Google Analytics and problems with AJAX, Flash sites

I spent part of my weekend trying to understand Google Analytics (GA) – mostly why GA shows such low engagement metrics for SlideShare. Every other measure tells us engagement is much higher. Finally I figured out the reason: we use a lot of AJAX and flash, and our media files are served from Amazon S3. So you can view a slideshow for half hour on Slideshare, you can comment, favorite and do many other activities. And none of them would get recorded on Google Analytics which is only recording page to page movement, and only for actions that happen on SlideShare.net (all the slide activity on Amazon S3 is not being captured!).

We started using GA recently and just did an out of box install. To give it credit, GA is very convenient, and rapidly becoming a standard for site statistics. But its out of the box install does not account for the way many modern websites work.

– Distributed Infrastructure: File serving from Amazon S3 is common
– Flash based for media files
– Lots of AJAX for on the page interaction

After spending time on the problem (including reading this book), we have figured out workarounds for most of the the issues. And while GA is flexible enough to accommodate us, it does not make it easy. Out of the box, it seems set up for old school HTML pages where you move from page to page, rather than mini-actions within page. Also, many of the options seem to be for ecommerce sites (tracking steps through an ecommerce funnel etc.) rather than for social (Web 2.0 to use a cliched term!) sites.

My advise – if you are going to use Google Analytics, spend some time upfront to understand how to customize both the analytics code and your own site. Don’t begin collecting data before you do that, or you will get a very biased picture of your site. Also, to do it right, you will end up integrating with GA much more deeply than simply placing some javascript in your pages.

4 thoughts on “Google Analytics and problems with AJAX, Flash sites

  1. Rashmi,

    Thanks for sharing your experience with GA. Is slideshare part of this beta program? http://venturebeat.com/2007/10/16/google-analytics-updates-tracking-for-ajax-javascript-flash-and-more/

    A few days ago, I found a helpful tutorial from Amazon on how to make S3 as an extension to your site. One can replace “s3…./slideshare” with something like “media.slideshare.net” for the image/flash file URLs. I think it enforces branding and might make it easier to work with GA and other analytics tools. Here is the link to the article – http://developer.amazonwebservices.com/connect/entry.jspa?externalID=1073

  2. Gaurav,

    thanks for the link to the Amazon article. That might prove useful for us.

    And no, we are not part of any beta program for Google Analytics. Their facilities for working with AJAX/Flash seem to be openly available now. Its all there, its just well hidden!

    rashmi

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