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How To Upgrade To Universal Analytics

| 4 minutes to read

Time To UpgradeBack in 2012 Google announced an overhaul to its traditional analytics solution. With Universal Analytics, Google was moving from tracking page views to user sessions.  Our very own Gemma gave us the low down on how Universal Analytics was going to help us track users (anonymously) as opposed to visit sessions, so let’s now look at how the upgrade can be done.

First some background:

How Is It Different To Classic Traditional Analytics?

Universal Analytics functionality will bring Digital Marketers closer to being able to analyse user behaviour on a one to one basis at quite a detailed level. New features include;

  • Tracking of multiple visits for a single user
  • Multiple Browser Tracking
  • Cross Device Tracking will show us how users consume site content across device type; this will show us how valuable mobile really is
  • Offline Activity – as shown in Loves Data’s awesome video on Universal Analytics that gives a pretty impressive demo of its capabilities

Universal Analytics also uses one cookie compared to four meaning there is a slight gain in load speed. It remains asynchronous so the code will still fire whilst page content is loaded.

What Are The Considerations?

The full benefits of what Universal Analytics has to offer will only apply to site users that are signed in to your website, which is what allows cross device tracking to come into its own.

Also moving from the classic implementation to Universal Analytics tracking will require a rewrite of any customisations you’ve made over the course of time. Google have announced that everyone will be migrated from classic to Universal so understanding what the impact may be is vital.

To help with the process Google have a dedicated Upgrade Centre with further information. If you’ve installed standard Google Analytics on your site and made no other customisations then the transition will be simple but you should have a good read of the Upgrade Centre nonetheless.

Also currently (November 2013), there are still some features advertisers use that aren’t yet supported such as AdSense, Content Experiments, Display Advertising and Remarketing.

When Should I Upgrade?

As the upgrade will be mandatory, now is the time to understand what your account needs so the best way of answering this is to upgrade following a successful test of UA implementation. This is the blueprint you should follow:

  • List all of your GA customisations that remain important to your tracking requirements
  • Employ Google Tag Manager to manage your tags. Here’s Anna with her excellent Google Tag Manager guide
  • Create a new property using UA tracking code to test the functionality (you’ll get rid of this when you’re happy to upgrade your existing property where all your historic data lives)
  • Run Universal Analytics alongside traditional tracking so no data is lost whilst testing
  • Test data collection across all of your customisations
  • Remove traditional tracking only when you’re happy UA is tracking what you need

And of course, test everything.

How Should I Upgrade My Google Analytics To Universal Analytics?

Using the above blueprint, we recommend you start with Google Tag Manager.

Technically Google Tag Manager is not the only means of implementing Universal Analytics. You can simply create the new tracking code in the new property with GA and paste it sitewide. Using Google Tag Manager however gives you the ability to manage your tags without needing extensive coding so is far more useful in the long term.

If you are proceeding with GTM Alex at Lunametrics has put together a great post to help achieve a successful, risk free (or as close to risk free as possible) transition from traditional Google Analytics tracking to Universal Analytics tracking.

Firstly you need to use Google Tag Manager to create a new Container for your Universal Analytics code. This will give you a Tag Manager code which you need to plaster all over your site. You’ll want it on every page after the opening <body> tag.

Hop over to Google Analytics and navigate to ‘Admin > Property > Create New’ and follow the prompt for Universal Analytics and you’ll get a shiny new UA –ID.

Head back to Google Tag Manager and create a new Universal Analytics Tag, selecting Tag Type and add your new UA-ID to the Tracking ID field.

At this point you’ll need to review the existing customisations you use and make the appropriate changes in order to maintain tracking common customisations like:

  • Ecommerce,
  • Custom Variables now known as Custom Metrics
  • Virtual Pageviews
  • Google AdWords Conversion Tracking
  • Google AdWords Remarketing Tags
  • DoubleClick Tags
  • AdRoll (remarketing)
  • comScore

Google Tag Manager will guide you through these changes.

Once happy that traffic is being tracked in your new Universal Analytics property in Google Analytics and that where appropriate, the onsite events are also being collected you can now make the big step of migrating entirely to Universal Analytics.

  • In the Admin section of Google Analytics click the Universal Analytics upgrade button
  • Head to Google Tag Manager and change your new UA-ID to your old UA-ID. This will be found in the Tag you created for UA and in the Tracking ID field
  • Remove the traditional tracking code from your website((on every page)
  • Save your changes and publish them
  • Then head back to GA to test data is being recorded using the Real Time reports


There is no doubt that data analysis is taking on an even greater level of granularity and the insights on offer to businesses have taken a step forward. Businesses though must understand that a simple click of the button won’t suffice. Time needs to be spent understanding what the change will entail and how to make the transition thoughtfully.

I’d be interested to know what people have found since making the transition, has there been new insights found that are shaping web strategy?

Image Credit

Time To Upgrade via BigStock


  1. eDigital Fields avatar
    eDigital Fields

    Universal Analytics also allow changing the session time for a single visit as 30 mins is a standard time.

  2. Federico avatar

    Hi! Thanks for clarifying some points that google has not been very clear.

    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 that 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

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