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3 Ways to Track Web Pages with Google Analytics

[ Google Analytics ] Many bloggers, designers, and developers take advantage of Google’s free Analytics service to track and monitor their site’s statistics. Along with a Google account, all that’s needed to use Google Analytics is the addition of a small slice of JavaScript into your web pages. For a long time, there was only one way of doing this, and then in 2007 Google improved their GATC code and established a new way for including it in your web pages. Many people switched over to the newer optimized method, but may not realize that there are now three different ways to track your pages with Google Analytics. The latest method uses asynchronous tracking to minimize negative impact on user experience.

Use WordPress? Add the Google Analytics tracking code to your web pages quickly and easily with my free Google Analytics plugin »

Now let’s take a look at each of these three methods for tracking your web pages with Google Analytics..

Method 1: Old School – Tracking sites with urchin.js

Web-design veterans are well familiar with the original, old-school method of GATC inclusion via the urchin.js code:

<script type="text/javascript">
_uacct = "UA-XXXXX-X";
urchinTracker();
</script>

Ahh yes, those were the days.. This method worked great for years, and continues to work just fine to this very day. Although I personally would recommend using one of the newer methods of including the GATC, you may still use this old-school method by simply copying and pasting the code into the bottom of your web pages, preferably before the closing <body> element. And then don’t forget to edit the “UA-XXXXX-X” string to match your actual GA ID.

So that’s pretty boring — let’s check out something a little newer..

Method 2: New School – Tracking sites with ga.js

In late 2007 – after years of using the original urchin.js script – Google updated and improved the GATC and renamed the tracking file to “ga.js”. As of now, this new tracking code is the platform on which all new Google Analytics features are deployed.

Here are some of the benefits of using the new ga.js tracking script:

  • Smaller file size
  • Improved performance
  • Object-oriented programming conventions
  • Namespacing and improved readability
  • Easy JavaScript integration

As with the old urchin.js-based method, using this new method requires inclusion of a small snippet of tracking code on your web pages. Depending on how you deliver your pages — over HTTP, SSL, or a combination of both — the code used to include the new Google Analytics tracking code will vary:

All web pages delivered via standard HTTP protocol

<script src="http://www.google-analytics.com/ga.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-XXXXX-X");
pageTracker._trackPageview();
</script>

All web pages delivered via secure HTTP (SSL)

<script src="https://ssl.google-analytics.com/ga.js" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script type="text/javascript">
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-XXXXX-X");
pageTracker._trackPageview();
</script>

Web pages delivered via combination of standard and secure protocols

<script type="text/javascript">
var gaJsHost = (("https:" == document.location.protocol) ? "https://ssl." : "http://www.");
document.write(unescape("%3Cscript src='" + gaJsHost + "google-analytics.com/ga.js' type='text/javascript'%3E%3C/script%3E"));
</script>
<script type="text/javascript">
try{
var pageTracker = _gat._getTracker("UA-xxxxxx-x");
pageTracker._trackPageview();
} catch(err) {}
</script>

As you can see, each of these methods consists of two parts: the first references the ga.js tracking code and the second executes it. A couple of notes on proper/recommended usage of either of these methods:

  • Do not combine different tracking scripts on the same page
  • Inlcude the tracking code after before the closing <body> element at the bottom of your web pages
  • Do not combine the ga.js method with the old urchin.js method
  • Don’t forget to edit the “UA-XXXXX-X” string to match your actual GA ID

I think this is the GA-inclusion method that most bloggers and designers are using in their pages. But even so, there is yet another way of including the tracking code that improves the user-experience for your visitors..

Method 3: Asynchronous Tracking with ga.js

This newer method of GA tracking uses a slice of asynchronous JavaScript to optimize the way in which browsers load the ga.js tracking script. The asynchronous tracking method improves the user experience and allows inclusion of the tracking script closer to the beginning of the web page without delaying subsequent content from rendering. As you might suspect, the asynchronous tracking method requires a slightly more complex inclusion method:

<script type="text/javascript">
var _gaq = _gaq || [];
_gaq.push(['_setAccount', 'UA-XXXXX-X']);
_gaq.push(['_trackPageview']);
(function() {
   var ga = document.createElement('script'); ga.type = 'text/javascript'; ga.async = true;
   ga.src = ('https:' == document.location.protocol ? 'https://ssl' : 'http://www') + '.google-analytics.com/ga.js';
   (document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0] || document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(ga);
})();
</script>

This code represents the minimum configuration required to track a page asynchronously using Google Analytics. To take advantage of this method, you can use this tracking script on your pages by following the simple steps below. To go beyond the basics, check the official tracking reference and usage guide for information on the GA API and proper asynchronous syntax.

How to setup asynchronous analytics tracking on your site

  1. Important: Remove any existing ga.js tracking code, if present 1
  2. Insert the asynchronous snippet before the closing </head> element after the opening <body> tag 2
  3. Edit the “UA-XXXXX-X” string to match your specific web-property ID
  4. Add any customizations using the GA API and asynchronous syntax

That’s all there is to getting asynchronous GA tracking setup on your site. Of course, there are a few important notes that you should keep in mind:

  • If you experience content-loading issues, move the tracking code to the bottom of the page
  • 1 Asynchronous tracking not available with urchin.js-based tracking
  • 2 The optimal place for the tracking snippet is after the last <script> element in the <head> section Edit: “While it is customary to place JavaScript code in the <head> section, placing the asynchronous snippet there may trigger a parsing bug in Internet Explorer 6 and 7 on some pages. The easiest solution to this problem is to place it at the top of the <body> section.” – Google Analytics Asynchronous Tracking
  • Do not use more than one tracking snippet on any given page — you’ll break stuff

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Fullstack Developer. Book Author. Teacher. Human Being.
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20 responses
  1. Hello Jeff,
    I use the gaJs code. Since I use SSI, the Analytics code is in the footer html file – and all the webpages have an include to it. Everything works great with Analytics. However, the gaJs code has two JS calls (Firebug Page Speed is always nagging me about this.)

    Anyway, this newer code looks like it might be one JS call? (My expertise is NOT in JS), but I do work on making sure my pages load as quickly as possible. But since my current code is in the footer and loading last anyway, could I put this new code in the footer? Is there much of a benefit to me using the new code? Appreciate your thoughts.

    Very nice site. Thanks!

  2. Jeff Starr

    @Patricia: Yes, it should be just a single call, if I understand the question correctly. If you use it, you want to make sure to remove your current tracking snippet because you don’t want to use more than one tracking snippet on any given page. Also, if you use the new code, you need to include it after the opening <body> tag instead of in the footer. As for benefits, I think they’re mostly aimed at your visitors, who should enjoy a (slightly) better experience at your site with the new code in place.

  3. Awesome Article!
    nice case study,very resourceful,informative and helpful for me,I Really appreciate the information you are offering here.
    Thanks for sharing

  4. Akhtar Asghar April 30, 2010 @ 1:27 pm

    For those not wanting to serve cookies on assets(jpg,ico,png,swf etc) in a subdomain you can add this code, replace the xxxx with your analytics code and replace www.mysite.com with your site name.

    var _gaq=_gaq||[];_gaq.push(['_setAccount','UA-xxxxxx-xx'],['_setDomainName','www.mysite.com'],['_trackPageview']);(function(){var ga=document.createElement('script');ga.type='text/javascript';ga.async=true;ga.src=('https:'==document.location.protocol?'https://ssl':'http://www')+'.google-analytics.com/ga.js';(document.getElementsByTagName('head')[0]||document.getElementsByTagName('body')[0]).appendChild(ga);})();

    Now if someone can come up with something to kick quantcast on subs that would be grand.

  5. Kamrul Hasan May 1, 2010 @ 1:47 pm

    I am not a very big fan of Google Analytics. Only because I often lost my ways in badly designed navigation of Google Analytics. A simple alternative is statcounter.com. I get every thing I need here.

  6. Bambang Sugiarto June 27, 2010 @ 9:40 am

    Hi Jeff,

    Nice post… By the way, I just modified the Google Analytics plugin for WordPress and added the new asynchronous tracking method… Please review my post about Asynchronous Google Analytics plugin for WordPress at http://www.minilibra.com/wordpress/plugins/analytics.html

    Cheers
    Bambang Sugiarto

  7. thanks to Matt Cutts {or some other source blog or other don’t know} i knew asynchronous js technique but then i think i am still using the older #2 ga.js
    Google Analytics have been my favorite tools saw it’s growth from urchin.js to asynchronous it’s a great tool and yours is a nice write up how can you write things so clearly!!!!!

  8. Mathias Bynens June 29, 2010 @ 10:42 am

    Let’s add a fourth way to the list: using an optimized version of the asynchronous Analytics snippet. I describe some possible optimizations in this article: Optimizing the asynchronous Google Analytics snippet.

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