How to track outbound links in Google Analytics

Table of contents for how to track outbound links in Google Analytics

  1. Why track outbound links in Google Analytics?
  2. Tracking outbound links using Google Tag Manager
  3. Creating an auto event variable
  4. Creating a trigger
  5. Creating a tag
  6. Debugging and validation
  7. FAQ

In this article, I am going to talk about how to track outbound links in Google Analytics.

The majority of websites have some links which are external (outbound). When a user clicks on such links he is redirected to another domain. 

To know the users’ exit details, it is highly recommended to track the outbound link clicks. 

Google Analytics by default does not provide any mechanism to find the total number of clicks on external links. 

 
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Why track outbound links in Google Analytics?

When a user clicks on an external link he is redirected to another domain and you may think that you have lost a user. But, imagine a scenario where the user is clicking on external links which redirect him to your social media profiles such as your Facebook page, Twitter account, YouTube channel, LinkedIn profile, etc. 

In such a case, the user is interested in the content that you have shared across your social media profiles and wanted to keep updated about your site. He might have wanted to subscribe and like your content.

Let’s take another example. Suppose you have multiple domains (websites) which have links to each other. In this case, you would like to know how many times the user is navigated between the different domains you own. 

Tracking outbound links provides you with important information about the user’s behavior on your website and how he is leaving the website.

One more example. Suppose you are a tech blogger and you provide reviews about the latest gadgets available on the market. As a source of income, you also carry affiliate marketing and provide links to different websites where the user can go and purchase the product. In this case, you would like to see how many users came to your website, read the content and then navigate to one of these websites to make a purchase.

Tracking outbound links using Google Tag Manager

If you use Google Tag Manager for your analytics implementation, it is very easy to set up outbound link tracking. This method is the most recommended since you do not need to write any code for every outbound link. 

Imagine you have more than ten outbound links on your website. If you are not using Google Tag Manager then you will need to add code for every link using the ‘onclick’ function and additional analytics script. 

To track outbound links using Google Tag Manager you need to carry the below activities.

  1. Create an auto event variable
  2. Create a trigger
  3. Create a tag
  4. Debugging and validation

Creating an auto event variable

The first thing to do is to create an auto event variable which is nothing but a variable that captures information about the link click and returns true if it is an external link (outbound), else it returns false if it is an internal link.

Follow the below steps to create an auto event variable.

Step-1: Navigate to your GTM container and click on ‘Variables’.


Step-2: Now scroll down and click on ‘New’ under ‘Use-Defined Variables’.


Step-3: A new window will pop up like below, give it a proper name and click on ‘Variable Configuration’.


Step-4: Click on ‘Auto-Event Variable’ from the variable configuration list.


Step-5: Now click on the drop-down under ‘Variable type’ and select ‘Element URL’


Step-6: Now click on the drop-down under ‘Component type’ and select ‘Is Outbound’.


Step-7: Now you need to provide the list of ‘Affiliated Domain’. Affiliated domains here refer to the list of your internal domains. If you want to add other domains as internal you can add them here as a comma-separated list. The variable will return true if the URL does not match with the current page’s domain or the list provided in affiliated domains. 

Note: The auto event variable by default considers subdomains as external, so if you want to add your subdomains as internal you need to specify it in the ‘Affiliated domains’ list (for example blog.example.com).


Step-8: Now click on ‘Save’.

Now the next step will be to create a trigger.

Creating a trigger

Follow the below steps to create a trigger for tracking outbound links

Step-1: Click on the ‘Triggers’ menu.


Step-2: Click on the ‘New’ button.


Step-3: Give your trigger a valid name and click on ‘Trigger Configuration’.


Step-4: Select the ‘Just Links’ trigger type.


Step-5: A new configuration window will appear like below. Select the radio button ‘Some Link Clicks’


Step-6: Now select the auto event variable that we created earlier from the first drop-down under condition.


Step-7: Select the ‘equals’ operator in the second drop-down and type ‘true’ in the input box provided.

Step-8: Your final trigger will look like below. Click on ‘Save’

Now, let’s move to create a tag for tracking outbound links.

Creating a tag

Follow the below steps to create a tag for tracking outbound links.

Step-1: Click on ‘Tags’ in the left-hand side menu.


Step-2: Click on ‘New’.


Step-3: Give a proper name to your tag and click on ‘Tag Configuration’.


Step-4: An overlay will appear on the right-hand side with a list of tag templates. Select ‘Google Analytics: Universal Analytics’. 


Step-5: Click on the ‘Track Type’ drop-down and select ‘Event’.


Step-6: Now under ‘Event Category’ type ‘Outbound Link Click’.


Step-7: Now click on the plus (+) button next to ‘Action’. 


Step-8: Select the ‘Click Text’ variable as an event action. This will provide us details about what was text clicked when the user was leaving the website.


Step-9: Now click on the plus (+) button next to ‘Label’ and select the ‘Click URL’ variable. 


Step-10: Now select the Google Analytics settings variable.


Step-11: Now click on the ‘Triggering’ option available below the tag configuration.


Step-12: Now select the trigger that we have created earlier.


Step-13: Click on ‘Save’.

Congratulations! You have successfully set up outbound link tracking. Now it’s time to check the implementation.

Debugging and Validation 

Follow the below steps to debug and validate the implementation.

Step-1: Click on the ‘Preview’ button (on the top right-hand side) in Google Tag Manager.


Step-2: A new window will open with Google preview mode. Add the URL of your website where external links are present and click on ‘Start’.


Step-3: Another new window will open with the specified URL. Now click on any of the external links and navigate back to the preview window of Google Tag Manager. You should see the outbound link click tag has fired. 

As an example, I have created an external link to Facebook and we will test that here.

You can click on the tag to see more details. 

Tag Details

track outbound links in Google Analytics

Firing Triggers


Step-4: Now click on any of the internal links and validate if the outbound link tag fires or not. 

It should not fire on any of the internal links or the list of domains that we provided in the ‘Affiliated domains’ while creating the auto event variable.


You can further check the firing trigger to validate. As you can see in the below image the auto event variable is not true (since it’s the internal link click) and hence the tag did not fire. 


So this is how you can debug and validate the outbound link tracking events. You can further log in to Google Analytics and check it in ‘Real-time’ reports as well.


Once you have published your container you will start recording the outbound link click events. You can check it under Behavior > Events > Top Events.

Frequently asked questions about how to track outbound links in Google Analytics

What is an outbound link?

An outbound link is also called an external link. It is a link from your website domain to a different website domain. For example, if your website domain is ‘abc.com’ then all the links that do not contain the ‘abc’ domain will be considered outbound links.

Why is tracking outbound links in Google Analytics important?

While browsing on the website, a user may come across multiple outbound links and he might click on them and leave the website. To know the user behavior and how they leave the website, it is very important to track the outbound link clicks. 

Perhaps they might be clicking on the external links like your own social media pages or other domains that you own.

How to track outbound links using Google Tag Manager?

To track outbound links using Google Tag Manager you need to follow the below steps:

1. Create an auto-event variable in Google Tag Manager with ‘Variable type’ as ‘Element URL’, ‘Component type’ as ‘Is Outbound’ and a list of ‘Affiliated domains (domains you own)’. 

2. Create a trigger with ‘trigger type’ as ‘Clicks-Just Links’, and in condition add the ‘Auto-Event Variable’ equals to ‘true’.

3. Create a tag with ‘tag type’ as ‘Google Analytics: Universal Analytics’, ‘track type’ as ‘Event’ then add ‘Event Category’ as ‘Outbound Link Click’, ‘Event Action’ as ‘Click Text’ variable, and finally ‘Event label’ as ‘Click URL’ variable.

4. Save the tag and click on the preview to debug and validate,

5. Once verified you can publish the container.

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