Tracking link clicks with GA4


9 mins

Link Clicks

Table of Contents

Universal Analytics is out; Google Analytics 4 is in.
The transition has been ongoing since October 2020 and is set to be finalised on July 1 this year, with a one-time processing extension until the same date next year if you are using GA 360.

So if you have been dragging your heels with regard to the adoption of GA4, it’s best to get started now. Of course, you still have over a year to access Universal Analytics properties, but that time is better served getting acquainted with the next-generation measurement solution and its new capabilities.

One example is tracking link clicks with GA4. It can help you keep tabs on your visitors’ behaviour as they go from one page to another. On top of that, you can also use it to find out which links and CTAs they’re interested in.

If you don’t know how to do this yet, read on to find out.

What is Link click tracking?

Before we proceed, we must first lay down the groundwork by answering one basic question: What is link click tracking?

Every marketer understands the importance of marketing collateral and how effective it is in communicating a brand’s product, service, or story. These materials usually have links that allow users to access them.

Link click tracking is a strategy where you find out which of the links you’re sharing are being clicked by your visitors. It helps you better understand different customer journey stages and allows you to guide people through your marketing funnel much more effectively.

Gaining a better understanding of your target audience is very important as it shows you how to convert them into leads and, in due time, into loyal customers.

If you play your cards right, you’ll be able to make more sales and increase your revenue.

What are the two types of links?

The links in your website come in two forms: internal and external.

Internal links

Internal links take you from one page to another within your site. If executed well, it can help both your visitors and search engines like Google navigate your pages and find specific content.

Why is this important?

First, it improves the user experience for your visitors. If they can find what they’re looking for more quickly, they’re more likely to reward you with a purchase, subscription, or positive review.

Even if they’re not yet ready to make a purchase, improving the user experience for them offers you an advantage. That’s because when the time comes that they’re ready to buy something, you’ll be at the top of their minds.

Second, having a solid internal linking strategy makes it easier for search engines to discover your most valuable pieces of content. This way, you’ll obtain a high search ranking, making your pages more visible to your target audience.

Landing one of the top spots in search engine results pages or SERPs is important now more than ever, given the current consumer behaviour. Based on a survey done by Statista, 30% of online shoppers looked up products using search engines before making a purchase.

Imagine if your website is among the first people see after they click the search button. You’ll have more opportunities to land qualified visitors, which are easier to convert into paying customers.

On the flip side, if your website is nowhere near the top SERPs, your target audience won’t be able to see it, much less visit it. The worse part is that the opportunities you missed out on will go to your competitors.

Here are some of the most common examples of internal links:

  • Page navigation links
  • CTA buttons
  • Newsletter signups
  • File downloads

External links

An external link is a hyperlink on one page of a website that will take you to another page on a different website once you click on it. It’s like a vote of confidence where a site tells its readers that a blog or any other piece of content on another site is helpful to the discussion and is worth checking out.

External links are very powerful when it comes to boosting ranking signals and increasing traffic volume. That’s because search engines put a lot of stock in them too.

What’s more, having lots of high-quality external links gives you the appearance of being an authority on the subject matter, which helps you earn the trust of your visitors. In addition, it enables you to build a strong foundation for a sustainable business relationship with potential buyers or clients.

Here are some examples of external links:

  • Social media accounts
  • Email links
  • Other websites

Where tracking link Clicks fits in

Both internal and external links are essential components of a robust marketing strategy. It allows you to use various channels and encourage visitors to take certain actions that would profit your brand in different ways.

So how do you know which of your links are performing well and which are not? That’s where tracking link clicks with GA4 come into play. Having a good view of your link clicks helps you decide what to do moving forward when it comes to your marketing strategy.

One advantage that GA4 has over previous versions of Google Analytics is that it tracks links automatically.
Before GA4, you had to set up custom event tracking, which isn’t that easy to do, as it can be a bit confusing. Now, all you have to do is set up GA4.

The Value of Tracking Links

Clicking on links is perhaps the most prevalent type of user interaction online. People do it to go from one page to another when visiting a site. It allows them to book appointments, download files, contact businesses, or hire services.

Every week, companies send out newsletters, launch new websites, set new features on apps to live, and more. But again, what all these things have in common is that if people are interested in them, they will click the links.

As a marketer, your job is to maximise those clicks so you can generate more leads and boost your conversion. However, to do this, you must understand what motivates people to click on a link. This way, you can make the appropriate adjustments to your existing strategies.

This task may seem daunting at first – and without the proper tools, it definitely is. The good thing is that GA4 is designed to do most of the work when it comes to link clicks tracking. It records each event or action or each user session so you can analyse it later on.

Here are some examples of what GA4 can track for you:

  • ‘Book a demo’ button clicks
  • Specific file download link clicks
  • Outbound link clicks (where did visitors go next)
  • Contact link clicks (click to call, email, contact form)

With these and other features, you can gather a lot of useful information, including the following:

  • How visitors behave on your website
  • How users perceive your brand and content

From there, you’ll have a better idea of whether your marketing efforts are effective or not. Moreover, you’ll be able to see which elements visitors interact with the most. This allows you to conduct more effective A/B tests so you can improve user experience on your website.

Aside from giving you valuable insights into user behaviour, tracking link clicks with GA4 helps you identify broken links. Using custom reports, you can track all the clicks that failed and cut short your visitor’s customer journey. This way, you won’t have to miss out on any opportunity to connect with a potential customer.

As you may have gleaned by now, tracking link clicks is relevant not only to websites but to other applications as well, including marketing campaigns.

Virtually all businesses today use social media platforms or paid ads to generate leads or raise brand awareness. Whatever channel you use, you would want to know what it is about your marketing campaign that got the traffic and the sales.

However, note that the links here are on another page or source. In this situation, you would need Urchin Tracking Module or UTM tagging.

UTM parameters are query strings that you can add to a URL so you can identify the source of traffic, the name of the campaign, or the medium.

Aside from marketing campaigns, tracking link clicks is also useful in the following:

  • Email link tracking
  • UX click tracking

How to track link clicks in GA4

As mentioned above, GA4 is much more user-friendly than Universal Analytics when it comes to tracking link clicks. You can do this in two ways: automatically or with a custom setup.

Automatic link clicks tracking

GA4 has a feature called Enhanced Measurement, which tracks the following events:

  • Page Views
  • Scrolls
  • Outbound Link Clicks
  • Site Search
  • Form interactions
  • Video Engagements
  • File Downloads

Enhanced Measurement is set to track things automatically in GA4’s default configuration. However, you could tweak its settings based on your needs or business goals.

When you set up an account on GA4, you’ll be asked if you want to set up Enhanced Measurement. You can also visit its settings any time whenever you want to make any changes.

To enable Enhanced Measurement, simply follow these steps:

  1. First, go to Admin. Make sure you’re in the right account and property. Remember that you can have multiple accounts in GA4, and each account can have different properties. The properties you see will depend on what account you choose.
  2. To choose from multiple accounts, use the drop-down options in the left column. You’ll find it close to the top of the page.
  3. To its right is another column where you’ll find the property section. Here, you‘ll be able to pick which customer touchpoint to analyse, as well as configure your enhanced measurement events.
  4. Next, go to the Property column.
  5. Select the Data Streams option, and then click on Web.
  6. Finally, go to the Enhanced measurement section and toggle the blue slider to its right.

Event measurements and parameters

It’s essential that you understand each event measurement and, more importantly, what triggers them. This will allow you to find the optimum setting for your link clicks tracking.

1. Page views

A page view is triggered every time a page loads or the active site changes the browser history state. GA4 collects this event automatically, and there’s no way to turn it off. It is counted in the Views metric.

This option has an advanced setting where you can control whether the data will be sent based on browser history events.

2. Scrolls

A scroll is when a visitor reaches somewhere near the bottom part of the page until at least 90% of its vertical depth has been exposed. This event measurement goes to the “Percent scrolled” dimension.

3. Outbound clicks

An outbound link is an event where a user clicks on a link that takes them away from a current domain. However, it does not apply to links that lead to domains configured for cross-domain measurement.
Outbound clicks populate the following dimensions:

  • Link classes
  • Link domain
  • Link ID
  • Link URL
  • Outbound

4. Site search

Site search is an event where the user adds a URL query parameter to perform a site search. There are five parameters that trigger it in GA4’s default setting:

  • q
  • s
  • search
  • query
  • keyword

Note that GA4 is capable of looking for search terms in other parameters. So all you have to do is to reconfigure its settings. In any case, the search_term parameter is included in the “Search term” dimension.

5. Form interactions

Form interactions have two types of events: form_start and form_submit. Form_start is where the user opens and interacts with a form for the first time within a session. Form_submit is where the user has completed the form and submitted it.

Note that these parameters are not part of the default setting, so you need to create custom dimensions if you want to use them.

6. Video engagement

There are three types of video engagement events. These include:

  • Video_start
  • Video_progress
  • Video_complete

Video_start applies to instances where the user starts playing the embedded video. Video_progress is where the video gets played past the 10%, 25%, 50%, and 75% marks. Finally, video_complete is when the user plays the video until it ends.

These events are counted in the following dimensions:

  • Video provider
  • Video title
  • Video URL
  • Visible

7. File downloads

A file download is when a user clicks on a link that leads to a file with a common extension. It applies to the following types of files:

  • Document
  • Text
  • Executable
  • Presentation
  • Compressed file
  • Video
  • Audio

These events are included in the following dimensions:

  • File extension
  • File name
  • Link classes
  • Link domain
  • Link ID
  • Link text
  • Link URL

Custom link click tracking in GA4

While its automatic link clicks tracking feature offers valuable insights, GA4 is capable of so much more. For instance, if you have a “Book a demo” button on your website’s navigation bar, you can track its clicks too. 

Here’s how you can do it:

1. Create a trigger

The first thing you need to do is to create a trigger that will activate when someone clicks “Book a demo.” To do this, go to Google Tag Manager (GTM) and launch the Preview Mode.
If you try clicking a few links here, you’ll see that the Link Click event appears on the left sidebar of the Preview Mode.

However, note that this will only happen if the “Just Links” trigger is set to “live” in GTM or if the file downloads/external links are enabled in Enhanced measurements.

Go back to the preview of your website and click at least two links. Next, go to GTM and look at the new clicks.

Look for Click Classes under the Variables section. What you need here is a distinguishing term that you can use for your navigation button and the “Book a demo” button.

Once you have this, go to the Triggers section and create a new trigger. Name the trigger and set it to fire when ‘Click Classes’ contains the specific class identifying the “Book a demo” link.

Finally, save this trigger.

2. Create a tag

The next step is to create a corresponding GTM tag for the event in the Tags section. Make sure you use an appropriate name for it, like “demo_nav_click.” Otherwise, GA4 won’t be able to track it with accuracy.

After this, identify which of the 25 available parameters you want to send over to GA4. Next, assign the trigger you created in the previous step to this tag, and then click Save.

Finally, test the tag or trigger you made by refreshing the preview and clicking a couple of menu items. If they fired, then you’re good to go.

3. Test your custom link clicks tracking

After setting up your custom events, you can test them further using the DebugView feature. You can access it by going to Admin and then clicking DebugView.

There are three ways to enable the debug mode:

  • Activate the Chrome extension for the GA4 debugger
  • Send a debug_mode parameter along with an event
  • Enable GTM’s Preview Mode on the page that you’re debugging

Note that if you’re using GTM, enabling its preview mode will automatically enable debug_mode. Hence, the data will start appearing, and you’ll be able to click on each event to show the list of associated parameters.

In addition, you can click on each parameter to see the values that GA4 received. If you’re satisfied with the results, click the SUBMIT button at the top right corner and follow the instructions to publish it.

There you have it — everything you need to know about tracking link clicks with GA4, from the “why” to the “how.”

GA4 has a lot more in store for you, so you should start exploring it now if you haven’t yet.

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