What is Universal Analytics?

universal-analytics-300x171In April next year, Google will no longer be supporting Google Analytics (GA). Classic GA will be deprecated and instead, you are advised to upgrade to their new platform, Universal Analytics (UA) which became the standard on April 2014.

They’ve done this because GA was so old it was creaking at the seams, and simply not fit for purpose any more. They’d patched and cobbled, but in the end the only way to give E-commerce Directors all over the world the data they were asking for was to start from scratch with something new.

In particular, GA was never really going to be fit for purpose at giving a complete picture of visitor behaviour across multiple devices and offline as well as online.

That’s why this is not just a name change. Be warned, the switchover is unlikely to be simple, and quick. Google will migrate you to the new platform (or may have already done so) but you need to set up the code. You won’t lose data, but it will be stored differently. You (or your development team) will have to learn new tricks to get the best out of the new beast.

Optimising for Visitors not Visits 

The good news is that once you’ve mastered it, UA will be much simpler to run and give you insights you never thought possible. When you start getting data from it, the big thing you’ll notice most is that GA was focused around visits and UA is focused around visitors.

It’s all aimed at trying to give you the most complete picture of visitor behaviour – from the moment they first show an interest, through all their views on various devices, popping it in and out of the basket and finally buying – and possibly returning it. It’s done through a visitor cookie, and they’re even working on incorporating store visits into the big picture, although, for obvious reasons, that’s much harder to track.

Analytics that mean something at first glance

The thing that geeks are getting excited about on UA are Custom Metrics and Custom Dimensions. In other words, UA lets you define what data you pull in, rather than being limited by Google’s standard list as in GA. That could give you a wealth of data and insights that was just impossible before (or possible but only after spending days in Excel).

For the non-geeks among us, it means that reports will now come with real words describing real categories (like ‘Shoes’, ‘Vases’ or ‘Tablecloths’) rather than a bunch of URLs.

Data Layers – your open book of customer behaviour

Data layers aren’t really a feature of the new UA but they’re likely to become a buzzword next year when UA really kicks into gear as everyone is forced to use it. A data layer works with a tag management system to hold lots of information about the page a user is viewing. That could be the type of page it is, the category, product details (including name, SKU, category, price, promotions etc.). That’s a lot of capability and that’s why UA can give you such rich insights.

Making the most of UA

Can you imagine how much in demand developers are going to be next April when GA is no longer supported?

Right now, it’s only a few smart companies who have upgraded to UA, and are maybe running GA alongside for a few months just to make sure everything’s working.

As for the rest…. suddenly everyone needs to have their code sorted out and tags put on to UA. They’ll all be asking for the same type of work, at the same time. It will be a field day for freelancers who know how to do this kind of stuff – but not so great if you’re the one trying to get the job done.

The answer is to look into it now, so you can make your own decisions, calmly and clearly, without being under pressure. Do it in your own time, not when Google tells you.

Next steps

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Posted in: Google Analytics

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