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How To Upgrade To Universal Analytics Using Google Tag Manager

Graeme Benge

by Graeme Benge on 12th February 2014

Video Transcript

I’m going to talk you through how to upgrade to Universal Analytics safely, using Google Tag Manager. Universal Analytics is the next step in website tracking that is going to move away from session based tracking to user based tracking, the end of this is to give a much richer insight into user behavior on your website.

Google Tag Manager is Google’s solution to being able to make additional customisation to your tracking code via a console and not necessarily requiring backend access or the need to have a web developer upload additional lines of code. So the reason for talking though this today is that at some point into the future Google is going to make Universal Analytics the mandatory tracking mechanism for its analytic solution, so its a case of testing it out and making sure you’re happy with how Universal Analytics is working for your site, before then upgrading your legacy analytics to that platform. So that’s the aim of this, is ultimately to put a process in place whereby you make sure that Universal Analytics tracks the data as you were expecting, so that you have a seamless transition from classical tracking to Universal Analytics tracking.

So to do this you’re going to need Google Analytics, you’re also going to need to set yourself up in Google Tag Manager as well. But first of all in Google Analytics, you’ll have your legacy property that is tracking your site data currently and what we’re going to do is set up a new property that’s going to run alongside that effectively as a test property. So if you set up a new property please select Universal Analytics as the type as you want to create, you’ll then get a new tracking ID that we’re going to need shortly.

So you’ve set up a new property, it’s using Universal Analytics to track user data, we’re going to go to Google Tag Manager. So having set up yourself in Google Tag Manager, what we’re going to do is set up an account and the best practice really is to set it up at site level so have an account for each site you control. You’ll set up a new account for your particular website and within that what we want to do is create a container, now this container is a piece of code that will go onto your website and you will need this to be uploaded to your site, probably using a web developer. And within that container, it’s going to contain the tags that you are going to create that are going to customise your analytics tracking code to capture exactly the on page-events, on-site events and interactions that you’ve been motoring up until this point, as well as any future changes that you’re going to make. Examples of these are event tracking, e-commerce tracking and custom variables as well.

So you set up an account, you’ve created a container and within that container we’re going to set up a new tag, and you can select from that ‘Universal Analytics’ beta. In that you’ll have a field that enables you to add that new tracking ID that you generated in Google Analytics, [so] pop that in there. Once your container has been physically added to every single page of your site, you can then publish that and that is now going to be live and is going to be tracking data and feeding data into that new Universal Analytics property you set up previously.

At this stage you can set up extra tags, as I mentioned before you can take the time to create the tagging for e-commerce, common events you’re tracking on site, event tracking, as well as custom variables. So at this point we’ve put the new code within the Google Tag Manager container on every page of your site, it also contains other tags as well as the tracking. So we should be starting to see data coming into that new property. Over a period of time you may want to give yourself a good couple of months to do this. You should start to see that data is being tracked in terms of visitor numbers in the same way as your legacy property was and similarly you should be monitoring your customisations to make sure they’re reflecting what is being tracked in your legacy account as well.

So at the point that you’re happy that Universal Analytics is working for you, you’ve configured it so that it is collecting data as you would expect, is collecting the on page interactions as you expect as well. What we can do now is move to upgrade your legacy and Google Analytics property to Universal Analytics so that there’s a seamless movement, where you’re able to combine the old legacy data that you’ve been accumulating with the new data that Universal Analytics is going to be picking up as well. That’s the point of this whole process, is really to make that transition seamless.

So what we’re going to do now is go back into Google Analytics, [we’re] going to go to your legacy property and transfer that property to Universal Analytics. Once that transfer is complete, what we need is the tracking ID of your legacy property, we’ll take that, we’ll go into Google Tag Manager, and within the Universal Analytics tag we’re going to change the tracking ID, that you specified before, from the new property that you set up to your legacy property. Then at that point you’ve made that transfer and that transition in quite a controlled way.

Again you want to keep an eye on your data to make sure you’re still seeing the expected levels of traffic, the expected levels of on-page interactions so that you make sure that the transfer has been done as safely as possible. But I hope that is a useful process for people to adopt.

The reason for this is that Google [have] said that Universal Analytics will be the default tracking mechanism in the future. It isn’t at the moment probably because there are several pieces of tracking they haven’t yet been able to support using Universal Analytics, such as display, advertising, re-marketing etc. So I think at the point that we get announcements saying those are now going to be supported by Universal Analytics, it’s more than likely going to be quite soon after that, that we’ll get the notification from Google that everyone needs to upgrade pretty pronto.

Don’t leave it to the last minute, look at this as a process by which you can safely test Universal Analytics and upgrade as well and it will also give you an insight into Google Tag Manager and how you can use it to help track information on your site even better. So that’s how to upgrade to Universal Analytics using Google Tag Manager. For more information please get in touch with the social profiles that appear at the end of this video.

Graeme Benge

Graeme Benge

With five years background in Travel, Graeme has built up strong commercial experience alongside online and offline marketing skills working with a variety of Travel Agents and Cruise Specialists. A passionate advocate of SEO and Social Media, Graeme has a strong interest in ROI and analytics in order to deliver the best level of returns.

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  • keith 27th February 2014

    Bravo, still not sure if I got it going or not. So hopefully this will help me ensure that it is.

    Reply to this comment

    • Graeme Benge

      Graeme Benge 3rd April 2014

      Hi Keith
      The easy way of knowing if you’re heading in the right direction is to compare traffic stats between your Classic and Universal properties. If they’re the same you’re on your way! If there are differences, I’d use Screaming Frog to make sure tracking code is in place on every page you’re tracking.

      The tricky bit come if you had a lot of customisations in place. That could be a whole other video!

      Good luck and thanks for commenting.

      Reply to this comment

  • Alex 2nd April 2014

    Hey Graeme,

    Once we have moved our legacy UA over to the Universal Analytics tag in Google Tag Manager, is it safe to delete the old “Classic Google Analytics” tag in GTM?


    Reply to this comment

    • Graeme Benge

      Graeme Benge 3rd April 2014

      Hi Alex, thanks for commenting.

      As long as prior to upgrading you’ve ensured all the tracking in your Classic property has been successfully mimicked in Universal Analytics I think you should be good to delete the Classic tag but there hasn’t been any news on ga.js or even urchin.js causing UA problems in GTM from what I’ve read.

      Happy to be put right on that if that isn’t the case though.

      Reply to this comment

  • Marco 13th June 2014

    Great article Greame. I was also thinking of following a similar process (create a new property to test first all new GTM tags), but your post made me more confident now.

    Very well explained, thanks for sharing this!

    Reply to this comment

  • Beth 29th August 2014

    Hi Graeme,

    Thanks for the video!!

    One question:
    I already have a GTM container on my site that has a tracking ID associated with the Classic Google Analytics property. During the “test” phase can I keep this on the site with the new container that has the tracking ID associated with the Universal Analytics property?


    Reply to this comment

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