Monday, January 21, 2013

Google Analytics - Custom Variables or Event Tracking?

Custom Variables or Events Tracking

This week I was tasked with improving our analytics tracking on the company website. Management wanted to be able to answer such questions as “What landing pages are generating revenue”, “What types of pages did the customer visit before making a purchase?”, “Did the customer change the quantity amount in the cart?”, or “What is our conversion rate for customers that used online chat?”. To be able to answer these types of questions I had to do some research which lead me to Event Tracking and Custom Variables. When setting up either event tracking or custom variables for the first time it’s difficult to know when to use one or the other.  To better understand when one would be used or the other it’s important to know a little about them first.


Custom Variables:
Custom variables in Google Analytics have a way you can declare the scope of the stored value. There are three levels of scope:

Visitor Level (1) – This if used to store information about your visitor like where they came from, gender or operation system. This is mostly used to create user segments since it will stay with the visitor until they use a new browser or remove their cookies.

Session Level (2) – This is for tracking actions for their entire visit. This is helpful if you want to know if they logged in during their visit or maybe if they used the online chat. You could then compare logged vs unlogged users on your website.

Page Level (3) – This is used to identify information about a page. Like if I wanted to know what page type (brand, category, or product page) I could enter it here. This could also be helpful to know if customers clicked on related products or which site navigation they used. You can specify multiple page-level variables            per page. Once a new page is visited you can do it again.

Event Tracking:
Event Tracking is basically what it sounds like. It is to track an event. An event could be a 404 notice or a user clicking on a link. Event tracking helps you record a user’s interaction with your website. So in short, event tracking allows you to track activity on pages. Event tracking is not to be used across a session. Read more here Google Events.

The Overlap
 Event tracking is much like a page-level custom variable in that it only relates to the page it is on. It is not to be used to store information about a visitor or session. One of the benefits that event tracking has over custom variables is that it is not limited to five customer variables. You can create as many events as you would like.
There are a few other differences in deciding whether to use page-level custom variables or event tracking. Here are a few:
1.      Custom variables can have goals tied to them where events cannot.
2.      Custom variables have to be set before you call the trackPageView. Event tracking can be called anytime including ajax calls.
3.      You can only have five custom variables at a time.
4.      You can tie events to revenue where page-level custom variables are not. This is very helpful for eCommerce sites.
In short, when deciding whether to use a custom variable or an event you should first determine if you need to save info to a visitor for an extended period of time. If so, then use a custom variable. Otherwise an event is very flexible and provides additional information.

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