Last updated Jan 20 2021
Events and event tracking in Google Analytics
By default, Google Analytics (GA) measures the traffic on your site, and tracks metrics like pageviews, exits, and bounces. But if you want to track more specific interactions—like form submissions, video views, and external link clicks—you need 'event tracking'.
Tracking events in GA lets you know when users interact with elements and forms on your web pages and can help you understand how their interactions impact your conversion rate.
But there’s a catch: like other GA metrics, event tracking only tells you what is happening on your site—to get the most out of event tracking, you still need to get to the why behind user interactions.
What are events in Google Analytics?
Events in Google Analytics are user interactions on your website that cannot be tracked as pageviews within a session. Any activity that users take on a page of your website is considered an ‘event’ or ‘event hit’. For example:
- Button clicks
- Clicks on outbound links
- Form submissions
- Video plays and watch time
- File downloads
But suppose a user lands on your website and watches a video, clicks a button, and fills out a contact form (three separate events on the same page). In that case, standard GA reports will still only count pageviews—none of the other interactions—within the session.
What is event tracking in Google Analytics?
Event tracking in Google Analytics tracks users’ interactions (known as ‘events’ or ‘event hits’) with your website elements. Event tracking collects data like:
- Total events and average events per session
- Total events based on event categories and individual events
- Session data (like session duration and pages per session) for events and event categories
- Ecommerce data (like average order value and ecommerce conversion rate) for events and event categories
When you track events as part of your overall analytics strategy, you can better understand how users are interacting with your website—which, combined with understanding how they experience your site and why they complete certain actions, can help you drive more conversions and revenue.
How event tracking works: 4 components of events
Events in Google Analytics include four main components and are part of the event tracking code. GA uses the event tracking code to track user interactions and sort them into reports.
Here’s what each component means for your events:
1. Event category (required)
'Event category' is the name you give to a group of events, like ‘Videos’ or ‘CTA buttons’.
2. Event action (required)
'Event action' is the type of interaction you want to measure, like ‘Play button clicks’ or ‘Form button clicks’.
3. Event label (optional)
'Event label' is a way to provide additional information about specific website elements to identify a unique event, like a product name, video title, or URL.
For example, if you have three videos on the same page, they’ll all have ‘Videos’ as the event category and ‘Play’ as the event action. The event label can be their respective titles, so you can separate views of these videos in your reporting.
4. Event value (optional)
'Event value' is a way to assign a numerical value to an event, like download time or a monetary value.
Note: event category, action, and label names will appear in all reports, so keep consistent naming conventions (for example, use either ‘Videos’ or ‘Video’, not both).
How to set up Google Analytics event tracking in 4 steps
Before you can collect and analyze event data, you need to enable event tracking on your website.
1. Select the variables you want to track in GTM
Head to your Google Tag Manager (GTM) dashboard. Go to Variables > Configure:
On the right, you’ll see a list of variables you can track on your site. Check all variables under Clicks, Forms, and Videos:
When you’ve checked all relevant variables, you can exit by clicking ‘X’, then go back to Overview in the menu on the left-hand side.
2. Create a new tag in your GTM
Click on ‘Add a new tag’ and select Google Analytics: Universal Analytics as your tag type.
Then, change the track type to Event:
3. Customize your event tracking parameters
This is where the event category, action, label, and value components come in.
You can complete these fields manually or use built-in variables by clicking the ‘+’ button:
The ‘Non-interaction hit’ field lets you choose whether to count a session with this interaction as a bounce or not.
If you select ‘True’: when a visitor lands on a page, triggers the event (for example, a contact form submission), and leaves, GA will count this session as a bounce because this is a non-interaction event.
If you select ‘False’: that same session won’t be a bounce.
Note: in the Google Analytics Settings field, you may have to set up a variable if you haven’t done so before. If there isn’t one you can select, click ‘New Variable…’:
Fill out the Tracking ID field with your GA tracking ID and click ‘Save’.
Reminder: you’ll find your tracking ID in your Google Analytics account by clicking on Admin in the bottom left corner, then Tracking Info (under Property) > Tracking Code. Your ID will be at the top.
4. Configure event triggers
Click on the ‘Triggering’ section below the fields you just configured:
Click the ‘+’ button, then the pencil button to configure your new trigger, and select your trigger type:
Name your trigger and define the conditions for trigger firing:
Click ‘Save’ once you’ve configured the trigger. Finally, click ‘Save’ in your event tag setup.
Note: the above screenshots are based on a 'contact form submission' event. See Google’s support documentation for details on event configuration for:
- Link clicks
- Clicks on any element
- Timed intervals
- Form submits
3 benefits of using Google Analytics event tracking
Default Google Analytics reporting shows you what’s happening on your website with metrics like:
These metrics are useful, but they leave out context and details, like:
- Are high exit rates on some pages inherently a bad thing?
- What should you do with above-average bounce rates?
- What is the user doing for X minutes on the checkout page?
Here are three ways GA event tracking helps answer those questions:
1. Understand which elements users interact with
Event tracking tells you which page elements users interact with—or don't.
Let’s say you have an ecommerce store, and you want to know how the page for your black t-shirt is performing. In Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, you can see metrics like pageviews, average time on page, entrances, bounce rate, and page value.
The report gives you information about traffic on your product page, but it doesn’t tell you how the user interacted with it. You're still in the dark when it comes to finding out which sections and elements are working (or not!) to move customers through your conversion funnel.
Users might spend a long time on one page and interact with it in a meaningful way, but without event tracking, default GA reporting will only count the visit as a single-page session (and a bounce).
💡 Pro tip: layer event tracking data with session recordings
How does a user behave on your site before they trigger an event you're tracking? What do they do right after? What about users who don't trigger the event—how do they behave differently from those who do?
Session recordings help answer those questions and make your event tracking data even more useful. When you see how users experience your site from page to page—and how they interact with elements throughout their customer journey—you gain a better understanding of what to change or fix on your site to improve the customer experience (CX) and increase conversions.
Keep reading for more tips on combining session recordings with Google Analytics data.
2. Get a more realistic bounce rate
Event tracking gives you a better idea of the true bounce rate on your pages.
Here’s why: bounces are single-page sessions that begin and end on the same page. Without event tracking, if a user doesn’t navigate to another page—no matter how they interact with the page they visit—GA will count the visit as a bounce.
For example, a page with a video may have a higher bounce rate before adding event tracking. With event tracking, GA will only count bounces for users that didn’t play the video, which is a much more useful metric.
Reminder: you need to select ‘Non-interaction event’ as ‘False’ during your GTM setup to make sure GA takes event hits into account when calculating bounce rates.
3. Set goals and track important conversions
You can use events to set 'event goals', which are useful for tracking user interactions you consider particularly valuable, like new lead submissions or clicks on a call to action (CTA).
Access goal reports in Conversions > Goals > Overview, and use the drop-down menu to choose the individual event goal you want to track.
How to set up event goals
To set up your event goal, click 'Admin' at the bottom right corner. Then, under the View column, select 'Goals'.
Press the '+ New Goal' button:
Create your event goal in three steps:
- In Goal setup, select ‘Custom’
- In Goal description, name your event goal and choose the ‘Event’ type
- In Goal details, define your event conditions
Then click ‘Save’ and ‘Done’:
Getting actionable insights with event tracking in GA
In the Behavior > Events > Overview report, you can see:
- Total events: the number of times events occurred
- Unique events: the number of times an event was seen at least once within a session
- Event value: the total number of events multiplied by the value you assigned to them
- Average value of each event: the total value of each event divided by the number of events
- Sessions with event: the number of sessions in which at least one event is triggered
- Events / Session with event: the total number of events per session
This overview doesn’t give you any actionable information, though: it’s a big-picture snapshot of events that happened on your website, but it doesn’t provide any context or details about user behavior.
The Behavior > Events > Top Events report can reveal more, like:
- How specific website interactions influence your ecommerce metrics
- How an event impacts user behavior around particular products
- How to layer your insights by adding a secondary dimension:
- Source/medium: how are different campaigns driving users to interact with your website?
- Device category: how are different devices impacting events like video views, form completions, and Quickview clicks?
- Landing page: is there a difference in how users interact with your website based on the first page they saw?
- User type (new vs returning): are brand new visitors doing anything differently than returning ones?
Even still, questions like the ones we asked earlier are left unanswered:
- How do users behave on your site—and what do they experience—in the moments before they trigger an event?
- How do they behave and what do they experience after they trigger an event?
- What about users who don't trigger an event—how do they behave differently from those who do?
Enter: Hotjar. 👋
Keep reading to learn about two tools that complement Google Analytics to give you a clearer picture of user behavior.
2 tools to make sense of event tracking (and increase your conversion rate)
By now, you know how to set up 'events' as actions users take on your website and find event reports in GA.
To reiterate: event reports tell you how many events took place on your website and how they relate to your conversion rate, but they don’t answer questions like:
- How many users reach interactive web page elements like videos and contact forms?
- Are the user experience (UX) and customer journey the same across devices, or do users behave differently on web vs mobile? Are they triggering more events on one or the other?
- How do users move around the page before and after triggering events?
In other words, GA tells you what’s happening but can't tell you why it’s happening or what you can do to drive more meaningful interactions and increase your conversion rates.
To view events in context and understand any confusion or blockers users experience, you need behavior analytics software.
1. Heatmaps: see what’s popular on each web page
Hotjar’s Heatmaps show you an aggregated visualization of mouse movements, scrolling, clicks, and taps.
Heatmaps let you see how users experience your site and reveal which parts of each web page are popular (or unpopular)—hot (or cold).
Heatmaps will show you:
- How users move their mouse: find out what elements draw their attention and where their eyes naturally go
- How far users scroll: see if they're reaching the content you want them to interact with
- Where users click: identify non-clickable elements that distract users from interactive parts of the page
- Where users tap: if a page isn’t optimized for mobile, you'll see users who can’t tap on elements like forms, buttons, and videos
After installing heatmaps to your website, select a few pages to analyze from your GA events reports. (Pages with low conversion rates are good candidates.)
Analyze and combine heatmaps data with events data from Google Analytics to find optimization opportunities like:
- Moving a product video higher on the page
- Changing a button size and color to make it more prominent
- Removing distractions that cause drop-offs
2. Session recordings: review individual sessions
Session recordings are reconstructions of real actions individual users take on your website. Recordings show you how users experience your site from page to page, including what they click on or ignore, and issues or website bugs they encounter.
Recordings let you peek over your visitor’s virtual shoulder to see what they experienced as they browsed your website.
Here are two ways to use session recordings to analyze your events data:
1. Combine recordings and events data to see how a particular event influences average order value (AOV) and ecommerce conversion rate
Find one product page with a high conversion rate and one with a low conversion rate.
Session recordings for high-performing product pages will show you the path users take before they convert, so you can find out what works.
Recordings for poorly-performing product pages can help you uncover any UX mistakes and blockers (like broken links or elements and a confusing design), which could be indicated by rage clicks or u-turns.
Once you identify what does and doesn't work, you can make data-based decisions to prioritize changes and optimizations (and improve UX).
2. Review heatmaps and session recordings together to understand blockers and barriers users experience
From your earlier heatmap and events reports analysis, make a list of:
- Overlooked events: users reached the event or CTA but didn't interact with it
- Missed events: users didn't reach the content that would trigger the event (for example, they didn’t scroll far enough to see a video or a button)
- Missed opportunities: users clicked on non-interactive elements (like underlined text)
Then combine session recordings data with heatmaps and events data to dig into individual sessions. See what it takes for users to reach your events, and what happens when they don’t.
💡 Pro tip: integrate Hotjar with Google Optimize for even more insights
Google Optimize is a free website experiment platform that integrates with Hotjar.
To make the most of Google Optimize with Hotjar, filter your Hotjar Session Recordings by Optimize experiment ID, and watch recordings of test variations to understand what makes one page more or less successful than another.
FAQs about event tracking in Google Analytics
Do I need to add event labels to my events?
When you’re setting up your events in GTM, 'event category' and 'action' are required, while 'event label' and 'value' are optional.
We recommend using event labels because they'll help you differentiate between elements of the same category and action.
For example, if you track video views and each of your product pages has one video, but you don’t add event labels to them, GA will combine views. You won’t be able to tell how many views belong to each video.
Can I track events in my mobile app or POS device?
How can I check that the event tracking is set up properly (and working)?
The easiest way to check you’ve set up event tracking correctly is to trigger the event yourself: submit a contact form, play a video, or click a link. GA is tracking events in real-time, so you should see the event in Behavior > Events > Overview within seconds.