How Universal Analytics Is Different And What You Should Be Doing Now

If you’ve been using Google Analytics (GA) as your analytics solution over the past year or so, you’ve probably noticed that Google has been promoting its new analytics solution called “Google Universal Analytics” (UA).

UA was in beta for well over a year. On April 2, 2014, it was moved from beta to production. While Google is treating this as the “re-imagining of Google Analytics,” there are many new features and technologies behind it.

How do the new features and technology behind UA impact what you’re doing today?

For everyone, there is no visible impact beyond the constantly changing Google Analytics User Interface as new features and updated terminology are introduced.

For the past several months, analytics administrators have been prompted to upgrade their accounts to UA, or they may have read about the new features and are planning on upgrading from GA to UA in the near future.

Before you make the transition there are several things you need to know.

There Is No Going Back

Since the release of the beta version of UA, analytics administrators had the option of choosing between the original GA JavaScript tracking code and the new UA. However, since early June 2014, only the UA tracking code is available.

This is the final stage before Google requires all analytic users to switch their tracking code to UA, which is anticipated in the near term.

The impacts on your organization may not be obvious, but there will be some. First, if you are undergoing a site redesign, you’ll need to remember to keep a copy of the existing GA JavaScript to ensure consistency in data collection.

Secondly, for any new analytics account (website) you will be required to use the new code. On its own, this change is neither a good nor a bad thing. However, when you look under the hood at how various key elements are calculated by Google, there are changes which will make comparisons between online properties more difficult.

Changes That Impact Your Analytics

While any filters or goals that have been configured in your GA account remain valid and will continue to work, the following changes may impact data and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).

New JavaScript

The new Google tracking JavaScript for UA needs to replace the old JavaScript for GA on every page on your website.

If you’ve made any custom changes to the existing JavaScript you may or may not need to make changes to new script according to a new methodology to ensure consistency of what is being tracked (and to continue to address the initial reason for the original customization).

Secondly, if you were using any 3rd-party plugins to help supplement the data-capturing ability of GA, they may or may not work with Universal Analytics and need to be tested thoroughly.

New Method For Tracking & Counting Visits & Visitors

How Google uses cookies to identify unique site visitors has changed. UA supports the Measurement Protocol.

The biggest impact now is that, according to Google, the “Universal Analytics collection methods can be implemented and used to collect user interaction data without cookies.” This statement indicates that some visitors that you were unable to capture previously, (ones that didn’t accept cookies), can now be counted.

Additionally, there are other functions occurring in the background related to how to identify unique visitors which may impact your visitor count.

Differences Between GA & UA

From the chart below, a small decline of 2.6% between the number of sessions (visits) is evident. This difference is significantly larger when examining the number of unique users at 8.2%.

Universal Analytics Comparison To Google Analytics

Additional methods used by UA also impact the calculation for bounce rate which impacts Pageviews, and there is a new method for identifying the percentage of New Sessions. While the above chart shows a decline in key metrics, it is possible that the reverse can hold true and the measurable differences vary between sites.

Despite the difference in data point values, there are negligible differences in trend line reporting or when comparing percentage change between two time periods.

If your organization uses any of these data points in the calculation of KPIs, get ready to start explaining these differences in your reporting once you’ve made the switch to UA.

Planning For Universal Analytics

The good news is that you can plan and properly prepare for this change. The best approach at this time is to embrace UA and implement it while simultaneously running your old GA account.

To do this, you need to create a new account (Brand UA) and then place the new UA JavaScript on all your site’s pages. By running the two in parallel, you’ll be able to see the impact that UA has had on your analytics and start forming a new baseline for your KPIs.

Once the old GA tracking script is made obsolete, you can then continue with the UA account, knowing how much of a measurable change it has caused and avoid having to explain a sudden decrease or increase in activity.

To minimize the workload of placing and testing the UA JavaScript and then removing the GA JavaScript a few months later, I further recommend that your site implement a tag management solution.

Tag Management

There are many tag management solutions available; but for the ease of implementing both GA and UA, it is recommended that you use Google’s Tag Manager.

The tag manager requires a minimal amount of JavaScript be placed on all pages of your website. The management of the contents of this script is then managed via the Tag Manager.

Google’s Tag Manager makes it incredibly easy to add both GA and UA JavaScripts to the tag. Plus, if you want to capture .pdf downloads, clicks on external links or other events, these can all be configured with relative ease via the tag manager.

The importance of using a Tag Manager will also be growing over the next few years as new features are added to UA, especially when the tracking of visitors across devices, (currently possible but very complex), is made easier.

The time is now for all Google Analytics users to start planning for the migration to Universal Analytics. UA is the future for Google and it brings a wealth of new features.

With the rollout of UA, the way Google calculates several critical metrics has changed and we need to measure these differences now so we can better understand our historical analytics data in the future.

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 | Internet Marketing | Internet Marketing Industry: Acquisitions | Marketing Tools: Analytics


About The Author: a partner at Digital Always Media, is a public speaker, award winning author, corporate trainer (SEO, social media marketing & digital analytics), and an online instructor for the University of San Francisco's on-line Internet marketing and analytics programs He also co-hosts of the weekly Twitter Chat #SocialChat

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  • Jason Potts

    Interesting – thanks for sharing this Alan! I’ve noticed some of these changes in our numbers since switching over to UA, but had attributed them mostly to some large-scale updates that were performed around the same time.

  • Michael Martinez

    Maybe they are finally getting serious about the botnet problem. I hope so.

  • Arnab Roy

    Get together with your family and friends and have fun on any occassion with Gift Hamper. Just log on to the online shopping and Gifts Delivery in Bangalore.

  • Martha Giffen

    Thanks for the info!


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