Intelligence
Time for Google Analytics to Become Universal

Intelligence

Time for Google Analytics to Become Universal

May 01, 2014By Greg Zguta

Back in January, I blogged about how Google Analytics was evolving into Universal Analytics and what its arrival meant for higher education. At the time, Universal Analytics was officially in beta, with a few features from Google Analytics not yet ready in Universal Analytics. We knew that changes were coming to the most widely used web analytics tool, but we weren’t exactly sure when the clock would start ticking on making the switch.

A few weeks ago, Google gave us the news that Universal Analytics is officially out of beta. The clock starts ticking now. Eventually, Google will phase out the old ga.js Google Analytics tracking code and require sites to use the new analytics.js tracking code. Additionally, each property in an account must be upgraded to Universal Analytics. While not a terribly complex process, these are important steps to ensure continued tracking of your website with Google Analytics.

There are two primary approaches to adopting Universal Analytics.

Install Universal Analytics in Addition to Google Analytics

The biggest issue with diving straight into the Universal Analytics upgrade process is that advanced features like event tracking or ecommerce require configuration beyond the basic tracking code. The syntax for these advanced features is different in Universal Analytics, so when you upgrade your tracking code, you must upgrade the code for these features as well. If you have coded custom event tracking into your site, you’ll need to revisit how events get logged to Universal Analytics. If you use a CMS like Drupal or WordPress to manage your site and it places the tracking code on pages for you, be sure the module or plugin you use is compatible with Universal Analytics.

To test this process, some web managers are creating a new property in their Google Analytics account for Universal Analytics. The advantage of following this path is that you can configure and test how your Universal Analytics configuration works before making any changes to your existing Google Analytics properties. The basic steps here are:

  • Create the new property within the Google Analytics admin interface and get the tracking code.
  • Install the new Universal Analytics tracking code on your site in addition to your existing Google Analytics code.
  • Review the analytics within the Universal Analytics account and test event tracking and other custom configurations. This allows you to have your custom tracking code tested and ready before you apply it to the Google Analytics account you are upgrading.
  • When testing is complete, follow the steps to upgrade your Google Analytics properties to Universal Analytics within the Google Analytics admin interface.
  • Finally, replace the Google Analytics tracking code with your new Universal Analytics tracking code, as well as any custom tracking code, and verify that data collection is continued for key features.

Since many in higher education use event tracking to help track external links, file downloads, outgoing link referrals, and clicks on calls to action or other in-page features, this upgrade path is likely the safest route to ensure that event tracking (in particular) isn’t lost during the upgrade process, but it does require some additional steps.

Upgrade Existing Google Analytics Properties in Place
The alternate method to completing the upgrade is to more strictly follow the path Google outlines in its Universal Analytics Upgrade Center.

The basic steps are:

  • Initiate the upgrade process within the Google Analytics admin interface for each property in Google Analytics.
  • When the transfer is complete, install the new Universal Analytics tracking code on your site in place of the existing Google Analytics tracking code. You’ll change from using the ga.js (or older urchin.js) tracking code to the new analytics.js version.
  • Verify that tracking is continued for the site.

This process is a better fit for sites that are only using the basic tracking code and don’t have additional tracking such as events or ecommerce.

Considerations for Either Upgrade Path
Don’t forget about Google Tag Manager. A change in analytics tracking code is the perfect time to invest in making these types of changes easier in the future by implementing Google Tag Manager. Once added to a site, changes to tracking code and configuration can be done in Tag Manager instead of requiring code changes to the pages of your site.

Remember that the upgrade to Universal Analytics applies to each property within your account. In higher education, many accounts have multiple web properties defined, so keep in mind that this process can impact multiple properties even if you only have one version of the tracking code on your site.

As always, I’d love to hear lessons learned from your upgrade process, or answer questions about how to tackle it.


  • Greg Zguta Director of Client Support I've been working on education web projects since the late 90's and enjoy visiting campuses and watching how technology has transformed higher education since I got my first email account at Oberlin College in 1992. Back then, I mostly used the web to check weather radar and sports scores . . . I suppose technology hasn't transformed everything yet.