An Inside Look at Google Universal Analytics

GoogleUniversalAnalyticsWhether it’s a new layout for Gmail or a cutting edge product like Glass, Google is one of those companies that’s constantly evolving. So it should come as no surprise that Google Analytics is also getting a reboot.

The new version, known as Universal Analytics, has all the old features marketers and webmasters have come to know and love, but they’ve added some new features that make collecting data on SEO, PPC, and all other marketing efforts even more granular.

Customize Organic Search Sources

Analytics has always allowed users to separate out organic searches from other types of traffic. Traditionally traffic from any of the default search engines (basically the major ones: Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc.) counted as organic traffic. More minor search engines were counted as referral traffic.

Universal Analytics allows users to add, delete, and reorder the list of recognized search engines that appear in organic results, giving them the ability to really drill down to the search and referral traffic they want.

Reordering search engines can allow for especially specific data. Let’s say a particularly visual site wants to track how many people arrive via Google image search. Until now, image searches were lumped in with all results from google.com. Now by listing images.google.com above google.com, this site can separate out Google image searches for more exact data.

Modify Session and Campaign Timeouts

In the old version of Analytics, all sessions ended by default after thirty minutes and all campaigns after six months.

Now session and campaign timeouts can be modified to fit the needs of a particular site. Campaigns can last up to two years and sessions anywhere from one minute to four hours.

This flexibility can be useful if a site wants to define a session to match the amount of time a visitor can be inactive before automatically being logged off or set a campaign to match the length of a specific social media campaign, for instance.

Exclude Referrals

Universal Analytics allows users to exclude specific domains from being recognized as referral traffic. This feature could be useful for excluding one’s own domain, preventing internal links from showing up as referrals, or excluding traffic from a third party shopping cart, preventing customers from being double counted, to take two examples.

Exclude Search Terms

Universal Analytics also introduces the ability to exclude specific search terms from showing up as organic search traffic. Traffic from these search terms will then show up as direct traffic instead.

This is especially useful for excluding a site’s name or domain, as these visitors likely discovered the site through another channel and behave more like direct traffic.

Include Data from Mobile Apps

One of the most exciting new features is Mobile App Analytics, which basically applies the good old-fashioned Google Analytics treatment to mobile app usage.

This is a treasure trove of information for mobile-heavy sites, including

- number of installations, devices and networks used to access the appgeographic location and language of visitors

- in-app purchase totals

- customized tracking of special content such as videos

- number of screens seen per visit

The really exciting thing here is that it allows data to be sent from pretty much any device, which means that businesses can track conversions that occur everywhere, including in the store.

Add Custom Dimensions and Metrics

Custom dimensions and metrics are just like the default dimensions and metrics that already exist, except users can create new ones to track specific demographic data.

How to Set Up Universal Analytics

Unfortunately Google has only launched Universal Analytics into public beta, which means that at this point it’s not possible to upgrade directly from the old version of Analytics. Those who want to try it out will have to create a new web property and run it alongside their current version of Analytics.

First of all, Universal Analytics requires a completely new tracking code: an analytics.js code snippet as opposed to the old ga.js. The new more flexible JavaScript is what allows for the greater customization of data.

Then Universal Analytics either requires a new property on an existing Google Analytics account or a new account dedicated specifically to Universal Analytics.

Read more about setting up Universal Analytics here.

What Are People Saying?

So far reviews of Universal Analytics have been positive. It’s more than just a bunch of new ways to track and customize data. It’s a qualitative shift that puts customer behavior, instead of sheer visits, at the center of analyzing a website’s performance, reflecting all the ways the internet has evolved in recent years.

Though it is sure become ‘universal’ – in the broad sense of the word – very soon, it is not absolutely essential to dive into Universal Analytics at this point. In fact some of its features are not even fully available yet. Unless webmasters are really burning to get into the customization it offers, most sites will probably be well served by waiting until Google makes it possible to upgrade current accounts before making the switch.

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