support for JSON, Avro, XML, and Parquet data, and can provide access to the same data for multiple workgroups or workloads simultaneously with no contention roadblocks or performance degradation.

Getting data out of Google Analytics

It can be tricky to extract data from Google Analytics because the APIs don't allow us to extract event-level data. It would be great to just extract page_views or visitors, but that option is available only on the paid tier of Google Analytics, which carries a hefty price tag. Therefore, the data we'll be working with is rolled up into an aggregated format.

The gateway to your Google Analytics data is the Google Core Reporting API, which lets you make calls to retrieve data.

Example Google Analytics code

The GA API returns JSON-formatted data. Here's an example of what that response might look like:

{
  "kind": "analytics#gaData",
  "id": string,
  "selfLink": string,
  "containsSampledData": boolean,
  "query": {
    "start-date": string,
    "end-date": string,
    "ids": string,
    "dimensions": [
      string
    ],
    "metrics": [
      string
    ],
    "samplingLevel": string,
    "sort": [
      string
    ],
    "filters": string,
    "segment": string,
    "start-index": integer,
    "max-results": integer
  },
  "itemsPerPage": integer,
  "totalResults": integer,
  "previousLink": string,
  "nextLink": string,
  "profileInfo": {
    "profileId": string,
    "accountId": string,
    "webPropertyId": string,
    "internalWebPropertyId": string,
    "profileName": string,
    "tableId": string
  },
  "columnHeaders": [
    {
      "name": string,
      "columnType": string,
      "dataType": string
    }
  ],
  "rows": [
    [
      string
    ]
  ],
  "sampleSize": string,
  "sampleSpace": string,
  "totalsForAllResults": [
    {
      metricName: string,
      ...
    }
  ]
}

Preparing data for Snowflake

Depending on your data structures, you may need to prepare your data before loading. Check the supported data types for Snowflake and make sure that your data maps neatly to them.

Note that you won't need to define a schema in advance when loading JSON or XML data into Snowflake.

Loading data into Snowflake

Snowflake's documentation includes a Data Loading Overview that guides you through the task of loading your data. A data loading wizard in the Snowflake web UI may be useful if you're not loading a lot of data, but for many organizations, the limitations on that tool will make it unsuitable. You can load your data with two manual steps:

  • Use the PUT command to stage files.
  • Use the COPY INTO table command to load prepared data into an awaiting table.

You can copy the data from your local drive or from Amazon S3. Snowflake lets you make a virtual warehouse that can power the insertion process.

Keeping Google Analytics data up to date

At this point you've coded up a script or written a program to get the data you want and successfully moved it into your data warehouse. But how will you load new or updated data? It's not a good idea to replicate all of your data each time you have updated records. That process would be painfully slow and resource-intensive.

Instead, identify key fields that your script can use to bookmark its progression through the data and use to pick up where it left off as it looks for updated data. Auto-incrementing fields such as updated_at or created_at work best for this. When you've built in this functionality, you can set up your script as a cron job or continuous loop to get new data as it appears in Google Analytics.

And remember, as with any code, once you write it, you have to maintain it. If Google modifies its GA API, or the API sends a field with a datatype your code doesn't recognize, you may have to modify the script. If your users want slightly different information, you definitely will have to.

Other data warehouse options

Snowflake is great, but sometimes you need to optimize for different things when you're choosing a data warehouse. Some folks choose to go with Amazon Redshift, Google BigQuery, or PostgreSQL, which are RDBMSes that use similar SQL syntax, or Panoply, which works with Redshift instances. If you're interested in seeing the relevant steps for loading data into one of these platforms, check out To Redshift, To BigQuery, To Postgres, and To Panoply.

Easier and faster alternatives

If all this sounds a bit overwhelming, don’t be alarmed. If you have all the skills necessary to go through this process, chances are building and maintaining a script like this isn’t a very high-leverage use of your time.

Thankfully, products like Stitch were built to solve this problem automatically. With just a few clicks, Stitch starts extracting your Google Analytics data via the API, structuring it in a way that is optimized for analysis, and inserting that data into your Snowflake data warehouse.