Google Analytics: Event Tracking vs Virtual Pageviews

google-analytics-trackingAssume that visitors are arriving at a landing page of your website, what’s their next step? How do they interact before leaving that page? In this article we focus on how to use the 2 advanced tracking options that Google Analytics provides: the Event Tracking and the Virtual Pageview. Both are useful, but it is important to understand why and how to use them.

Tracking User’s behaviour

Tracking various types of interactions within web pages enables you to monitor the user’s behavior and improve the performance of various elements. These types can vary from file downloads to purchases, from a visit to an external booking engine to a subscription or to an interaction with a flash element (i.e. video player, widget)

Tip: Lack of interaction monitoring leads to the loss of valuable information related to user behavior and to increased bounce rate.

Event Tracking vs Virtual Pageviews

With Google Analytics it is easy to solve issues like the ones stated above by using the Event Tracking or the Virtual Pageview feature. The Event Tracking is a good way to track browser events, clicks on outbound links and other interactions that do not generate a typical pageview. On the other hand, a Virtual Pageview also generates trackable pageviews but it provides a smaller amount of information.

The Difference between Event Tracking & Virtual Pageviews

The key difference between those two tracking methods is that (at the moment) the Event Tracking cannot be assigned to Goals. Another significant difference is that virtual pageviews can inflate the pageviews of a website. This can be solved by creating a secondary profile using same id and filter out the virtual pageviews.

  Event Tracking Virtual Pageview
Bounce Rate Reduced Bounce Rate Reduced Bounce Rate
Page Views No increase on total pageviews Artificial increase on total pageviews
Detailed Tracking Tracks more details correlated to actions Limited information
Goals Not supported Supported
Limitations Up to 500 GATC requests per session Up to 500 GATC requests per session

How to Implement the Event Tracker Code

To implement the Even Tracker, just call the following function on each event that you wish to track:

_gaq.push([`_trackEvent`, `category`, `action`,  `optional label`, opt_integer_value]);

In the code of the Event Tracking one can assign information from categories and actions to labels and values. This feature helps both developers and online marketers to setup a friendly structure of events and monitor user actions within the website.

google-analytics-event-tracking

Naming properly the categories, the actions and the labels will make the report easier to understand and  it will help you interpret more accurately the data within your Google Analytics Event Report.  To find the Event Tracking Report, login into your Analytics account and open the Event Tracking under the Content Category.  This report includes what actions have been done, on which page or element, how many visits have generated events, how many events have been counted per visit etc.

  • Category: videos, ads, submissions
  • Action: Play, click, submit, complete form,
  • Label: which pdf downloaded, what form submitted etc
  • Value: loading time, or dollar (always integer)

You can use Event Tracking to track:

  • Flash Events
  • Flash Movie player actions
  • Ajax elements
  • Widgets
  • Downloads
  • Loading time of elements
  • Ajax/JavaScript events

How to Implement the Virtual Pageviews Code

Same as Event Tracking simply add the virtual pageview tracker when various events occur but mind to name them efficiently.

_gaq.push([`_trackPageview`, `virtual-pagename`]);

As an argument, you can use a page name that does not match any of the existing page names of your website and that will enable you to easy find the data within your Google Analytic account.

google-analytics-virtual-pageview

To find the Virtual Page views, login into your Analytics account and browse through the Content Report. Then press the ”view full report” button and insert the virtual-pagename argument in the filter.

The effects on Bounce Rate

“Bounce rate is the percentage of single-page visits or visits in which the person left your site from the entrance (landing) page” (Google Analytics)

A single page visit is called a bounce, but when this visit is accompanied by interactions such as form completions or downloads in the same page, automatically turns into a non bounce visit. Therefore the implementation of the Event Tracking or Visual Pageview decreases the bounce rate of that page.

Important! If you still observe high bounce rate in a page that the Event Tracker has been implemented, consider reviewing the content of your page or your keyword strategy. To learn more on how to reduce the bounce rate of your site, read the article The 8 ways to lower your Bounce Rate.

Last but not least, if you like this article make sure you bookmark it. Sharing is caring! :)

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  • Carly

    A well written explanation. To me it was useful to have the differences between event tracking and virtual pageview pointed out. Maybe there will be a time when we can set up goals for all these things, but for now its handy to know how to use them. Thank you for highlighting the things to look out for such as inflated pageviews.

  • Tim Leighton-Boyce

    This is a very useful explanation and should help us all decide which is the bets method for our needs.

    But I think it would be useful to expand a bit on your ‘Goals’ row in the table.

    Perhaps re-label it as ‘goals and funnels’? Virtual pageviews can also be configured as stages in a funnel report and they will also appear as the abandon route on the right side of the report. A classic use of this would be when tracking which fields are causing problems in a form.

  • dimitriszotos

    @Carly
    Thank you for your comment, note that goals are something many website owners afraid to use, but believe me, it is worth trying and the benefits you can get are more than handy..

    @Tim
    Your point is right, of course goals are connected to funnels and you can use virtual page views to define the steps of a funnel.
    It is in our plans to dedicate a post on how to setup goals and funnels in general.

  • Dan Patterson

    Great little guide for implementing event tracking and virtual pageviews. Nice work! I have a few sites that I still need to set this up on.

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  • jared

    Nice article. Would be great to see a post on how to use pageviews to setup goals. For example, if I want to setup an Adwords campaign and setup a click on an affiliate link within the landing page as a goal to help optimize my adwords campaign.

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  • Mridul Gupta

    It’s amazing..!
    I want to know about the use of virtual page view. I think both are almost same in terms of functionality and virtual pageview increase total no. pageview.

  • Joe

    In my testing, it seems that virtual page views for download documents can appear in “in page” view with the bubbles. This is much more usable that going to a separate events page. I wish the events would show up on the “in page” analytics view.

  • Joe

    One thing I forgot to mention – you have to make sure the virtual page view uses the same exact URL as the real page for it to show up on “in page” reports!

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