Is Google’s Universal Analytics A Game Changer?

Universal AnalyticsGoogle’s Universal Analytics is now available to the public, and some have speculated that it will change the way businesses use data. But, is Universal Analytics (UA) truly a game changer? Many of the benefits promised by UA hinge on two new wrinkles in the platform: 1) the ability to get data into UA from any source, and 2) the shift from tracking visits to tracking visitors. Let’s take a closer look at each:

Sending Data To Google

Google’s new “Measurement Protocol” makes it possible to send data into UA from any device that captures and transmits data. (That’s right, any device.  The folks at Loves Data even used the RFID in employee badges to track caffeine consumption.) This means that you can add your own data from multiple sources into the UA platform. Here are just a few examples of data that can be sent to UA and incorporated into reports:

  • Offline Conversions.  Send data to UA about in-store foot traffic and sales from the cash register or repeat sales made over the phone with a sales rep.
  • Social Interactions. Send data to UA showing engagement/user interaction in social channels (e.g., Likes on Facebook or +1s on Google Plus).  You can also send data about social buttons embedded on your Web properties.
  • Games. Create custom metrics such as completions or high scores, and send these directly into the UA platform.
  • CRM Data.  Send data stored in your CRM system into UA and integrate it with other metrics. For example, send gender data into UA from the CRM system to see pageviews by gender of users who sign into a site or app.

Inherent to the Measurement Protocol is a new parameter called User ID, which leads us to the next big shift in the analytics approach of UA.

From Visits To Visitors

Google Analytics (the traditional version) is based on the Urchin product (acquired by Google in 2005), which was designed to track visits to a website.  Each time someone “visits” — an app, a website, etc. — GA initiates a Client ID (CID) that represents an anonymous user. This means that when Jane uses an app on her mobile phone, GA initiates a Client ID and counts Jane’s visit from her mobile phone as one unique visitor. Later, when Jane uses her tablet, yet another Client ID is assigned and GA reports this as two unique visitors. The problem is that GA counts Jane as two unique visitors, not as one visitor who used two devices.

Universal Analytics provides a new parameter for tracking visitors: the User ID (UID). When Jane logs into an app on her mobile phone (using a login to the app), a UID is sent from the auth system to GA. Later, when Jane pulls out her tablet, the same thing happens. With UID, Jane’s multiple visits from different devices are counted accurately as a single unique visitor. (For more on how this works and some great screen shots to illustrate, go to 12:35 in Google’s presentation at I/O.

The User ID feature could be used to align data across multiple platforms such as store, desktop, mobile website, mobile app, call center, catalog, etc., in order to analyze users (as opposed to sessions). Justin Cutroni provides a fascinating use-case scenario of how this might work for a garden supply company.

Is UA Really A Game Changer?

There is no question that the concepts behind UA represent more futuristic thinking about analytics than the traditional version of GA. But, these concepts aren’t completely new.

Other vendors were first out of the box on both data integration and measuring visitors as opposed to visits. (See an interesting comparison of approaches here.) What is new, however, is that UA is free — meaning that sophisticated analytics is now available to everyone.

Barriers To Adoption

Still, a few things could potentially interfere with wide-spread adoption:

  1. Free Isn’t Really Free. The Google team has gone a long way toward making UA as easy as possible — but, as is often the case with analytics tools, fully utilizing UA requires technical skills and development resources. Smaller players may not have the resources required to fully take advantage of what UA offers.
  2. The Sign-In Requirement.  Full utilization of the really cool features in UA (multi-device measurement, for example) seems to be limited to scenarios in which a visitor signs in and is identified (a sign-in to an app, for example). For organizations that rely heavily on registering users/visitors, UA will be a big step up from traditional GA — but it is hard to say at this point how valuable it will be for those who don’t.
  3. Presentation. One of our biggest problems in analytics is data silos, so tools that help us to integrate data are sorely needed. And yet, getting data into a system is only the beginning. The big challenge is integrating data in useful ways – and this starts with the sticky problem of how to display and report inconsistent data types and metrics. In the case of UA, Google allows you to create custom metrics for the data sources you pull into UA, but you must record it with an existing data type, like a pageview, event, or e-commerce transaction. (For example, if you are reporting on phone orders, the number of orders could be shown as “Visits.”)  I don’t see this as a problem in the early stages, when experimentation is limited to a few different data sources, types and metrics. But, as the number of sources, types and metrics increases, things could get very confusing for the end users of analytics data (who often don’t want to work very hard at understanding reports). We should know more about how Google plans to handle this issue as they begin to release a series of new reports in UA.

Bottom line: UA is an exciting development that holds significant promise for solving some difficult issues such as multi-device measurement and online/offline integration. For now, what is desperately needed is broader experimentation in order to test UA’s promise in real-world situations.

So, what things are you trying with UA?  Please share!

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.

Related Topics: Analytics | Analytics & Marketing Column | Channel: Analytics | Google: Analytics


About The Author: has over 25 years of communications experience touching almost every aspect of marketing, including conventional advertising, public relations, and digital. Her current company, Social Snap, focuses on social media measurement, providing marketers with a powerful social analytics platform that combines data from social channels, web analytics, and social media monitoring tools.

Sign Up To Get This Newsletter Via Email:  


Other ways to share:

Read before commenting! We welcome constructive comments and allow any that meet our common sense criteria. This means being respectful and polite to others. It means providing helpful information that contributes to a story or discussion. It means leaving links only that substantially add further to a discussion. Comments using foul language, being disrespectful to others or otherwise violating what we believe are common sense standards of discussion will be deleted. You can read more about our comments policy here.
  • Yehoshua Coren

    Nan -

    An enjoyable article — thanks!

    One area that I’d like to comment on is your description of “custom metrics.” You say that UA requires data to be sent with existing data types (this is true) and as a result the number of phone orders would be shown as “visits” (not really true). Something which you should be aware of is that UA is offering something known as “custom dimensions” which can be paired with custom metrics to represent almost any sort of data. Custom dimensions describe the data type sent to UA. So while it is true that the data itself needs to be pair with an existing data type (pageview, event, social, ecommerce etc), the actual reporting will very much be in real, easy to understand “human” language.

    For example, in this image ( we see the number of times users have called, how many total phone calls were made, and the number of times those users have visited the site. Much in the same way, “phone orders” can be set as a custom dimension that would be applied to either to an ecommerce transaction (better) or to an event (satisfactory).

    Bottom line, a custom report with Phone Orders (using order # as dimension) with Number of Phone Orders as metric is certainly achievable with UA. Most exciting, imho, is the ability to see ALL commerce activity, and then to segment the sales by “online” or “offline” revenue.


    p.s. The ability to do this with Google Analytics is not new, however, with the current GA it is quite difficult to implement. With Measurement Protocol, this type of data capture is native and much more accessible to GA users (though you correctly point out that professional assistance will still likely be required for most businesses).

  • ndawkins

    Thanks Yehoshua (especially for the image). I have seen examples of pulling in data sources without using custom dimensions and phone orders were shown as visits. Until your image, I had not seen any examples of using custom dimensions for those external data sources. I wonder, how many custom metrics are you pulling in? Is it more than phone orders? I’m curious as to how usable (or alternatively, how clunky) it gets in cases where there are many different data sources and metrics that are being pulled in. Dying to see some more examples….

  • Yehoshua Coren

    The key (pardon the pun) with Universal Analytics is that there must be a way to connect the dots between all of the disparate data sets.

    The in store sale example you have above is a good one. In order for a retailer to connect the dots between a visitor to their website and an in store purchase, they could provide the user with a unique coupon code on their website. That coupon code, when entered into the cash register, needs to be linked in a backend system to the ClientID that the user had when they were browsing the site. Then the cash register software sends information about the transaction to UA using the measurement protocol, and the transaction is applied to the visitor based upon their anonymous ID.

    In GA, one could then run an ecommerce report and segment by online vs. offline sales.

    The above example isn’t a simple to execute by any means, but it isn’t rocket science. So, when you say “clunky”, I’m not sure if you’re referring to how difficult solutions like this are to implement or if you mean how complicated one’s data set in GA becomes.

    In terms of implementation work, companies definitely will need resources for developers and analysts who know what they’re doing.

    In terms of data usability, as long as the data collection needs have been aligned in advance with a company’s business needs and objectives, my thoughts are that the data will be very useful. Mapping out a digital measurement strategy also requires qualified individuals, but for most businesses the value of data that answers businesses questions and drives decisions far outweighs the costs.

  • PaulusDeB

    I think with the whole NSA thing a fourth ‘Barrier To Adoption’ is in place: do companies really want to be associated with a company that hands over their data to the NSA?

  • Troy Clark

    Is this “Sick” or “666″?


Get Our News, Everywhere!

Daily Email:

Follow Marketing Land on Twitter @marketingland Like Marketing Land on Facebook Follow Marketing Land on Google+ Subscribe to Our Feed! Join our LinkedIn Group Check out our Tumblr! See us on Pinterest


Click to watch SMX conference video

Join us at one of our SMX or MarTech events:

United States


Australia & China

Learn more about: SMX | MarTech

Free Daily Marketing News!

Marketing Day is a once-per-day newsletter update - sign up below and get the news delivered to you!