The Vanguard View: Insight for Association Websites

Impending Google Analytics Changes: What It Means for Your Association Website

Posted by Ray van Hilst on Thu, Apr 24, 2014


When was the last time you logged into your Google Analytics account?  If you’re like me and wear multiple hats with “Analytics Guru” being hat number 8 or 9, probably not in a while. So when I logged in earlier this week to check out the fuss about “Universal Analytics” I did a double take. (More on “Universal Analytics” in a minute.)

My beloved categories and other key metrics had changed by name or location. I’m used to seeing Visits and Unique Visitors and did a double take to see new terms including “Sessions” and “Users.” I’m used to using these terms in a web development, but my Google Analytics brain wasn’t ready for the shift.

But thanks to a great blog post titled Google Analytics Update: Sessions, Users & Sessions/Visit New Terminologies I found a quick cheat sheet.

Here are the big changes to keep in mind (New vs Old):

  • Sessions = Visits
  • Users = Unique Visitors
  • Pages/Session = Pages/Visit
  • Average Session Duration = Average Visit Duration

Why the change?

We now live multi-device lives. The last time you attended a conference, you might have mapped out sessions to attend on your laptop and then downloaded the app to use on the ground at the conference.  Well does that count as one user (visitor) or two? Are you a unique user/visitor or a return user/visitor?

Google commented in a Google+ post that this change is now enabling you to view web and app data from the same reporting view. The change is being rolled out to all Google Analytics account so be sure to take a look soon and get ready for the new view.

I suspect that this change is going to a driving force to get users to change Universal Analytics (see below) but is also the start of more changes that will be coming to our favorite analytics platform.

Introducing Universal Analytics

Google Analytics has always been a powerful – and free – analytics package that enables web managers to know who is visiting their websites and what they are looking at. But as I pointed out, we are now in a multi-device world and our analytics need to change

That is why Google Analytics is upgrading to Universal Analytics.  This new version of Google Analytics came out in beta almost two years ago and earlier this month Google announced it was ending beta and moving into primetime.

Some benefits that Google touts in Universal Analytics include:

  • Time zone based reporting (Google has defaulted to Pacific Time reporting but that doesn’t help if you’re on the east coast)
  • Ability to connect a single User ID to a user and track their visits across multiple devices and multiple sessions
  • More flexible tracking code that collects data from any digital device (e.g. computer, tablet, phone, TV, etc.)
  • More configuration and reporting options

Note that the User ID is a Google specific ID that has to be passed to Google and according to the Universal Analytics Guidelines cannot contain personally identifiable information. This will be an advanced function that will require a developer and use of the Google APIs. 

So what does it mean for your association’s website?

First, everyone will eventually need to upgrade to Universal Analytics. Google has said they will be turning off old code at some point (however, they don’t say when but I expect it will be at least a year or more). This means you will need to run the upgrade in Google Analytics, get new tracking code and put that new code on all pages in your website.

At Vanguard Technology we are running some experiments on what this takes, will roll these upgrades out to our clients and will also examine the impact of the upgrade on the site and the reporting. It is a fairly simple upgrade that involves two steps and the impact is going to be more on your reporting and use than the actual code. We'll report back with screenshots of the process and the results of our tests.

But if you want to get started you can check out the Universal Analytics Upgrade Center.

Second, if you have custom reports and dashboards set-up you will want to review your reports and maybe create new ones.

Your old reports should work just fine with the new analytics and the biggest change may be the terminology - it was one of the key requests from the beta testers.  However the upgrade is an opportunity to make sure you are tracking the right data for your organization and reassess analytics reporting.

For example, Universal Analytics includes new options for excluding certain referrals (e.g. your job board or private community) or search term exclusions.

The biggest impact here would be to change your organization name to be a search term exclusion so that when users simply Google your name to get the URL and click they will then be counted as direct visitors instead of search visitors. These users already know who you are; they just can’t remember the URL. So why treat them like a new user in your analytics?

The Bottom Line

Change is coming – and constant. Google continually reinvents features and adds new tools to Google Analytics with the goal of making website management more effective and driving users to the right content at the right time. If your responsibilities includes your association’s website, part of your time needs to be dedicated to analytics.

The other takeaway is bascially “I don’t know yet, but I’ll find out.”  We’ll be experimenting over the next few weeks and seeing what these changes mean for our clients and how they can best use them. Stay tuned for more…

If you have any questions you want answered or comments please leave them below. This is a group learning exercise. Please contribute.


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