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External Click Tracking

Posted on 5.17.2007

Mark Hannan of nectarcomputers.com pinged us with a good question this morning that we thought we'd share and see if we can answer. Here's Mark's question:

I have a small online venture that I started about a year ago, www.lonestarlodging.com. At present the site is doing well as an unpaid service for lodgings, but I would like to take a step further and turn it into a paid service soon. The big issue I am facing is the ability to track clicks on lodging links, so that I can provide potential and present customers with detailed link stats. I would greatly appreciate any recommendations from you on wither a suitable clcik tracking service, or a webhost that can provide detailed click tracking stats. Love the magazine by the way.

This is an interesting question - there are actually quite a few ways to track the number of clicks on external links. Personally, I would suggest creating a custom tracking and reporting solution so that you and your users can see the traffic and, if it's based on a PPC (pay-per-click pricing model), how much they are paying and you are earning. You can hire developers (I've had some good experience with RentACoder.com) to do this for you. The advantage is that you own the software and will be able to resell it and make some money off your investment. The reason I suggest this is that if you use a third party reporting system you will need to repurpose the data and then provide it to your users - an unnecessary administrative step if you have your own proprietary reporting system

External click tracking is not too difficult. What you will need to do (or as you suggest purchase a solution to do) is run user click stream data through a server so that it can be tracked and reported back to you.

Here are two suggestions based on my limited understanding of your business model and your users expectations of your service:

  • Check out Damien Katz' Clicky, a JavaScript file that essentially reports data to you server. It's a little rough around the edges but it works well. It's based roughly on how MyBlogLog tracks external clicks. You will need to append each external link with code, but if you hard (hand) code pages it's pretty easy to pick up and do quickly.
     
  • Consider using a service such as Google Analytics that, with some modification, can track clicks on external links and do so without you incurring any costs. Setup is pretty simple - you'll just need to modify the actual outbound link with a additional string of code that tells the Google Analytics server that you generated an additional page view .

    Here's the code for that: 

There are of course hundreds of ideal solutions you could employ instead of Google Analytics, like Omniture or WebSideStory which are incredibly robust. They are truly the leaders in the analytics industry but can be cost prohibitive to smaller online ventures.

The key to any tracking solution is determining your needs and the needs of your users. Every business is different, so the place place to start is creating a plan that best suits your business model. Determine exactly what you need to track - then you will be able to find the best solution for your individual needs. 

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