Articles written in July, 2009

July 27 2009

Tracking Flash, Movies, and more with Event Tracking!

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Event TrackingLast month, the Google Analytics team finally lifted the curtains and officially removed the “Beta” label off of its brand new Event Tracking section. With Event Tracking, site owners now have the ability to track special interactions with their website, separate from pageviews. This can include tracking the activity of a movie player, an applet, a flash virtual tour, or any site element made in AJAX.

For starters, the new Event Tracking section of reports will be located within the main Content section, right underneath the Site Search report sub-section. Once there, you’ll be introduced to four new metrics: Categories, Actions, Labels, and Values. These metrics are also the building blocks of setting up Event Tracking on your flash applet or video player, as we’ll talk about in a little bit. First, let’s cover the metrics / reports that make up this section.

1. Categories
Categories are the highest level of organizational structure that you can have with Event Tracking. Think of it like the “root” level of a directory. You would use labels like “Videos” or “Downloads” for your Categories, and they would most likely be used multiple times throughout the main elements that you wish to track with Event Tracking.

2. Actions
Actions are exactly what they sound like – the actual interactions with your object. If you’re setting up Event Tracking for a video on your site, you could track a user pressing Play, Stop, Rewind, Fast-Forward, or adjusting the volume as an Action.

3. Labels
Labels are an optional value with Event Tracking, which allow you to provide additional information about the Action that just happened. Labels can be used for naming a movie (the title of the Movie), or the URL of a downloaded file, or some other name that you’d like to use for the subsequent Action.

4. Values
Values are also optional elements in Event Tracking that allow you to assign a numerical value to any action. These can help you quantify all of your actions, and Google Analytics will even throw in an Average Value figure for you to get an idea of how popular your Actions are.

Putting it all together
Because of the updated Google Analytics Tracking Code’s (ga.js) object-oriented modeling, newer features like Event Tracking are highly customizable, and can be programmed onto your movie or applet in a variety of different ways. However, the “standard” coding for Event Tracking looks like this:

pageTracker._trackEvent("Videos", "Stop", "G.I. Joe Trailer", "150");

Notice in my code example that you can see the four metrics in order from left to right after the call to _trackEvent- Category (“Videos”), Action (“Stop”), Label (“G.I. Joe Trailer”), and Value (“150”). This format must be followed, no matter where or how you decide to use Event Tracking.

A few general notes regarding Event Tracking

1. You must use the newer ga.js tracking script on your website’s pages in order to be able to utilize Event Tracking – it will not work using urchin.js.

2. There is a maximum of 500 Events allowed in a single user session (visit). Because of this, you should avoid setting up tracking for excessive mouse movements, tracking every second a video is played for, or every time someone right-clicks their mouse while playing your newest shoot-’em-up flash game.

3. Event Tracking – previously considered an interaction hit – is no longer counted as such by Google Analytics. This means that your Bounce Rate or your Average Time on Site metrics won’t be affected. Check out my blog post from back in January about Event Tracking interaction hits.

For deep technical schematics on Event Tracking, check out the Google Analytics Event Tracking Guide.

Happy Event Tracking!

July 8 2009

Tracking bit.ly (and other short URLs) in Google Analytics

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Yesterday, during my normal browsing / question-answering time over on the Google Analytics Help Forum, I ran across a thread where a few folks were not seeing traffic from their bit.ly URLs in their Google Analytics profiles. For those of you who do not know what they are, or might have seen them somewhere before, bit.ly is a URL shortening website, where you can enter in a long URL and make it very short. Websites like bit.ly, SnipURL, Tiny.cc, and several others have become mega-popular over the last few years, as they have become vital in allowing people to share links via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve even started to see them appear in some newsletters and promotional emails as well.

While bit.ly type websites are great, they actually present an analytics tracking challenge. These sites typically redirect users from their website to your destination website, which causes Google Analytics to treat any visitor clicking on one of these links as “direct”, even though they really originated from your Facebook page, your monthly newsletter, or a press release (So technically, not tagging these URLs will also pollute your direct traffic segment, which was our blog post from earlier in the week).

So, what can you do to properly track your shortened URLs in Google Analytics? Take the following 4 steps for short URL tracking success:

1. Grab Your Destination URL – Copy the URL of the page that you ultimately want your visitors to land on.

Example: http://www.website.com/page.html

2. Run it through the Google Analytics Tool: URL BuilderThe URL Builder Tool will append the necessary query parameters to the end of your destination URL. This is the same page that is used when marketers want to track their non-AdWords cost-per-click traffic in GA.

Example: http://www.website.com/page.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_content=status-update&utm_campaign=social-media-traffic

3. Run your new URL through bit.ly (or your favorite URL shortener) – Copy your newly created URL and paste it into the URL shortening tool – you should now have a very short, but analytics-trackable URL.

Example: http://bit.ly/MrOle

4. Test your short link – Click on your short URL and make sure the long string of query parameters that you copied from step 2 appears in the address bar of your favorite browser. If the query parameters are there – and your destination page has the Google Analytics Tracking Code correctly installed – you should begin to see visits from your short URL in your All Traffic Sources report, within the Traffic Sources section. It’s a bit of a manual process – especially if you have a lot of short URLs everywhere – but it’s completely worth the time that it takes to run them through the URL Builder and appropriately track the visits off of these links in Google Analytics. The hard part will be figuring out what to use for the Source, Medium, and Campaign dimensions, because that is what is going to control how the data appears.

My advice: use a short, common-sense naming convention, and you really can’t go wrong.

July 6 2009

Should I care about my Direct Traffic?

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Even though Direct Traffic is not what you thought it was, it is still a segment of traffic worthy of your valuable time. If your analytics data is currently suffering from self-referrals, redirects, or untagged email marketing campaigns, then today’s thread should be of great interest to you, as your direct traffic volume could be artificially inflated.

Direct Traffic

What exactly is “Direct Traffic”?

Direct traffic is traffic that comes to you “directly”, without the help of an organic, referral, or cost-per-click source. Folks who type in your website’s URL manually into their browser’s address bar, or folks who copy / paste your URL into the address bar are counted by Google Analytics (and most other Web Analytics platform) as “direct”.

What else can be counted as “direct” traffic?

If someone visited your website by manually typing or copy / pasting your URL into their address bar, and they bookmark your site and visit you again from that bookmark, they will be counted as “direct”. This is the good kind of direct traffic. The bad kind of direct traffic – the kind that can be destroying and polluting this valuable segment – can be caused by redirects, improper / incorrect tagging set-up, and things like banners and email campaigns that are not tagged for Google Analytics (or your favorite WA program).

How do I fix these issues?

It depends on the complexity and severity of your situation, but there is no reason why you can’t collect proper, unpolluted direct traffic data. If you are doing banner advertising or email blasts, ensure that every single link embedded within the email or every destination URL of your banners is tagged for analytics. Google Analytics offers a URL Tool Builder page that can quickly set this up for you for free.

If your site is redirecting visitors, ensure that all pages have the necessary tracking code present (even on the redirecting page itself). However, if at all possible, try to slow down the redirect, so that the tracking codes have time to fire off.

If your site spans multiple domains, please ensure that both sites and all links to and from each site are properly set-up, according to your vendor’s specifications on tracking 3rd party websites. Any analytics program will be able to do this – visit the help section of your site or contact your account rep for assistance.

It bears repeating that there should be NO REASON why your direct traffic should be a big bucket of traffic from lots of different types of sources that couldn’t be tagged properly or coded correctly. Ask your email vendor / media manager / press release guru to help you with tagging / coding issues (and if they give you any grief, tell them I said it was very important :)).

Everything is tagged and coded properly, and my direct traffic is only counting what it’s supposed to count. What next?

For the most part, your direct traffic will remain fairly steady from month to month, with the occasional lift or dip here and there. Hopefully, over the long haul, your direct traffic will have increased, as your website becomes more and more popular over time. However, if you do any type of offline advertising (TV, Radio, Print), you can use the direct traffic segment to evaluate the success / failure of your offline efforts. Did you just run a commercial on prime-time network TV featuring your website’s URL? Check your analytics data the next morning and you’ll probably find a nice spike in direct traffic. The same thing happens when your monthly catalog or special offer gets delivered to your customer’s mail boxes. Collect a few of these spikes from offline efforts and in a couple of months you may be able to gauge the pulse of your offline audience and how they respond to what you are sending them / showing them.

Your direct traffic can also increase if your latest press release just got sent out, or you just turned up the dial on your Google AdWords campaign – not everyone clicks on a link, sometimes, they copy / paste it, which will count them as direct, despite your proper implementation. For this small group of copy / pasters out there, there really isn’t anything you can do, but you should be confident enough with your clean data to still obtain great insights anyway.

Direct traffic doesn’t have to be a big pile of unorganized and useless data. It can be exactly what you thought it was, as long as you put in the work to make it happen.

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