Google recently announced autotrack for Universal Analytics, and it enables websites to automatically track common interactions for websites using Google Analytics. I was initially excited, but it should be known that it’s not for everyone.
Autotrack enables you to track the following without as much code for a traditional implementation:
- Event tracking
- Media query and breakpoint tracking
- Automatic outbound form tracking
- Automatic outbound link tracking
- Enhanced session duration tracking
- Automatic and enhanced declaritive social tracking
- Automatic URL change tracking for single page applications
In this post, I’m going to explain some of the features and things to look out for when thinking about using autotrack. Please note that this plugin was released in the last 24 hours, so it will take time to see its effectiveness and uses over time.
Who should use it?
As Google mentions, this is a good option for those that do not have a customized Google Analytics implementation. If you already have a customized implenetation, then you should look at each of the features and seriously evaluate if they’re going to give you additional insights to improve your website.
Also, if you currently use Google Tag Manager, I’d shy away from autotrack for now. Assumming you’re calling all of your page views using the GA tag in GTM, then you’d need to change that tag to a custom HTML tag in order for it to work. That kind of defeats the purpose of using GTM in my opinion, and you can accomplish all of these features in another way. But there are exceptions to this rule…
I have worked with clients that use a hybrid GA/GTM implementation where they’re placing the analytics.js snippet and GTM container snippet on all pages. I usually see this with clients that have a pretty baked website where they’re interested in using GTM for implementing custom tags that don’t require writing custom code directly on the page. If this is the case, then autotrack could be a viable option!
If you’re building a brand new website, then I wouldn’t recommend it because you’ll have the luxury of planning your GA implementation using GTM and take advantage of all the advantages it has to offer.
First and foremost, autotrack does not support all browser versions. Now that’s not to say it doesn’t support probably (hopefully) 95+% of your traffic, but it’s not compatible with older versions of FF, Chrome and IE. Below is a chart of the exact compatibility.
This doesn’t really bother me at all because digital analytics is all about providing directional insights, but if missing out on some of these users is a large issue for you, then you may want to consider if autotrack is right for you. The best place to start is checking to see the percentage of your traffic that doesn’t fall in in this chart. Again, I don’t think it’s a show stopper at all, but it’s just something you should consider going in.
The event tracker feature essentially allows you to add attributes to an element in the HTML that are passed into an event. For example, the following element would send an event hit to Google Analytics with the category “video” and the action “play”:
<button data-event-category="video" data-event-action="play">Play</button>
This is nice because you don’t necessarily need to write the event on the onclick method, but I would say this feature would work best on any outbound links where you’re trying to override the event category and action for the outbound link tracker feature. Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same thing as manually putting in the event like you would with regular analytics.js.
Media Query Tracker
This feature allows you to track which breakpoint users are viewing when they visit your website. I think this is pretty handy if you’re looking to create a custom report based on more than 3 breakpoints, but quite honestly if you’re using a responsive framework like Bootstrap, then I’d rely on directional insights through segmenting by device.
Outbound Form Tracker
This feature allows you to send events when forms are submitted to sites on different domains. This is a solid feature in my opinion and the only reason I can think that you wouldn’t use this is if you’re not happy with the default values it passes into the event.
Outbound Link Tracker
This is by far the most desirable feature in my opinion. I’m actually surprised Google hasn’t built this into GA by default as other popular digital analytics tracking solutions like Adobe Analytics already have it built in. Granted this is easy to solve with Google Tag Manager, it’s a great feature for those that aren’t using a tag management system yet.
Session Duration Tracker
In GA, a session is defined by the time between the first and last hit. If a user comes to your site and leaves, the session duration will be 0. This feature solves that problem by sending an event when a user leaves your site for supported browsers. A handy feature, but again I struggle with directional insights for something like this. Especially if you have a very small site. you could also set a goal (if you have some to spare) for users that view more than one page. Then you can segment the users that hit the goal and analyze from there.
Note: This is not a supported feature for IE and Safari, so if you do use this feature and look at session duration as a KPI, you should probably segment out unsupported browser versions to get an accurate metric.
This feature automatically adds social tracking for Twitter and Facebook buttons. A pretty nice feature, but it does not support other social network buttons. Personally, I don’t use social tracking because I like to use events instead for goals, but if a social interaction isn’t a goal for you in GA, then this is a good option.
URL Change Tracker
Next to the external links feature, this is the next best feature on my list. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen clients with sites where clicks change the URL, but does not register a new page view. In that case, you’ll typically want to register a virtual pageview, but if you’re not already doing that, then this is a nice feature to take advantage of. I haven’t tested this feature on anchor links yet, but you’ll want to be careful if you have them on your site because you may not want to register a new page view. If that’s the case, then be careful because it could result in inflated pageviews.
- Auto tracker is a great and easy way to track common website interactions, but it’s not for everyone
- If you already have a custom implementation, then it’s likely autotracker is not for you
- If you use GTM, then I’d shy away from trying to use it, but according to Brian Kuhn from Google a G+ thread, they hope to support GA plugins like this someday.
- I hope to see some of these features added to Google Analytics out of the box over time
- Consider the insights you’re going to gain before just diving in and gathering more data
To see some of these elements in action, check out Tevor Fox’s interactive tutorial.
I’d be interested to hear your initial thoughts on the new plugin.