Create URL tracking campaigns

  • September 9th, 2006

The website stat whore within each of us shares a similar yearning for tracking specific links to gauge popularity. The reason? We like knowing what tickles a readers interest, what keywords entice readers to click-through, or what ad campaigns work where and when.

Over the past few months I have managed to keep myself entertained and informed concerning link popularity – on my own site – using one of or a combination of the following services and utilities. Two of these utilities are offered free of charge and in many ways, allow users to gain a better grasp of user activity on any given web page.

Although comments can be used as a means to gauge user interest in content, link poplarity and tracking statistics offer a valuable means to gauge a sites design & useability.

Crazyegg heat map & overlays

Having had the opportunity to test the early beta release of Crazyegg through its recent public launch, I can recommend, with confidence, the service for its informative, yet simple to use interface and tracking prowess. Crazyegg presents users with visual representation of site activity through convenient heatmaps, click overlays, or statistics based lists.

Early beta users were limited to tracking single pages and often discovered numerous incompatibilities with certain scripts. The recent release has since matured into a multi-page monitoring service which is offered as a free or subscription model service. Free account users are able to track up to 4 pages or a total of 5,000 clicks/mo. Plans increase up to PRO level users with a monthly limit of 250,000 clicks/mo. & an unlimited number of trackable pages.

PROS: Receive exhaustive visual-aids – heatmaps, overlays, and lists. Heatmaps are especially helpful for site admins who question the usability of any given page. Track where users are clicking – on or around navigation bars. Archive heatmaps for comparison with later data.

CONS: Free account holders will blow through their alloted limit in a week or two. Realistically, medium traffic sites should upgrade to the $49/mo. plan for decent tracking results. Not self-hosted.

Shorty self-hosted redirects

In two short weeks, Shorty, a self-hosted alternative to services such as TinyURL or URL123, has proven itself to be an invaluable utility for content deployment and tracking. Check out my previous review of the utility: Shorty – Your own TinyURL generator.

Not surprisingly, I found myself implementing the redirecting utility to create custom links which are not only cleaner to look at, but offer the convenience of visitor click tracking. Despite the fact that this early beta release can easily become overwhelming [with the number of Shorty created links], the admin panel offers livesearch functionality for drilling through previously created links.

PROS: Clean and simple. If all you’re looking for is the number of clicks a link receives, Shorty offers those statistics on top of being a great solution for cleaning bloated URLs. Self-hosted.

CONS: Shorty’s usefulness as a self-hosted URL redirecting service supersedes any and all usefulness as a link campaign tracking service.

Enhancing Mint with Link Spice

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of an “analytical” package – with style – is Shaun Inman’s Mint. Mint’s standard functionality can be improved tenfold thanks to a great assortment of Peppers (“plugins”). The choices are exhaustive, just visit Peppermint Tea for a collection of third party Mint Peppers.

One such gem which will improve upon the functionality of Mint is the Link Spice Pepper by Craig Mod. Although a bit more tedious to implement, Link Spice is a more suitable alternative to the previous aforementioned solutions due to the fact that campaigns are displayed alongside your favorite Peppers – rather than visiting external pages. Of course, this all assumes that you are running Mint as your analytical package.

Campaigns are created by appending a unique string to the end of links within your HTML documents. Link Spice then collects links and creates tracking campaigns which are displayed within your local Mint install.

PROS: Current Mint users will no longer feel the urge to implement additional third-party solutions for tracking link campaigns. Create campaigns further organized using “tags”. Self-hosted.

CONS: In order for Link Spice to work, links must be appended with additional characters which creates “messy” URLs – “utm_campaign” and “utm_term”. In addition, Link Spice requires Mint. Don’t have Mint installed? Don’t bother…

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