Google’s Universal Analytics Two Years In: Hype Or Revolution?

Still on the fence about migrating to Google Universal Analytics? Columnist Nick Iyengar outlines six reasons why an upgrade should be a priority for your organization.

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We find ourselves two years in to the highly touted release of Universal Analytics (UA). As we look at the analytics landscape, there’s no question that many organizations have migrated to Universal Analytics — at least, in the sense that they have technically implemented the latest version of Google Analytics.

Cardinal Path (my employer) has been fortunate enough to work with many early adopters, who have come to us for help leveraging Universal Analytics to deliver unprecedented customer insights, true marketing line-of-sight, and business value to clients.

According to a survey Cardinal Path conducted of its top clients and partners, a little over half of respondents have already migrated to Universal Analytics, while another third are running “classic” GA in parallel with Universal Analytics, as a way to compare and contrast the two. (For many clients, this is a crucial first step toward completing a full migration.) The rest of the respondents are thinking about how to get started.

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The bigger question, though, is: Are those who made the jump actually utilizing their new capabilities? Or are organizations migrating in name only, and using the new version in mostly the same way they were using classic GA?

The factor that seems to have the biggest impact on organizations’ ability to reap the biggest benefits from Universal Analytics is the presence of analyst resources within a company — specifically, analysts who are clamoring for data that only UA can provide.

For instance, ecommerce organizations quickly moved to UA because of the “Enhanced Ecommerce” capabilities, such as product impression tracking, that UA provides. These are the types of organizations at a stage in their data analytics maturity that knew exactly what they wanted, and embraced new tools as soon as they became available.

Migrating To Google Universal Analytics

The maturity piece is key to organizations that are still on the fence about migrating. Organizations in the earlier stages of maturity tend not to have analysts or other advocates with a business case for upgrading, despite the fact that in many cases, it’s not a huge undertaking to migrate.

In fact, even very large sites can get away with not migrating if the site does not feature a lot of advanced functionality. In these cases, there’s a lot of watching, waiting and hoping that Google will continue to support older versions of Google Analytics.

The organizations that have most to gain from UA are those whose digital presence involves more than just a website. Marketers who want to integrate mobile apps, who want to collect data on properties such as third-party sites and social networks, and who want to get closer to a single view of the customer have much to gain from UA.

The choice isn’t quite as clear for others. Many organizations are well aware of UA’s benefits, yet have made a conscious decision not to migrate. Often this is because complex, custom GA implementations can take a lot of work to upgrade and, as many organizations with complex GA implementations will tell you: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

The problem is that the march of technology’s progress doesn’t stop, and every day that you wait to upgrade is one less day you’ve got in your project plan when you do decide to upgrade. For now, your old GA implementation may be working fine, but as time goes on, your organization risks paying the cost of the inability to access new features — and falling behind competitors who embrace  UA sooner.


Bottom line: If you’ve put it off because you’re worried about time and costs, it’s time to take the bull by the horns and figure out what you need — whether it be resources, coordination or prioritization – and start vetting partners and doing some discovery work.

Consider these six reasons to prioritize your migration to Google Universal Analytics:

1. You Don’t Want To Delay The Ability To Activate “User ID” Functionality

User ID is a Universal Analytics feature that you can use to associate multiple sessions (and any activity within those sessions) with the same user, via a unique ID. When you send a unique ID and any related engagement data to Google Analytics, all activity is attributed to one user in your reports. This means you can connect multiple devices, sessions, and engagement data with User ID.

On top of that, with the User ID, you can get a more accurate user count, can better analyze the signed-in user experience, and get access to some amazing new Cross-Device reports.

2. Measurement Protocol Is Breaking New Ground In Digital Analytics

Universal Analytics allows for GA Measurement Protocol on digital devices like game consoles and information kiosks. Measurement Protocol also allows developers to make HTTP requests to send raw user interaction data directly to Google Analytics servers. This allows organizations to measure how users interact with their business from almost any environment. Developers can then use the Measurement Protocol to:

  • Measure user activity in new environments.
  • Tie online to offline behavior.
  • Send data from both the Web and server.

3. Extensibility Equals Deeper Insight

Custom dimensions and custom metrics are like default dimensions and metrics, except you create them yourself. You can use them to collect data that Google Analytics doesn’t automatically track. And in Universal Analytics, you can set “hit,” “user,” “session” and “product”-level custom dimensions.

Out of the box, Google Analytics — even with Universal Analytics — works the same for every organization. By leveraging custom dimensions and metrics, you’ll move toward making GA a measurement platform that’s truly customized for your organization.

4. Enhanced Ecommerce Capability

Google Analytics Enhanced Ecommerce enables product impression, promotion, and sales data to be sent with any of your Google Analytics pageviews and events. With Universal Analytics you can measure:

• Product Impressions
• Product Clicks
• Product Detail Impressions
• Add to / Remove from Cart events
• Promotion Impressions
• Promotion Clicks
• Checkouts
• Purchases
• Refunds

Compared with classic GA’s ecommerce reports, Enhanced Ecommerce is a real breath of fresh air. Finally, GA is providing data that organizations can use to do more serious merchandising analysis!


5. Enhanced Administrative Tools

To quote Justin Cutroni, Google’s Analytics evangelist (and my old boss), from a blog post on this very topic:

Finally! For the first time EVER, yes, EVER, Google Analytics has made a change to its access controls and user permissions. Some may think Google Analytics user permissions is not a very sexy topic, but this is going to make a big difference to those that manage Google Analytics accounts.

User permissions are more nuanced and dynamic, provide the ability to monitor the activity of those with site privileges and offer greater security advantages to managers who oversee users.

In addition, it’s easier to do things like ignore referrers, exclude search terms and adjust timeouts.

6. Demographics, Benchmarking and Cohort Functionality

Basically, we’re looking at an unprecedented level of insight into who your users are and how they fit and perform across a spectrum of groups.

Lastly, there is a bonus reason for why you should migrate to Universal Analytics … eventually, you have to.

My colleague David Booth, in an article he authored in Marketing Land notes:

Remember, the upgrade is a two-step process, and this is the important part: if your account isn’t using anything that’s not already supported in Universal Analytics, Google is going to transfer your existing classic Google Analytics Web property to Universal Analytics— and they won’t necessarily tell you.

If this happens to you, you’ll see a notice in the tracking code page for the Web property. Keep in mind this doesn’t break anything or change anything–your existing code will still work and do all the things it used to do.

Eventually, you will need to upgrade to the new codebase. Most of the new features that are rolling out at breakneck pace are only coming out for Universal Analytics – you won’t get them if you’re still on classic Google Analytics. And, if you’re using things like custom variables, you’ll have to switch them to the Universal Analytics equivalent.

Get started with small steps: Target a specific use case or two that UA will support but that classic GA doesn’t. Use those cases — along with the knowledge that thousands of organizations are already reaping benefits from UA — to begin making the business case for an upgrade to UA.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Nick Iyengar
Nick Iyengar is a Director of Digital Intelligence at Cardinal Path, where he is responsible for helping his clients improve their profitability by building their analytics capabilities. He returned to Cardinal Path for his second tour of duty after completing his MBA at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business in 2014. At Cardinal Path, Nick has led Google Analytics implementations for dozens of organizations in a wide variety of industries. Prior to joining Cardinal Path, Nick began his career in digital analytics at Google, where he managed Google's Analytics Guru team.

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