Google Analytics is the most popular service for tracking a website's number of visits and user activity. And it's getting an upgrade; a new version referred to as Universal Analytics is available in beta mode.
Universal Analytics is not a revolutionary change. It still uses the Google Analytics interface, and most of the features are the same. But it does add some flexibility, and requires some changes on your part.
So what is the difference between Universal and the current Google Analytics? The major changes include:
- Multi-platform tracking. Universal Analytics allows you to import and analyze data that is unrelated to your website. You can pull in data from a call center, kiosk or pretty much any digital device.
- Control over timeouts. Instead of a standard 30-minute session limit, after which any activity from the user is counted as a separate visit, you can set a session timeout that is anything from one minute to four hours in length. Similarly, campaign timeouts can be set anywhere from one day to two years, instead of the current six months.
- Adding new search engines. Some lesser-known search engines can be treated as referral sources by Google Analytics, rather than sources of search traffic. With Universal Analytics you can designate those referring sites as search engines.
- Excluding search terms. You can set some search terms, such as searches for your brand name, to appear as direct traffic rather than search traffic. Such "searches" are really just people using Google as a substitute for bookmarking or typing in the exact address.
- Excluding referral sources. Useful mostly if you are receiving "referrals" from within your own site.
- Custom dimensions and metrics. These are similar to the existing custom variables feature, but allow more flexibility and more variables. They are also now managed on the server side, which means less data must be transferred.
Making the Switch
So should you make the switch to Universal Analytics?
The Universal Analytics upgrade will eventually become the standard version of Google Analytics, which means the switch will become mandatory. For now, though, it is optional and separate. This means you can use the old form of Google Analytics, switch to the new Universal version, or utilize both at the same time.
For now, there may be a reason to use both. Universal Analytics does not keep any of your old Google Analytics data; it starts collecting a new set of data. So, if you do install Universal Analytics, you may want to keep your existing Google Analytics code so that you can make comparisons with past data. And since Google will likely drop the old version of Analytics at some point in the future, you might want to install Universal now so that you will have historical data to work with when the old version disappears.
Google may come up with a way to migrate data between versions by that time, but it is not a certainty. So if old data is important to you and you want to cover all the bases, you may want to add Universal Analytics now. And if you are new to Google Analytics or are launching a new site, you can install Universal Analytics now and avoid having to change anything in the future.
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