Difference between Google Analytics and Universal Analytics


Do you have a hard time explaining the difference between Classic Google Analytics and Universal Analytics to your client/boss?

Then this article is for you. There are still lot of organizations out there, which use classic Google Analytics and they use classic GA because:

#1 they don’t know what universal analytics is. As shocking as it may sound today, but this is still true.

#2 they don’t really understand the difference between classic GA and universal analytics.

#3 they are not convinced whether universal analytics is worth migrating to.

#4 some of them even believe that they are using Universal Analytics, when in reality they are still using the classic GA tracking code on their website.

Universal Analytics is a new and better version of Google Analytics.

The difference between Classic Google Analytics and Universal Analytics can be explained by following factors:

  1. Data Collection and integration
  2. Data Processing
  3. Custom Dimensions and metrics
  4. Custom variables
  5. User Interface
  6. Javascript library
  7. Tracking Code
  8. Technical Knowledge
  9. Referrals Processing
  10. Cookies
  11. Privacy and data usage


#1 Data Collection and Integration

# Universal Analytics (UA) provides more ways to collect and integrate different types of data than Google Analytics (GA).

# Through UA you can integrate data across multiple devices and platforms. This is something which is not possible with GA.

# Consequently UA provides better understanding of relationship between online and offline marketing channels that drive sales and conversions than GA.


#2 Data processing

# The date processing in UA is visitor based instead of visit (or session) based. This is not the case with Google Analytics.

# Consequently UA is more visitor centric than visit centric.


#3 Custom Dimensions and Metrics

# In UA you can create and use your own dimensions and metrics to collect the type of data, GA does not automatically collect (like phone call data, CRM data etc).

# These user defined dimensions and metrics are known as ‘custom dimensions’ and ‘custom metrics.

# Through custom dimensions you can import additional data into your analytics account.

# GA does not allow you to define your own dimensions and metrics.


#4 Custom Variables

# UA uses custom dimensions instead of custom variables

# GA uses custom variables instead of custom dimensions.

# Though ‘custom dimensions’ are not available in GA, custom variables are still available in UA.


#5 User Interface

# Interface wise, both UA and GA reports look the same. The difference is in how each collect, integrate and process the data.

# However once you start using custom dimensions and custom metrics, your UA reports may look very different from your GA reports.


#6 JavaScript Library

# UA uses ‘analytics.js’ JavaScript library whereas GA uses ‘ga.js’ JavaScript library.

# The ‘analytic.js’ library is similar to ‘ga.js’ library but provides new set of features for collecting and integrating data.


#7 Tracking Code 

# UA uses different tracking code than GA:




#8 Technical Knowledge

# 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 using custom dimensions, custom metrics and integrating data across multiple devices/ platforms through measurement protocol and cross device tracking.

# In UA almost everything from cross domain tracking, event tracking to e-commerce tracking is implemented differently.


#9 Referrals Processing

In Universal Analytics, referrals are processed differently.

By default all referrals trigger a new web session in UA. This can affect the total number of web sessions in your analytics reports.

For example: let us suppose a visitor arrived on the website www.abc.com from www.xyz.com then returned back to www.xyz.com.

When the visitor arrived on the website www.abc.com from www.xyz.com, it will trigger a new web session for abc.com website. When the visitor returned back to www.xyz.com from www.abc.com, it will trigger another new web session for xyz.com:


If you do not want the new web session to be triggered when the visitor returned to www.xyz.com from www.abc.com then you need to exclude referrals from www.abc.com.


#10 Cookies

# Cookie is a text file which is used to store information about a visitor, his preferences, location, browsing behaviour and other details.

# While GA can use up to 7 cookies (_utma,_utmb,_utmc,_utmt,_utmz,_utmx and _utmv) to collect visitors’ usage data, UA uses only 2 cookies (_ga and _gat).

Related article: Google Analytics & Universal Analytics Cookies – Complete Guide


#11 Privacy and Data usage

# The ability to collect more data about your users in UA come with a price and that price is privacy. You need to be more privacy concern if you are using UA.

# Google warns against collecting any personally identifiable data in your UA account through user ID, custom dimensions, custom metrics and custom data import. Google can terminate your analytics account if you breach this policy.

# You need to give your end users proper notice and get consent about what data you will collect via UA. You also need to give your end users the opportunity to ‘opt out’ from being tracked.

# That means you need to make changes in your privacy and data usage policies. Google recommends using Google Analytics opt out browser add on if you want to block Google Analytics.

Note: You can learn more about the UA usage guidelines from here and about the privacy from here.


#12 Server Side Configuration settings

UA lets you change following server side configuration settings via the account admin:

  1. Change session timeout
  2. Change campaign timeout
  3. Add/delete search engines
  4. Exclude referral traffic sources
  5. Exclude search terms


server configuration settings

In case of GA you need to add special tracking codes to all the web page on your website to change each of the aforesaid server side configurations.

UA has simplified changing these server configurations by providing easy to use controls in the account ‘admin panel’ which do not require editing the existing tracking code, on every web page of your website.


#13 Ecommerce Tracking

Universal Analytics provides advanced ecommerce tracking called ‘Enhanced Ecommerce‘. This tracking is not available in Google Analytics.

Enhanced e-commerce tracking provides many more ways to collect and analyse e-commerce data than traditional ecommerce tracking. Thus enhanced ecommerce provides deeper insight into e-commerce engagement of your users.

Enhanced ecommerce provides twice as many reports on users’ ecommerce activities than traditional ecommerce tracking:

ecommerce enhanced ecommerce


To learn more about upgrading to Universal Analytics, check out this article: Universal Analytics Upgrade Guide

Other Posts you may find usefulCommon Google Analytics Mistakes that kill your Analysis, Reporting and Conversions

Announcement about my new books

Maths and Stats for Web Analytics and Conversion Optimization
This expert guide will teach you how to leverage the knowledge of maths and statistics in order to accurately interpret data and take actions, which can quickly improve the bottom-line of your online business.

Master the Essentials of Email Marketing Analytics
This book focuses solely on the ‘analytics’ that power your email marketing optimization program and will help you dramatically reduce your cost per acquisition and increase marketing ROI by tracking the performance of the various KPIs and metrics used for email marketing.

Attribution Modelling in Google Analytics and Beyond
Attribution modelling is the process of determining the most effective marketing channels for investment. This book has been written to help you implement attribution modelling. It will teach you how to leverage the knowledge of attribution modelling in order to allocate marketing budget and understand buying behaviour.

Himanshu Sharma

Certified web analyst and founder of OptimizeSmart.com

My name is Himanshu Sharma and I help businesses find and fix their Google Analytics and conversion issues.
If you have any questions or comments please contact me.

  • Over eleven years' experience in SEO, PPC and web analytics
  • Certified web analyst (master level) from MarketMotive.com
  • Google Analytics certified
  • Google AdWords certified
  • Nominated for Digital Analytics Association Award for Excellence
  • Bachelors degree in Internet Science
  • Founder of OptimizeSmart.com and EventEducation.com

I am also the author of three books: