Universal Analytics Upgrade Guide


I get lot of emails from webmasters who migrate to Universal Analytics on Google’s recommendation without understanding the implications of such migration and without evaluating the pros and cons of such a switch. Then they get stuck with tracking issues.

This article will help you assess your requirements and resources before you decide to migrate to Universal Analytics.

Contrary to Google’s claim, migration to Universal Analytics (UA) is not really a two-step process.

It is a 6 step process as outlined below:

Step-1: Understand the implications of migration to Universal Analytics.

Step-2: Determine your tracking requirements.

Step-3: Do Risk Assessment.

Step-4: Create a detailed project scope document.

Step-5: Set up Universal Analytics in parallel with GA and test it.

Step-6: Upgrade to Universal Analytics.


1.Understand the implications of migration to Universal Analytics

You need to understand and educate your client/boss that the upgrade to UA is not as easy as claimed by Google i.e. clicking on the ‘Transfer’ button and then replacing the ‘Google Analytics Tracking Code’ with ‘Universal Analytics Tracking Code’.

You need to do a lot more to make this upgrade successful.

If you have implemented any type of additional tracking (tracking which is not available in Google Analytics by default) on your website then you need to change the syntax of all such tracking to make your migration successful.

Following are the examples of additional tracking in GA:

  1. Ecommerce Tracking
  2. Event Tracking
  3. Cross domain tracking
  4. Any tracking based on virtual pageviews
  5. Video Tracking
  6. Phone Call tracking
  7. Any customized tracking based on custom variables.
  8. Any third party tracking that relies on Classic Google Analytics Cookies


If you upgrade to UA and then you don’t make changes to the syntax of all the additional tracking you are currently using on your website then any/all of your additional tracking methods can stop working immediately.

Understand that though UA provides almost all the feature of Classic GA, it uses a different syntax to collect additional data (like ecommerce data, virtual pageview data, customized data etc)

For example the syntax of ecommerce tracking code in UA is quite different from the syntax of ecommerce tracking code in GA. So if you upgrade to UA and didn’t change the syntax of your ecommerce tracking code then your ecommerce tracking will not work in UA.

Same is the case with cross domain tracking, event tracking and other additional tracking methods.

When you upgrade to UA through your Admin panel, you are simply changing the way your data get processed within GA.

But you are still not updating the syntax of additional tracking methods. This is something which you need to do manually.

Google does not automatically change the syntax of all the additional tracking methods (like ecommerce tracking) you are currently using just because you migrated to UA through the Admin panel.

You need to make all such changes manually.

Once you have migrated to UA then then there is no turning back.

You cannot switch back to the classic GA. So you must assess your requirements and resources and understand the pros and cons before you decide to upgrade.

Understand that UA is still very new for lot of web masters, web developers and shopping cart vendors. Not everyone is good in troubleshooting UA tracking issues and there is not enough support available on Google forums.

So if something goes wrong with your UA implementation, you could be pretty much on your own.

If you couldn’t resolve your UA tracking issues, you may end up with little to no tracking data in your UA account. That is why I have written this upgrade guide to make your migration easy and successful.

Related post: Difference between Google analytics and Universal Analytics


2. Determine your tracking requirements

Majority of e-retailers (small business owners) do not need UA. Most of them just need basic ecommerce and conversion tracking setup.

UA is most useful for those retailers who do multi-channel marketing on a national or international level and for those businesses who have specialised tracking needs that is not already supported in GA like integrating data across multiple devices and platforms.

Following are specialised tracking requirements which you should identify before you migrate to UA:

  1. Tracking visitors across multiple devices and platforms (done through ‘User ID’)
  2. Integrating data from multiple devices and platforms (done through measurement protocol)
  3. Creating custom dimensions and custom metrics to import specialized data (CRM data , phone call data, members data etc)
  4. Importing data to Google Analytics server from any device that has access to the internet.
  5. Widening existing dimensions with additional data (done through ‘Dimensional Widening’)


3. Do Risk Assessment

Upgrading to UA is not a small task esp. if you are managing a very big website. Please don’t take this task lightly. It is not as simple as Google claims in its documentations and videos. Bigger is your website, bigger is the risk involved that something may go wrong during migration.

Consider following factors before you start the migration process:

1. Website Size and complexity – If your website has got tens of thousands of web pages, dozens of language specific sub-domains, mobile apps, different desktop and mobile versions and/or is managed by teams spread across the globe then the migration may take several months.

2. Complexity of the tracking – If your website is using hundreds of different configuration settings based on the classic GA (from cross domain tracking, event tracking, video tracking, mobile apps tracking to referral site exclusions) and half a dozen other analytics solutions (adobe sitecatalyst, webtrends, kissmetrics etc) then migration to UA is going to be equally complex and challenging.

3. Any type of tracking that relies on Classic Google Analytics cookies for customization and reporting. Classic GA uses 4 or 5 cookies whereas UA uses only one. That means once you migrate to UA, you will lose support from those 4 or 5 cookies.

4. Any third party tracking solution (esp. shopping cart) which is designed for old GA. This is a common problem which is often overlooked by webmasters. They upgrade to UA on Google’s recommendation and then their ecommerce tracking stops working because their shopping cart is designed for old GA and doesn’t support UA yet.

5. API – If you are using Google Analytics API then you need to remember that UA uses an updated API. So some changes will be required.

6. Technical expertise – To use all the features of UA you need good technical knowledge of your development environment/ platform or you should know someone who has such knowledge. Otherwise you may have a hard time taking full advantage of UA.

7. Document all the data that is currently being tracked and why, how and where it is being tracked. This can help you later in diagnosing tracking issues and identifying any gaps in data accuracy.


4. Create a detailed project scope document

If you are like me who needs to convince at least 10 people before being able to make any code change on a website or if you are managing a very large website then this step is for you.

A project scope document is an important element of project management which needs approval from several people/departments before what you plan to do (in this case migration) will be carried out.

A project scope document is made up of following components:

1. Justification – what problem you are trying to solve, why it is important and what is the upside potential of implementing your recommendation. If the problem that you are trying to solve will not result in a big win then it may not be worth doing in the first place. For example justification can be something like fulfilling specialised tracking requirements by upgrading to UA. You can then outline the benefits of UA to make your case.

2. Project Deliverables – What results your project (in our case the project is migration to UA) will produce? For example: tracking visitors across multiple devices and platforms, creating custom dimensions and custom metrics to import specialized data etc.

3. Project Milestones – a milestone is a significant project event. List all such milestones along with timelines if possible.

4. Project Exclusions – What the project will not produce. For example your project will not produce any report or execute any tracking requirement which is beyond the scope of the project as outlined in ‘project deliverables’.

5. Assumptions – What are the assumptions under which you will work? For example you could be working under the assumption that all of your queries will be resolved in a timely manner or you could be working under the assumption that you will get required access, documents, permissions or any support for your work without prolonged delays. You need to outline all such assumptions in order to manage expectations with your client/boss and avoid confusion and disagreements.

6. Constraints – What are the constraints under which you will work? These constraints can be something like limited development support, long approval process, CMS issues, time zone issues etc. You need to outline all such constraints. 

7. Project Plan – What do you plan to do in this project ? How this process will work. What will be the key milestones and estimated timeframe for each milestone. Who will be responsible for carrying out this work and how exactly it will be carried out? You need to include the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘when’, ‘where’ and ‘how’ of your project in this plan. Needless to say it is going to be very detailed.

8. Resources requirements – outline all the resources you will need from client/boss/departments to carry out your work. These resources can be IT requirements, certain permissions, access, documents etc.

9. Cost – This is project cost estimate. It is generally quoted by out-house consultants/agencies.

Once you have created your project scope document, it normally first needs an approval from your reporting person. Then the document is sent to the IT department so that they can understand your requirements well in advance and ask for any clarification (if required) before starting the migration process. Then the document could also be sent to purchase department for final approval as any development works carries certain cost.

In big companies (companies with hundreds and thousands of employees), this process is quite common. But even if you are not working for a big client, you should still consider creating a project scope document to manage clients’ expectations and to avoid any confusion, disagreement or conflict.


5. Set up Universal Analytics in parallel with GA and test it.

Google tells everyone to migrate to UA straightaway without first testing the set up. That is a lame recommendation and is quite risky.

I see lot of webmasters who blindly switch to UA on Google’s recommendation and then their ecommerce tracking stops working. When they can’t figure out how to fix the issue they try helplessly to switch back to classic GA, only to find it later that there is no turning back and now they are stuck with dead tracking.

You need to run UA in parallel with GA for at least 3 to 4 weeks and test all of your configuration settings well in advance. Make sure that all types of additional tracking (from ecommerce tracking, event tracking to cross domain tracking) is working equally well in UA before you upgrade.

That means you would need to maintain two separate analytics accounts for your website: one account will collect analytics data through Google Analytics and the other account will collect analytics data through Universal Analytics.

Your traffic data (like users, sessions etc) from GA and UA will never exactly match number by number. This is because data is collected and processed slightly differently in UA. So what you need to look for is big discrepancies in GA and UA data. For example,

If GA reports 200 users on your site on a particular day but UA reports only 10 users than you need to check your UA implementation for any tracking issues.

In order to run UA in parallel with GA follow the steps below:

  1. Go to the Admin section of your GA account.
  2. Create a new property for your website.
  3. Enter your website name and URL
  4. Get the UA tracking code
  5. Copy paste the tracking code just below the GA tracking code on every web page of your website.
  6. Copy paste the tracking code for each additional tracking you want to set up in UA.

    For example there would be two different versions of e-commerce tracking code on your website’s receipt page (generally the ‘thank you’ page): one version would be e-commerce tracking code meant for Google Analytics and the other version would be e-commerce tracking code meant for Universal Analytics. Similarly you would need to maintain two separate versions for event tracking, cross domain tracking etc.

  7. Check the real time reports to make sure that tracking is working in UA.

Use staging server to make sure that two different versions of additional tracking methods (like ecommerce tracking) is not causing any issue on your website.

Note: When you create a new Universal Analytics property, it does not contain your historical data. But when you upgrade from GA to UA, then the upgraded UA property contains your historical data.


6. Upgrade to Universal Analytics

Once you are 100% confident that all types of additional tracking is working equally well in UA then you are in a position to start the upgrade process.

Upgrade means completely switching to UA from GA.

Remember once you upgrade to UA, you can’t downgrade to GA again.

You also can no longer run GA in parallel with UA. So think twice before you decide to make a switch.

Please note that sooner or later Google will either automatically upgrade your GA account to UA account or force you to upgrade by stop releasing new features for GA. So you have to migrate to UA. It is just a matter of time.

Follow the steps below to upgrade to Universal Analytics:

Step-1: Go to the Admin section of your GA account and click on the ‘Universal Analytics Upgrade’ link:

universal analytics migration


Step-2: Click on the ‘transfer’ button to start the process of transferring the selected property to Universal Analytics:

upgrade to universal analytics

Note: UA is implemented at the property level in a GA account. That means you need to manually transfer each property in your GA account.

GA can take 24 to 48 hours to complete the transfer. Don’t make any changes to your tracking code until the transfer is complete.

Step-3: Once the transfer is complete then remove all classic GA specific tracking codes (including Google Analytics Tracking Code) from your website but keep all the UA specific tracking codes intact. In this way you won’t loose any data during the upgrade.

Note: If you use Google Tag Manager (GTM) to implement Universal Analytics you will rarely need to re-tag your website again. So I highly recommend implementing UA via GTM.


Another article you will find useful: 10 Analysis Techniques that Fool Data Driven Marketers

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  • solarian
    • seotakeaways

      Thanks for the heads up. Post updated.

      • solarian

        you’re welcome!

  • Karthik

    Nice post. I need help on implementing Google Tag manager to my website

  • Shay Gabay

    First of all – BIG Thank You for it…very valuable

    I have a question or a point I’m not clear about – running side by side the UA with GA: Once you do the transfer how do the UA I’ve created based on a new property is associated with the existing GA that is now converted into UA( or is it not associated and its sole purpose is to allow me, confirm all tracking code/options working fine on the STAGING environment.


    • seotakeaways

      the new UA property is not associated with your GA account and its sole purpose is to let you test all the configurations. you should delete it, once the migration is complete.

      • Shay Gabay

        In such case, does it mean that I will have to apply all the new configurations to the REAL UA property?

        • optimizesmart

          most of the configurations will be auto transferred from the old GA.

  • Mike

    I have a question on keeping your historical data. After running both properties in parallel and confirming the Universal property is collecting the correct data, when you make the upgrade switch, can you just swap the property ID in the Universal code with your old GA code? This way the data will be processed by the same property you have been using with classic GA?