6 New Features in Google Universal Analytics that Every SEO Needs to Know About

If you use Google Analytics on your website, you have probably seen references to Universal Analytics littered throughout the interface.

Maybe you have heard references to Universal Analytics in blog posts. Maybe you have been presented the option to upgrade your account in the Google Analytics admin section. Either way, it’s hard to have missed this change when it’s smacking you right in the face.

For the majority of Google Analytics users, Universal Analytics represents a small change to the way you collect data on your website. Simply replace your old code with some new code and you are upgraded to a cleaner and more efficient way of tracking your website.

upgrade to universal analytics

While it seems easy to end users, there are amazing feats of engineering going on behind the scenes to make this happen. They have made the code switching from ga.js to analytics.js butter-smooth, and the underlying database upgrade has already taken place for most users.

For power users, the upgrade to Universal Analytics represents a major opportunity to forever improve the way you look at the data you collect about your website.

The major shift is from device-based tracking to user-based tracking. Gone are the days where cookies are the only reliable method we have for identifying new and returning visitors.

With Universal Analytics it is possible to track a known user across all their logged-in devices. This gives you a complete picture of how they traverse your website.

But that’s not the only good coming from Universal Analytics. There are so many features coinciding with the change to UA that the topic deserves its own post to get us all up to date.

Here are 6 new features from Universal Analytics that every SEO needs to know about:

1) Custom dimensions and metrics

custom dimensions and metrics universal analytics
Image courtesy of Tatvic

You have been able to customize the data in your Google Analytics account for years through custom variables. However, this feature was always limited to 5 custom variables being available for external analysis.

While that may be enough data to make decisions for some companies, it made deep analysis difficult for those needing multiple data points for analysis.

Custom variables were completely overhauled with Universal Analytics. You now have the ability to create up to 20 custom dimensions (think rows of data) AND 20 custom metrics (think columns of data) in your account.

The ability to add more rich data into your account creates a wealth of opportunity for analysis of your search results.

Have you ever wanted to segment your SEO results by page title length, occurrences of heading tags or the title tag itself? That all possible using custom dimensions.

What about segmenting your results by total inbound links, page authority or other off page ranking factors? That is also possible with dimension widening. You can even upload ranking data from advanced web ranking into Google Analytics with this change!

If you are interested in learning more how this works, the folks at Tatvic created a 3 part tutorial for how you can use custom dimensions to integrate SEO with Google Analytics. Part 2 focuses on on page factors and part 3 focuses on off page factors.

2) Demographics reports

demographics reports universal analytics

The demographics reports in Google Analytics came along in the fall of 2013 and have quickly taken my analysis world by storm. While this feature is also available without upgrading to Universal Analytics, it is the most valuable for SEOs when the data is combined with the other customizations we discuss in this article.

Demographics information is obtained by using third-party cookies from DoubleClick. These third party cookies provided us with enhanced information about the people who are visiting our website. The most notable data that you will receive are the basic demographics of age range and gender of your website visitors.

If you have ever wanted to know how female visitors perform compared to male visitors, you can easily make this comparison using the demographics reports.

This change is easy to enable in Universal Analytics. It just requires a slight change to your tracking code. You can see this change highlighted in the screenshot below.

tracking code universal analytics

The change is even easier to implement via Google Tag Manager. It should also be noted that because you are switching to third party cookies to collect visitor data, you may also need to update your privacy policy. You can see a summary of the needed privacy changes here.

When this feature is enabled and you start receiving data, ~50% of your visitors will have demographic data attached. This can provide for some deep analysis of your best converting search traffic.

Have you ever wondered which age groups you are reaching in organic search? Try segmenting your traffic by a medium of organic, using gender and age as dimensions and looking at your goal conversions by group. The results will be very revealing of how well your strategy matches your results.

universal analytics

Analytics value is created by moving past looking at averages and digging deep into the data to find valuable segments for analysis. This may involve digging two or three levels deep into the data in order to find insight.

Take the screenshot above for example. This website is seeing conversion rates from 4.27% to 11.29% for different demographics. The median conversion rate is around 7%. Without segmentation, this website owner may think that traffic performs the same for all ages and genders. Segmentation reveals that the best customers are males ages 25-34.

If you were in charge of acquiring more new customers for the business, where will you have the best future results?

For more insights on how to use demographics for segmentation, head on over and read my post at online behavior.

3) Specify your own search engines in the cloud

What makes your traffic show up as organic in Google Analytics? Basically, all organic search information in your Google Analytics account is derived from the referral data for your website. By default, Google is pretty smart at recognizing visits to our website with a referrer string that comes from a search engine.

For example, when you get a referral from www.google.com and there is a parameter of q in the URL. Google is smart enough to classify this data as an organic search instead of a standard referral.

google analytics search engines

Google has a comprehensive default list of search engines built into GA. But you can specify even more website search engines for Google Analytics to treat as organic search instead of a referral.

Yes, you can specifically tell Google which websites to treat as search engines.

This used to involve a tracking code change in Classic GA, but with Universal Analytics the definition of custom search engines has moved to the cloud.

google analytics organic search sources

From this dialog in the administrator section in Google Analytics, you can specify which parameters make up a search engine.

add a search engine to google analytics organic search sources

Want to track results coming from a news site search engine? What about data from a comparison shopping engine? You can do both of these easily now with custom search engines.

4) Data import

In addition to custom dimensions and metrics, there is another way that data can be added into Google Analytics.

Did you know that Google has also quietly opened up the system with several more opportunities for you to get your own data into their systems?

Yes! You can upload cost data, customer data (in aggregate), content enhancement data and more within Universal Analytics.

google analytics data import

Have you ever wanted to determine the ROI of your SEO efforts by showing how expenses and agency fees impact conversions? That is possible now within Google Analytics.

5) Brand/non-brand channel and content groupings

When keyword (not provided) arrived on the scene a few years ago, our SEO lives were turned upside down. We are still having troubles with recovery, but we have also been forced to rethink our approach to measuring success. I offered 10 tips for dealing with keyword (not provided) and here I will offer two more.

The first is a simple one: separating out your branded search traffic from non-brand search traffic. This can be done using the Channel Groupings feature in Google Analytics.

Your default channel of Organic Search meets the following system defined criteria:

google analytics content grouping

If you want to distinguish between branded organic and Non-Brand, you can try the following channel definitions:

Branded Search = system defined Organic Search Channel + Your Homepage and other brand focused pages:

google analytics branded organic search

Non-Branded Search is the opposite. System defined organic search without matching your homepage/other brand focused pages:

google analytics non branded organic search

You can also take advantage of the content grouping feature in Google Analytics to group together your content pages by the SEO campaign/team that worked on them.

google analytics content groupin definition

When applied to your content reports, you can see how much traffic you get by grouping, how much time is spent on each page type, and how they impact your ability to meet your goals.

google analytics content reports

Channel and content groupings create many interesting analysis opportunities for SEOs.

6) Benchmarking

benchmarking google analytics

How are you stacking up in organic search versus the competition?

Is your search traffic pattern typical or exceptional?

Want to get more budget, but you are having a hard time making a case to those who control the finances in your organization?

All of these answers can be found by looking at the new and improved benchmarking reports in Google Analytics. Here you can see how your traffic compares to sites of similar size and industry, all within the interface.

Enabling Benchmarking in your account

For a long time, there was a setting in your Google Analytics account that didn’t do anything, whether it was checked or unchecked.

enable benchmarking google analytics

This setting allows you to enable or disable Google Analytics benchmarking. However, it wasn’t until this September that Google brought these reports back into Analytics.

And these new reports are significantly better than what was available in the past. For any of your default traffic channels, you can see how you are performing compared to other sites with a similar size and shape.

These reports do not currently offer many options for data segmentation, but they are still powerful. The new benchmarking reports can provide you with the evidence you need to form a data-driven approach to securing a bigger SEO budget.

Bonus: All future updates will be Universal only

Now that we have 6 compelling new features that will make our lives easier in the SEO industry, you are surely going to make sure you are upgraded to Universal Analytics, right?

If you’re still not convinced that this is a necessary upgrade, keep this in mind: all future improvements in Google Analytics will only be available to people using the Universal Analytics tracking code.

That means it is time to upgrade!

If updating the tracking code seems impossible in your current website environment, you have a few options.

  1. Consider using Google Tag Manager to ease the burden you place on your precious development resources.
  2. Work with a Google Analytics consultant to help get your site back up to speed.

Google Analytics makes over 70 product updates to their analytics product per year, and moving forward they will only be available in Universal Analytics.

Don’t get left behind.

Note: The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author, and not necessarily the views of Caphyon, its staff, or its partners.

Author: Jeff Sauer

Jeff Sauer is the founder of the popular digital marketing blog Jeffalytics, and resides in San Francisco. Jeff loves SEO, PPC, Google Analytics and WordPress and has developed a popular online marketing and measurement resource called Knowledge Land. In his spare time, Jeff travels the world and shares his experiences at Jeffsetter.com. You can follow him on Google+ and Twitter.

2 thoughts on “6 New Features in Google Universal Analytics that Every SEO Needs to Know About”

  1. Hey Jeff! Thanks for the tips! One question about the 5th one. Is there any advantage of using channel grouping in comparison to segments? Cheers!

    1. Channel groupings have more areas that they can be used than advanced segments. For example, you can use your content groupings as a secondary dimension, an advanced segment or even a dimension in a custom report. It’s more permanent than a segment, so in many ways it’s like an advanced segment on steroids.

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