What is Universal Analytics

Universal Analytics (UA) is a new version of Google Analytics(GA). It uses a different tracking script and will impact how users are tracked. It is now the standard platform of Google Analytics. Now that UA is out of beta it supports most of the classic Analytics features, with a few additional possibilitiesMeasurefest logo (including linking offline to online activity in GA). In the session I attended yesterday at Measurefest, it was described as Google’s re-imagining of Analytics for a multi screen world.

It can be more user-centric than the current Analytics, which is session based. Session based tracking cannot see the user past that device. This means if the user moves from searching on a mobile to purchasing on a desktop, none of the data from the original interaction can be associated to the purchase. Google created this document ‘The Customer Journey to Online Purchase’ that can help visualise the different touch points (channels) and where they commonly sit in the decision making process.

If you have Analytics and use Goals, I strongly recommend taking a look at the Multi Channel Funnels report where you can view the paths (the touch points) users hit. You may be surprised at the range of paths and in some cases number of touch points there are. If you are able to use the USER ID feature then you would be able to see a similar report based on device.

Some of the things that are better with Universal Analytics

  • Track site users in more granular detail
  • Track online and report offline (import offline actions into GA using measurement protocol)
  • Track users across devices
  • More custom dimensions available


Do I need to upgrade?

Universal Analytics came out of beta in April. Google will be forcing new accounts to use it and existing accounts will be forced to upgrade in the next few months. Google will support the old script for two years (to April 2016). While they often support scripts past the date they say, it will be advisable to ensure you have transitioned before then, just in case.

Something that I strongly recommend is creating a new GA account (which will automatically be Universal) and running both scripts. The tags should not conflict so this should be safe to do (but as with most changes test it in a place where the impact will be minimal at first and then roll out when you are confident).

So the short answer is that, if you are currently using Google Analytics, eventually, you will have no choice but to use Universal Analytics, so it will be worth testing it to ensure it will work with your site. Doing it with time to test things before being forced into upgrading is most certainly advisable.

What should I bear in mind when I upgrade?

The set up of Universal Analytics will depend on how you are currently set up. If you use any inline script (such as on-click tracking) then this will become orphaned. The tags will fire but may not make it into your GA account. There are other options for these inline scripts, such as auto event listening, which is available if you use Google Tag Manager on your site.

How do I get Universal Analytics?

It is very simple to upgrade to UA. Simply log into your Google Analytics account and navigate to ADMIN > TRACKING > CODE, here you should see the option to upgrade your account, once you have done this you will get a new code that you will need to use to add to all pages you wish to track (replacing any existing tags).

If you have any inline tracking tags (such as on-click tracking) this will all need to be removed to (they may fire but may not always be associated to a GA account as these inline tags take the UA number from the parent code (which will be gone if you have upgraded your script).

I do advocate testing UA first, it is possible to create a new account, double tag your site (so you have the older version and the new UA version) just to test the data and make sure the site still works as it should (now that the tag is out of beta it is more likely to work okay but testing is always a good idea!).

The idea of this article was to introduce Universal Analytics and look at the top level changes and impacts, we will go into more detail and some of the recommendations in a follow up article so please look out for that : )

Have you started using Universal Analytics? Tell us what you think about it in the comments below.



Analytics – the systematic computational analysis of data about users and the sources they came from that can be used to create actionable insight and inform changes needed on a site.
Tracking script – the tracking script is a set of code, this is added to web pages to enable tracking.
Session based – better explained with Google’s examples.