Wherefore Universal Analytics

Since it has come out of beta, we have been fielding a lot of questions about Universal Analytics, the latest and greatest analytics package from Google.  So I’ve decided to answer a few of those questions here.

 What Makes Universal Analytics So Different?

There are a few things that make Universal Analytics different from Google Analytics. There are the three in particular that we at Beaconfire are super-excited about.

The ability to report more on visitors instead of visits.

With standard Google Analytics, the focus has always been on the visit. While there were hacks, there has never been an easy way to say “if someone comes to the site on their work computer, then their home computer, then their phone, treat them as one person.”

With Universal Analytics, it becomes possible to link those three visits. It will work best when a user can have a unique identifier (like a constituent ID). So this may not be for everyone. But we’re still pretty thrilled about it.

It’s also possible to make advanced segments based on visitors instead of visits. In the past, if you made an advanced segment, it could only be visit-based: “Show me all the visits where someone converted.” Now it can be “Show me all the visits for any visitors who ever converted.” It can give you more interesting insights into user behavior across visits.

Custom Dimensions & Metrics

In Google Analytics, you can have their dimensions (page, page title, etc.) and their metrics (bounce rate, pageviews, visits, visitors, etc.) In Universal Analytics, you can make your own. So, for example, let’s say you tag all your pages with topic tags. You could pass those topic tags to Universal Analytics, and just as you might run page reports, you could run topic reports and analyze site performance based on the various topics site visitors go to.

Integration with Google Tag Manager

Integration with Google Tag Manager is not exclusive to Universal Analytics. But it’s the direction that we’re taking for any new analytics set up. In the past, you put  analytics code on a page. Then, if you wanted to do any customizations to the analytics (event tracking, cross-domain tracking, just to name a few), you’d have to go back into the code and make updates.  There is always something about going into codes in templates that makes me a little nervous, and I heavily lean on a lot of tech folks here at to help me out with these things.

Google Tag Manager changes that. You create a Tag Manager Account and you get a piece of code. You put that code on the page. But after that, much of the configuration will take place in the Google Tag Manager UI, and NOT in the code. It has a testing mode. It still takes a bit of “programmer brain” to navigate and set up the tag manager, but it is significantly easier and less risky than going into templates and updating script files.

Another bright spot of the tag manager – it’s not exclusive to Analytics, or even to Google tools. If you have pixels or code from other tracking tools, you can enter it in tag manager, and tag manager will deliver it to the site.

What is the future of “old” analytics?

According to Google, at some point, standard Google Analytics will be deprecated. They’ve said this in Phase 4 of their plan (right now, we are in Phase 3):


Once we hit Phase 4, old analytics will work for about 2 years.

I suspect that once we hit that point, you will not be allowed to create any new “old analytics” properties. Which means if you have a mini-site or a website, you will have to put Universal Analytics on it.

In short, Universal Analytics is inevitable.

 Are there any privacy or security concerns?

Some folks think you need to update your website’s privacy policy if you want to use Universal Analytics, but that is not entirely true. There is one features within Universal Analytics that does require you to change your privacy policy, and that is the collection of demographic data. But you have to turn this feature on.

I find it convenient that with Google Tag Manager, I can slap some code on a page, and then use the Tag Manager UI to make any changes. But that also has its security risks, as well. You’re essentially giving Google permissions to write on your web page. It makes the security-conscious a little bit nervous. While I’m not ringing any alarms just yet, you should take care. If you do decide to implement with Tag Manager, you should have good security policies in place (like changing passwords whenever someone leaves, for example).

How/when to migrate

You can run Universal Analytics in tandem with Google Analytics. In fact, that’s what we’re recommend. One of my colleagues wrote a blog post on it here: http://www.beaconfire.com/blog/2014/04/universal-analytics-to-upgrade-or-not-to-upgrade

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