Get Ready for Universal Analytics

As Universal Analytics gradually moves out of beta, here are a few steps to prepare for the switch, including migrating your existing Web properties and setting up offline reporting.

If you’ve been keeping an eye on my recent articles, you would have noted my increasing excitement for Universal Analytics. Universal Analytics is the next step in Google Analytics’ evolution. As Universal Analytics gradually moves toward coming out of beta, here are some things you should be doing to get ready to switch over.

Set Your Web Property to Migrate to Universal Analytics

In order to take advantage of Universal Analytics in your Google Analytics account, you will have to migrate your existing Web properties to support its features. The Universal Analytics Upgrade Center has detailed instructions on managing the migration. Below are my summarized instructions.

1. Check to see if your account is ready for a Universal Analytics upgrade by going to the admin panel and looking for the “Universal Analytics Upgrade” option under the property column.


2. If it’s available, click on the “Universal Analytics Upgrade” link.

3. Click on the “Transfer” button.


4. Wait for the migration process to be completed. This can take 24 to 48 hours.

5. Once the migration process has completed, you can start upgrading your tracking code to the Universal Analytics code. You can delay this step if you don’t want to make changes at this time (e.g. for some of the reasons explained below). Your Web property will still continue to report on data collected from your existing Google Analytics tracking codes.

Prepare a Migration Plan of Tracking Codes

The Google Analytics and Universal Analytics tracking libraries are different, and so you’ll need to prepare a plan for migrating your existing code to the new code. Google has provided guides for migrating your codes on-page or through Google tag manager.

As a website owner, you should start to document the areas that need customizing. This list can then be passed onto your developers or analytics vendors to ensure that they cover all aspects of your sites. Here are some areas that I would focus on:

Cross-domain tracking: Due to Google Analytics’ reliance on first-party cookies, you need to ensure that your tracking code is setup for cross-domain tracking if your sites span multiple domains. This is equally important when switching over to Universal Analytics.

Events: Event tracking will be in place if you have a number of dynamic elements in place and are tracking users’ interactions with them. Sometimes the code for these events will be placed within custom JavaScript libraries and may not be easily noticeable when doing a manual review of the codes on the page. Pull a list of recorded events for your websites and ask your developers to ensure that all of these continue to be recorded when migrating to Universal Analytics. Here is a custom report to get you started.

Virtual pageviews: Similar to events, your site may be using virtual pageviews to track certain events or to distinguish between different versions of pages located at the same URL. These should also be identified and highlighted to your developers.

E-commerce: Outline the business rules being used to currently track your e-commerce activities. Ensure those rules are also translated in your Universal Analytics e-commerce tracking implementation.

Custom variables: With custom variables, you can define additional segments to apply to your visitors other than the ones already provided. Universal Analytics introduces custom dimensions and metrics, and you should ensure all your custom variables are migrated over.

Leveraging Universal Analytics Power Features

User ID tracking

One of Universal Analytics’ distinguishing features is the ability to anonymously track logged-in users across multiple devices. In order to take advantage of user ID tracking there are a few things you’ll need to consider.

Privacy: The user ID you wish to track on has to be unique, persistent, and non-personally identifiable. If your user ID contains personally identifiable information (e.g. an email address, name, or phone number) you will need to work with your development team on a method to hash these IDs before passing them to Universal Analytics.

Encouraging logins: User ID tracking is useful only if the visitor logs into your website or application. If you have a login function that isn’t used very frequently, plan on ways to encourage your users to log in as they interact with your content.

Custom Dimensions and Metrics

Custom dimensions and metrics are similar to custom variables, but more powerful and flexible. With Universal Analytics you get 20 custom dimensions and 20 custom metrics per Web property. Google Analytics Premium gets 200 of each.

While custom dimensions are similar to custom variables, custom metrics are new. Custom variables and custom dimensions record information in a string format. They can’t be used to record numerical information that can be used for summing and ratios. Custom metrics solves this issue.

1. Start listing out what custom information you would like to measure in addition to the standard dimensions and metrics provided by Universal Analytics.


2. Work with your backend teams to ensure that the necessary information can be pulled by your site or app and passed to Universal Analytics.

Offline-to-Online Reporting

One of the more exciting aspects of Universal Analytics is the ability to send data from offline sources to your analytics account using the Measurement Protocol. With the measurement protocol you could:

  • Track when offline conversions are made (e.g. via a call center or in branch) and tie it back to the site visit information that led to the leads.
  • Combine sensor data (e.g. in-store footfall visits) with your website data.
  • Upload weather information and look for patterns related to conversions.
  • And much more!

1. Start listing out what offline information you would like to see in your Universal Analytics account and how that would help you make better decisions.

2. Work with your backend teams to ensure that the necessary information can be pulled on a regular basis and passed to Universal Analytics via the measurement protocol.

Dimension Widening

Dimension widening allows you to extend the information in your analytics account by uploading a set of rules. It enriches data held in your custom dimensions and metrics. This is especially useful for data you want to import into your account, but not necessarily reveal through your source code when setting custom dimensions and metrics. Examples of how dimension widening can be used include:

  • If you post articles on your site, you can “widen” the information by also including information about the author, time of publication, cost of the article (e.g. if you employ freelancers), and so on.
  • As you sell items, you can also report on cost of goods sold, margin levels, supplier information, etc.

1. Look at the information you’re currently planning on collecting and determine how you could “widen” them.

2. Work with your backend teams to ensure that the necessary information can be pulled on a regular basis and uploaded to Universal Analytics.

Should I Migrate Now or Later?

It’s a question I hear often. The answer is “now” if you don’t rely on remarketing with Google Analytics, Google Display Network impression reporting, or demographic and interests reporting. Universal Analytics doesn’t currently support these display advertiser features but will soon. If you’re reliant on these, then I recommend waiting until Universal Analytics supports these. However, that shouldn’t stop you from planning ahead by going through the exercises listed above.

Get excited and get ready for Universal Analytics. I am interested to hear how people are planning on making creative use of Universal Analytics. If you have any interesting ideas, please share them in the comments below!


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