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What Is Universal Analytics And Why Is It So Awesome?

Gemma Holloway

by Gemma Holloway on 4th April 2013

Universal AnalyticsFor many years now digital marketers, such as myself, have relied upon data from Google Analytics to help us understand the activity on our websites.  The limitation with this is Google Analytics offers visit centric data meaning, that upon returning to our website, user interaction is tracked as a new visit…  Enter Universal Analytics – A new technology within Google Analytics which allows us to track interaction on a website from a user centric approach.

In this blog post I am going to explore what Universal Analytics is, the exciting new opportunities it provides and what these mean for the digital marketing industry.

So what is Universal Analytics?

As I explained in the introduction, Universal Analytics is new technology within your Google Analytics account which allows you to track user interaction from a user centric approach as opposed to a ‘per visit’ approach allowing you to customise your user experience on a whole other level.

This approach is possible by assigning a unique client ID to every user that registers to your website.  From then onwards, whenever that user is signed in, their interaction will be recorded using their client ID rather than a new visit.  It’s worth noting at this point that Universal Analytics is most beneficial when it is a requirement that users are signed in to gain full access to your site.

Universal Analytics is currently in Beta and can only be used when a new web property is added to Google Analytics.  You can’t currently upgrade your account, although this is something that we expect to see available in the near future.  You can request to be whitelisted for the roll out preview here.

So, what can we do with a visitor centric approach that we couldn’t do before…

Track Multiple Visits

The client ID means we can anonymously identify when a specific user returns to our website.  This allows us to make comparisons between their visits and determine ways their interactions differ dependant on their visit number.  For example, you may discover that during their first visit a user spends a long time viewing all sections of your site (products, about us, blog etc.), whereas the second time they head straight for the products section.  This will mean that you can present visitors directly with the products sections upon signing in from the second time onwards.

Multiple Browser Tracking

With Universal Analytics we can use the client ID assigned to users to identify when the same person accesses our site on a different browser.  For example, if I register for a website using Chrome and then revisit the same site via Firefox, by signing in, my client ID will allow my interaction to be tracked as the same user.

Cross Device Tracking

Something digital marketers have longed for, for quite some time now, is the ability to track user behaviour across multiple devices.  For example, say purchases are 20% higher on desktop than mobile, with Google Analytics it was near on impossible to determine which of these users had first viewed your products on a mobile to then go on and make the purchase at a later date on a desktop.

Hallelujah! With Universal Analytics this is now possible.  The client ID allows us to track that a specific user is interacting with our website across a multitude of devices.

Offline Activity

Online OfflineThat’s right.. you read it correctly!  With Universal Analytics we can now track online and offline behaviour.  By formatting data according to the Google Analytics protocol, data can be collected from various systems, such as call centre systems and loyalty card schemes, by sending a hit to Google Analytics using the Universal Analytics Measurement Protocol.

The Techy Bit

Universal Analytics doesn’t use the ga.js javascript library.  It requires the analytics.js javascript library, as below:

Google Analytics Code

Unlike Google Analytics which is client side based, Universal Analytics Measurement Protocol works by combining the client side Universal Analytics (analytics.js) with the server side Measurement Protocol.  The Measurement Protocol is a set of rules which allows you to send data from any system/ device to your Google Analytics account.

For a full technical guide on how to implement Universal Analytics, please visit the Google guide.

So what does this mean for the Digital Marketing industry?

Universal Analytics provides the opportunity to understand customers on a one to one basis, providing the opportunity to deliver an exceptional personalised consumer experience.  For example, we can now determine, across channels how long it takes a customer to make their first purchase after registration, regardless of whether this purchase is in a different browser, on a mobile or even in a shop.  This allows us to prompt customers who don’t purchase regularly enough or reward those who are frequent purchasers.  Most useful for retailers with a multi-channel strategy, Universal Analytics allows us to take data interpretation to a whole new level.

I would be interested in your opinions on Universal Analytics, especially anyone who has experience using the new technology.  Please leave your feedback in the comments below.

Image Credits:

Analytics by BigStock
3D Online Offline Crossword by BigStock

Gemma Holloway

Gemma Holloway

Gemma has amassed a broad range of marketing experience having worked in competitive sectors including leisure, computing and shipment. With a degree in Marketing with Psychology, she has enthusiasm for Digital Marketing and a strong understanding of user behaviour.

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  • Mary Kay Lofurno 8th April 2013

    Hi Gemma,

    It sounds great, I guess I would have liked more facts about deployment and pros and cons.

    Its not as simple as it sounds when you are talking about potentially implementing it in an enterprise situation. Can you share some client data [with permission of course] where you have done this?

    I will be digging into the documentation today or tomorrow. I think maybe we may try rolling out and running both versions on a web site to test it to start.

    Reply to this comment

    • Gemma Holloway

      Gemma Holloway 9th April 2013

      Hi Mary,

      Thank you for your feedback.

      I did not go through the deployment process within this post as I wanted to try and aim it at an audience with relatively little experience with Google Analytics so that they can get an idea of the functionality this new technology can offer them.

      There are some in depth explanations out there on how to implement UA, I for one would start with the Google guide as mentioned within the post, along with this Beginners guide to Universal Analytics by Himanshu Sharma (http://www.seotakeaways.com/beginners-guide-to-universal-analytics-creating-custom-dimensions-metrics/) which offers some excellent step by step guides for implementation.

      As for pros and cons, the functionality described above is a basic run down of the benefits UA offers, along with Custom Dimensions and Metrics (which I haven’t covered in this post as it deserves one of it’s own). The biggest downfall to UA is that it requires users to be signed in in order to collect the data for this analysis to be possible.

      I hope the implementation goes well, please let us know how you get on and how you find it.

      Reply to this comment

  • Kirsten 9th April 2013

    Interesting article.

    Though it looks like the user will need to be logged in to take full advantage. And would that be logged in to our own site, or a Google account?

    Reply to this comment

    • Gemma Holloway

      Gemma Holloway 9th April 2013

      Thank for your comment Kirsten.

      Unfortunately this is the case at the moment. The user needs to be logged in to our own site as the client ID is issued based on your UA set up.

      This is a major downfall of UA at the moment, however, just means we need to work on giving users more incentive than ever to sign up to our sites.

      Reply to this comment

  • Zoe Mead 10th April 2013

    This is really interesting and what I see to be the future of retailing as a whole. I work for one of the largest media corporations in the world and we have seen in the last year the most major shift towards ecommerce ever. It seems there is no going back to bricks and mortar.
    It is not a coincidence that amazon are by far the fastest growing retailer and no doubt, they utilise universal analytics in the masses. When you log on to amazon and search for example a yoga mat, amazon profiles you as a consumer and next time you log on you will be bombarded with yoga products.
    Retailers are now not only being forced to get onto the online bandwagon, they will be left behind if they don’t adopt digital strategies which incorporate processes like universal analytics.

    Reply to this comment

    • Gemma Holloway

      Gemma Holloway 11th April 2013

      Thanks for your comment Zoe.

      This is definitely something we are going to see rolled out to a lot of companies, especially now the new technology is now readily available.

      Whilst you say there is no going back to bricks and mortar (although I completely understand where you are coming from), the beauty is this technology can tie online and offline together.

      It is definitely evident from Amazons one to one customer experience that they implement this type of Analytics already. It will be interesting to see how other smaller companies will make the most of being able to provide a similar personalised service.

      You say your corporation has seen a strong shift towards eCommerce – Is Universal Analytics something you have considered implementing?

      Reply to this comment

      • Benjamin Mangold 12th April 2013

        You are totally right about tying online and offline data together Gemma! We have been playing with Universal Analytics and have created a demo that ties offline interactions (like making a coffee and opening the fridge) to online interactions (including time tracking and our support ticket system).

        It’s a bit geeky, but you can checkout our video at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C27yMQOS8n0

  • Gemma Holloway

    Gemma Holloway 15th April 2013

    It’s exciting to think of the potential this platform unleashes.

    Thanks for sending across your video – Was really interesting!

    Reply to this comment

  • Jorg B man 17th April 2013

    Hello Gemma!

    Thanx for the great introduction into universal analytics. Currently i am trying to implement it to a new website of us.
    Everything seemed to be going fine, but now i want to implement some event tracking. The event i would like to track is a simple sign-up form registration.

    domain: http://www.example.com

    Step one is opening the sign-up form (which is an i-frame loaded from a subdomain app.example.com)

    I thought it was just as easy as implementing the analytics.js script on both pages(and subdomains) without a lot of additional settings, so i could use the url’s as an event.

    However, things aren’t really working out yet. Do i miss something? Or do i have to use different scripts on subdomains? I really hope you could help me out with this!

    Thanx a lot in Advance.

    Reply to this comment

  • NIroshan 28th May 2013

    I talked with a tweeted with Justin Cutroni – Google analytics Advocate as he mentioned cross device tracking isn’t launch yet. Actually I tested it and GUA isn’t linking offline user online user even I used the same client ID(cid). GUA still in the growing phase. Check my test here – goo.gl/F6QJ0

    Reply to this comment

  • Gemma Holloway

    Gemma Holloway 28th May 2013

    Thanks for sharing this Niroshan – I was unaware of this issue.

    Reply to this comment

  • JM 31st May 2013

    One disadvantage that I’ve found in switching over to Universal Analytics is the lack of support for creating Remarketing List from Google Analytics.

    Overall, I see the tremendous value in the future of UA but it still needs some time before I’d recommend everyone to switch over.

    Reply to this comment

  • Gemma Holloway

    Gemma Holloway 3rd June 2013

    Thank you for your comment JM.

    I agree with you that not everyone should switch straight away. I would suggest considering how much value you can get out of the platform as it stands. If your answer is ‘very little’ then I would recommend holding out until there is the option to migrate from Google Analytics to Universal Analytics.

    Reply to this comment

  • Conrad Heaven 30th July 2013

    Hi Gemma, are you aware of issues recording events as goals?

    Reply to this comment

  • Aymeric 8th November 2013

    Hi, thanks for the great post.

    There is one thing I don’t really get about sending server side events, though (for someone who has both an app and a website)

    UA is supposed to be great because you can mix your data from all your devices. However (tell me if I’m wrong), we are still suppose to keep two properties (app / web since the data is very different : pageviews etc). Thus, if you send all you transactions server side to your UA property, you will have reports that don’t make sense : transactions coming from nowhere (ie from the app – but this visitors don’t appear in the profile)

    tell me if I wasn’t clear, and if I missed somethig :)

    thanks a lot !

    Reply to this comment

    • Gemma Holloway

      Gemma Holloway 8th November 2013

      Hi Aymeric,

      Thank you for your comment.

      The way to get around this would be to differientiate between the two UA properties on the server using a Google Analytics key.

      This would mean the transactions would be reported within the correct property.

      Reply to this comment

  • Aymeric 8th November 2013

    great, thanks for the quick answer. However, this means we can’t really do cross device analysis (at least we can’t analyze app and a website together) : If I understood you well, an app and a website have to be totally seperated (as far as Analytics are concerned)

    Reply to this comment

  • Gemma Holloway

    Gemma Holloway 8th November 2013

    No problem.

    Both can be tracked within the same Universal Analytics account by using the analytics.js to track the website analytics and the app SDK to track the app analytics.

    Reply to this comment

  • Aymeric 8th November 2013

    mm, sure but I can have two different properties in a unique account (as i currently have with google analytics and google analytics for apps) but that doesn’t help for cross device analysis since data is totally separated.. I feel like I am still missing something :)

    Reply to this comment

  • fed 11th November 2013

    Hi Gemma!

    It would be great if you can go deep on tracking multiple devices from a user (multiple browsers). My site has a login, what i should do? push a client id instead google´s client_id?

    And what about people logged into google properties (chrome, youtube, gmal)? Is universal analytics going to take advantage of than information? Also my site has google login. how to take that into an oportunity to clarify about user with multiple browsers.

    appreciate your comments
    best regards

    Reply to this comment

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