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The Glorious World of Event Tracking

Posted on 1.06.2013

The Web enables marketers to track everything — from the actual completion of a goal/conversion (e.g. a product purchase) to activity occurring on somewhat less significant elements — those that while not critical to the user experience do reveal important insights into the performance of a Web property.

These “Events” are of fundamental importance if you’re serious about maximizing the time and resources you invest in your analytics solution. Welcome to the glorious world of event tracking.

In the quest to provide the optimal user experience, Events enable those responsible for a digital presence to understand what’s working on a website when moving visitors from one page to another and further towards the completion of a goal. Not everything is as cut and dry as an actual conversion (e.g. sale or sign-up) however. Sometimes it is necessary to understand how specific elements influence the interaction occurrences of users and the resulting conversion. Event tracking provides such an opportunity.

Since millions of websites currently use Google Analytics, let’s focus on that platform specifically. While many analytics solutions (see WM’s list of 50 Top Analytics Vendors in this issue) provide comparable functionality, not all do — at least not without some hacking.

Event tracking is essentially just a way to record user interactions with website elements (e.g. file downloads), but thanks to its flexibility it can be applied in numerous ways. Since important “events” aren’t always clear, it is important first to determine the elements that you want to track and define them clearly and consistently. Doing so will ensure the automation production of reports that provide the necessary insights in a way that can be easily consumed. Once these issues have been addressed, you’ll be able to actually start setting up the event tracking — which for those that can find their way around their website code is actually rather simple.

For our purposes here, let’s assume we’re trying to track the number of downloads of a free white-paper that does not require registration. There are some important components that must be included in the analytics code (examples below) for the event tracking to function correctly and report properly:

Category:
This element (required) defines the type of object to track. In our example, we’d name that component something like “WHITEPAPERS”. The category you define is what will appear in the reporting interface.

Action:
Also a required element, actions are paired with the category and typically used to define the type of interaction. In our example, we’ll use “FREE DOWNLOAD”.

Additional components can also be included in the tracking code but are not necessary. To provide another layer of useful information consider the use of optional components such as “Label” which can be used to provide detail about each triggered event (perhaps the download link is used in more than one location). It is also possible to include components such as “Value” (in integer form) if you want to understand the numerical value of triggered events, as well as “non-interaction”, another optional element, which when set to “true” indicates that the event hit will not be used in bounce-rate calculation.

Let’s review what the code will look like for our free whitepaper download using both a text link as well as an image. For the sake of simplicity, the code below only includes the required category and action components, along with a label.

TEXT LINK:

< a href="#" onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Whitepapers', 'Free Download', 'Text Link']);">Download< /a >

IMAGE LINK:
< a href="#" onClick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Whitepapers', 'Free Download', 'Blue Button']);">< /a >

Event tracking is a powerful way to understand which elements are working and which are not. By streamlining the user experience, removing the elements that may end up getting ignored by users, you’ll be on your way to more meaningful interaction in no time thanks to the glorious world of event tracking.

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