Google's Universal Analytics (UA) is a more flexible alternative to a standard Google Analytics account; making it easier to customize account settings and providing a new opportunity to collect data that a standard account doesn't automatically collect (like data from any digital device).

Do it now, or have them make you do it later

Google just launched a two-step process for upgrading your existing properties from Classic Analytics to Universal Analytics (called the "Upgrade Center"). It's starting to roll out in the Admin section of all accounts. Once you see it there, you can go ahead and complete the upgrade. Apparently, any properties that don't initiate the transfer will be auto-transferred eventually, but there are no details as to when this will happen (sometime in the "coming months"). Therefore, you might as well go ahead and do it now, as long as you don't use the dc.js JavaScript and related features (Remarketing, Google Display Network Impression Reporting, DoubleClick Campaign Manager Integration, and the Google Analytics Demographics and Interest Reports). If you need to use these, wait until dc.js is supported.

Upgrade with computer mouse.jpg

Set up and configure

After you upgrade your properties, you'll need to implement the new code on your website (here for cross-domain tracking situations). Once the code is implemented on your site, you'll want to configure the available setting options below that help make Universal Analytics unique. They are located in the Tracking Info option of the Property column of your Admin settings.

  • Session and campaign timeout handling. The user behavior on a website depends on the site and business. A bank may automatically sign out users after being inactive for a short amount of time, while a content site might have users that spend a long time engaging with articles. Or a retail store may run a weekend sale campaign, while a B2B might be pushing their new whitepaper for a few months. In this setting, you can specify the timing of sessions and campaigns to match your visitor behavior.
  • Customize organic search sources. If you get a search visit from a search engine that isn't recognized in Google Analytics by default, it is recorded as a referral visit. If you get a visit from an image search from, but is listed first on your list, that visit is attributed to (because it's the same domain with the same query parameter). UA gives you the ability to avoid these inaccuracies by allowing you to add, edit, reorder or remove from the list of recognized search engines in your property.
  • Exclude domains from referral reports. A common application for this is if the interaction path on your site takes visitors to another domain and back to your domain (like a third-party shopping cart). If you exclude this domain, the return of the visitor won't count as a new session. Note that you have to exclude domains even if you have cross-domain tracking set up.
  • Assign specific organic search keywords to direct traffic. For example, you can tell the UA property to count all brand keyword visits from organic search as direct traffic. You may want to do this to better organize traffic by user intent. Users that type in your brand name or URL into a search box are typically just trying to navigate to your site.

Get creative in constructing a complete picture

As I've already mentioned, you have the ability to collect data from any digital device. Part of Google's mission is to help business owners be able to better tie online and offline behavior together into a complete picture of customer behavior. UA allows you to do this with some tricky development work using what they call the "Measurement Protocol." You can track things like gift and loyalty card usage, or where and how people end up using online coupons they print off, or what locations people come from to attend your event. The possibilities can be customized to your business environment. You can then analyze how this lines up with your strategy and implementation. This is HUGE for analyzing and attributing marketing investment to customer acquisition, behavior and outcomes.

But be aware that the terms of service prohibit sending personally identifiable information like names, email addresses, unique device identifiers, etc. to Google Analytics. If you do so, your account and data can be confiscated by Google.

If your business has a mobile app, you can now track usage of that app to gain insights for improvement. You'll be able to see metrics and dimensions like device, network, location, language, path, screens per visit, number of installations and number of purchases. You simply choose "App" instead of "Web Site" when setting up your new property.

Gain better insights about your users

UA brings a new movement in tracking technology that helps analysts examine data by users instead of visits. [tweet this] No longer being used are first-party cookies, which are unreliable, often get deleted and expire after two years anyway. No longer will the same person who uses two different devices in two different sessions be counted as 2 unique visitors. Now business owners will be able to see a user's behavior over all their visits no matter how far apart they are or how many devices they occurred on. It's the next step in providing a clearer picture of what is happening with your business and customers to help you gain better insights from your data and improve your business.

Have you implemented Universal Analytics? What do you think?

January 24, 2014

Mike Fleming specializes in Analytics and Paid Search for Pole Position Marketing, a leading search engine optimization and marketing firm helping businesses grow since 1998. You can follow Mike on Twitter at @SEMFlem. Mike enjoys playing, writing and recording music along with playing basketball to get his workout in. He resides in Canton, Ohio with a girl who threw a snowball at him one day…then married him.

Mike and the team at Pole Position are available to help clients expand their online presence and grow their businesses. Contact them via their site or by phone at 866-685-3374.

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Search Engine Guide > Mike Fleming > Universal Analytics: A New, Free and Better Way to Work With Data