How to check whether you are tracking visitors (and conversions) across your websites in Google Analytics (aka cross-domain tracking)
Posted Monday, October 29th, 2012 at 8:51 am by Rob (28 posts)
When a site visitor goes from your main website to your donation page, is Google Analytics (GA) tracking their visit across each of your domains as one visit, or a series of separate visitors? If you don’t have cross-domain tracking enabled, your campaign goals aren’t accurately being attributed to the correct source, preventing you from seeing which channels are performing best / worst.
Imagine a visitor arrives to your main website, http://www.my-site.com, from a paid search ad. After visiting a few pages on your main site, they decide to make a donation, clicking a link leading to your donation site http://mysite.donations.com, and complete the donation. If you haven’t set up cross-domain tracking, you’ll be able to see which ad copy and keywords produce the most clicks, but you can’t tell which ads are performing best at bringing visitors that will reach the end of the funnel (completed donations or sales, for example).
Your ad dollars should be allocated based on conversion rate, rather than click-through rate, so if you don’t have cross-domain tracking, you could be missing an opportunity for massive optimizations of your advertising ROI.
How do you check if you have cross-domain tracking enabled?
About one year ago Google added cross-domain tracking to occur across subdomains (i.e. www.my-site.com and second.my-site.com) without requiring any additional effort by users. Tracking across different domains (www.my-site.com and www.my-other-site.com), however, requires additional action on your part.
UTM Parameters added to URL
If you’re clicking between different domains you’ll see a string of paramaters added to URLs when you switch between domains if cross-domain tracking is set up correctly. When you click from one domain (www.my-site.com) to another (www.my-other-site.com), links to the second site will look something like this:
If you’re curious, you can see what each of the GA utm tags signify.
Testing for cross-domain tracking using Google Analytics Debugger
Even if you’re seeing the long links, it’s possible that the second site isn’t capturing the cross-domain visit correctly. To definitively confirm the cross-domain tracking is working, you can use Google’s Analytics Debugger. After downloading and enabling the debugger you can see several details about your visit, including your visitor ID.
As you traverse your domains, your visitor ID shouldn’t change. If it changes, cross-domain tracking isn’t working correctly.
Tracking visit count with a test campaign
Another way of checking your analytics is by using Google Analytics URL Builder to view your site using a test campaign code, such as the following:
In that URL, our visit will be tracked under a campaign called “cross-domain-test”. When you look at your Google Analytics campaign traffic, you’ll be able to view details specific to your test visit. After you’ve clicked on the test campaign-encoded URL, click through to your second domain. The visit will generally appear in Google Analytics within a few hours (or up to 24 hours later in some cases), and wil show if your journey across domains registered as a single visit:
How do you set up cross-domain tracking?
Google has instructions for setting up cross-domain tracking, but that will require special HTML coding for each cross-domain hyperlink. You’ll need to add a few extra lines to your GA script as well. Alternately, there are scripts that automatically track across domains (plus several other features). For nonprofit organizations, there are additional tracking features that can be added, such as automated tracking of Convio donations as eCommerce transactions.
While it may take a little more work upfront to set up cross-domain tracking, the ROI can be very substantial.