Migrating to Universal Analytics

Universal Analytics is the next generation of Google Analytics. Announced in October, 2012, and previously available in Beta form, it is now rolling out to all new Google Analytics users.

Just to be clear, as of March 2013, Universal Analytics is a choice when you create a new web property. You can use the current version of Google Analytics or choose the new Universal Analytics platform. Existing accounts are not transitioning to Universal Analytics yet.

When you create a new web property in Google Analytics you will now have a choice:

When you create a new Property in Google Analytics you must choose between to use the new Universal Analytics.

When you create a new Property in Google Analytics you must choose between to use the new Universal Analytics.

Before you decide to use Universal Analytics you should consider all of the features in the product and the work required to implement them.

Here’s a list of things you should consider when implementing Universal Analytics.

Currently Supported by Universal Analytics

Standard website metrics: All of your favorite metrics, like visitors, visits, pageviews, time, etc. will be in Universal Analytics. And it will also collect standard information like geographic location, referral sources, marketing campaigns, etc.

Ecommerce tracking: You can still collect ecommerce transactions with the new Universal Analytics.

Event Tracking: Event tracking, that insanely useful feature that you can use to track all sorts of visitor interactions, like reading an article, is supported by Universal Analytics.

AdWords Linking: You can still link an AdWords account (or mulitple accounts if you’re working with a bigger client) to Universal Analytics.

Custom Variables: Custom variables will be replaced by a new feature called Custom Dimensions. There are two main differences. First, you get 20 custom dimensions. Second, there is a little less coding to set up a custom dimension. More on these very, very, soon.

Custom Metrics: In addition to the new Custom Dimensions there are also new Custom Metrics. A Custom Metric is a custom count of something that is specific to your business. More on these soon.

Easier configuration: One of the main features of Universal Analytics is Server Side Sessionization. That’s a fancy way of saying that you no longer to to customize the JavaScript code. Many of the customizations, like adding additional search engines, is now done in the admin section.

Finally, another important factor is that Universal Analytics is THE Google Analytics platform. New features will be rolled out to the Universal Analytics code base.

Coming Soon to Universal Analytics

While most Google Analytics features are supported by Universal Analytics there are some features that are not yet supported. If you are a heavy user of these features you might consider waiting.

Content Experiments: At launch, the Universal Tracking code does not support Content Experiments. If you plan to run a lot of tests you may want to wait until UA supports content experiments.

Remarketing with Google Analytics: I must admit, this is one of my favorite features in Google Analytics. Unfortunately, at launch, Universal Analytics does not support the Remarketing feature.

AdSense Integration: Currently you can import your AdSense data, like revenue, into Google Analytics. This will be added soon to Universal Analytics.

Cross device tracking: This is a core component of Universal Analytics and will be launched soon. It’s going to be insanely useful and help organizations measure customers not sessions.

That’s it. Almost everything is supported by Universal Analytics.

New JavaScript Tracking Code

If you’re currently using Google Analytics you’re probably wondering if Universal Analytics uses the same tracking code. It does not.

Universal Analytics uses the new analytics.js tracking code.

For those that are just starting out this is no big deal. But for existing users you will need to consider a migration plan when Universal Analytics rolls out to existing accounts.

Check out my post on the tracking websites with Universal Analytics. It provides an overview of the new tracking code and how it’s different that the existing tracking code.

Universal Analytics and Google Tag Manager (GTM)

If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed with all of this you may want to consider using Google Tag Manager to implement Universal Analytics.

Using Google Tag Manager with Universal Analytics.

You can use Google Tag Manager to implement Universal Analytics. Just choose a Universal Analytics tag type.

You can also use Google Tag Manager to track events, ecommerce transactions, etc. In general, using GTM, or any tag management tool, is strongly suggested. It creates a much easier way to manage your data collection.

If you do decide to use a tag management tool, don’t forget to consider adding a data layer.

It’s All About the Platform

And one more thing, Universal Analytics can be used to measure almost any type of technology thanks to the new Measurement Protocol. It’s a true platform that can give you deeper insights into your customers, their cross device usage, and their long-term value to your company. That’s a lot.

Universal Analytics is going to dominate the conversation when it comes to Google Analytics. I’ll do my best to keep everyone up to date on the features and platform updates. It’s going to be fast and furious :)

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    1. Jeroen says

      Hi Justin, very cool seeing UA rolling out this quickly!
      One comment: you probably mean: “At launch, the Universal Tracking code does not support Content Experiments.”

    2. says

      Hi Justin, great share! This will definitely lead to greater insights. Can’t wait to implement!

      Hope this new tracking code will have a positive effect on the cookie debate here in Europe as well. Since it supports data collection without browser cookies if I am right.

      • says

        @Paul: The new analytics.js still uses cookies. But now it only uses one cookie. You could engineer your own solution based on the measurement protocol, but that might be a lot of work. I hope the article was not confusing.

    3. says

      One question. How universal analytics will impact the google analtyics premium account? Do i need to create a new web property or will it roll out automatically into the account? The reason i asked it because my ga premium account is a complicated set up & it is not easy to set it up again.

      • says

        @Himanshu: Well, the setup for Google Analytics Premium and Standard should be almost exactly the same. The only real difference between the two products is the number of Custom Variables/Dimensions, data processing speed and data capacity.

        I assume you’re talking about how JavaScript tagging, in general, can be complicated? I agree. Universal Analytics uses the new analytics.js so you _will_ have to retag. I strongly recommend looking at a tag management tool when you migrate. Or at least wrapping your analytics code in methods and functions that abstract the tool from the code on your site. That makes updates a lot easier.

        Hope that helps.

    4. David Hoffmann says

      Nice article. Measurement protocol looks interesting and cross device measurement and the 20 custom variables.

      Tag management – need to know more about how GA would handle events in tag management. Does it require the full page to load and a tag at and ? That was meant to say does GA tag management require a tag before the end of head tag and before end of body tag to handle event tracking logic?

      • says

        @David: No, Google Tag Manager, and almost all tag management tools, only require a single container tag at the top of the page. They then, via different mechanisms, render the logic of the other tags that have been placed in the container. The container can also respond to events in the browser, like clicks, etc.

    5. says

      I think this is going to be a great upgrade (other than the pain of switching). I’m especially excited about the cross-device tracking! I won’t switch just yet, but I’m glad to hear about this now so I can prepare.

      • says

        @Chris: That’s great feedback, thanks. While I can’t comment on what has not been publicly announced, I can say that is a very common request, one that I keep making to the team. Hopefully we’ll have an easy solution in the future.

    6. says

      So as I understand your article, there is no true migration as of yet…transition of existing accounts will happen down the line.

      So if you have an existing web property you want to try the new features out on, create a new profile and add the Universal Analytics tracking code. Later on down the line your existing account will be migrated over and you can ditch the profile you “tested the waters” with?

      • says

        @Andy: Correct, UA is just for _new_ profiles now. If you want to test it out you need add the UA tag. Remember, the JavaScript is different, so if you are tracking things like events you will need to implement new code.

        I suggest youKEEP using your existing profiles, they have all of your historical data. You don’t want to loose that :)

    7. John Bixby says

      I used a WordPress plugin to insert the Universal Analytics tracking code first into the footer of my site, then the header, and in both cases GA says my tracking code is not installed, even though I can do a view source and see it there. Any idea why this might be?

      • says

        @John: Are you seeing that message in the Tracking Info section of admin? That warning is not checking for the new analytics.js yet, it’s still checking for the old ga.js tag. As long as you see data in your reports, things should be working.

    8. vivekv says

      I just noticed that universal analytics does not seem to support the campaign tracking capability that exists today. Any idea if this is a miss or being removed?

    9. says

      Is it possible to convert current property to universal analytics? How could I do that? It works as you informed by creating new property, but what with older propertyies?

      • says

        @Forgie: At this time you can not convert a property to Universal Analytics. You can only use Universal Analytics for a new property. You will be able to convert an existing property very soon.

    10. says

      Hello Justin.

      Do you mind if I ask you a question?

      At the point of introduction of Universal Analytics I was halfway through the process of setting up a custom dimension on my current Google Analytics account (which has been in existence for at least a couple of years).

      Am I correct in thinking that the introduction of Universal Analytics has resulted in the removal of some features and functionality from pre-existing GA accounts (which are by definition non-Universal Analytics accounts) that would previously have been available? So in my specific example do I now need to upgrade to Universal Analytics to use custom dimensions (as opposed to custom variables – I have plans for all 5 of those).



      • says

        @Pete: Not at all, questions welcome. Sorry it took me so long to get back to you!

        Custom variables only work with the current version of Google Analytics. Custom Dimensions will only work with Universal Analytics. if you have been using Google Analytics for a while, and you have historical data, I suggest you continue to use the current version of GA. Then transition to UA when we provide a migration tool.

        Hope that helps,



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