Universal Analytics: Three Changes You Must Know!

When Google announces an upgrade, you can expect great changes. Unlike Apple, for which an upgrade means “Hey, our phones now come in lime green,” Google makes significant improvements and addresses shortcomings with each new iteration of their products. With the advent of the next version of Google Analytics, dubbed ‘Universal Analytics,’ we will be witnessing a revolution in web analytics.
While it can be assumed that Google’s eventual transfer to Universal Analytics is inevitable, it might not be a bad idea to start getting familiar with some of the UA features now. In order to begin tracking with UA, we recommend creating a new property. This will leave past and future data collected with your Google Analytics property unaffected, and begin collection with Universal Analytics. KissMetrics details how to get this set up properly.
In order to prepare you for the changes, we’ve broken down some of the new features that UA offers. As mentioned above, they address a lot of the faults and flaws of GA, and so we expect GA users to embrace these new features with open arms.

Better Organic Search!

One of the most annoying things with organic search terms (right after keyword not provided) is seeing branded keywords. If your company sells educational video games, you are interested in how well your site capitalizes in the search market for “educational video games.” You are not interested in someone who has searched your site specifically. Using search as a navigational tool is much different than using it as a discovery tool.
With UA, you can now specify which search terms you would like to see excluded. Users who visit with these search terms are then classified as direct traffic, and not organic traffic. Google support shows us how to take care of this:

  1. Navigate to a property. If you’re not in the settings screen, then click Admin.
  2. Click Tracking Info, then the Search Term Exclusion List tab.
  3. Click +Add Search Term
  4. Enter a word, phrase or string as a Search Term.
  5. Click Create to save.

Furthermore, you can now edit your account’s search engine list. If your site’s internal site search is being confused as organic search, you can change this. If you are receiving traffic from a search engine unrecognized by Google, you can add this source to the list. And, if you want even more stratified data, you can partition visitors from search sources. For instance, you can separate traffic from google.com and traffic from images.google.com This increased flexibility within organic search allows for more accurate and properly categorized data.
You can find the code necessary to implement these changes here.

A More User-Centric Approach!

Though this feature is not perfected (yet!), it is the one we are most excited about. Universal Analytics is moving away from visit tracking and towards visitor tracking (anonymously of course). Previously, tracking cookies was the gold standard for collecting visit info. This method sufficed for a while, as people typically had only a single device that connects to the internet. But now, users can access the web from home computers, smartphones, and tablets.
Instead of cookies, Universal Analytics will rely on assigning unique identifiers to people across different platforms. Using information such as login ID, UA can recognize me (and by me, I mean my ID) when I’m on my computer, smartphone, or tablet. Thus, instead of counting three separate visitors for these different platforms, UA will only count one unique visitor. Again, this visitor-focused approach will surely improve data accuracy.
Check out this helpful video to get a better understanding the user-centric approach. Please pardon their strange selection of background music.

Big Data < Bigger Data!

One of the things that makes Universal Analytics, well, universal, is that it expands data tracking beyond the site level. Utilizing what it calls Measurement Protocol, UA allows you to consolidate data from offline interactions. So, you can how see performance differs across platforms and have your data amalgamated into a more centralized locale.
What type of data can be imported? The UA platform allows “HTTP requests of raw user interaction data.” Thus, data collected from CRM, cash registers and call centers can be imported in your analytics servers. And, with proper configuration, offline and online data for users can be combined, so you can even measure behavior on a multi-platform level!
UA facilitates this fusion of data through the allowing the creation of custom dimensions. These are similar to the default segments found within your GA account, but allow for greater customization. For instance, you can now customize segments to store info such as ZIP codes, date of first purchase, or birth year and compare traffic across these segments.
And lastly, as if there weren’t enough data, Google even allows you to create custom metrics. As long as they take the form of an integer, currency, or time, Google can track far beyond its default functionality.

Take Home Message

As data becomes more and more available and accessible, we need to make sure we aren’t drowning in numbers. Before setting up any additional data collection, carefully consider the potential utility of the data. Ask yourself: What changes might this data lead to? What insights might this data create? Remember, numbers and metrics are only valuable insofar as they are actionable!
As you launch in to the upgrade, keep in mind this is not an easy flip of the switch. Things like custom event tracking and ecommerce will need to be updated in the code – here is helpful list of how to approach these changes from Google.