Exploring the omni-channel universe with universal analytics

The omni-channel universe is expanding—customers interact with brands in more ways than ever, across a multitude of devices, social channels, mobile apps, loyalty programs, and more. Universal Analytics, the latest iteration of Google Analytics, provides a new level of clarity into these complex customer relationships. Available as a free upgrade to all standard Google Analytics users, Universal Analytics gives you considerably better insight into how users are interacting with your business across multiple devices and channels. We'll explore key advantages of Universal Analytics and show you how to check which version of Google Analytics your site is currently running.

Google Analytics's code has changed. Have you?

Your job has likely changed a lot since the last time you updated your Google Analytics code. You have gone from not worrying too much about mobile to making it a top priority in your digital marketing or e-commerce efforts. Offline and online marketing were once two totally separate departments that barely spoke to each other. Now, you are at the centre of the storm trying to co-ordinate omni-channel efforts in the name of a delightful customer experience (like Disney).

Your demands on your Google Analytics implementation may have changed as well. You probably lived with a certain amount of inaccuracy in your visitor counts. Now, you'd really like to understand what is going on as customers traverse your digital marketing universe on every flavour of device. If you haven't already, it is time to move migration to Universal Analytics up your priority list.

Track the same user across multiple devices

We live in a world of screens. Many users now have at least one desktop or laptop computer, a tablet, and a mobile phone. Even on one computer, we often use multiple browsers. In the past, analytics considered a "visitor" to be someone using the same device and the same browser. So, if a user logged in from their home computer, their work computer, and from their phone, they would count as three "visitors".

With the new Universal Analytics code, Google gives you the ability to track visitors by user ID — so you can measure how actual people interact with your site. As long as your organization has a way of identifying your users, you can pass an identifier to GA and it will report improved user counts and cross-device behaviour. (Note: As per Google's privacy policy, you cannot pass personal information like name or email through your analytics, instead use a non-personal identifier like user ID, CRM ID, etc.) This simple addition can make a large difference in your reporting.

As curious analysts, we decided to run an experiment with the new feature. At OpenRoad, our intranet requires a login, so every session has an associated user ID. We passed our numeric user database ID to the user ID field in Google analytics. A comparison of Google Analytics Views with the user ID enabled or disabled is striking:

Left: Number of users without ID-based analytics. Right: Number of users with ID-based analytics.

The result on the left shows a user count that can't distinguish users across devices. On the right, Universal Analytics utilizes the user ID to reveal that really the same 47 users are visiting across multiple devices.

For our intranet, there is a three-fold difference in the user count when the user ID isn't utilized.

Understand cross-device behaviour

New device overlap report available in universal analytics
A breakdown of device overlap by user count

User ID also provides the added benefit of understanding the cross-device behaviour in terms of how the percentage of users that visit using different combinations of devices as well as the common order in which they are used (desktop prior to mobile and tablet).

Track web properties and apps

Using what is called a Software Development Kit (SDK), Google Analytics allows you to track usage of your mobile iOS or Android apps to ensure they are compelling and driving business value. Universal Analytics also provides tools for you to track your mobile applications and your web properties together within the same View, allowing you to gain insight across application and web channels for an even more complete view.

A perfect use case for this is e-commerce, where customers are shopping on their desktop computer and then receive a cart abandonment email and purchase from the mobile app. This way, you can track effectiveness across the whole experience.

Connect any data source you can imagine

Universal Analytics really shines in its ability to collect and report data from anything that can connect to a network. It doesn't matter if you are dealing with online properties or not. Your Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software, your Point of Sale (POS) system, or your coffee maker can all pass data to Google Analytics, as long as they can connect to the internet. If you can pass a user ID (say through a loyalty program) to GA with the transaction details, all of a sudden you can tie in-store purchases to online web behaviour and truly achieve omni-channel measurement.

You may have your own ideas for how to bring your online and offline data together. Universal Analytics also allows you to create your own custom dimensions and measures, providing the ability to identify offline data in GA reports in a way that makes sense for your business. You may also be able to upload offline data to Google Analytics using their Data Import feature. Likewise if you'd prefer to have your omni-channel data reside together in another corporate system, you could use GA's Application Programming Interface (API) to pull data into your preferred destination. You really are limited only by your imagination.

Haven't I been upgraded already?

Use the Google Tag Assistant plug-in to check what version of analytics your site is running.

Yes and no. You may notice that Google Analytics no longer prompts you to upgrade your account. This means that your data has been migrated into a Universal Analytics structure. The critical step of updating your Google Analytics Tracking Code (and the custom work required to pass the user ID) needs to be done for each web property you manage.

If your organization doesn't have staff dedicated to analytics, it is worth a look to see what version of the Tracking Code is on your site. Your code may not only be older than the Universal Analytics standard, but if it is a few generations older, it could be impacting the speed of your site.

The quickest way to identify which version of the Google Analytics Tracking Code is on your web properties is by using Google's Tag Assistant plug-in for Chrome. Opening Tag Assistant on your site will quickly tell you which version you are using. Look for "Version" or "Code Version/Syntax". If it does not state "Universal" there is a good chance your code is out of date.

Need help?

If you aren't sure where to start, OpenRoad has numerous clients enjoying the benefits of Universal Analytics today. We can help you identify opportunities for your business and come up with an implementation that will close your omni-channel gaps. Please call or email to chat about your needs.