Differ­ences between Classic GA & Univer­sal Analyt­ics

Moving from Classic Google Analyt­ics to Google Analyt­ics Univer­sal Analyt­ics can be a daunt­ing task – so justi­fy­ing the move will be one of the first prior­i­ties for stake­hold­ers.  Start build­ing your case by acquaint­ing your­self with the differ­ences between the major compo­nents of Classic Google Analyt­ics and Google Analyt­ics Univer­sal Analyt­ics.

The Plat­form: The Google Analyt­ics Track­ing Code

Classic Google Analyt­ics and Google Analyt­ics Univer­sal Analyt­ics both run through a JavaScript appli­ca­tion (aka track­ing code) that Google main­tains.  The Classic Google Analyt­ics track­ing code is named ga.js and the new Google Analyt­ics Univer­sal Analyt­ics track­ing code is analytics.js.

Both versions create and trans­mit a block of data that Google’s data servers collate into reports. The differ­ences in the versions center around the customiza­tions avail­able for Univer­sal Analyt­ics.  A few of the many advanced customiza­tions in Univer­sal Analyt­ics are:

  • Timeout Handling: in analytics.js, you can make GA session expi­ra­tions match your site settings.  Using this setting can help prevent under-count­ing of visi­tors who time out on your site and log back in to create a new session.
  • Custom Search Engines: Google Analyt­ics recog­nizes several search engines auto­mat­i­cally.  Specific search engines that you want to count as organic traffic are now managed in the Google Analyt­ics Univer­sal Analyt­ics console.
  • Refer­ral Exclu­sions: if you want to exclude specific traffic sources (i.e. inter­nal traffic or traffic being referred from third-party processes like shop­ping carts, job appli­ca­tions, etc.) you can now set refer­ral exclu­sions in the analytics.js track­ing code.

For a full descrip­tion of analytics.js customiza­tions, see Google Analyt­ics Advanced Config­u­ra­tions.

The Modules: Google Analyt­ics Page Tags

At a high level, analyt­ics page tags are commands that your web pages use to send data to Google Analyt­ics.  Page tags “fire” when a page starts up and/or when spec­i­fied events occur (like a click­ing a button or a chang­ing drop­down list). Imple­ment­ing Google Analyt­ics Univer­sal Analyt­ics requires you to convert all of the Classic Google Analyt­ics page tags on your site either manu­ally or with a tool like Search Discovery’s Airlock.js.  Some exam­ples of the page tags that have to be converted to the Univer­sal Analyt­ics syntax are:

  • Custom vari­ables
  • Event track­ing
  • E Commerce activ­ity
  • Virtual Pageviews
  • Social Inter­ac­tions

The Univer­sal Analyt­ics tag syntax gives devel­op­ers increased func­tion­al­ity, flex­i­bil­ity and consis­tency to capture and deliver data.  As a marketer, the increased compat­i­bil­ity and stabil­ity of page tags means you can get deeper and more reli­able insights into your data. For a full tech­ni­cal expla­na­tion of the Univer­sal Analyt­ics tag syntax, see Google’s Web Upgrade Page.

T minus 10, 9, 8…

Since migrat­ing to Google Analyt­ics Univer­sal Analyt­ics is not a ques­tion of if but when, now is a great time to start plan­ning for your migra­tion.  While taking into account all of the tech­ni­cal neces­si­ties, refer to Google’s Web Upgrade Page for an in-depth look at new features to take advan­tage of.  The Digital Analyt­ics universe is a vast one; our Digital Analyt­ics Ground Crew is always here to help you navi­gate it.