Using Custom Events To Measure Interactivity

When National Geographic Entertainment released the movie "U2 3D," the company looked to the band U2 and many traditional marketing tactics to help promote the movie. The campaign also incorporates a widget that is packed full of video, trivia and photos for fans to grab and virally share. The widget's performance got a recent boost when a set of bloggers leaked the news that the widget contained an "Easter egg" -- that is, secret content that can be "unlocked."

The insertion of an Easter egg into a virally shared widget is just one more way to re-energize the content and extend the life of distributed content on social networks, start pages and blogs. However, measuring these strategies is not as easy as just publishing a Web page to your site with a page tag baked in. Widgets, Ajax applications and other applications that do not fire off a new page view require the use of custom event tagging. This is critical to understanding how visitors are interacting with your on- or off-domain content. In the case of National Geographic, it was an important component for measuring whether or not its promotional efforts through bloggers, forums or other marketing channels were effective. Adding a custom event tag to track when a visitor unlocks the Easter egg provided that quantitative measurement.



Web Analytics tools offer all of the main staple metrics out of the box -- unique visitors, sessions, page views and various other metrics that are standard for measuring your Web site's success. Custom events or the ability to add business specific dimensions of data to your dataset is where out-of-the-box ends, and using Web analytics to measure elements specific to your business begins. Most Web analytics tools provide the capability to identify unique actions or events through custom tagging. Widget analytic platforms provide the same capabilities -- buffered and passed via Flash or JavaScript by the container in which the widget is wrapped. Counting clicks on a page or a piece of content though is only the first step. Categorizing the clicks based on the desired action of the visitor and driving your marketing strategy is the end game. National Geographic did just that by tracking the usage of the Easter Egg and tying it back to whether or not its promotional efforts to alert U2 fans was successful.

The problem is that many of us do not use custom events often enough or in their appropriate specificity. The key is starting with the data collection plan prior to deployment. The steps are as follows:

1. Document your business questions and align your data collection strategy against it. If your content is a game or a video, you may want to ensure that you are capturing actions like "Play," "Start," "Pause" or perhaps "Strike."

2. Communicate the data collection plan to your content development team. They may need to instrument the content to fire off events on click, mouse-over or even load.

3. Align your content development team with your Web analytics strategist. This may be an internal subject matter expert or even your vendor. The key point here is, test and ensure that the implementation meets the spec. Events should be firing appropriately with designated key value pairs.

4. Utilize your analytics tool to ensure that the custom events are exposed and available for analysis when your content launches. Remember, if the data is not collected properly, you can't analyze it (I know, obvious. However, many organizations do not put enough emphasis on this piece of the process).

David Smith's column a few weeks ago brought up several good points regarding how Web analytics is migrating away from the page view and on to other metrics such as time spent and interactions. I completely agree. These metrics do not provide insights in isolation, though. Depending on the content and purpose, different metrics (and their values) will tell you different things.

In the "U2 3D" widget, the successful metric boiled down to one click -- just one click.

(If you want to check out this widget and the Easter Egg for yourself, visit Simply click on the "U2 3D" logo in the upper left corner of the widget and hold down the button for 3 seconds. A box will then open; the password is "u23d.")

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