Google Analytics is, by far the most popular tool to track your web page visits, used by tens of millions of sites around the world. Integration with Google statistics is the most basic and essential function of every CMS, which means it is also available in Drupal – you can enable it with the google_analytics module.
The module has numerous interesting features, which can be easily missed among the many configuration options. In this article, I will showcase some of the most useful options, based on experiences with large Drupal corporate websites.
The google_analytics module has a long and rich history, as the very first development version was released in February 2006 for Drupal 4. The first stable release saw the light of day a year later, in March 2007. The current version – 3.x – was released in early 2019. Unfortunately, dynamic changes in the module have recently slowed down considerably, perhaps as a result of changes in the development team.
The google_analytics module is one of the most popular Drupal add-ons, and the official data report that it is used on 323,000 pages in total. The latest 3.x version is used by more than 27,000 Drupal 8 and 9-based websites. Module authors Currently, developers from two companies are responsible for maintaining the module: IXIS (Mark Byrne, Mike Carter) and Acquia (Jakob Perry). By far the largest number of commits was made by one user – hass, who has been inactive on drupal.org for quite some time now.
Together with the people mentioned above, 66 people in total have been involved in the development of the module since 2006. You can see their contributions at committers website.
What does it do?
The google_analytics module, as the name suggests, is used for integrating Google Analytics statistics with Drupal-based websites. Although this integration is very simple and basically boils down to placing a small script provided by Google somewhere in your HTML code, using a dedicated module for this is very much worth it, as it will enable you to tailor your visit tracking to your needs and eliminate unwanted things from your statistics.
You can download the module from https://www.drupal.org/project/google_analytics. After setting it up, all you need to do is to provide the code provided by Google (it starts with UA-). If you forget to enter the code in the settings panel, you will receive a warning when you log in as an administrator.
You can find the module settings in the Configuration → System → Google Analytics menu.
Using the module
The vast majority of users use the module in its default configuration – they only provide the tracking code, and thus all the following features remain active:
- exclusion of statistics on administrative pages;
- enabling the tracking of external and mail-to links;
- recording downloads as events;
- tracking the usage of pop-up windows provided by the Colorbox module;
- anonymisation of IP addresses sent to Google.
All of the above features will be described in more detail later in this article.
Drupal has extensive support for multiple domains within a single project, and in such case, it is crucial to include an additional column concerning the current domain or subdomain in the statistics. The google_analytics module fully supports multi-domain configurations, which can be further customised with a single checkbox.
Excluding pages and users
Another very important feature offered by the google_analytics module concerns disabling tracking if certain conditions are met. Just like in the case of block configuration, you can select the pages where your tracking code will be enabled or disabled, which will allow you to eliminate unwanted locations that disrupt your results.
You can do the same thing for certain user roles. By excluding administrators, you will make sure that your activity on the website will not be tracked.
Additionally, users can decide for themselves whether they want to be tracked. If you care about their privacy, select the following option:
Users with the role of "Opt-in or out of tracking" will be given the option to disable tracking in their profile options.
Given the privacy point of view, the "Anonymize visitors IP address" option, which is also crucial, is hidden in the last tab. It cuts off the last part of the user's IP address sent to Google Analytics, making the tracking less accurate but more anonymous.
Tracking links and downloads
Some of the other options in this tab enable you to:
- Track events in Colorbox;
- React to changes in the URL;
- Use "In-Page Analytics" service – the visual map presenting the popularity of your links – in a more precise manner. I would recommend this feature in particular when the person responsible for marketing can quickly introduce in-depth changes to the website (refer to our article about quick campaigns using landing pages).
Another small yet very significant addition is tracking messages displayed at the top of the page. By using this, you can use a message about successfully placing an order as a separate event, which in turn can be used as one of the Google Analytics tracking objectives.
Search and advertising tracking
The "Search and advertising" tab has some more niche functions:
- "Track Internal Search" tracks searches on the website;
- "Track AdSense ads" sets up integration with ads running on the website via AdSense and enables advanced effectiveness reports;
Customised dimensions and metrics
Google Analytics reports offer extensive possibilities of expanding columns and rows in your tables with custom elements, using dimensions and metrics.
The google_analytics module allows you to add up to 20 custom metrics and dimensions, including tokens defined in Drupal. Here are two examples that will make it clearer.
The dimensions describe the page in question. They can be a category or a tag. For example, by adding a non-standard dimension in the form of an article category, you can determine the popularity of a given topic.
The metrics measure objects. Google Analytics is able to sum up data and carry out operations on them. When you add a metric with a value of 1 when an article is promoted, you can sum up and compare the number of promoted and standard impressions in the report.
Among the other available options offered by the module, there are:
- Local caching of Google Analytics code;
- Aggregating multiple language versions of pages in the statistics;
- Defining additional parameters to be provided to Analytics;
- Launching your own scripts before and after executing the GA code;
- Developer mode.
Hooks and integrations
The module does not offer any hooks. As far as integration is concerned, it works mainly with Colorbox.
The google_analytics module is an extremely powerful tool, which will undoubtedly be appreciated by users who appreciate accurate and effective web analytics. Despite the rather small set of integrations with other modules, it offers in-depth customisation, which allows you to adapt the configuration to your needs.
Projects that are developed at our Drupal agency usually take advantage of Google Analytics. We have already mentioned in our other articles that advanced integration with GA is one of the important advantages of Drupal as a CMS for building large websites.