Universal Analytics Roll Out - Is Your Google Analytics Tracking Code Up-To-Date?


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Google announced Universal Analytics, the next generation of Google Analytics, back in October 2012 and it was then released as public beta in March 2013. Now Google has just announced that Universal Analytics is out of beta via the official Google Analytics blog

Universal Analytics (UA) is now the latest official tracking code from Google. UA provides a technology that will not only measure interactions with your online content but can track the same user across multiple devices – provided visitors are signed in to your site.

This is an important and long-anticipated step towards better understanding of the multi-device customer, which has so far been one of the biggest challenges in web analytics.

With the classic ga.js tracking code, a user visiting a website from their work place computer, then again from their phone during their commute, and once again from home using their tablet would be reported as three unique visitors in GA. Universal Analytics now provides an option for site owners and analysts to stitch those visits together and get a much clearer understanding of the visitor journey and conversion path. 

Some of the new features that Universal analytics provides are:

  • Tracking of multiple visits for a single user
  • Multiple browser tracking (previously a different browser meant a new visit)
  • Cross device tracking – this will allow you to analyse how visitors consume site content across various devices and will really help to show how valuable mobile is
  • Customised dimensions and metrics
  • Customisation of session and campaign cookie life time via the UI
  • Native cross-domain tracking between subdomains
  • Offline activity

Universal Analytics versus Classic Google Analytics

If you are using classic GA on your website, you are probably wondering what all the fuss is about and what the main differences are between the existing GA platform you have and Universal Analytics? Here are the main differences between the two:

Data Collection

The way that data is collected is different. GA uses ga.js whilst Universal Analytics uses analytics.js. Because of this difference if you decide that you want to upgrade to UA now, then you will need to change the tracking code and rewrite any customisations such as events, custom variables and ecommerce tracking on your site.


The cookies that each of the platforms use is also different, classic GA uses five cookies (_utma, _utmb, _utmc, _utmz and _utmv) to track all the data. UA data collection methods can be configured to collect visitor usage data without cookies, these methods will also work if cookies are cleared or disabled.

Track users across multiple devices and browsers

A new and important change is that the technology that UA provides will allow you to track users, not just visits. Users will be assigned a unique identifier allowing you to track them over multiple browsers as well as devices, provided a user is signed in. GA does not have this technology, which means that each device or browser a visitor uses to browse your site with will be treated as separate.

Google roll out device overlap


Custom Dimensions

As well as having the ability to track users across multiple devices when they are logged in, Universal Analytics can also add ‘tags’ (custom dimensions) to your customers based on their behaviour on your website. Custom dimensions are UA’s version of custom variables. You can configure a lot more of these with UA then you can in GA: 20 v 5 for the free version and 200 v 50 for premium account customers.

Offline data

With Universal Analytics you have the ability to bring in offline data through the use of the measurement protocol, which allows you to programme any electronic device to send data to UA.

Configuration options

Once you have implemented the UA code, you will also be able to configure organic search, session timeouts, referral exclusions, and have the ability to exclude certain terms allowing you to count visitors who are searching for your brand or domain as direct traffic instead of organic, all from the admin page.

The image below shows the differences between UA and classic GA that Google sets out in the admin section, when you create a new property:

Google roll out select a tracking method
Does Universal Analytics support all the features of classic GA analytics?

Now Universal Analytics is out of beta and being rolled out to the public, 99% of classic GA features are supported, including: Remarketing, the new Demographic reports, Content Experiments and Audience reporting. However, Google Display Network Impression Reporting, DoubleClick Campaign Manager Integration and DoubleClick for advertisers are not currently supported.

Comparison table

In the table below you can see the features for Universal Analytics and Google Analytics:

Google roll out comparison table

Other important considerations

Besides the above differences, there are a few other things you need to know before implementing Universal Analytics:

Advanced Universal Analytics features require custom programming

Custom dimensions and metrics require additional set up by both development and a user with edit access to the account.

Universal Analytics treats referral traffic differently

If your website is an ecommerce site with an external payment gateway, expect to see a large number of referrals skewing your reporting, in particular your multi-channel funnels.

Visits leaving the site to pay at a gateway such as sagepay or WorldPay who then return, maybe via a 3D secure verification site, will be treated as referrals from those sites unless they have been manually added to the referrals exclusion list. This is easily done, but you need to be aware of it. You can find a detailed and very helpful post on how to make your referral data as accurate as possible here, on the official Analytics blog.

Full Universal Analytics implementation requires code changes

Because Universal Analytics uses analytics.js, if you upgrade to UA now then you will need to change the tracking code across your site from ga.js if you want to make use of UA’s advanced features.

However, your async ga.js tracking code will still work fine if your account is upgraded automatically by the end of Q3, 2014. Google state that the ga.js code base will continue to work for at least another two years after every account has been automatically upgraded.

You can find all the answers to your questions and detailed information for everything relating to UA in the Universal Analytics Upgrade Centre.

Users must be signed in to enable cross-device and cross-browser tracking

This is the main downside to the new technology – it relies on users signing in to your website in order for the identifier to work.

Should I upgrade to Universal Analytics now?

Many site owners will be wondering whether to upgrade now, or wait until everyone is automatically upgraded. (aka forced!)

This is really up to you, the asynchronous ga.js tracking code will still work even if your account is auto-upgraded for at least another two years. However, if you think that any of UA’s awesome new features are useful to you it makes sense to upgrade now. If you haven’t already done so it is worth considering moving your tracking code over to Google Tag Manager at the same time, a move that will considerably streamline any future tracking changes and save development time and cost.

If you are using the traditional ga.js snippet, you should think about upgrading as this, now quite old, code has a few disadvantages. You can identify the traditional ga.js code by searching your sites source code for the following code snippet:


The code snippet is usually found at the very bottom of your source code, unlike the async snippet which should sit in the <head> section.

If you are still using the old, pre-async urchin tracking code, the story is slightly different and you should think about upgrading to Universal Analytics as soon as possible. The urchin.js code was discontinued in March 2012 and will soon no longer be supported so there is a risk your tracking will just stop working at some point. You can identify the old urchin tracking code by searching your source code for the following snippet:


How to upgrade your tracking to Universal Analytics

At the moment GA accounts have the option to upgrade on property level to Universal Analytics – this can be seen in the admin section on property level:

Google roll out how to upgrade
Now that Universal Analytics is out of beta, accounts will start to auto-upgrade to the new Universal Analytics processing, a process that will begin at the end of Q3, 2014, according to Google.

In the coming months, all Google Analytics properties will be required to upgrade to Universal Analytics. The upgrade process is a 2 step process:

Step 1: Transfer the property to UA

Google roll out transfer the property to UA

Step 2: Once transfer is complete - update the tracking code

Google roll out update the tracking code

You must ensure that you transfer your property fully before you update your code

Google roll out transfer to ua

You can find the new UA tracking code under the .js Tracking Info section in your property settings. Simply remove your old tracking code and place the new code into the <head> section of every page on your site.

google roll out tracking id

Custom dimensions are the new version of custom variables. If you are using custom variables and you upgrade they will not be affected by the upgrade. Though in time you will need to reconfigure them into custom dimensions.

How long does it take to upgrade?

As mentioned above the upgrade to UA is a two-step process. How long it will take to upgrade depends on the property, your implementation and your development team.

Step 1 of the process shouldn’t take any longer than 48 hours to complete.

Step 2 of the process will depend on your development team and your data collection and reporting requirements and whether or not you use Google Tag Manager (GTM).

Next steps to upgrade to Universal Analytics

If you want to upgrade to Universal Analytics now, your next step is to create an implementation plan this will ensure that you have included all your current GA features including custom variables, ecommerce, social and event tracking.

Get in touch via email or phone today to find out whether your site is using old GA tracking code or to find out how Fresh Egg can help you to get your tracking into shape. Good business decisions are based on accurate data!

Resources to help you with your upgrade

Universal Analytics Upgrade Centre
Google’s Universal Analytics upgrade guide
Universal Analytics FAQ
Handling referral data in Universal Analytics
Guide to upgrading to UA using Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager: a step-by-step guide


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