Stop Using The File Downloads Report!
Those of you who have read my blogs for a while know that I am a big proponent of using as many SiteCatalyst features as possible. However, in this post I am going to venture into uncharted territory by suggesting reasons to NOT use a SiteCatalyst feature – File Downloads. While you may be skeptical about this, I ask that you hear me out on my reasons and alternative approach before passing judgment!
How Does the File Downloads Feature Work?
Before dismissing the File Downloads functionality, let’s take a minute to understand what it does. Like most web analytics programs, SiteCatalyst provides out-of-the-box functionality for File Downloads such that when a website visitor clicks to download a file, it captures the file name in a special File Downloads report. In reality, file downloads are treated a lot like Exit Links as far as SiteCatalyst is concerned. The File Downloads report is very handy since you can open it and see which files are downloaded most like this:
Why I Don’t Like Using The File Downloads Report
As I have become more sophisticated in how I approach SiteCatalyst, I have found several flaws in the File Downloads report. Here is a quick summary of my issues with it:
- There is no easy way to see how each file download impacts website Success Events.
- However, the real reason I don’t like the File Download report is that it ruins my Pathing reports. I love pathing. I like seeing where people go backwards and forwards through my site. But when I look at the Next Page Flow report or the Next Page report, I am not getting an accurate picture if there are File Downloads on a page. There are many cases where the most clicked element on a web page is a PDF that visitors download. However, when I look at my pathing reports, this file is nowhere to be seen. I can see it in the ClickMap report, but not in my SiteCatalyst pathing reports. Therefore, when my users look at the next page report, they are looking at incorrect data due to the fact that 10% of visitors downloaded that PDF.
So What Should You Do…
I don’t like to complain without offering alternative solutions so the following outlines what I would do instead of using the File Downloads report. Per my list above, at the end of the day, I have the following requirements for understanding File Download activity on my site:
- Easily see which files have been downloaded the most (and only once per file regardless of http or https)
- Understand from which pages visitors are downloading files
- See how each file download impacts my KPI’s
- Ability to see file downloads in my pathing reports so I can see what is really happening on each page
Seems reasonable enough right? So here is how you accomplish all of these without using the File Download report:
- Work with your developer to treat every file download as if it were a web page on your site such that it is passed to the Pagename variable (s.pagename)
- Ensure that when passing the file name to the s.pagename variable, you strip out the http or https so you just get the raw file path (you can also strip out your domain to make the pagename shorter)
- When creating this pagename, be sure to insert the phrase “file|” or “file:” in the pagename (or something similar)
So that doesn’t seem so hard does it? But what does this actually get you? Let me extol the countless benefits:
- Passing the file download name to the s.pagename variable means SiteCatalyst sees file downloads the same way it sees any page on your website. This means you can see file downloads in Pathing reports so your next page and previous page reports will be accurate.
- If you remove the http or https you will only have one pagename for each file so you avoid the duplicate file issue I mentioned earlier.
- If you insert a file identifier (“file:”) then you can recreate the current File Downloads report you have today by just opening the Pages report and doing an advanced filter on “file:” in the Search area area.
- If you want to see which page visitors were on previous to downloading a specific file, you no longer need to use an extra sProp nor enable a correlation. All you have to do is find the file in the Pages report and open the Previous Page pathing report.
- If, by chance, people link directly to your file downloads, you can also calculate the Bounce Rate of each File Download since it is now part of the pagename variable which has pathing (and thereby Single Access & Entries) by default.
- Anyone want to see Daily, Weekly and Monthly Unique Visitors for each File Download? You just did it if you have those enabled on your Pagename variable (which most people have by default)!
- As I mentioned above, it is not easy to see how often each file on your web site “participates” in your key success events? This is because you cannot enable Participation on the File Downloads report. However, now that File Downloads are part of the Pagename report, you can easily enable Participation on the s.pagename variable (which you should already be doing) to see how often each file download impacts your key KPI’s.
- Last, but not least, if you have any correlations to the Pagename report (which is very common), you now have those correlations to every file on your website. For example, if you have Pagename correlated to Visit Number or GeoSegmentation Country, you now have all file downloads correlated to these as well without having to pay for any extra correlations or variables!
All in all, you can get a lot of bang for your buck with this handy trick. I think it can easily save you a few sProps, correlations and unique visitor CPM increases (I make no money on this blog so feel free to send contract savings my way ;-))!
Well there you have it. These are the reasons why I have chosen to take an alternative approach to the File Download report and I think it makes a pretty compelling argument! I will be curious to get your thoughts and see if you agree or disagree with me on this…