Last March, Google announced the beta release of Universal Analytics. What followed were a number of changes within Google Analytics, from improved segmentation to reorganized reports around behavior, acquisition, and conversion. There also were changes to the user and account management interface. And along the way, Google moved forward with plans to make Universal Analytics the future of Google Analytics. With Google Analytics in place on sites throughout higher education, 2014 is the year to start migrating these web properties from Google Analytics to Universal Analytics.
So what is it?
Universal Analytics is the next generation of Google Analytics. Primarily, it changes the data collection process for how analytics data gets reported, enables more features, and sets up better tracking across devices. It also offers capabilities for tracking offline activities (phone calls or actions in a CRM system) in addition to the online activities we’re accustomed to.
These are big changes, but they won’t all be visible right away. The Universal Analytics web interface is the Google Analytics web interface, for now, at least. The new capabilities will be there, but in the mean time we can continue to track and use web analytics the same way.
What does this mean for higher education?
For now, it’s business as usual with Google Analytics. The tracking code still works and the reporting is the same. However, everyone using Google Analytics for website tracking needs to go through an upgrade process to convert their account and website to use Universal Analytics. Eventually (we don’t yet know when) Google will require this, so now is the time to start planning for the transition. Please note, that only administrators will be able to do the upgrade. Administrators will be asked to upgrade when they log into the admin section of their Google Analytics account.
It’s important to note that there are some features of Google Analytics that are not yet supported by Universal Analytics. Google detects the use of these features and doesn’t offer the upgrade for these accounts. These features are:
Our anecdotal experience indicates that these features aren’t often used in higher education. This means higher ed is in the position to plan for and make the move to Universal Analytics sooner rather than later.
The biggest concern is that there are features that will have to be reconfigured in Universal Analytics. For example, event tracking code is different, so for institutions using more than the basic tracking code on pages there may be adjustments to additional tracking scripts that need to be made with Universal Analytics.
We suggest exploring Universal Analytics before you initiate the upgrade. A good way to do this without starting the transfer process is to set up a new property within your account that uses Universal Analytics. By installing a second version of the tracking code you can start exploring Universal Analytics without disrupting your existing Google Analytics account. This provides an avenue to test out event tracking and other custom code in your account without disrupting your existing Google Analytics.
A change like this is also a great time to implement the Google Tag Manager, so that you can take advantage of the control Tag Manager gives you while you are updating tracking code.
When does it need to be done?
There isn’t a firm answer to this yet, but eventually Google will require the upgrade, and will do it for you if you need help. Eventually, the tracking code on your website will need to be updated in order to continue logging data (but admittedly, that might be two years from now). The bottom line is that Universal Analytics is here, and Google has made the upgrade path clear if we want to continue to leverage the most widely used web analytics tool. Rather than wait for a forced upgrade, take some time to test drive Universal Analytics alongside your Google Analytics account.
Have you already done the upgrade? Do you have questions about the process? Please share your comments or questions, and let us know if we can help.
Greg Zguta Director of Web Development 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.