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Universal Analytics

About a year ago, we published a post introducing Universal Analytics, (UA)  describing what it is and some of the implications of its use in higher education marketing.  Flash forward to May 2014 and Universal Analytics is now officially out of beta, has roughly equivalent feature parity to classic Google Analytics and a clear upgrade path is available.  There is still not a hard deadline from Google on when you must upgrade to UA, but they are making it pretty clear that everyone will have to make the move at some point in the near term.  If you doubt Google’s resolve on this, please note that classic GA is no longer available for use with new website properties. (See Google’s Universal Analytics Upgrade Center for details on their upgrade timeline.)

So if you haven’t begun thinking about how and when to make this move, it is time to start!

Many higher ed institutions have made the move to UA but there is still very little publicly available information about their experiences.  I’m quite sure there will be lots of papers and presentations about this topic on the higher ed web conference circuit this summer and fall but for now it is still pretty limited.

There is quite a bit of conversation on this topic out there in the larger web world from individuals who have made the change from sectors outside higher ed whose experiences we can learn from.

1)      Upgrade complexity to Universal Analytics is closely related to the overall complexity of your web ecosystem, including the number of domains, pages and amount of custom tracking you have set up under your current, “classic” analytics.

Universal offers a whole new world of user centered tracking across multiple devices but the bad news is that since it is based on a completely different method of tracking your sessions, all of your current custom tracking, including event tracking, call tracking and cross-domain tracking, have to be updated to work under UA. You will also have to make sure that any 3rd party tools like CRMs, shopping carts, etc. that currently plug into your website will also operate under UA.  Given this complexity, give yourself lots of time to plan, learn about, implement and test UA before you make the transition.

Upgrade to UA

2)      Some consensus is emerging from web managers that the best upgrade strategy is to run Universal Analytics in parallel with classic Google Analytics on your site for some period of time to ensure everything is configured properly before you fully commit to UA.

Once you switch over to UA there is no going back, so you need to make sure you have everything in place and operating as required before you switch over or you’ll lose the data and reporting you have come to rely on. UA operates on a completely different data set from classic GA so it will take some effort to migrate any tracking elements that you had customized in GA.

When announcing that UA was officially out of beta, Google provided one case study of a “successful” upgrade to UA.  Rather coincidental to our interests, it was Beckfield College,  a private college from Florence, Kentucky, who migrated to GA over the last year. It provides some particular insights into how the new capabilities of UA can be leveraged to improve your marketing ROI.

For those of you who are looking for resources to help plan the move to UA there are lots available. I have included a number of links below of helpful online posts and resources about UA that you might find useful.

If you are looking for more of a more directed learning experience on UA, you might want to sign up for Stephane Hamil’s upcoming course on Tag Manager and Universal Analytics from Cardinal Path Training, beginning on May 24.

We’d love to hear from any of you who have made the transition to Universal Analytics about your experiences with the process and the new analytics software. What were your greatest challenges? What has surprised you the most about the functionality and capabilities of Universal Analytics?

Additional Resources:

Google’s Universal Analytics Upgrade Center

Google Support’s About Universal Analytics

OptimizeSmart’s Universal Analytics Upgrade Guide

Google Analytics vs Universal Analytics?