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How to get the most out of Google Analytics. Plus, a few sneaky tricks you may not know

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If you use Google Analytics on your website (which is very likely as it is estimated to be on nearly 58% of all websites) you might have noticed it is increasingly difficult to work out how users are interacting with your website across different devices, how online and offline interact and frustrated by the increasing amount of customised code required to track activity.

Well, Google understands the frustration of Google Analytics users and the change in behaviour of customers since Google Analytics was first released back in 2006 and has released an open beta of Universal Analytics.

Universal Analytics is designed to help businesses understand the customer journey across multiple devices. It does this by creating an anonymous user ID, for example when a customer buys from your ecommerce store.

This user ID is then applied anytime the customer returns to the site on whatever device they are using, allowing much deeper understanding of how your customers use your site, on what devices, change in habits by device, length of purchase decision.

Another new feature is the ability to measure any internet enabled device by wrapping up Google Analytics data and sending to Google. This is then applied to the reports giving the ability to understand both online and offline in the context of completing the same task.

For example, when signing up for financial or government services, often you need to print a form and sign it. The institution could now have a barcode on these forms that could be scanned and that information formatted in a way that can be integrated with Universal Analytics.

This gives confirmation that this part of the process was completed, at the same time sending the data to Google Analytics giving insight to how long users take at this point, how they get to that point and identifying barriers to completion that can be improved for a better customer experience.

As with all things Google, it all sounds very easy, but, in reality there are a few caveats. The user will need to sign in or have some kind of interaction with your site to create an anonymous user ID. You will need development expertise to make the most of the new measurement protocol that sends data from other devices, as well as the SDK for iOS and Android for tracking mobile apps and devices.

The new code snippet for websites, analytics.js, is a complete rewrite of Google Analytics that uses less code and more server side activity. As businesses move over to universal analytics and reduce the amount of code on sites, this change could speed up the entire internet! It is also possible to make many more settings server side further reducing the client side load.

This is the most significant change to Google Analytics since its inception, and allows a much deeper understanding of the context in which customers are using your business and the value visitors derive from interactions with your properties, be they websites, apps, social properties, offline. To see how this works, check out this proof of concept tracking a physical object from Elisa DBI in the UK.

To help integrate this new version of Google Analytics with your other code snippets, Google also provides Google Tag Manager. This is a separate product to Google Analytics that enables one set of code to be placed on the site, then manage all other code snippets within the Tag Manager interface. This means less time for code changes and a more efficient implementation of tags.

You can control when particular tags fire and what events are tracked. Tag Manager has templates for Google Analytics, Adwords and other common snippets and now offers a Universal Analytics template, so you can make code changes without having to change the code on the site.

These are radical new products from Google that reflect the changing behaviour of consumers and will really help in understanding customer journeys. And best of all – they are still free!

Jon Whitehead is the Head of Data Analytics of Traffika. He is a self proclaimed data nerd who loves to help clients optimise their digital channels and learn more about digital analytics.

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