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What do I need to know about Universal Analytics?

Friday, October 25th, 2013 by Emily Mace

Google is set to launch Universal Analytics (also called UA) to all… This change was previously available only to some visitors, but the recent announcement means that everyone can now consider migrating to the new version of Google Analytics (also called GA).  Google also confirmed that this will be rolled out to all users in the “coming months”, so in this blog we will cover the things you need to know about this change – including how it will affect you and your job.

What is Universal Analytics?

Universal Analytics

Universal Analytics is basically an upgrade to Google Analytics. It offers some new features and reports, including changing how data about your site is collected. The aim of this is to give people who are using Analytics a better view of their visitors. It also offers a good insight into what’s going on with their business, across both online and offline activities.

A lot of this is in recognition of the fact that the visitors who come to your site will use multiple devices to interact with you during their customer journey.  This will mean you will be able to understand how people use your website, through all different types of devices (mobile, tablet and desktop).

You’ll be able to amalgamate offline data with your online reports via an import, hence the name ‘Universal’ analytics. To use this function, you’ll need a developer to set up HTTP requests, which will send data into Analytics. This uses Google’s Measurement Protocol; an overview of this can be found here: https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/protocol/v1/ . It’s important to note that as per Analytics’ standard terms and conditions, you can’t track personally identifiable information in reports, so you won’t be able to import information of that kind.

What are the main differences?

There are a number of differences and extra features, all of which will help you better understand your side. Some of these include:

  • Add to the list of search engines Analytics tracks: this will help you understand where traffic is coming from and is particularly useful if you have traffic coming in from a search engine not currently classed as a ‘major’ engine by Analytics. You can look at regional variations of Google via this function, so if you are interested in seeing the different traffic you get from Google.co.uk and Google.ie, you can use this to record this information
  • Ability to choose how long a session lasts for your website: This is useful if you have a login function on your site which logs people out after a set period of time. You can change Analytics to end the session after that same period of time, so your reporting matches how your server works. – although generally, you probably won’t want to change this
  • Easier blocking of referral domains as showing up as traffic sources: if you have not set up cross domain tracking on your website and have a 3rd party payment gateway which then shows as a large referral source in your Analytics, this might be handy. Being a bit of a geek on these things, it’s actually better to set things up properly for the 3rd party tool, but I understand this isn’t always possible (honest!)
  • Configure the removal of specific keywords from showing as traffic sources in Analytics: if you don’t want brand keywords to show in your reports, this could be useful; however this is not an element of the new analytics I’m particularly enthusiastic about, partially because of the move towards more (not provided data) and also because you can achieve this with custom segments anyway
  • Create custom dimensions and metrics: this is similar to the current Custom Variables set up in Analytics and only advanced users will implement this at this time
  • Importing information from other sources: as mentioned above, you can import information from other sources into Analytics as long as it’s not personally identifiable information
  • Importing of data from Apps: there is also the option to import stats into your Analytics from Android Apps

What does this mean for me?

The best thing about this new upgrade is the fact that you can incorporate lots of information into Analytics and will be able to get a better view of how users move from mobile or tablet to desktop when visiting your site. Plus, you can identify how this relates to your conversions and sales.

The core benefits are:

  • Better understanding of how your site works
  • Clearer view of the journey customers take to make a sale
  • Better view of your interactions and mobile usage
  • Easier customisation of the reports in Analytics

However there is a bit of work to do to get the benefit of the new reporting. Primary changes to your code on site need to be made, but hopefully your Google Analytics tracking code is in the <head> section of your website template, so this shouldn’t be too much work – but it does need to be updated.  There is a migration process which needs to be followed – I’ll discuss in the next section of this blog…

What changes will I need to make?

To use the new version, you need to make some tweaks to your analytics code on your site to track the new actions and allow the new functionality to work.

The first step of this is the transfer of your Analytics account into a Universal Analytics tracking site.  This is done in the Admin section of Analytics and can only be undertaken by someone who has Edit permissions to your Analytics.  The initial process of setting up the transfer takes just a few minutes to complete and you will be given the options to set up some of the changes I’ve mentioned above (such as changes to session length) during this process.  However, as with any Analytics change which affects the tracking method, the completion and full recording of your data can take anything from 24 to 48 hours to complete.

Once this step has been completed, you can move onto changing the tracking code as mentioned above. This is something which needs to be specified on a case-by-case basis, as things like cross-domain tracking need to be taken into consideration.  A sample of the new code can be seen below:

<!– Google Analytics –>
<script>
(function(i,s,o,g,r,a,m){i['GoogleAnalyticsObject']=r;i[r]=i[r]||function(){
(i[r].q=i[r].q||[]).push(arguments)},i[r].l=1*new Date();a=s.createElement(o),
m=s.getElementsByTagName(o)[0];a.async=1;a.src=g;m.parentNode.insertBefore(a,m)
})(window,document,’script’,’//www.google-analytics.com/analytics.js’,’ga’);
ga(‘create’, ‘UA-XXXX-Y’);
ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’);
</script>
<!– End Google Analytics –>

This second step is actually optional, but as with the change from the old tracking code to Asynchronous tracking (which took place a couple of years ago), to take advantage of the new elements in Universal Analytics, you must change your code.  The reason for this is that the syntax in the new code creates the ability for the new functionalities to be applied.

There are a number of data integration elements which are currently not being tracked as Google hasn’t yet released these.  This could have an impact on whether or not you chose to upgrade just now.  The core things not currently supported are:

  • Content experiments
  • Remarketing
  • DoubleClick
  • AdSense

If you are running these, it’s probably worth either holding off or running a profile with the new version of Analytics in whilst keeping your old profile and tracking code in place on the site.

When should I upgrade?

Google has announced that upgrades will be forced in the coming months, but in the intervening period you have three choices:

  1. Wait to be moved by Google
  2. Set up a profile in your Analytics account and make this Universal Analytics; install both versions of the tracking code to run both side by side. One warning with this is that the new profile will only record data once it is set up, so you won’t have historical data when you do this
  3. Jump to the new version of Analytics now

My preference for this would be option 2, as this allows you to get everything ready on your site now and get used to the new Analytics before you are forced to do so.

When the migration happens automatically, historical data will be included in the move and if you choose to migrate all of your data now (not following option 2), there will also be a transfer of your historical data.

As mentioned above, the remarketing codes aren’t currently compatible with the new version of Analytics – so if you are using this method of marketing, upgrading is not a good idea at this time. More information will come from Google about this in the coming months, so keep your eyes peeled.

Google’s current upgrade timeline for the new Universal Analytics is outlined below:

  1. All Properties can chose to upgrade to the new version
  2. Automatic transfer of profiles which have not upgraded yet
  3. Universal Analytics will be made a full product and no longer in Beta
  4. Universal Analytics will become standard for all accounts, existing and new

The 3rd phase will include the release of support for things like remarketing, as mentioned above. This can be seen in more detail here: https://developers.google.com/analytics/devguides/collection/upgrade/index#phases.

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About the author

Emily Mace

Emily Mace

Emily joined Vertical Leap in 2008 and is now the Senior SEO Campaign Delivery Manager. Emily previously worked in training, IT Support, Website development as well as SEO and worked for local Government departments and Tourism South East. Emily gained Google Analytics Individual Qualification in 2011, and regularly blogs on the technical aspects of SEO, sharing her expertise with our readers. Follow on Google+