Note: Update from Google added (bottom).
We have performed a survey of the top 10,000 websites on the Internet to find out not just how many of them are using Google Analytics, but also the division between the legacy urchin.js script and the new ga.js script.
We found out two very interesting things:
- First of all, a full 50% of the top 10,000 sites on the Internet use Google Analytics. That’s a very impressive market penetration even from a known market leader.
- Secondly, out of the sites that use Google Analytics, 40% are still using the old version of the Google Analytics script, urchin.js.
That second point is very important. Google switched its development over to ga.js well over a year ago. It’s truly remarkable that almost half of the sites using Google Analytics have yet to migrate to the new ga.js script.
The problem with (still) using urchin.js
When Google migrated to ga.js, it stopped maintaining urchin.js. This happened way back in December of 2007 when the new tracking code went live to all Google Analytics users.
The question is, for how long will urchin.js keep working? Back when Google made the switch it was widely believed that Google would stop supporting the old script after 12-18 months. If that is the case, the end for urchin.js is getting near.
“The information we are getting from Google is that urchin.js will be decommissioned sometime this summer,” says Julien Coquet from LBi, a Google Analytics Authorized Consultant.
When we asked Julien what will happen once urchin.js is decommissioned, his guess was that it will eventually start returning a 404 error (file not found) and therefore stop registering traffic.
Notable sites still using the old script
There are some pretty heavy-hitter sites still using urchin.js. Among them you can find:
Blogger.com, Doubleclick.com, IGN.com, Foxnews.com, Match.com, Wired.com, iStockphoto.com, PCWorld.com.
Note that both Blogger and DoubleClick are, ironically, Google-owned…
Features you’re missing by using the old script
Using the new ga.js tracking code instead of urchin.js only has benefits. Here they are, straight from Google:
- Faster, smaller source file.
- Automatic detection of HTTPS.
- Increased namespace safety.
- More convenient set up for tracking ecommerce transactions.
- More customizable code for interactive Ajax-based sites.
- Access to new features and reports as they roll out.
We switched Pingdom.com over to using ga.js quite late (at the beginning of this year), and we were curious to see how many sites were still using the old script even this late. Though we had expected many to still be using the old script, we were definitely surprised to see that it was as much as 40% of the Google Analytics sites.
The question is, are the owners of these sites aware that urchin.js won’t be around forever? Are they aware that they are using a legacy script that is no longer being maintained?
When urchin.js is finally decommissioned, will thousands of sites be caught without working statistics? We’re guessing that Google won’t allow this to happen, but you never know.
If you’re still using urchin.js for your site statistics, now may be a good time to upgrade…
UPDATE from Google:
We got hold of a Google spokesperson (a person on the GA team) who shed some light on the issue:
So, here it is, directly from Google:
We have no immediate plans to decommission urchin.js. But there will come a time when we do and at that point, we will make sure users get clear advanced notification from us and time to switch. In the meantime, there are plenty of good reasons to switch to ga.js now anyhow, so feel free to get started early.
In other words, no need to panic, but you should start thinking about migrating if you haven’t already, because urchin.js will indeed not be around forever.
About the survey:
We tested the homepages of the 10,000 most popular websites in the world according to Alexa. We tested for the presence of “/urchin.js” and “/ga.js” in the HTML code, which gave us the result that 4872 use Google Analytics (1992 with urchin.js and 2982 with ga.js (a couple of sites used both, which isn’t recommended)).
Since 242 of the sites on Alexa’s list did not yield a response, we excluded them from the percentage calculation. The reason for this is that some URLs and IP addresses have sneaked into Alexa’s toplist that aren’t actual websites, for example ad servers and CDN servers. A few sites could also have been offline when we did our test.