It’s official. Google’s new Universal Analytics platform is out of Beta. But what does this mean for current web analysts, online marketers and website owners?
Gone are the days of households having one desktop with which to view the internet. We live in an increasingly complex world where users shift their browsing between mobiles, tablets, in store terminals, work and home computers. With each device having differing levels of JS/cookie acceptance and deletion rates, not to mention number of potential users, it has become necessary for Google to change how their web analytics tracks users.
A Change in thinking
Universal Analytics marks more than a new product release, it marks a change in thinking. Justin Cutroni (Google’s Analytics evangelist) describes this as the ‘user-centric Approach’ which is now fundamental to Universal Analytics. This is possible thanks to the new single 1st party cookie which creates a Unique User ID, offering the promise of being able to sync this User ID to your own CRM data for logged in users, offering rich insights into known customers.
Of course, it is worth a casual reminder that Google’s hard-work has more to do with their Advertising revenues than altruism! UA exists to show website owners where there Google AdSpend is going and to ensure users stay with their Google Adwords platform.
So whats new?
Well, from a new user’s perspective, not much! However, the long-standing GA veterans among us may well feel that their entire world has changed. For a start there are now three types of Google Analytics data collection:
- Analytics.js – For websites
- Mobile SDK – for Android and iOS Apps
- Measurement Protocol – for Kiosks and other devices
Here is how these new collection channels feature in the Universal Analytics Platform:
Image Source – Google Analytics Dev – Platform Guide
In order to accommodate this change Google has gone on a renaming spree with Visits and UVs becoming ‘Sessions’, Custom Variables being replaced with Custom Dimensions and, of course, profiles becoming Views.
So should I get Universal Analytics?
In short, Yes! The slightly longer answer would be to weigh up your implementation needs and, if you have a complex existing GA setup, to start planning your transition roadmap now. There is some further information on this below.
So how do I get this new version?
and may not realise the huge change that has occurred.
Existing GA accounts will see an ‘Upgrade to Universal Analytics’ button in the admin panel of their Property section. The upgrade is a two stage process consisting of first initiating the UA upgrade within your property and then, in stage two, implementing the new UA analytics.js code site-wide. Upgrading your existing account takes approximately 24 to 48 hours (you will see a status update within your admin section) and allows you to keep existing GA data. You do not need to implement new UA code in order to begin this process.
Should you wish to upgrade sooner rather than later then there are many excellent guides from Google Dev.
Should I duel-tag?
There are many blogs which suggest the perfectly valid practice of duel-tagging, effectively setting up a new UA property and running both ga.js and analytics.js tags together on your site. This was certainly the preferable method during the beta trial as it allows you to discover any difference in your analytics data before switching. However, now that UA is out of beta, Google recommend users simply upgrade their current property
which maintains their historical property data.
Whilst I would still recommend duel-tagging for larger and more custom implementations it is important to consider the extra time and resources this will take. My recommendation for most users with low to moderate traffic would be to simply initiate the upgrade process on your current GA property. I prefer to place the emphasis on getting on with the business of improving conversion rates and ROI!
N.B. Users who have run both tags together have noticed a discrepancy between numbers with new UA views showing considerably different traffic numbers. This is worth keeping in mind when transitioning and when compiling monthly or longer timeframe reports.
For those wishing to plan their move, it appears that the classic Ga.js will be supported for the next 18 months until approximately Dec 2015, giving plenty of time to run a UA trial and then switch should you wish.
What are the benefits of Universal Analytics?
Benefits of UA can perhaps be categorised into two groups: benefits available now with no extra work and clues as to where Google Analytics is heading.
The key immediate benefits is the reporting of data from multiple devices such as your website(s), App(s) and store into one property. Used well, this is surely the ‘New Horizon’ benefit of UA and one which may offer new levels of insight.
Other immediate benefits include the ability to adjust Sessions and Campaign timeout durations from your dashboard. You can now easily configure sessions to last from 1 minute to up to 4 hours! Again, with appropriate use this will greatly benefit sites that, say, have very focused campaigns or cases where a user is on the site for longer than 30 minutes such as University websites (and application funnels) and some blogs.
Cross-domain tracking is also immediately and easily available, as it the referral exclusion lists for ignoring referrals from your 3rd party payment provider pages, for example. Certainly nice-to-have additions which make life easier.
The Future of UA
However, many of the underlying changes to UA point to something much more exciting, the future of analytics in a cross-device world. Principle of these is UA’s ability to stitch together Client ID’s into a single User ID which can be referenced against existing (non-personally identifiable) customer ID data. This opens up the ability to track cross-device conversions funnels from UA. Currently this requires dedicated User ID enabled views and some work to the tracking library, putting it out of reach of most UA users. User ID tracking also has some important limitations such as no mixed-view for cross-device analysis and no User ID dimension in either the UA web-interface or UA APIs which may limit its use in some instances. However, this is a hugely exciting area and one which will hopefully pave the way, both intellectually and technically, for User-centric analytics. I for one cannot wait to see utilise this to gain a deeper and more valuable understanding of visitors and customer groups.
As a taste of what is possible I thought I’d share with you some classic work from the good people of LOVES Data, I hope it inspires!…..
P.S. I would love to hear from anyone currently using UA and some of the features discussed here. Do let me know how you are finding it in the comment box below…