One of the biggest challenges in using web analytics in higher education is the fact that so many of our conversions happen off-site. When a visitor comes to our website and wants to request information or fill out an application or donate or buy a t-shirt from the bookstore, more often than not those things happen off-site.
By using a combination of Google Analytics events and custom reports, tracking the off-site conversion is a little easier. Does this give us a direct link from the visitor on the website to the actual conversion (if the conversion is off-site)? No. But it’s the next best thing – and it’s certainly better than guessing – or only paying attention to campaign click-throughs.
Manually Tracking Outbound or Download links as Events
Events are not new to Google Analytics, but they are definitely underutilized. By using an onClick on the exit link (or download to a form, etc.) you can easily track those exit links as events and then tie them back to campaigns.
When you track an event, you specify the event category, action, label, and value. A more detailed description can be found in the GA event tracking guide. In post we’ll only be talking about using events for tracking outbound (exit) links or downloads.
If you want to track an outbound link as an event, here’s how to do it:
Once that is in place, go into Google Analytics reports. To view events go to content >> event tracking.
Here is how it looks in the reports. “Outbound” is the category. “Click” is the action. In the below image, if you click on “click,” you then go to the event label screen shown in the second image below.
“Application Link” is the event label in this example.
This report then shows you the number of times the outbound link was clicked. Be sure to use the same naming convention with your category, action, and labels. Otherwise you’ll end up with outbound, Outbound, and exit (when they all mean the same thing). Think campaign URL parameter names (email, e-mail, and E-mail) – keep it consistent. By the way, I chose “outbound” for the category and “click” for the action above because that is what is used by default in the gaAddons script (introduced below).
So there you go. Simple, right? Now you’re tracking your outbound links as events. Well, hold on to your hats, here’s where it gets good.
Automate Tracking Outbound or Download links as Events
Stéphane Hamel, web analytics consultant, wrote a great script called gaAddons. This script automatically tracks outbound, download, and mailto links as events (and more). It’s so important for higher education, in my opinion, for a few reasons:
- So many of our conversions happen off-site.
- Creating onClick’s manually is sometimes difficult to do for many reasons (content creators might not know how to do it, they might simply forget to do it when new content is created, or, maybe they just don’t have the time to go back into current content and create manual onClick’s on existing outbound or download links).
- Even if you can track events manually, if you’re not careful with naming conventions, names can be separated (ie, specifying outbound and Outbound differently, etc.)
This script overcomes all 3 challenges.
If you’re still using the old version of the Google Analytics tracking code, there is an older version of the gaAddons script that can be used with the old version of the GA tracking code. Hopefully everyone has upgraded to the newer version of Google Analytics tracking code, however. There are so many advantages of upgrading to async. Also, in the gaAddons version 2.0 (to use with the new version of Google Analytics tracking code) there are so many more options available. Of course you can track outbound, download, and mailto links as events, but you can do so much more with it.
Create Custom Reports to Make it Easier to tie to Campaigns
So, now that your outbound or download links are being tracked as events, you need to be able to easily see how your campaigns are doing driving people to those “events.”
This is where we’ll take advantage of custom reporting.
The way events are currently reported in Google Analytics is clunky. It’s great that they are there, but beyond just seeing those events, it’s hard to determine if campaigns are driving people to those events.
So we create a custom report to more easily show this data. To set up a custom report, in the left nav in Google Analytics, click on custom reporting >> manage custom reports. Then click on “create new custom report.”
Here’s how to set up this specific report. I call it “events by campaign.” You can call it anything you’d like.
This custom report allows you to see all at once if campaigns led to any events. Here is the first page of the custom report:
So all your campaigns that led to an event are listed. (not set) means no campaigns led to those events.
Then, if you click on “campaign #1,” you drill down to see which specific events were credited to campaign #1.
Now you can both see your important outbound (exit) links as “events” and then easily tie those events to campaigns.
So there you have it. Not perfect (we’d all love to see how many off-site conversions our campaigns drove), but it’s better than guessing – or just looking at click-throughs.
What do you think? I’d love to get your feedback about tracking important outbound and download links.