Debbie King - Oct 21, 2013

Enhance your Association’s Google Analytics with Custom Variables

In July we wrote about Google Analytics and how associations can leverage the data collected to learn more about their customers.  Since Google Analytics is free to obtain and easy to install – everyone is using it.  In this post we dive a little deeper into some of the technical background on how Google collects the data and how it can be customized.

All of our clients are using Google Analytics, and most of them have the subdomains feature enabled which allows you collect data from across your domain.  Most clients have a main site for their content and at least one other site that feeds into it, such as their AMS (Association Management Software) which usually provides dynamic data.  In these configurations using the subdomain feature is beneficial in order to gather all the analytics data about web visitors.  The screenshot below from the Google Analytics setup shows how an Admin can enable subdomain tracking.  An example of subdomains using association.org as the primary domain are: www.association.org and apps.association.org.  The JavaScript that is generated for inclusion in your sites will contain the setDomainName property: _gaq.push(['_setDomainName', 'associationanalytics.com']);.

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Google Analytics provides many data points for analysis, including which web browser the visitor used and the names of the pages visited. This data can be very useful, however combining this data with the demographic information stored in your AMS gives you a more powerful view of how individuals interact with your site.  Fortunately a method is provided to add custom variables into your tracking.  Doing so requires that you push data out (such as member type) so that the Google Analytics’ client-side JavaScript can access the variables.  Your site already has custom variables enabled if you see something like: _setCustomVar(index, name, value, opt_scope) in the Google Analytics tracking code on your site.  The best way to identify if your site has custom variables already is to open your web site in a browser and use the right click View HTML option.  Then scan through or use the find feature to look for the tracking script.  You can create up to 5 custom variables.  The parameters are:

  • Index = the number identifier for the custom variable ranging in value from 1-5
  • Name = the name you would like to specify for the variable, such as Member Type
  • Value = the data element you set for tracking purposes
  • Opt_scope = this parameter is optional and permits you to specify the behavior of the variable to visitor, session or page level

In the Google Analytics platform on the web, sophisticated custom reporting is available.  However, the basic metrics pale in comparison to what you can do by adding your association's custom variables.  Let’s say, for example, your association added organization type into a custom variable, and in reviewing your data (see chart below) from September, you discovered the organization type of University had 3 spikes in time spent on the site and 1 of them was so substantial it led you to ask more questions about why.  In the end you were able to conclude that the increase was the result of publishing a white paper on the rising costs of education and in digging deeper you found that 90% of your members came to the site to read the paper.  Naturally that is a hot topic – so what if you could get 90% member attendance on a paid webinar to dig deeper into its importance?

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Now that you’ve seen how valuable it is to add custom variables into your Google Analytics tracking code for your association, I will step out of the way so you don’t run me over rushing to implement them on your site.

Written by Debbie King