Measuring Success in 2013: Assigning Real Value & Tracking Every Click with Google Analytics

In every company I’ve worked for or with, I’ll confess that I’ve often been a little confused about the tracking setup. I’ve seen plenty of reports that simply don’t make sense, but once these got sorted out, I usually found that we were putting developments live with only having a top level understanding of their effect – basically ‘improving’ a product based on conjecture. But speaking to quite a few experienced analysts led me to believe that this problem wasn’t just following me around – it was everywhere! So I learnt what I needed to do about it, and I thought I’d share that knowledge here.

Eliminating Vanity Metrics

The big metrics in publishing are Unique Users and Pageviews, but they are surprisingly meaningless unless the website sells out of advertising inventory, which often doesn’t occur. In e-commerce, the audience and engagement metrics can become even more meaningless – more traffic doesn’t always equal more revenue, and ‘more’ engagement via pageviews could mean a user is struggling to find what they came for. In SEO we are obsessed by the organic visit, yet it means little if the user doesn’t convert or add further value.

Thus it’s important that we move away from the Audience Overview and simply reporting ‘vanity metrics’ in our analysis, and focus on user actions that really mean something.

Common Digital Reporting Vanity Metrics

Website Goals

Most talks or posts about analytics will tell you to set up goals, and they are easy to setup in Google Analytics. It might be a given to put the receipt page as a goal on an e-commerce website, but which other goals are you tracking?

Marketing goals like newsletter capture and website sign up; Engagement goals such as pages per visit and time on site; Commercial goals such as advertising clicks or video views.

These goals should be considered as fundamentals alongside e-commerce receipts – they’ll inevitably help you as you make subtle website changes and improvements.

Google Analytics Goal Setup

Assigning Value

At last year’s A4U Expo I saw a great talk about assigning value to all of your goals. This doesn’t have to be a literal £ value, but there needs to be a relative value assigned.

For instance, you might consider that newsletter capture is perhaps the most valuable of your marketing goals and assign it a value of 100 (although, if you also knew the e-commerce value of email traffic, you could assign it this value).

Then, working back, you could work out the relative value of your other goals. For instance, if your advertising clicks have 1% equity of newsletter clicks, then they could be assigned a value of 1.

The beauty of this approach is that you can measure your traffic sources goal conversion rate by Goal Set. So you could have an engagement Goal Set, or a commercial Goal Set – click these at the top of the traffic graph on All Traffic to see which traffic sources are giving you the most value. You can then spend more time on the traffic sources that matter.

Google Analytics Traffic sources Goals Measurement
Facebook in most valuable traffic source for goal shocker!

Event Tracking on Steroids

Google’s suggests that you apply event tracking to the following:

  • Any Flash-driven element, like a Flash website, or a Flash Movie player
  • Embedded AJAX page elements
  • Page gadgets
  • File downloads
  • Load times for data

Some of your goals will inevitably be some of the above, so it’s important to have these event tracked. As an aside tip, to track Youtube plays, use this JavaScript.

But we can take it much further than this; why settle at just key engagements when you can track every link? If you’re likely to be working on a site through a number of development cycles, then I seriously recommend this. Even on very large sites, it’s possible to event track everything relatively simply, by having a system for placing event tracking in links throughout the templates.

Fundamentally, Google Analytics Event tracking works through 3 components – the Category, Action and Label. The label is optional.

onclick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘category’, ‘action’, ‘opt_label’]);”

Google Analytics Event Tracking Hierarchy

More detailed posts on event tracking are available here:

Think of these as a hierarchy. In navigation with dropdowns you could (and maybe we will) have the following for State of Search:

onclick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘Navigation’, ‘News’]);”

Then the homepage carousel might be:

onclick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘Homepage’, ‘Carousel’, ‘1’]);”

Or on the homepage top post you could have:

onclick=”_gaq.push([‘_trackEvent’, ‘Homepage’, ‘Posts’, ‘1’]);”

If you followed the same logic for all links throughout the site, with dynamic insertions using .PHP, tracking all the links wouldn’t take that long. I’ve had developers do practically an entire site in half a day! It’s not as big a task as it seems, but if you’re short on resource you can iterate it to include just core elements to begin with.

You would soon know which pieces of functionality are working best for you. And as you tinker with the design (as you should be doing in the AGILE age) then you will find it much easier to see what is and isn’t working for you.

Some interesting findings…

In applying as much click tracking as we could to a site, we were able to gather a few things that were critical to future developments:

  • Not nearly as many people were clicking the nav as we first thought; very few visits included a sub nav click.
  • Most clicks were coming through the homepage listings and right hand columns, but articles published earlier in the day would often get less pageviews.

The big problem here was that our homepage and right hander sizes just couldn’t cope with the volume of articles being published. Subsequently, articles were getting buried quickly. Also, our navigation clearly didn’t get information to the user very well. They weren’t that interested in sub-categorisation, just content.

Our Response:  Extend everything! Create larger pages with more content options and create a mega nav.

The result: 25% increase in pageviews in one month! (In this case, it was a publishing site, so it wasn’t a vanity metric! H.T @JamesGurd)


You might think that this could be an overkill of data, and that having so many different events will make it troublesome to analyse your most important data. However, I can assure you that if you categorise your events correctly in a hierarchy, then you will be able to make sense of your data very easily. Most importantly, you’ll have a better understanding of where you should invest time and energy in the next development cycle.

Featured image source


About James Carson

James Carson is a freelance Content Strategy consultant based in London. Having previously worked for Bauer Media on major lifestyle brands such as FHM, heat and Grazia, he now offers consultancy services in Content Marketing and digital publishing.

6 thoughts on “Measuring Success in 2013: Assigning Real Value & Tracking Every Click with Google Analytics

  1. Hi James,
    Thanks for sharing, really useful post for digital teams who may not understand how to take advantage of GA functionality/features.
    I agree it’s important to track everything that can give you meaningful data with which to take actions. I did, however, laugh that at the end you celebrate “25% increase in pageviews” but started the article stating that pageviews is a vanity metric!
    I think a KPI is only a vanity metric when it’s used for reporting, not analysis i.e. if you don’t do anything with that info, or the output doesn’t add any real value to the business.

    1. Hi James, thanks for the comment. You’re quite right, that needs some context so I’ve added a little disclaimer!

    2. Hi James, thanks for the comment. You’re quite right, that needs some context so I’ve added a little disclaimer!

      1. As long as you understand the value of a page view, rather than page view for the sake of it! – I hate “Visitors” as a metric personal (uniques) – anyone can get more visitors, its engaged visitors that is challening! Working on a media orientated site has its own KPI issues and my favourite over rated KPI is bounce rate, unless its an ecommerce product page!

        There is so much more you can do with any analytics package, than almost any business does – from including stock levels through to sex (girl products / boy products) and more! if the data helps you market I personally always see it as having value.

  2. Great post James.

    I often find that planning is essential to get to this level of data output. How long did you plan/map out the structure for this particular site?

    I sometimes plan/map out event tracking and goal values prior to even creating wireframes (this is what I want to measure, this is how, these are the values, these are important and so on) – that way, the goals which are a) valuable b) have a value and c) tie in with objectives are given much more asset space on the website. The ones which don’t get a little but of asset space. This also gets the client to do some digging/homework.

    “If you want to make the newsletter sign up box bigger, then go find out how many existing subscribers are customers, how long it took them to become a customer after signing up and what the average order value was/is”. This kind of prioritises the value/importance of each goal.

    In terms of goal values, as I work in B2B sometimes it’s nearly impossible to work out exact ££ values so I use a score for each goal based on importance. A sign up to access technical documents is much more important/valuable than a newsletter sign up so I give them a score of 10 and 2 respectively.

    Screenshot attached of the sources report. I think you also have to take ‘exact lead volumes’ into consideration and not just ‘conversion rate’ on its own.

  3. Hi Pritesh – thanks for the compliment!

    In this case the site was already fairly well structured and we didn’t change the information architecture, but I reckon the analytics audit and rule setting was about 2 days in total. Planning before IA or at the same time makes perfect sense though – all about getting the right category hierarchy.

Comments are closed.