PDFs and Google Analytics – Obtaining segmented visitor data

Out of the can, Google Analytics is a powerful analytics tool with the potential to do about 80% of what a commercial tool can do. However, outbound links are not captured by Google which has two effects; first, you miss out on data has to how useful those outbound links are to your users and, secondly, it creates a bounce rate value which is probably incorrect.

This includes PDFs as well. We recently launched a new list of our master’s programmes as a PDF. I have seen, from our log files, that earlier versions of this previously had a ton of downloads. But, the log file data is pretty dumb, and does not allow me to find the answers to any business questions. Like, for example, did marketing activity in a particular country lead to any increased traffic to our website?

Furthermore, the logfile data is a mixture of both human and robot traffic, so it’s hard to really assess the pdf’s impact.

By adding an additional attribute to the html of the link,Google Analytics can record the views of the pdf. You fool GA into thinking the pdf is a ‘virtual’ page. Assuming you’ve got the GA tracking code installed on your page, you’ll be able to gather data about the pdf. The attribute is a simple piece of code, the only ‘watch fors’ are make sure you use the right code (appropriate to the version of urchin tracker you are using) and label the pdf in a sensible way.

The very cool thing now is we can segment the data as we like in GA. Of course, it needs good business questions to get any sense from the data and, as always, you have to be wary of the wierd results which GA sometimes gives; but it moves a step away from the act of faith that publishing brochures usually is.