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Google Analytics vs Universal Analytics?

Should we start using Universal Analytics now it's out of Beta?

This post was prompted by a question in our from from an agency advising a publishing company asking whether they should use Classic Google Analytics or the new Universal Analytics in future.

April 2nd 2014 update - Universal Analytics now out of public beta

It’s a timely question since Google's Universal Analytics is now out of Beta. We're alerting you to this since this now means there is feature parity between Google Analytics and Universal Analytics. According to Google:

"Bringing Universal Analytics out of beta means that all the features, reports, and tools of Classic Analytics are now available in the product, including Remarketing and Audience reporting".

When will update to Universal Analytics become mandatory

Google's update doesn't mention if and when classic Google Analytics will be required although they have said that the intent is that all users will eventually have to upgrade to Universal Analytics. They have developed the Universal Analytics Upgrade Centre recently which should be your first port of call to decide the approach. You can see many of the respondents to last year's poll below have already upgraded, including us!

The advice later in this post suggests you should run classic and Universal Analytics in parallel and this remains valid, so if you're not doing that for your site we advise this.

In our previous post comparing the new Universal Analytics, we mentioned that when you’re creating a new Account on Google Analytics (or a new property on an existing account) you’re given that choice as shown by the feature comparison in the image below. We said this gives one of the best ways of reviewing the differences for those who haven’t seen it yet - but this hasn't been updated yet - so currently in error.

How are you responding to Universal Analytics?

Later in this post I will summarise the Pros and Cons shared by the analytics experts who kindly contributed their views and experiences - thanks to Dan Barker, Peter O’Neill and Tim Leighton-Boyce! But first, I thought it would be interesting to see how readers are tackling this, so please vote in our poll either based on how you’re approaching this for your site or your clients.

If you’d like to know more about UA, see our introduction post asking how relevant is Google ’s new Universal Analytics to my business and Brian Clifton’s infographic showing what’s next for Google Analytics?

This is Google's summary of the difference from account setup (currently out-of-date 2nd April 2014) and their help page.

Google Analytics vs Universal Analytics

Recommendations for implementing a Universal Analytics pilot

In our forum question, Ecommerce and Analytics consultant +Dan Barker makes these recommendations which are useful to be aware of:

  • 1. There is no issue with using ‘Universal’ alongside regular analytics. You have to be a little careful, but only as careful as you would be running 2 sets of analytics tracking alongside each other. Unless you are customising universal though (with custom dimensions/custom metrics), there is no major advantage to be gained in using it at present.
  • 2. At the moment, you must set up universal in a totally new property. It appears – though there’s no official confirmation – that Google will allow users to ‘upgrade’ existing classic profiles to ‘universal’ at some point in the short to medium term.
  • 3. There are still missing features in ‘universal’. Remarketing is not there, ‘cross-device’ tracking has not yet been set up, etc.

Dan says, that based on these factors, Dan advises:

“If the client has a very strong will to try out universal, I would run it alongside. If not, I would wait until the ‘upgrade’ point arrives (or until there’s a clear timeline for that)”.

Similar advice is also made by +Peter O’Neill of L3 Analytics:

“For clients not working on GA implementation currently, I would not advise they switch for sake of it. But to identify the additional insights & business questions they will be able to answer and weigh this up against the cost. Given my preference for use of page level custom variables, this could prove quite valuable to a lot of companies”.

Again he says that if resources are available, I would implement both as should not cause issues. I do expect within a few months to be recommending UA for new implementations and for upgrades (retain existing classic GA implementation for upgrades).

Finally, +Tim Leighton Boyce, consultant at CxFocus provides a timely call-to-action when he says:

"The future is clearly with UA. It’s a hugely different system, with a fundamental change in concept: very little done in the client, most of it done on the servers. That’s bringing much power and flexibility. Already features like the Custom dimensions + Metrics, and the Measurement Protocol for sending all offline data for integration into the system is opening up all manner of possibilities.

So I would get going with UA as soon as possible and start building history there and doing all new custom variable type work using custom dimensions and metrics, for example".

But Tim, cautions everyone to remember that there is a new set of data needed for UA and all the history is currently in Google Analytics, so it is not a decision that should be delayed too long.

Share your thoughts

  • this is cool and interesting , my question is for your site hits if you reach over 10K visits through remarketing traffic , here you need to upgrade to GA premium to open this cap.. what remarketing can serve instead of Google’s Premium solution, with capabilities to create audiences?

  • There are some usable
    parts but it seems mostly geared sales and selling. Social media ROI also
    should include the savings obtained through efficiency of reach. It helps me nurture relationships that
    improve the value of the
    services we provide. The long term customers, clients, prospects and associates need multiple channels of
    communications that are easily accessible.


  • catmario online commented on June 30, 2014

    This article was highlighted in a most recent email from analytics and drew
    me toward it.

    Have to agree with the points, albeit point One, is far less effective today
    than it was 9-10 months ago when google started masking keywords for people who
    have signed into google. In fact that seriously hampers

    point One, and requires a lot of sophisticated work arounds to grasp this
    critical point. Unfortunately it will continue to get worse over time.

    We definitely focus on point 5 for a critical point. The above referenced
    business and some of our others are very attached to search and because of that
    naturally google. We work all the time to review how our off line efforts
    reflect bottom line results.

    Just reviewed a business re: August results this year and last. Noticed a
    marked difference and one reflection had to do with some offline advertising
    which may or may not have contributed to a significant

    change in revenues.

    Now here is a different perspective that we had using–not only analytics, but
    our in house analysis of results and adwords along with analytics.

    The business is local and regional. We noticed “impressions” was way down for a
    critical geo portion of the market in adwords. Other locations were consistent.

    We checked analytics for the two comparative time periods …and yep not only
    less people thinking about the topic via adwords…but the geo portion of
    analytics told us less visits to the site.

    We had less sales that corresponding month from that target geo region.

    Meanwhile in the comparative month…we had run a newspaper campaign. Definitely
    insights that helped us with regard to understanding off line results.

    thanks for this article.

    catmario online

  • Haritha commented on May 27, 2014


    I have a requirement of tracking offline events ,i.e without internet.Is this feature available on UA or do we need to do any customization.

    • Prozac988 commented on June 9, 2014

      It’s definitely require customization. What type of offline events are you referring to?

  • Hi,
    I am seeing the same problem. Massive decrease in site visitors since installing the new UA tracking code. Can I revert back to classic? Really worried that this new tracking code isn’t working right.

    • Sean Goh commented on June 9, 2014

      Have you tried checking whether there’re any sites included in the Referral Exclusion List? You can find it under Admin>Tracking Info (for property)>Referral Exclusion List.

  • Garth Moore commented on April 7, 2014

    I’ve got UA and a regular GA account running on my site. But, I’m getting much lower numbers in UA vs GA for visits and page view. And not by a few percentage points, HUGE differences (into the 100Ks for page views).

    I seem to be having the opposite of what of admins are saying with UA over-reporting.

    • cb commented on January 16, 2015

      you should not have both snippets, this will most likely cause an over count of page views.

  • How do people think Universal Analytics compares to some of the paid Saas analytics providers?

    • LulzCat commented on June 19, 2014

      Worse because you still dont own the data.
      Better because there are so many things you can do front end, without the reliance of an expensive third party provider.

  • Rene commented on March 12, 2014


    Need help on this… We have a javascript code:

    function viewCountAnalytics(slider){
    var index = $(slider).smartContentSlider(‘
    var title = $(‘.image-reel .image-holder:nth-child(‘+(index+1)+’) .imageTitle’, slider).html();
    ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Pictures’, ‘Click’, ‘title’);

    This is tracking events in our gallery. However I noticed that the event label use a general name ‘title’…. please help what code to add in event label so it will capture the filename of the pictures..


    • Hey, you need to pass title as a variable. Currently you are passing it as a string.

      Fixed line
      ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘Pictures’, ‘Click’, title);

  • Spook SEO commented on February 3, 2014

    It is a nice post Dave, I really like the way you present all this data and it seems to be looking more interesting and more useful way you adapt. I am using the Google Analytics and found it good so still I did not use this universal analytics I think after 9-10 moth you got the idea wait are the best things in universal analytics so I will wait for your next post based on universal analytics.

  • Milene commented on December 17, 2013

    I’m testing Universal alongside Classic Analytics for a couple of weeks now and there is a major difference in visits, unique visitors, pageviews (basically every metric) between them. Which one is most accurate?

  • ANSHUL KUMAR commented on September 23, 2013

    Hi guys,
    The visits seems to be high and on a heavy traffic site, the data is 25% + visits compared to the classical GA numbers…..

    All sources show similar rise,,,,


  • robolist commented on September 13, 2013

    I am slowly starting to test universal. I have had it installed on a low traffic site for just over a week now. havent fully integrated events & cus vars yet, but just noticing the traffic differences. over the past 7 days with both running at full, i see that universal is giving me around 7% more visits. Now i dont know if this is a consistent number, I’m not yet ready to place it on one of the bigger domains. But i do see in general that classic doesnt always provide great data. We have Omniture installed on one site which shows more traffic compared to GA. So perhaps universal is slightly better? But I will test further with events and cus vars to see.

  • Wout commented on June 28, 2013

    I’ve used Universal tracking on several new sites (without knowing it, I only implemented the Universal tracking, not the Classic) and have found problems with both in-page analytics and event tracking (both totally not working)…

    I am now using the classic code again.

    • Thanks for sharing Wout – we’re beginning to see a pattern here.

      Shows the importance of comparing to old and new at the same time and still using both on new sites.

      In-page analytics rarely works I find anyway with advanced sites…

    • seo commented on July 11, 2013

      hello Wout.. same problem here!! how do you regained classic code again? i want to preserve same e-mail id and get my classic code again.. how can i do that? please help… 🙁

  • Anshul Kumar commented on May 29, 2013

    Hi ,

    Has anyone implemented UA, i have done it but seeing major raw level data difference from previous version, in UA raw data collected Vs previous version is greater in number.

    Has anyone implemented UA, need to see if same is being experienced with others as well.

    Anshul Kumar

  • icssnj commented on May 13, 2013

    Universal Analytics is The Next Big Thing! Google on Friday, March 22, 2013 announced the public beta launch of Universal Analytic, an expansion of its existing Google Analytic s service .

    Availability of detailed report of website’s performance with niche details of the traffic.
    UA ( Universal Analytics ) will help GA( Google Analytic ) become more user or customer centric than the visit centric.
    Psychological behaviors of the visitors, an unexplored grey area with GA, get resolved with “Universal Analytic”for More Better Studies Find It With

  • Mehdi commented on May 8, 2013

    Nice recap ! Do you know what will be the consequences regarding the GAIQ ? It’s gonna be updated after the official launching of UA ? Or there will be to qualifications GAIQ and UAIQ in parallel ? When it is planned ?

    Thank you for your help

  • Thanks for the post- very helpful. Do you know if switching over to Universal from Classic means that we loose the historical data of our reporting?

    • Glad that’s helpful Sofie. You will retain historical data from the “classic tag”, but when you start with Universal, you’re building up data from scratch – hence our advice to start using both in parallel as soon as possible, so you’re building up the historic data from Universal.

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