Universal Analytics is a version of Google Analytics that set a new standard for how user data is collected and organized. Introduced in the fall of 2012, Universal Analytics offers new tracking codes for websites and features that can more accurately measure user behavior (1). Both Google Analytics (GA) and Universal Analytics (UA) are available to users. However, Universal Analytics is the only officially supported version today. Google is encouraging all users to migrate their properties to Universal.

Both Universal and Google Analytics offer similar data to users, although UA gives the account owner more in-depth information about user behavior:

User ID

A user who visits a website using multiple browsers and devices will appear to be multiple users in GA. When UA introduced user ID, it enabled reporting of all activity as coming from a single person. Now businesses can assess their user count more accurately, follow the signed-in user experience more closely and access Cross Device reports (2).

Tracking code

UA introduced three new tracking codes to help users gather more useful insights about their website visitors:

  • Analytics.js - This is a code that measures how users interact with your website.
  • Google Analytics SDKs - This code is designed for mobile tracking.
  • Measurement Protocol - This collects data from other devices, including game consoles.

Offline data

The UA application protocol interface enables tracking from outside sources, including lead generation systems and even call centers. The business can now get a bigger picture of the customer's behavior by importing offline data, like point-of-sale transactions.

Configuration of your analytics

UA also gives businesses more ways to configure their accounts:

  • Organic search sources:You can modify how organic searches are reported in your data. GA sifts through your inbound traffic and separates the search traffic from other sources, like advertisements, and labels it "organic search traffic." GA will recognize traffic coming from the most popular search engines, assign it to the first engine that has a matching domain name and query parameter, and report it in your data (3). The problem is, when traffic comes from two different places with the same query parameter (like "Q"), GA will report that traffic as coming from the same source. For example, images.google.com and google.com might show up as the same organic traffic source, even though you consider them different. Using UA, you can change this designation and change the list to prioritize how user sessions are reported.
  • Session and campaign timeouts: People often visit websites and then leave them up on their browsers while doing other things. This can skew your session length reporting. The default setting in UA closes a session after 30 minutes and a campaign after 6 months (4). You can now adjust the settings to end sessions and campaigns when you desire. If your ecommerce website logs a user out automatically after a specified period of time, you should set your timeouts to match that length of time. If you don't have an auto-logout function and your website has a lot of content that will take users some time to go through, you may want to lengthen the session time. Conversely, if your content is light, you can shorten the session time.
  • Eliminating Referral Sources: GA labels any traffic that arrives from another source as a referral, as opposed to organic search traffic (where users find your site through a search query) or direct traffic (where users find you by entering your domain on the address bar of their browsers). Analytics immediately recognizes the source the user left just before landing on your website and lists the domain name in your referral traffic source report (5). With UA, you can now instruct Analytics to eliminate certain domains from the referral source report. This can be useful if your ecommerce platform uses a third-party shopping cart. By excluding that referral source, you can prevent your Analytics from counting the same session twice when the user returns to your website on the order confirmation page.
  • Ignoring search terms: When a user finds your website through a search query, Analytics logs those keywords and displays many of them in your reports (6). Many of these keywords are hidden from view, replaced with the term "not provided," but your keywords report will show at least some phrases people used to find your website. UA allows you to exclude certain search terms so those sessions don't count as search traffic. Instead, they will be listed as direct traffic. In most cases, the queries that generate the greatest amount of search traffic to a website are "branded keywords" or phrases that include the company's name. Most businesses try to optimize their websites for non-branded keywords, like industry related services and products. You can now exclude all branded keywords from your organic search reports and keep your analytics focused on more helpful metrics.

Creating custom metrics and using enhanced ecommerce

UA offers additional customization opportunities like the ability to collect data that's unique to your business and goals. You can also tag your site with a plugin that offers advanced ecommerce reports that will give you greater insight into the effectiveness of your internal and external marketing.

Universal Analytics gives people the opportunity to mold their reporting around the unique aspects of their business model and behavior of their users. It eliminates duplicate session reporting, while allowing you to import metrics from outside sources and get more insight into how well your website converts customers. By customizing your analytics to your business goals, you can gain a clearer understanding of how well your strategy is working, and optimize your overall business development.

1. "Google Analytics vs. Universal Analytics: Which One to Choose?"
2. "About Universal Analytics"
3. "Customize organic search sources"
4. "Session and campaign timeout handling"
5. "Referral exclusions"
6. "Search term exclusions"

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