Track Google +1 Buttons with Google Analytics

by Colin Temple

In a move reminiscent of Facebook’s option to put Like buttons out on the web, Google yesterday opened up its +1 website voting to web pages. This social feature, which already allowed you to share results on search engine pages, lets your website users directly “+1” content from your site’s pages. It’s Google’s answer to the Facebook Like, Tweet This other social sharing buttons.

As analysts, we naturally want all of the data, so my first thought was, “OK, how do we track this thing?” As it turns out, Google thought of that as well. When you’re creating your +1 button, there’s an Advanced Options area which lets you customize the button. One of those options is to reference a callback function — JavaScript code that will execute when a +1 event happens. This is the perfect place for a little Google Analytics event tracking.

The code you get from Google will look something like this:

<!-- Place this tag in your head or just before your close body tag -->
<script type="text/javascript" src="http://apis.google.com/js/plusone.js"></script>  
<!-- Place this tag where you want the +1 button to render -->
<g:plusone></g:plusone>

The first part, the <script> tag, doesn’t need to change and will need to be put in your header no matter what. What will change is the second part, the <g:plusone> tags. If you choose to add a callback function, it’ll look something like this:

<g:plusone callback="track_plusone"></g:plusone>

In this example, I added a callback named track_plusone. This is a reference to a JavaScript function called “track_plusone” that will need to be defined on the page as well.  Here’s the code for my initial function:

<script type="text/javascript">
function track_plusone(gpovote) {
    _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Social Shares', 'Google +1 Vote', gpovote.href]);
}
</script>

What this function does is fires a Google Analytics event tracking code. It sets the category of that event to “Social Shares”, the action to “Google +1 Vote” and the label to the URL of the page the button was clicked on. You can change the category and action to suit your own conventions, of course. The page is technically available in the new GA interface, where you can view events by page as well.   The result is an event that shows up in Google Analytics whenever an item is voted for. Events take anywhere from one to 24 hours to show up, and appear within the Content > Events area of the Google Analytics user interface.

There’s one other feature we need to account for. Not only can visitors click the button to +1 vote for a page, but they can click it again to undo their vote — effectively giving you a -1 vote. We’ll need to be able to distinguish between initial +1 votes and -1 vote “undo” events. So, here’s a revised version of the function, which gives you two kinds of event actions: “Google +1 Vote” and “Google -1 Vote (Undo +1)”. Again, you change those details to match your conventions.

<script type="text/javascript">
function track_plusone(gpovote) {
  var gpoaction = 'Google +1 Vote';
  if (gpovote.state=='off') { gpoaction = 'Google -1 Vote (Undo +1)'; }
    _gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'Social Shares', gpoaction, gpovote.href]);
  }
</script>

[ Update: Google has also indicated that they will be adding some +1 reports of their own into Google Analytics, so these features will be integrated. You may prefer to do it that way, but one of the reasons we’re using this code is that it allows our “social shares” events to be grouped and roll up into one category. At a glance, we can see how many shares happened on the site, and then drill down to see which services they came from. It’s all about getting the right structure you want for the way you look at your site’s features. ]

[ Update 2: Google has now unveiled its new reports for tracking social media interactions. The integrated +1 tracking is now combined with a new version of the event tracking code that’s specific to social media. I added a post on tracking Facebook Like buttons using Google Analytics social tracking to showcase the new code, but the +1 buttons have this feature automatically, so strictly speaking, you don’t need to add this yourself anymore. We still use this code to show these alongside our existing events for social tracking, at least until we get more data from the new method and phase the event tracking version out. ]

This kind of tracking lets your web analyst answer questions about the value of these Google +1 buttons, and the voters who use them. Are people who +1 vote for products the same people who purchase them? Do those people tend to come from social media themselves?

Social media is notoriously tough to track, so answering questions like this can be very useful to understanding what exactly you gain by adding these buttons to your site. Are they worth it? Let the data tell you.

Until next time,

Colin

Colin Temple

VP, Product

Colin serves as VP, Product for Napkyn Analytics. A diverse background in data, software and marketing and an education in logic and philosophy give Colin a unique perspective on where the analytics practice is, and where it should be.

See more posts from Colin