Event tracking, or action tracking, usually refers to the monitoring of interactions on a website beyond a simple web page load. Event tracking provides data on how visitors are engaging (or not engaging) with a website, making it possible to fine-tune SEO and PPC marketing campaigns to maximum effect.
Conversion tracking is a form of event tracking that refers specifically to an action representing either a transaction or a significant step towards one, like registering on a customer database or opening an account.
By default, Google Analytics already tracks one very important event: page load. When a visitor comes to a site, the page they enter through, how much time they spend on it and where they go next, all gets recorded in Google Analytics.
However, there is a lot that happens beyond a page load that is very valuable for perfecting a digital marketing campaign. This is where more detailed event tracking comes in.
Events that can be tracked include document downloads, mobile ad clicks, interactions with gadgets, Flash elements, AJAX embedded elements, and video plays.
Event tracking is often linked into a paid advertising campaign which allows the marketing team to monitor how many visits from an advertisement are resulting in a transaction.
This measure of effectiveness applies just as well to SEO, where tracking events associated with organic visits from search can give valuable insight into the quality of traffic a site is attracting.
Old-school event tracking: Hard-coded tags
This code snippet is known as a tag and the process of adding a tag directly to a website’s code is known as hard-coded event tracking.
Google provides a detailed guide to implementing event tracking in this way, using the analytics.js code, here: Google Analytics: Tracking: Analytics.js.
Event tracking made easy: Google Tag Manager
Whilst hard-coded event tracking is still used by many websites, Google’s Tag Manager tool, introduced in 2012, provides a simpler and increasingly popular alternative.
Rather than having to tag an object by manually pasting code into a website, Google’s Tag Manager acts like a container and marketers use the Tag Manager interface to introduce event tracking.
There are a number of advantages to this approach; most significantly that marketing teams can now set up and manage event tracking without having to rely on developers to change code every time a new tag requires setting up. Tag Manager is a particularly welcome relief for large websites where implementing hard-coded tags on hundreds or thousands of pages is highly resource intensive.
Working with Tag Manager requires that you are familiar with tags, triggers (the events that activate the tag) and the data layer, which is where key data points are captured. The design and code of the website being tagged also needs to satisfy a number of basic criteria in order for it to work properly. Google provides a detailed introduction to using the Tag Manager in this overview: Google Tag Manager Overview.
Both hard-coded and Tag Manager-administered event tracking relies on a common taxonomy.
According to Google, an event has the following anatomy:
- Label (optional, but recommended)
- Value (optional)
Being aware of these components can be helpful when deciding what to track on your website.
A category is typically a way of grouping objects that are similar but distinct. For example, if your site has two different calls to action (CTAs) for getting in touch: email and contact form, you may group both together in the category: CTA. Or you may decide to treat each as a category on their own: CTA: email; CTA: contact form.
An action refers to a specific interaction performed on an object, for example a button click. Once combined with a category, for example: “CTA: email” and “button click”, this represents a unique event that can be tracked.
To add more granular data to an event, it can be assigned a “label”. In the case of an email button click the label might be the URL on which this email button was clicked.
The “value” element is assigned if that interaction can be given a monetary value and is particularly relevant in conversion tracking.
Which events should your site be tracking?
There is little point simply tracking events on a website. Often marketers can fall into the trap of gathering too much data thinking it will all “be useful eventually”. As a rule, event tracking is most useful when tied clearly to specific goals. A goal might be to increase sales by 10% or collect a certain number of new subscribers.
Everyone will have their own set of unique factors, but here are a few common ones not to be overlooked:
Add to Cart: This will let you know how many people are getting to the ‘add to cart stage’ of the sales journey. If these people are going this far, and then not completing the purchase, it might be a sign that your checkout procedure needs to be simpler or better designed. A user experience assessment might help you identify what you can do to improve this and see whether your ‘add to cart’ versus ‘checkout’ ratio improves.
Register: Keeping tabs on this will show you how many people are registering to your site each month, and will let you watch out for any monthly boosts or declines in registrations. You can then do some detective work to see what changes might have occurred on the site to prompt this change.
Subscribe to Newsletter: This is another great way to keep track of how users are interacting with your website. A subscription to your newsletter is a sign that the user had such a positive experience with your website and brand, that they can’t get enough. Again, follow the monthly statistics for this and watch out for any fluctuations.
Send to Friend: This should certainly be considered a conversion; you have persuaded someone to send a link to content on your site to a friend. It is a sign that, whatever you are doing or selling, is working.
Follow on Social Media: It is a good idea to track any buttons that will take users from your website to your Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter or other social media platforms. Engagement via social channels is proof that your website has given visitors a positive experience with your brand. As with everything, track any fluctuations.
Event tracking is one of the most fundamental parts of any analytics regimen. Being able to directly follow the way that users interact with your website is not only informative of how people view your product and your site, but also paves the way for future optimisation based upon what is and is not working.
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