Everything You Need To Know About Google’s Universal Analytics

Recently, Google opened up the beta version of their new and improved Google Analytics platform to the public. Calling the update ‘Universal Analytics’, marketers are now able to switch over to the beta version immediately.

Being so deeply rooted into the world of marketing and analytics, we wanted to create a ‘what’s new’ guide to everything you need to know about this update. We’ll show you what these changes actually are, and talk about whether or not you should make the switch. It’s not a particularly difficult process, but you may want to hand this article over to your developer.

See also: How to Make Marketing Analytics Fun!

If you want to keep on top of Google’s updates as they happen then it’s wise to consider making the switch.

New Google Analytics features

There are a whole bunch of updates added to the GA platform, and you can see the entire list here. You’re free to check that list out but for now we want to focus on the major changes that might affect you the most.

These are some very cool and exciting features that are going to make a big impact on both our clients’ businesses as well as our own, so let’s take a look and see what potential this updated platform has for us!

Custom dimensions and metrics

In the Universal update, the old custom variables are now split up as ‘custom dimensions’ and ‘custom metrics’. Regular accounts will be able to create 20 of each while premium accounts can have 200. Unfortunately you can’t create a metric or dimension on its own – it needs to be tied in with a secondary dimension in order for it to work.

You can set these all up in the admin area of your active report (head to the ‘Custom Definitions’ section once you’re there). From here you’ll need to define the name and scope of your custom dimension or metric.

Scope is a very handy option when creating custom definitions. With it you’re basically setting what the definition will apply to, your options being hit (definition applied to a single action), session (applying the definition to every action within a session) or user (applying the definition to every action for multiple sessions of each visitor).

There’s a pretty comprehensive guide that Google has created if you want to get into the nitty gritty of this, but from here it will just be a matter of implementing the JavaScript into your site to begin tracking these customised goodies. We’ll certainly be using this feature in future.

Measurement protocol

A new feature that gives increased flexibility and access to your analytics data, the measurement protocol basically allows you to feed data into Google Analytics from just about any device you can think of.

This includes call centres, POS (point of sale systems), smart phones and even call tracking. This is especially handy for people who have always wanted to integrate their data with Analytics. The potential that this new feature brings is huge and gives us hopes of ultimate closed-loop reporting.

Increased control on settings

Before this update, if you wanted to make changes to certain settings not featured in the GA platform then you could jump into the code and do so. In the new Universal Analytics update, however, many of these settings can now be accessed directly from within the interface. To get to these settings, simply:

  1. Click on the ‘Admin’ button when in one of your reports
  2. Click ‘Tracking Info’
  3. Click on a tab for one of the following:

Search Engine Additions: Google already has a large list of search engines that it tracks visitors for, but if you want to add more you can now do this. It’s especially handy if you get a lot of traffic from search engines that Google doesn’t recognise, as you’ll then see all the keyword data and it won’t just come through as an external referral.

Excluding Referrals: This is a great way to ‘black list’ bad referrals that you don’t want to include in your reports. It’s also handy if you have pages that sit on your own domain but don’t have a tracking code installed, which would cause other viewed pages to be classed as the entry page of that visit.

Excluding Search Terms: Similar to the above, you’re now able to exclude certain search terms from your reporting, too. This will report traffic from those search terms as direct visits instead. You can read more about this here.

Campaign Timeouts: Google Analytics will always attribute conversions to the most recent traffic source, and will remember this for 6 months. So if someone visits your website, leaves, comes back 4 months later and then makes a purchase, it will remember. With this update, however, you can now set this timeout to anything you like, from one day to 24 months.

Session Timeouts: Sessions typically last 30 minutes, so if a user is dormant on your site after 30 minutes the session will expire. This can also now be customised.

More noteworthy changes

Some other things we’ve spotted so far include the fact that eCommerce tracking is now part of a separate code, not included in the standard GA script. Also, cookies for a user now last for two years, which is refreshed every time a user visits again, which is especially helpful for industries with lengthy and erratic buyer cycles.

Unfortunately though – remarketing, content experiments and AdSense aren’t available in Universal Analytics just yet, so you might want to hold your horses if you depend heavily on these.

Finally, those cookies we mentioned above will now be valid across all sub domains, meaning you’ll never have to do cross-domain customisation ever again.

So… Should you take the leap?

The answer to this question depends heavily on a few things. Firstly, if you’ve not stepped into Google Analytics beyond setting up a few custom reports, event tracking and the like, then making the switch should be fairly straightforward.

It’s highly likely, however, that you’ve got a myriad of different cogs moving in place to keep on top of what’s happening in your business, and although we’ll all be forced to make the switch sooner or later, it might be best to stick with the standard version until Google rolls out a few more improvements and ships over some core functionality.

If you have a Google Analytics expert or a team of developers on your side then send them this guide and see what they can do.

Have you already played with Google Analytics? How are you finding it so far? Share your experiences below!

Image credit: JD Hancock

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