Posted to Erik Wagner's blog on November 15th, 2013

Are you using Universal Analytics?

Are you using Universal Analytics yet? If not, get ready for it - Google will soon be upgrading all legacy Google Analytics accounts to Universal Analytics.

If you haven't heard about Universal Analytics, here's a quick summary of what you can expect:

  • Track users, not visits. By far the most important conceptual difference between Universal Analytics and Google Analytics is Universal Analytics focus on users, rather than on visits. This change results in more accurate and dependable data. In the current version of Google Analytics, if a user visited the website 10 times in a day, you may not be able to easily identify any insights into the individual user's behavior because each visit would be treated separately. With Universal Analytics, by basing the analytics off of users, you get a better understanding of how a user is interacting with the property over time across devices.
  • Better Tracking Code. "New and more flexible tracking code that lets you collect data from any digital device." You're probably asking yourself, "Erik, I can already track data from digital devices?" Well, with Universal Analytics you'll now be able to track with MORE devices. Mobile apps, game consoles, information kiosks, if it's connected to the internet, chances are it will be able to use Universal Analytics.
  • Better load times! Yes, the new Analytics.js code is faster to load. Load times will decrease because data captured by cookies will be stored on the servers rather than on the browser. 
  • Much easier configuration. Soon you'll be hearing "remember the old days when you had to alter your tracking code to capture traffic cross subdomains?" Kiss that goodbye and good riddance. Essentially, much of the processing will now occur on the server side making life much simpler for the Google Analytics power users.
  • Organic search sources. In the old days if you received traffic from small search engines or perhaps a non-US based search engine, Google Analytics did not always capture that data as an organic visit. Instead, it would errantly lump that traffic in with your referral traffic. With custom organic search sources you can create as many organic search sources as you heart desires.
  • Customizable session and campaign timeouts. The current version of Google Analytics forces you to use a session timeout of 30 minutes and a campaign timeout of 6 months. With Universal Analytics, you can configure those timeouts to what you want them to be. Perhaps you're running a marketing campaign for 6 months and you want to see which users are associated with that marketing campaign for another 6 months after the campaign completes. That is now possible within Universal Analytics by setting your campaign timeout to 12 months (limit is 24 months).
  • Search term exclusions. Do you get a lot of organic searches using your company's website as a keyword? Using the search term exclusions you can now associate all searches for that keyword or any other as a direct visit rather than organic traffic.
  • Get custom data. Perhaps my favorite feature of Universal Analytics is the ability to create a custom definition (metric or dimension). If you've used Google Analytics to any extent you've used metrics to see your visitor count and dimensions to see things like the source of those visitors. In addition to the standard metrics and dimensions, with custom definitions, you decide what else you want to capture.  For instance, what if you wanted to capture "Email Newsletter Signups" as a metric? If you set this metric up you would be able to see what the referral source, the keyword searched and the count of how many times someone signed up for the email newsletter.
  • Capture offline conversions. You can now trigger an offline conversion from virtually any platform that can integrate with the Universal Analytics API.

Before you pull the trigger, please be aware that Universal Analytics is still in beta so there are some features that are not yet available.  According to Google,

"We also recommend you complete this process later if you use, or plan on using, the dc.js JavaScript or any related DoubleClick feature, including:

  • Remarketing
  • Google Display Network Impression Reporting
  • DoubleClick Campaign Manager Integration
  • Google Analytics Demographics and Interests Reports"

Convinced to make the switch? Upgrading was just made easier with the new upgrade tool that Google released in late October. We recently used the upgrade tool on some of our client accounts and found it very simple to use. To start the upgrade, go to the admin screen for your property settings and you should see the following image.  Be aware that not everyone has been given the ability to upgrade to Universal Analytics yet, so if you're one of those, unfortunate few who cannot upgrade to Universal Analytics, fill out this form.






Google says that the transfer takes 24-48 hours to finish and during the transfer it's suggested to avoid making any edits to the Google Analytics tracking code.  So, we recommend beginning the migration on a Friday evening and notifying anyone who may be working on the Google Analytics platform that the transfer is starting.

When you start the transfer, we recommend setting the session and campaign timeouts.


Once the transfer completes, you'll be asked to install the analytics.js code, which differs from the ga.js code that the previous version used. If you don't update the code, you won't get all of the great features that Universal Analytics offers.

To install the code, we recommend the following options:

  • If you're using Drupal, check out the Google Analytics module 7.x-2.x and higher. Currently it's a development release but improvements are being made regularly.
  • If you're not using Drupal, we recommend creating a container tag in the Google Tag Manager to install Universal Analytics.

Are you ready to make the switch? Let us know what your experience is like with Universal Analytics!

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