Measuring Downloads And Other Onclick Events

November 18, 2006

“Honey, I finally coded my blog’s onclick events,” I told my spouse. He looked at me like I had lost my mind, but in fact, I had worked earlier in the week to code the download of a .pdf from his page at CMU. Onclick events are everywhere.

Before we get into the main topic, let’s talk about events in general. Most web analytics, like most web analysts, are event driven. We want to know that someone signed up for our email marketing, we want to know that someone put something into the shopping cart, that someone downloaded a .pdf.

Lots of times, this is no trouble at all. When the page changes, that signals EVENT to the web analytics. There are at least three reasons why it is nice to have a new page show up when the user clicks on something:

1) It creates great feedback for the user (he’s not mumbling, “Did anything happen there or do I need to click again?”)
2) It gives a website the opportunity to talk to the user (“Thank you for your request for information, we’ll be getting back to you within 24 hours,” etc.)
3) It makes the measurement easy.

However, not all clicks can be measured with a page chage. Examples of events that we are probably desperate to measure and that may require special treatment are:

  • Clicks that send you to a different page. How many people clicked over to WebEx to sign up for that webinar, how many people clicked over to FeedBurner to subscribe to your feed? You can’t know what they did once they got to the other site, but you can at least learn that they clicked.
  • Downloads – your .pdfs, your video files, your audio files. You won’t know how many pages they looked at or how much they listened to, but you’ll know that they clicked to download. (You really won’t know if they finished the download either.)
  • Rich media events, like Flash

and more.

Most web analytics solutions still can measure these kinds of events, but require special code. Maybe it’s a special variable, maybe it’s a special on-click call. No matter how you look at it, it usually requires just that much more work on your part.

On the other hand, we need to use onclick events now more than ever. Flash and AJAX are pervasive and lead to many minutes (or hours) of work on pages that never change. I predict that coding onclick events will become much easier – as easy as coding a hyperlink is right now. A little window will come up, you’ll be able to specify the kind of event and what you want to call it, and you’ll be on your way. This is my same old story, though: web analytics will really make it when we really make it easy.

For the record, I went through all the Omniture videos in an effort to learn how SiteCatalyst 13 handles rich media events (part of the press release spoke to their new abilities in that realm) but I couldn’t figure out what the new functionality is. Anyone is welcome to add that.

Robbin Steif