Articles written in February, 2011

February 24 2011

The Pros and Cons of Virtual Page View Tracking in Google Analytics


Last week, we dug into the pros and cons of event tracking with Google Analytics, which sets us up nicely to discuss the pros and cons of virtual page view tracking. With the combination of this week’s and last week’s blog posts, you should have enough information to make a decision on whether to go with event tracking or virtual page view tracking for an outbound link, a PDF file, an application, a video, or something else that you wish to track on your web site.

The philosophy behind setting something up as a virtual page view is to track something as a page view that currently cannot be tracked as such. The best example I can use to elaborate would be wanting to track something that your web site offers as a file download – Microsoft Word documents, Adobe PDF files, podcasts, and the like. You could use event tracking to track these file download interactions as events, but you could also use a virtual page view to track their downloads as page views, just like any other web page on your site.

For PDF and Microsoft Word types of files, you can use a JavaScript onClick event. However, another common situation in which you’d want to use a virtual page view is one where you have to edit the Google Analytics tracking code snippet itself. This happens a lot on web forms, where the page that the form lives on (example: /contact-us.php) is the same “page” that the subsequent confirmation page lives on. I put “page” in quotation marks because developers know it’s not the same page, but because Google Analytics can’t tell the difference between pages if the URL in the browser’s address bar is the same, you won’t see any views of that confirmation page in your reports. Therefore, you will have to use a virtual page view (e.g. use the _trackPageview function) on the confirmation page to tell Google Analytics that it’s recording data for a different page than the form page.

What else do you need to know about virtual page views? Check out the following list of pros and cons and compare it to last week’s blog post on event tracking, and you be the judge.

Virtual Page View Pros:

– Any item that is tracked using a virtual page view can be set up as a goal in Google Analytics. That’s because Google Analytics treats virtual page views and actual page views the same way (it considers them both as pages on your site). Therefore, you can set up your PDF file downloads as a goal, for example.

– You can differentiate pages that use the same URL in the browser’s address bar in your reports. This is great for any situation where the URL in the browser’s address bar does not change, like in the example above on web forms. This sometimes is also the case on a shopping cart checkout process – multiple pages using the same URL, making a great excuse for you to implement some virtual page views.

– All of the nice web analytics metrics that you have come to know and love are also collected and reported on when a visitor interacts with something set up with a virtual page view. Bounce rate, average time on page, and even the $Index metric are all available.

Virtual Page View Cons:

– Any virtual page view, if used by a visitor, will inflate your page view count in reports, along with other metrics. If, for example, you set up a virtual page view on an outbound link that leaves your web site, that action can increase your time on site and page view metrics artificially, which may be a burden to you.

– If you have lots of files and lots of actions to track as virtual page views, this could mean a sizable work-load for someone in your IT or web site development department. Unlike installing the standard Google Analytics tracking code, installing virtual page views is a manual process, and possibly, a costly one.

– All of the virtual page view data is mixed in with all of the actual / regular page view data in your content reports. You will have to make frequent use of the report’s filter tools, or possibly create an advanced segment or separate filtered profile to be able to view your virtual page view data.

Hope you enjoyed this two-part series! Let us know if you have any questions or comments – or your own pros and cons of using virtual page view tracking!

February 16 2011

The Pros and Cons of Event Tracking in Google Analytics


To event track, or not to event track – that is the question!

Most every Google Analytics user has seen the event tracking sub-section of reports when accessing the Content report section (after all, you can’t miss that huge button within that sub-menu). Some users have even clicked-through to that section, even without any data being reported, just to see what it looked like and what metrics were available. Some other users have been using event tracking to view what special actions web site visitors do.

The entire idea of using event tracking with Google Analytics is to track non-page view actions. The Google Analytics tracking code, which should be on every page of your web site, will – most of the time – take care of the standard page view tracking. However, in order to track things like outbound links (links to other websites), PDF files, links that open up your Email program, video player interactions, or anything that isn’t the traditional page view, a JavaScript “onClick” function using the Google Analytics event tracking schema is often used to accomplish the task that the Google Analytics tracking code can’t.

Using event tracking is great, and event tracking allows us to view these special interactions that we normally would not have known about before, but you should be aware of the pros and cons of using event tracking before you ask your IT team to implement it on your movies or PDF files.

Event Tracking Pros:

– All data collected using event tracking is reported within the Event Tracking sub-section, which is found within the Content report section.

– For traditional JavaScript “onClick” events, your IT team should have no problem installing event tracking on your site. They may have to spend a bit more time on some of the more complicated moving parts, like videos and AJAX-based functionality, and it may be more difficult, but more often than not, implementation can be successful without too many problems.

– A visitor interaction with an event means that the visitor’s session will not be counted as a bounce if the visitor only views one page in a session. Want to lower your bounce rate? Install some events on your website! 🙂 Event tracking is perfect for the single-page web site, or, the landing page with lots of non-page view content for a visitor to interact with, without rendering your bounce rate metric unusable.

– If you’re creative enough, you can use event tracking to calculate potential values for events (event tracking has an optional value field), and you can create some advanced segments and / or custom reports based around your event tracking data.

Event Tracking Cons:

– At present, events cannot be associated with goals in Google Analytics. Therefore, you cannot create a goal for an event. This is probably the largest limitation regarding event tracking, and the one that you’re going to need to think about the most before implementation.

– If you have hundreds or thousands of PDF files, outbound links, or other things that you’d love to track using event tracking, you may present a large challenge to your web development team. Installing a couple of event tracking functions is no problem, but giving them the task of implementing it several hundred times over will create resource and timing issues.

– At the time of this blog post, you cannot create profile filters based on events. Therefore, you’re out of luck if you were hoping to create a filtered profile within your Google Analytics account to include (or, exclude) events. Depending on your needs, this could be a major limitation.

– Google Analytics has a limit of 500 events per session. If you reach 500 events in a single session, the 501st event and on will be dropped and not counted (note: this rarely happens, and most likely could not happen even if you were purposely trying to make it happen – you’d give up after about 100).

These are just some of the possible pros / cons concerning event tracking. What are your pros / cons to consider when using event tracking? Please post yours below!

P.S. Next week, I will discuss the pros / cons of using virtual page view tracking with Google Analytics – an excellent compliment to this blog post!

February 10 2011

Advanced Segment, Custom Report, or Filtered Profile?


I just love a good mystery, and to be candid, I love being the one who gets to solve it! Solving mysteries and putting together the proverbial pieces of the puzzle is a critical skill in the field of web analytics. You almost have to like the torture that comes with trying to figure out a problem, in a weird and demented way.

So when my industry colleague Matt asked me on Twitter to help him solve his Google Analytics quandary, I was ready in a nano-second.

You can read the full post here, but essentially, Matt needs to know what the best way to “isolate” page data would be. He has a sub-directory on his web site, which include pages, and needs to be able to create a segmented, sliced-up view(s) of that sub-directory, and needs to be able to view how each sub-directory’s pages are performing in relation to other sub-directory pages.

Creating a duplicate, filtered profile for all of this sub-directory’s traffic within the same Google Analytics account (using the same website domain) will create your isolated view of only those sub-directory pages. You will only see visits and page views that happened on those sub-directory pages. It’s good for looking at your sub-directory data in a silo, and you can compare the high-level data by using the profile overview screen (assuming you are planning on creating additional filtered profiles for the other sub-directories). You can also download the data offline and mash it up, either via the Google Analytics API or by simply downloading PDF or CSV files.

Creating an advanced segment that displays any pages that match your sub-directory name will show you any visits which included at least one page view on any one of the pages within that sub-directory. This definition – visits instead of pages from the previous paragraph – is an important differentiation. As commenter Amanda has already astutely observed, you will see other pages appear in your Content report section, because this segment will show you those other pages, as they were a part of these visitor’s sessions that viewed at least one page within your desired sub-directory. You can create an advanced segment for each sub-directory and compare up to three (plus the “All Visits” segment) at the same time, and get an on-the-fly look at your sub-directory data. However, if your date-range is long, you may encounter data-sampling (not the biggest issue in the world, but something to be aware of).

If you create a Custom Report, in your main profile and without any advanced segments applied, you will be tailoring an original view of your data. You can combine metrics from different reports, like visits, bounce rate, goal start and goal completion percentage, and revenue / ROI metrics (if you do Ecommerce). You can then match it up with the page dimension, and even set it up so that when you click on a page, the report will show you the keywords, or the source / medium combo, or the visitor country, or whatever drill-down dimension you want to see. Then, if you really want to get fancy, you can apply an advanced segment while you are looking at your custom report to show you visits that have viewed at least one of you desired sub-directory pages, and really get cooking! You can then apply a custom report and an advanced segment to multiple profiles from within the main profile (Click on the respective “manage” links), and apply it to any of the other profiles within your account.

So, what would I do? I would create a custom report with an advanced segment applied to it. You can also create a filtered profile if you wish, but I would suspect you would not use it as much as you would a custom report / advanced segment combo. I would also insist that your report is meaningful and that you can take action from it (e.g. knowing that a page’s $Index value is a lot lower than the site average would point you in that page’s direction to optimize / refine it). Pick metrics like Bounce Rate, $Index and Goal Conversion Rate that help you understand page performance, and ditch trivial ones like Avg. Time on Site or Exit Percentage.

Hope I helped out Matt and others in a similar situation!

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