Universal Analytics: Make Sure You Don’t Lose Data!

Sep 22, 2015

Update: Due to a late breaking bug in final QA, we are moving the transition to December 1 to keep data integrity a priority. 

As we previously shared, on November 1, 2015, NPR Digital Services is officially switching from the old version of Google Analytics to their newly updated version, Universal Analytics.

In order to ensure that we do not have any interruptions in data tracking, this transition will be a carefully coordinated and collaborative project between the Station Analytics Service, stations, and NPR Digital Services. Luckily, there is very minimal work required on the station side.

This post will cover:

  1. What data you will lose if you do not make the required changes prior to November 1, 2015.
  2. What steps you can take to make these changes yourself.
  3. What steps you can take to have NPR Digital Services make these changes for you.

What data will I lose if I do not take the required steps?

Your most important data in Google Analytics (pageviews, users, sessions, etc) is not at risk. However, one of the major differences between Google Analytics and the new Universal Analytics is that the storage of custom data is changing.  In Google Analytics, custom data was stored in something called a custom variable. In Universal Analytics, this same custom data will be stored in something called a custom dimension.

Data stored in the custom variables/dimensions includes things like Author, Publish Date, Category, and Program. See the full list here. The Station Analytics System provides a dashboard for Top Authors and Activities, both of which display data from custom variables/dimensions.

You can make sure that you do not lose any of the data stored in custom variables/dimensions after the cutover to Universal Analytics by following one of the recommended paths outlined below. Caution: If you do not follow one of the recommended paths below to set up your custom dimensions, you WILL lose this custom data tracking and access to these dashboards in the Station Analytics System.

Why does this matter to you? Because previously, in Google Analytics, NPR Digital Services could and did automatically set up the custom variables for you. In the new Universal Analytics, the new custom dimensions must be set up in Google’s admin interface.

What does this mean? It means that some person -- either you, a Google Analytics administrator at your station, or someone from NPR Digital Services -- has to go into your Google Analytics account and set these custom dimensions up by hand.

Really? Yes, really. We at NPR Digital Services are investigating ways that we might be able to do this in an automated way for several accounts at a time, but in order to do that, we need to have administrator access to your station’s Google Analytics account.

How do I ensure that I do not lose my custom data?

There are two ways to ensure that your custom data continues to be tracked after the November 1, 2015 transition to Universal Analytics.

Option 1: Grant NPR Digital Services administrator access to your Google Analytics account. If you do this, we will go in and make the required custom dimension changes for you. This is, by far, the fastest way to accomplish this transition. And we promise not to touch anything else in your account besides the custom variables and dimensions! Here’s how to grant NPR Digital Services administrator access to your Google Analytics account. And if you are interested in what we’ll be doing once we’re in there, have a look at this pdf. In order to ensure that NPR Digital Services has time to set up your custom dimensions by the November 1 cutover date, admin access must be granted by October 10, 2015.

Option 2: Have the Google Analytics administrator at your station set up the custom dimensions in your Google Analytics account by hand. Here’s a step-by-step guide that shows how to set up your custom dimensions in your Google Analytics account in a way that will allow the custom data to continue uninterrupted after the November 1, 2015 cutover date to Universal Analytics. In order to ensure that there is no interruption in your custom data tracking, your custom dimensions must be set up by October 31, 2015.