Should I Use Events, Pageviews, Dimension or Metrics?
In the new version of Google Analytics, termed “Universal Analytics”, Google has greatly expanded the options for customized reporting within the system. These new options allow for the tracking of virtually any type of activity within a website or app, however the possibilities available can often be hard to understand underneath the jargon. Not counting Transactions, which are specialized for tracking sales, Google Analytics has four different ways for organizing and measuring data that require manual input from the user: Pageviews, Events, Dimensions, and Metrics.
Pageviews are the simplest and least used of these four. A user will call the same pageview command used in the general tracking code, but instead of pulling the URL from the browser the user inputs their own value. The reason why this isn’t used much for customized data is that Analytics will categorize the data as a page within your website, so it will be mixed in with the data that Analytics naturally collects about navigation of the website. Thus, it’s best used if there’s sections of your site that aren’t being tracked manually for some reason, or if the natural URLs in the browser are less informative than you’d like for your reports.
Events are similar to pageviews, except that instead of tracking the location of users on your site or app, they are formatted to report on inpage activity between any two pageviews that happen. The most common uses of events are tracking form submits, PDF downloads, interactions with video/audio players and clicks on links to other websites. Each event can accept up to 3 strings and 1 integer as their parameters, which are usually used to use do things like track all clicks to social media profiles and specifically clicks to Twitter with the same function call.
The last two types of custom input, Dimensions and Metrics, are new to Universal Analytics and replace Custom Variables from the current version of analytics. The big difference caused is that Custom Variables had very little versatility in terms of deployment within a report, whereas Custom Dimensions and Metrics can be used almost interchangeably with the already available Dimensions and Metrics in analytics. These are usually used to track more passive aspects of user and site interaction, usually tying into internal databases. Examples of possible use cases include unique user IDs, authors of page content, affiliate ads being displayed on a page or navigational sections of the website. Dimensions and Metrics functionally work very similar – the difference is that Dimensions tend to be qualitative data used for segmenting and categorizing data, whereas Metrics tend to be more quantitative and used for measuring data.
As a lover of language, I like to summarize the different functionalities of these custom inputs as similar to the different parts of speech. Pageviews are like nouns, giving Analytics a map of the different places and visitors on your website. Events are like verbs, tracking the different active ways a user can engage with a website. And finally, Dimensions and Metrics are your adjectives and adverbs, giving the user added descriptive elements to more easily understand the data collected in Pageviews and Events. I hope this metaphor, combined with the slightly more technical information in the preceding paragraphs, has helped clear up your understanding about the ways Google collects data and how you can best customize this data to suit your needs.