Tracking File Downloads With Google Analytics and WordPress

Out-of-the-box, Google Analytics is great at tracking your website’s traffic, but doesn’t automatically track file downloads, such as PDFs, MP3s, Word documents or videos, due to its reliance on JavaScript.

With the above in mind, in this article, we’ll show you how to use events in Google Analytics to track file downloads.

Getting Started

For the purposes of this article, I’ll assume you already have an existing Google Analytics account ready to go. If you’re relatively new to Analytics, it’s worth getting familiar with the division of account hierarchy that Analytics uses to make sure your setup is making life as simple as possible.

Google’s example account structures and overview of options at the Analytics Academy are both worth reviewing. Pole Position Marketing’s overview of account structure is another excellent resource that outlines options in a highly practical manner.

Another item you’ll want to double check is whether you’re using the latest Universal Analytics version of the tracking code. I’ll assume that’s the case. If you need to upgrade from a previous version of the script, Google have a wealth of resources available to walk you through the various options that apply.

Using Events in Google Analytics

Event tracking in Analytics is Google’s way of giving you a flexible way of measuring user interactions on your site, without being entirely tied to page loads. Events can be found in your account by going to the Reporting tab and then selecting Behavior > Events.

Events in Google Analytics
Our currently inactive Events section in Google Analytics

Events are designed with configurability in mind and each event has four primary components that you are free to tweak to match your needs:

  1. Category: The general term by which you want to refer to these types of events. A category gives you a simple way of grouping together similar events such as e-book or video related items.
  2. Action: This is simply the desired result you’re after. This could be an actual download, a click on a play button, or any other type of discrete action that you want to hone in on.
  3. Label (optional): Labels give you a handy additional bit of space to include any other information you might think is relevant.
  4. Value (optional): If, for example, you happen to know that the conversion rate on your lead magnet e-book download is 10% for a follow-on product with a value of $150, every download could usefully be ascribed a value of $15.

You can find more detail on options for each of the components above in Google’s excellent overview of Events in Analytics. Now let’s move on to actually using one of these events to capture data.

Creating a New Event

Start by logging into your account, selecting your ‘property’ and clicking the Admin link at the top of the screen:

Demo account settings
Select goals from the three-column view.

From here, you should be able to see a three column view as pictured above. Click the Goals link in the View column and then New Goal to start setting things up:

Creating an Event goal
Creating an Event goal.

This kicks us into the screen above where we can enter a name, assign a goal ID, and select “Event” as our goal type.

Create goal details
Creating goal details.

Finally, we get to the stage where we can enter the goal components mentioned earlier. Once you’re happy with your setup, click Save to register the changes and this part of our setup is complete.

Adding Basic Event Tracking on the Page

With an event set up in Analytics, we now need to be able to trigger it from WordPress. The simplest way of adding event tracking on the actual page is using an onclick event to send information through to Analytics when an element is interacted with.

For example, if we have a free e-book we want to track the performance of, the following code simply needs to be added to the relevant link as shown below:

You can find a full breakdown of further options at the Event Tracking page over at Google Developers.

Adding this link code to individual elements could get tedious pretty quickly, so there are a number of alternative methods you can look to employ if you’re trying to track downloads across a busy site.

One option is to slightly streamline the code by using a bit of jQuery behind the scenes to append the correct links programmatically on the basis of class names, as outlined over at the Gravitate Design blog.

A second option is to use the power of the Google Tag Manager to take care of some of the heavy lifting without having to perform any custom coding yourself.

Rather than get too far into the specifics of how to go about setting this up, we’ll point you in the direction of Amaze Metric’s excellent overview of how to go about setting up file download tracking in Google Analytics. Google Tag Manager may be slight overkill for some sites, but it can be a real timesaver for non-technical members of your team.

Tracking File Downloads With a Plugin

If all of the above sounds a little too much like hard work for your liking, you’ll be happy to hear there are also a number of plugin solutions available for taking care of tracking and managing file downloads in WordPress. Here are three of the more common options to check out:

  • 1. Google Analytics Dashboard for WP

    google-analytics-dashboard

    The Google Analytics Dashboard for WP plugin brings your key site data directly into WordPress and also enables you to view information about downloads stored as events. With over 600,000 active installs and a solid near five-star rating, this plugin is a handy way of bringing some of the power of Analytics directly to your dashboard.

    Interested in 1. Google Analytics Dashboard for WP?

  • 2. Download Monitor

    download-monitor

    Download Monitor takes a slightly different approach to the matter of file downloads and puts them on a par with items such as posts and pages in your back end.

    The plugin enables you to categorize, tag, and add custom meta information to your downloads, as well as tracking downloads and offer advanced features such as member-only downloads. A set of powerful extensions are also available if you need to take even more control of downloads on your site.

    Interested in 2. Download Monitor?

  • 3. WordPress Download Manager

    wordpress-download-manager

    In addition to download counters and reporting, the WordPress Download Manager also enables you to integrate smoothly with Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box.com. A full suite of more advanced e-commerce options relating to downloads is also available with the premium version of the plugin.

    Interested in 3. WordPress Download Manager?

Do you track your file downloads? How do you do it? If you have your own tips or tricks, or any questions about how to set up event tracking, let us know in the comments below.