Analytics10 Google Analytics Custom Events That Track the Untrackable

10 Google Analytics Custom Events That Track the Untrackable

Custom events require equal parts strategy and technical know-how, and will unearth troves of user engagement and conversion data. Here's a guide to 10 Google Analytics custom events, how to use them, and which powerful insights they can reveal.

Google Analytics is getting more and more powerful every day. With advances like Universal Analytics, the new custom segments and attribution modeling coming out seemingly every week, the free web analytics platform continues its quest to quench the collective thirst of insight-parched marketers.

While all of these new features are indeed impressive, many Google Analytics users still haven’t scratched the surface of what the tool offers. Google Analytics custom events often fall into this neglected category because they require a little custom JavaScript to implement and the use cases are a bit more abstract. And yet, events are incredibly powerful because they allow you to measure website behavior previously hidden by the out-of-the-box Google Analytics integration with your website.

Take the first step on the path to event proficiency by examining 10 Google Analytics custom events, understanding how to use them, and identifying which insights they can reveal.

How to Track a Google Analytics Custom Event

The first place to start with any Google Analytics event is to develop an understanding of the composition of the necessary code. Custom events are implemented by adding an HTML event to an element of your web page (e.g., clicks, loads, mouse-overs, etc.) and then using some of Google’s standard Google Analytics JavaScript to send event data to your account.


  • Google Analytics push: The “_gaq.push()” part of the code is what connects to the HTML of your page and signals to Google Analytics that data needs to be sent to your account.
  • Category: Events are best organized into different categories depending on the behavior or functionality they track (e.g., video, ads, links, etc.).
  • Action: Think of actions as the verbs that correspond to how people interact with what you’re tracking (e.g., plays, views, clicks, etc.).
  • Label: An optional value, labels let you associate data with custom events (e.g., names of videos, URLs of clicked links, user-provided values such as ZIP codes, etc.).
  • Value: Another optional field, you can use value to store integers with your events (e.g., price, time codes, etc.).
  • Interaction: Yet a third optional field, the non-interaction value can be set to “true” or “false” and dictates whether your event will contribute to your site’s bounce rate.

Before we get into the details of our custom events, it’s worth pointing out that while these examples do require a little working code knowledge, the technical bits aren’t as bad as they seem. Custom events are pretty easy once you get the hang of them, and it’s very likely you’re working with developers who are more than capable of implementing everything described in this post.

That said, you can use this resource to add custom events to your site or, at the very least, get some great ideas to discuss in detail with your developer. So, without further ado, let’s hop into our 10 event examples so you can see how to use each part of a custom event to give you some solid ideas about what to tackle first on your own site.

1. Tracking Clicks and Click-Based Downloads

Let’s start off with a basic example of tracking when someone clicks on a link that isn’t typically tracked on your website. The most common two examples here would be a link that leads to an external website or if someone clicks on a link that leads to a resource on your website that doesn’t have the Google Analytics code installed (e.g., a PDF download).


How to Use This Custom Event: Use this custom event in conjunction with onclick events so you can track when people click on links that lead away from your site. Examples of these would be referral programs, ad deals, and any other cases in which users leave your site to visit others. Also, this is the best custom event for tracking PDF downloads – bonus points go to you if you pair a PDF download custom event with a goal in your Google Analytics profile to measure resource downloads as a form of conversion.

2. Tracking Lightbox Conversions

Tracking goals on your website typically consists of specifying URLs that correspond to “thank you” pages on your website. Some sites, however, allow users to complete goals through a lightbox or other dynamic pop-up-like code that doesn’t redirect folks to a new URL. Use this next example to track events of this nature.


How to Use This Custom Event: Have this event fire in cases where any dynamic “thank you” message loads when a user completes an action that leads to a lightbox or pop-up, such as with downloads, registrations, log-ins and other such actions. Remember, custom events can also trigger goals in your account, which is when the real magic happens. This event can help bring conversion rate metrics to website functionality that you currently might be tracking.

3. Tracking Affiliate Ad Clicks

Affiliate marketers typically receive special HTML from affiliate networks, which allows their business partners to track link clicks and keep track of sales, leads and payments. This tracking will get you paid, but won’t help you determine which of your affiliate links are making you the most money. Custom events are a perfect solution for tracking affiliate links.


How to Use This Custom Event: Implementation of this custom event should be pretty easy. Take the HTML provided by your affiliate network and add an onclick event to each of the affiliate links on your site. Be sure to use a custom event label to distinguish each affiliate add on your website. You’ll be able to determine which of your affiliate ads are performing the best and which ones need reworking.

4. Tracking Form Errors

Google Analytics custom event tracking can be integrated with form fields on your important registration and check-out processes. As a result, you can understand which errors are most common when users go to submit their information. You’ll know when certain errors impede conversion because they either confuse or disgruntle your users.


How to Use This Custom Event: Employ a series of custom events on your form with each event representing a field on that form. Your category should define which form is flagging errors; your action should define each form field; and your label can be dynamic, pulling in both a description of the validation rule that triggered the error and the value entered that broke the rule, separated by a pipe (i.e., “|”). This one may require developer assistance.

Once set up, you can then dive into a custom report that quantifies and stratifies the most critical errors on your forms. At that point, you can assess the root causes of the errors by inspecting the values users are entering. Finally, you should then either relax your validation logic or include better help text to minimize the number of errors impeding your most important conversion activities.

5. Tracking Engagement With Embedded Maps

Google+ Local reporting tells you when people request driving directions to your business. Having the same functionality on your website can be useful in determining how online drives offline sales. Google lets you embed your map listing onto a webpage, but there’s not a good way to hack that embed code to tell you when people click on the link to request driving directions.

Alternatively, you can create a custom map embed code using Mobilefish’s API utility. This approach will allow you to format the HTML of the map embed to your liking, complete with a custom event ready to track driving direction requests made by users.


How to Use This Custom Event: As mentioned, the first step with this event is to create a map embed using the Mobilefish API. You’ll need to generate an API key for your Google account – don’t worry, it’s easy – and fiddle with the settings so your map embed appears as intended. There’s a section of the utility dedicated to the HTML inside the white callout text typically shown in Google+ Local. It’s in this section that you’ll create an HTML link to the driving directions. Wrap the link in the onclick event with your custom event code and you’re in business. Check out this college campus page for an example of how to use Mobilefish to create map embeds.

6. Tracking Video Engagement and Activity

Embedding videos on your website can be great for engagement, but it could also be that no one is watching them at all. Some video players track video engagement for you (e.g., YouTube and Wistia), but it’s usually independent of your web analytics. This custom event technique can help you connect video engagement with the specific behaviors they’re meant to promote (e.g., conversion) by tracking plays, starts, stops, and other forms of video engagement when users interact with the video player.


How to Use This Custom Event: This custom event will only be available for some video players, and will typically involve integration with the video player itself. Luckily is an awesome video player and includes a complete guide to Google Analytics custom event video integration. In general, you’ll want to use your action to specify the different activities associated with your video player (e.g., play, pause, skip, etc.), and you’ll use your label to specify the title of the video.

7. Organic Rank Tracking with Custom Events

This next one is admittedly less and less useful as “(not provided)” continues to rob keyword data from your reports. This event seems incredibly tricky, but once set up, a single script on every page can turn your Google Analytics account into an organic rank tracker.


How to Use This Custom Event: This custom event demonstrates how versatile events really are. The event is placed on every page on your site – likely through inserting it into your header or footer. As the page loads, the script that triggers this event looks at the destination URL on your site and the referring string (the URL of the Google search) and extracts a few key values: the keyword used in Google is sent to your action; the destination URL is used as the label; and the organic ranking is sent to the value field.

It’s also worth pointing out that this custom event is the first in our list to include the non-interaction value of true. This tells Google Analytics that firing the event should not be factored against your bounce rate. The event fires simply by virtue of the page loading, not through interaction of your users, so you wouldn’t want to use a non-interaction value of false or you’d end up with a 0 percent bounce rate on every page.

This Google Analytics custom event may require reading the full instructions in order to implement properly, so be sure to check out AJ Kohn’s blog post for more details.

8. Tracking Conversion Rate Optimization Variations

Conversion rate optimization through tools like Visual Website Optimizer or Optimizely is becoming a mainstay in many digital marketing departments. Some tests are simple and can rely on the onboard tracking, but some tests are more difficult. The use of custom events to record which variation of content your visitors receive is handy because you may want to do a deeper analysis on who saw what.


How to Use This Custom Event: This is an awesome custom event to use if you’re passing conversion rate optimization testing information downstream (e.g., from a lead system into a sales system). You can see if your gains in lead conversion established on the website persist all of the way through the sales process or if they only work to artificially widen the funnel further upstream.

To set up this event, load the custom event HTML when the content loads for each variation in your test. Use the label field to indicate differences in tests and variations within your test. Also, be sure to use the non-interaction value of true again with this custom event because content loading on your site does not constitute user engagement.

9. Tracking Article Content Consumption

Thank Google Analytics evangelist Justin Cutroni for this next event. When people talk about tracking article engagement, social shares (e.g., Google Analytics social tracking) and amplification seem to be top-of-mind. Article consumption comes before social sharing and yet we rarely track it.

How can someone share something if they didn’t read it? This custom event allows you to measure consumption of the page as a number from 1-100 based on how far users scroll on your web page.


How to Use This Custom Event: Definitely read Cutroni’s post to implement this Everest-sized event. Actually, this tracking will consist of multiple custom events. First, you’ll load the event shown above when the page first loads, using the page’s URL as the label and using “100” as the value. Make sure non-interaction is set to true.

Next, you’ll set up another custom event when the user first scrolls on the page. Tweak the first custom event you created by changing the value to “75” and by removing the non-interaction value. Create a third event that fires when the user reaches the bottom of the article, being sure to change the value to “50.” Finally, create a fourth event that fires when a user reaches the bottom of the page – this event should have a value of “25.”

Once you’ve set up all of these events on your blog, you’ll be able to export the values from all of the events and create an index of your most popular articles. Higher numbers mean less content consumption while lower average numbers indicate your most engaging content.

10. Tracking Interactions with Custom Widgets

The last Google Analytics custom event we’ll discuss is representative of the infinite number of custom-built widgets and utilities used on websites across the web. By default, none of this engagement is trackable, but proper analytics planning as part of the requirements process when developing your widgets can ensure that you’ll never build functionality onto your site without knowing how it’s used.


How to Use This Custom Event: This event is probably the most abstract, so let’s use a real life Google Analytics higher education case study. Rasmussen College implemented a tuition estimator on its site and wanted to know how a user’s intended program of study, geography and number of transferable credits influenced their interest in the price of a program. They piped several user-entered values from the calculator into the label field (i.e., ZIP code, degree level and academic program) and the transferable credits into the value field by firing an event when users hit the calculate button. This level of insight into price sensitivity wouldn’t be possible without the use of custom events.

What’s Your Favorite Custom Event?

Hopefully it’s clear that custom events require equal parts strategy and technical know-how long before any opportunities for analysis present themselves. You’re now ready to go out and create your own custom events to unearth troves of user engagement and conversion data.

Do you use Google Analytics custom events? If not, what’s holding you back? If you’re already a fan of custom events, what other use cases have you found for them?

If you’ve made it this far, you’re in good company with the rest of us web analytics geeks. Do share your deepest custom event questions and victories in the comments and let’s continue exploring custom events unearthing.


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