Migrating to Universal Google Analytics- Upgraded Features and How You Can Benefit

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August 18, 2014

Universal Analytics (UA) was first introduced to us in 2012 as an update to Google Analytics (GA) with added features paving the way for seamless data collection and better tracking of user interactions with your web properties. UA isn’t just concerned with each user’s behavior on your website, but can now collect data linking the same user’s interactions across different devices. The Enhanced Ecommerce feature also provides a deeper analysis into a product’s performance by offering new funnels to display more thorough conversion data and purchase behavior data.

By now, everyone has heard about UA, but some professionals still have doubts about whether or not to upgrade their GA web property to UA. I have decided to discuss some of the new features and upgrades that are now available through UA, and share the benefits of upgrading to the universal platform. I hope you find the following review useful when deciding on your upgrade to UA.

Universal Analytics’ Features

User ID Reports

The User ID feature enables the association of a single user’s interactions across multiple devices. In order to implement this feature, a unique User ID must be generated through your site (for example, after a login) and consistently assigned to the user.

The benefit of this feature can be understood with the following example:

Two days ago, user X visited your website through their mobile phone. Today, they visited your site again but this time, access was through their desktop device and they converted. Without the User ID feature, this scenario will be recorded as 2 unique users accessing your site, and the conversion will only be recorded as being related to the second user. With UA’s special User ID view, this scenario will be recorded as one user who accessed through two devices- providing further insight into how different devices support the user’s conversion journey.

Analytics user ID device reports

Cross Device Report

In order to benefit from this feature, you would need to push visitors to register, therefore generating this unique User ID stamp. One smart trick to encourage registration is to offer users a fair benefit, for example, a discount code for their next purchase, if they sign up through Facebook (as the user’s Facebook ID can apply as a unique User ID for analysis in UA).

Enhanced Ecommerce

Enhanced Ecommerce, as the name suggests, definitely enhances pre-existing ecommerce tracking. Enhanced Ecommerce includes a variety of data sets that need to be sent and later analyzed in UA reports. Since there are so many changes to view, I will focus on some of the more prominent sets, which are: The Product Performance Report and two new funnel visualizations.

One small yet very powerful upgrade this mega feature provides is the ability to break down product categories into levels. In other words, if I send the following category ‘Electronics/Desktop PC/Dell‘, GA is able to show a full level hierarchy (with a maximum of 5 levels):

  1. Electronics
  2. Desktop PC
  3. Dell

After upgrading to UA, you may implement Enhanced Ecommerce tracking codes. I recommend using Google Tag Manager standard values.

Enhancing the Product Performance Report

The Product Performance report has been improved with information regarding products, categories and brands – all the way from impressions -> product page -> add to cart -> checkout and finally purchase data.

universal analytics product performance

Product Performance Report

Shopping Behavior Analysis – The Big Funnel

This funnel gives you the “big picture” – from All Sessions through to the essential steps of the conversion path, to the Transactions. This is a vital picture that every online store owner can benefit from.

Universal Analytics shopping behavior analysis

Shopping Behavior Analysis Funnel

The Checkout Funnel

This funnel focuses on the checkout steps. The following example also shows how purchaser data is separated according to various payment methods.

universal analytics checkout funnel

The Checkout Funnel

Both funnels include popular segments that are very easy to apply. You can also apply ‘Advanced Segments’ to these two funnels.

Universal Analytics’ Technical Benefits

Better Handling of Display Features

It is possible to lose approximately 2% of your data when using the classic GA library and applying Display Features (using the dc.js file). This is simply because the previous way GA handled this feature was by sending GA data from the user’s browser through DoubleClick servers, which until this day are still blocked by some ad blockers. UA handles this problem better by simultaneously sending Display Features data to DoubleClick servers and GA data to GA’s servers.

Better Solution for Self-Referrals

Professionals who work with GA may bump into the self-referrals problem where you witness your own site acts as a referral to itself. This is one of the most tedious problems in GA and occurs for a range of reasons (one common case is when redirecting from www.domain.com to mobile.domain.com).

Without getting into too many details, I will say that UA manages to avoid some of the old mistakes that are often made with classic analytics. However, UA is still not perfect, meaning the self-referrals issue can still strike. Without a qualified GA self-referrals ninja, you may not even notice this problem, as it will wear the ‘mask’ of direct traffic.

Measurement Protocol

The Measurement Protocol allows raw data to be sent to GA servers from any device that is able to send HTTP requests online. The Measurement Protocol enables tracking of ‘offline’ user behavior and connects this information to online user behavior data.

For example, a user leaves a lead on your website. A few hours later a sales rep calls the user and closes the sale. In the past, the offline ‘closing the sale’ action was almost impossible to connect to your online data. However, with the Measurement Protocol, now a GA data-collecting standard, you can send such offline data to GA in the name of the browser where the user left the original lead.

Data Import

With the Data Import feature you can upload data into GA directly from your CRM by performing a manual upload using CSV files or an automatic upload using the Management API. One benefit of this feature is that we can save our server some work- instead of sending information for every user page load, we can upload all necessary data for all users once a day to GA servers, where the information will later be processed for us.

Usage Examples:

Product Data Import – for Enhanced Ecommerce use, this allows you to expand product data from the CRM using the SKU value as a common value. This is also necessary for websites using characters other than English.
User Data Import – upload data related to your users: life time value, membership type, user expense ranges or any user segment you can think of.
Refund Data Import – for Enhanced Ecommerce use again, this data offers a better understanding as to why and when customers return products.

The Issue of Deprecation

Moving forward, if you want to use the new analytics features, you will need to update to UA. Upgrading to UA is better performed sooner rather than later. The more classic tags there are on your site, the more complicated migration to UA will be. Deciding not to migrate to UA could prove risky in the long term. If you are still running classic GA in the future and begin experiencing issues, Google may choose to ignore these issues and recommend you upgrade to UA.

My Experience Mixing Between Classic Code and Universal Analytics Properties

When I first accessed UA shortly after its release, I tried working on it with classic code (ga.js). I can report, that the results weren’t perfect. The bottom line is, I wouldn’t recommend mixing between the two. Since it’s only a matter of time until all web properties are upgraded to universal, we have already upgraded all of Seperia’s clients’ web properties.

Google recommends all users migrate to UA before Google deprecates classic analytics. One simple way to identify if you are using classic or universal code is to open the view source window of your site and search for the following string of text:
If you found: ‘_gaq.push([‘ – the site probably uses Classic code.
If you found: ‘ga(‘ – the site probably uses Universal code.

It is also worth noting the popular features Custom Variables and User Defined Variables may stop being processed after a minimum 2 years, as UA uses the Custom Dimensions feature instead (there is still no official word on what is going to happen after those 2 years). If you have not upgraded to UA by this time, the collection of your data may be seriously impaired. The more time that passes until your data reports recover (by upgrading to UA), the more data may be lost.

Final Thoughts on Migrating to Universal Analytics

When UA was released to the public back in 2012, we were informed that all tracking would have to start again from scratch. Thankfully since then, and following its release to public beta earlier this year, migration from classic to UA code can now be achieved with minimal interruptions in data continuity.

We didn’t cover all the changes today, there are many more, and other changes are sure to come. If you take your analytics seriously, I recommend performing the upgrade to UA.

Contact us to find out more about Universal Analytics and how to upgrade your Google Analytics platform.