2013: The Big Bang of Google's Universal Analytics

Google’s actions are usually shrouded in mystery. Nowhere is this more apparent than when website traffic falls off a cliff in a matter of days due to an unannounced algorithm change. However, not all of Google’s updates are nefarious or even under the radar. Google’s greatest asset is flexibility and, with a few exceptions, accommodation of user needs.

Google Analytics is a case in point. Analytics has evolved from a simple numerical count of website visits to incorporating complex analysis such as attribution modeling, segmentation, and goal funnels. The major stumbling block that remains is Analytics's continued position as a session-based tool when business realities demand a holistic understanding of visitor behavior.

With Analytics relying on cookie-based visitor metrics to determine browser and device, visitor level metrics remain inaccurate and don’t reflect modern patterns of multi-device web browsing. At least, this has been the paradigm under which Google operated through 2012. For 2013, there are three huge, new, and publicly announced changes to Google Analytics that will create the new Universal Analytics, marking the start of a customer centric, multi-device, multi-channel, online-offline analytics world.

1. New Measurement Protocol

The importance of cross-channel information, including web traffic, in-store purchases, and transactions from game consoles, continues to grow as visitor sources diversify. The Measurement Protocol is intended to provide a cohesive approach by syncing your own data from across marketing channels with data Google collects. Essentially, the Measurement Protocol is an API that enables you to send data to Google Analytics from any device that connects to the internet. New offerings will include the ability to send visitor ID information to Google Analytics in a way that will allow the account manager to override the visitor cookie ID and uniquely identify visitors from multiple channels and visits.

For example, if a website asks users to create an account that they use to login for access to personal features, you can share that user ID in Analytics regardless of what type of device is used to login, and it will be tracked as a unique visitor in Google Analytics. Further, Google will incorporate multi-device reports in the future. The reports will provide additional information about how people came to the site from different devices before converting.

By acknowledging that users access the Internet through more than one device, and therefore the importance of metrics permitting analysis of multi-device visitors, Google is conceding the value of identifying users instead of visits or devices.

To illustrate this new mentality, lets say I am using a laptop. I get to a site through a paid ad and put some items in my shopping cart. Later on that day, I return to the site through my iPad, on which I have bookmarked the site’s URL, and I complete the checkout process. Now: this would show up as two visits, and the revenue would be attributed to the direct visit. PPC wouldn't even show an assisted conversion, since I am using a different device.

Soon, this transaction will be measured as one visitor, and the revenue will be attributed to Paid Search. Additionally, we will be able to see that the visitor used both a laptop and an iPad, how these devices were used at different times of day, and revenue per device. These are just some of the data that will become available.

As long as a visitor logs in, GA will be able to track them across devices that connect to the Internet (mobile phones, ipads, laptops, game consoles, kiosks, etc.) as one unique visitor and determine revenue and metrics accordingly.

2. Tracking offline conversions

While we've known that online marketing has ancillary benefits for offline conversions, such claims have been unsubstantiated by data. Now, since it will be possible to add conversion data from offline sites to Google Analytics by setting User IDs and other identifiers, companies will be able to track conversions generated from online efforts but completed offline. Phone leads, sales leads, and even enhancing online web information with “closed” or “not qualified” data will be possible.

Google Analytics will also be able to use data inputs from CRM systems once leads have changed from prospect to qualified-closed. In this case, a lead closing in the CRM will be considered as an event, which, when triggered, will send lead information to GA and subsequently be available in conversion reports. In addition, with data importing and linking, the updated Google Analytics offers the ability to upload new dimensions of data into Google Analytics and recombine the new metrics with existing data for additional insights.

For example, the User ID can be enhanced with demographic data such as gender and age (two of the new custom dimensions) which can subsequently be used as primary dimensions for data sorting in new reports. The first data import feature (now in beta) is Cost/Click Data upload for any digital campaign, meaning click/cost data will no longer be limited to AdWords only. Even cost data for Facebook campaigns or Bing accounts can be imported. Never again will leads generated from contact form completions be lost in the Internet abyss. Ultimately, both offline and online goals can be configured in Analytics.

3.    New Custom Metrics

What are now called Custom Variables (limited to 50 on Premium) will be enhanced and rebranded as Custom Metrics. First, for Premium clients, the limit will be 200 custom metrics, compared to the 20 for Standard GA. Second, the custom metrics will be available as primary dimensions on reports. Now, segmenting by custom metrics in every standard or custom report will be possible. In addition, to facilitate the use of custom metrics, users will be able to name custom metrics in a meaningful way instead of the current nomenclature consisting of “key 1”, “key 2”, etc. Finally, users will be able to upload 50 million rows at a time for greater data analysis.

The changes coming in 2013 for Google Analytics will allow analysis beyond the wildest dreams of web analysts accustomed to session-based metrics. Google is cannily positioning their Analytics offering to not only be competitive with SiteCatalyst, but to be the clear winner in such a comparison. Stay tuned for a blog post showing how these two heavy hitters stack up against each other in the new year.

Written by Emily Winck on January 8, 2013


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Written by
Emily Winck
Director of Engineering