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.

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