Goals, Virtual Pageviews and Event Tracking in Google Analytics
In this series of blog posts I have talked a lot about the importance of setting up goals, and goal values, in Google Analytics so that you can get an accurate idea of which traffic sources, keywords and website pages are doing the most for your bottom line.
Setting up goals in Analytics is a simple task, in the ‘Edit’ section of a profile, you are able to choose between three types of goals: a URL, time on site or pageviews per visit. The last two goal options are determined by being more or less than a given amount, and can be useful for customer service websites where you either want to provide information as quickly as possible. This can also be useful for entertainment sites that want to engage with their target audience for a long time, for either long time on site, or many pageviews.
However, for most businesses and websites, the goal that they will want to track will be a URL, such as a “Thank You” page after a sale or completing a contact form.
However, there are many other websites that exist for a purpose other than to make sales via ecommerce, receive sales leads, provide information quickly or even engage an audience. Websites set up to make affiliate sales might be one such example, as would many blogs, including my co-worker’s Phoenix Suns blog, which I shall use as an example later in this post.
Many blogs of this nature make their money from advertising, which is often done based on the number of impressions and visitors, so in some ways getting people to visit the website is success in itself. However, getting people to return to the website regularly could be said to be the purpose of the website, so the goal of the page might be to attract subscribers to the RSS feed or followers on twitter.
Unfortunately Google Analytics is only able to measure what takes place on the website itself, so as soon as any visitor clicks to Feedburner or Facebook, they leave the site and it is no longer traceable. To get around this problem, website owners can utilize Event Tracking or Virtual Pageviews to monitor clicks on these external links.
Event Tracking is a relatively new feature to Google Analytics that superseded Virtual Pageviews, apart from one very important aspect as we shall see later. It is essentially a piece of code that can be added to any link, or website feature, that can then monitor if a visitor clicks on that part of the page during the visit.
For example, at the bottom and side of this page we suggest that you “follow us” on social media sites or RSS, and if you look at the page source code you will see the following;
<img src=”http://www.verticalmeasures.com/wp-content/themes/default/images/icon_rss.jpg” /></a>
This highlighted code in the href essentially monitors each click and then categorizes the category, action, label and value, the last two of which are optional (we did not use a value). This code is useful for tracking not only which external links your visitors are clicking, but can also be used with interactive features of a website such as games and videos.
This data can then be broken down in Analytics to see which activities are being performed on your website, where people are clicking, what documents are being downloaded, and so on. You could then use this information to get a better understanding of how visitors use your website, and then use this information to better design your website towards these events.
An Event Tracking report is available in Analytics within the “Content” drop down and shows information such as the number of events, when they happened, and which kinds of events took place;
Returning to the example we have in place on this page, and looking at the ‘Category’ report in Analytics, we can see that the social media links in the sidebar are clicked about twice as often as those in the footer;
However, while you can give an Event a ‘value’ these are not to be confused with goal values, and event tracking cannot be used with goal tracking in analytics, despite there being strong demand for it . This is a great disadvantage of Event Tracking, when compared to Virtual Pageviews.
As mentioned previously, Virtual Pageviews were superseded by Event Tracking as they create fake page views which can inflate website numbers. However, as Events can’t be tracked as goals by Analytics, but URLs can, Virtual Pageviews enable you to track links that go to other websites as a goal, and are therefore still very useful.
Returning to the example of a blog, if you go to valleyofthesuns.com and look at the page source, for the social media links in the right hand side of the page, which are the website goal to increase return visitors, you will see the following;
The highlighted code essentially tricks Analytics into thinking a pageview for www.valleyofthesuns.com/follow/rss took page when the link is clicked (a page that in reality doesn’t exist). By then setting up this goal as a URL destination goal and giving it a goal value, we can then monitor which visitors, traffic sources and keywords were most likely to subscribe, and then experiment with different website designs to lead to higher conversion rates.
Virtual Pageviews vs. Event Tracking
Therefore, there are advantages to both methods, and as a general rule I would say that if it is not your primary goal use Event Tracking, otherwise use Virtual Pageviews to set a URL destination goal. For example, on this page our primary goal is for you to contact us to see how we can help you, so we use event tracking to record offsite links. However, for blogs or affiliate sites where the offsite link is the primary goal, then there is no other option than to use Virtual Pageviews.
About James Constable
James is a Campaign Manager at Vertical Measures, looking at client's Internet Marketing from a strategic viewpoint to get them the best possible results for their business needs and budget. His blog posts revolve around strategy, analytics and keyword selection.