Web Analytics

Tracking Mobile Users with Customized Regular Expressions in Google Analytics

Posted by Craig Hordlow on October 31st, 2008 at 12:00 am

Are you tracking mobile users to your website?  If so, how do you know your data is accurate, and what should you be looking for?

Tracking mobile visitors with typical JavaScript based analytics is not an easy task for several reasons, and often involves a unique configuration.  I’m going to share one of my secrets for doing so with Google Analytics.  This method, which utilizes regular expressions, can be leveraged in any analytics solution that allows for custom filters.

The first problem with mobile analytics is that not all smart phones execute JavaScript (required by most web based analytics such as Google Analytics).  While this problem is slowly going away as older phones are replaced by newer phones (phones that are about 2 years old or older might not execute JS, whereas new phones will), this must be taken into consideration when looking at absolute numbers of mobile visitors. 

There are several ways to track mobile users with web analytics.  The main analytics companies offer “default” tracking methods, such as simply identifying users by screen resolutions or browsers and operating systems.

However, these “out-of-the-box” methods involve some guesswork and leaps of faith.  We found an easy way to deal with the problem (in Google Analytics) is to create a “mobile” profile.

We then create a custom filter as shown in the screenshot.  The expression you see in the image (pasted as text below) filters out resolution by the height and width of the screen resolutions.  

(^[1-2]?[0-9]?[0-9]|^3[0-1][0-9]|^320)x([1-3]?[0-9]?[0-9]$|4[0-7][0-9]$|480$)

One of the reasons I love Google Analytics is the ability to create profiles.  No need for “drilling down” to get to data.  All you do is set up the profile, set the proper filter in place, and voila: everything you can see about a “normal” user is available with no need to navigate by drilling.

What should you look at in this profile?

Here’s a short list of my favorites:

  • Top entry pages – knowing which pages users enter through, and which keywords brought them there, will inform both your mobile site build and SEM campaigns.
  • Geo’s – we have all heard about varying levels of mobile adoption and utilization in different cultures.  Your mobile profile will tell you which countries are sending more traffic – data which will help you both prioritize international mobile development and marketing plans.
  • Devices – your mobile profile will enable you to easily see which devices are more popular, another data point that will inform mobile development plans.

Top content – see which pages mobile users access.  If you have a very large site, or a site in many languages, this is particularly useful before you build your mobile site.  Mobile users may be interested in a small subset of your site – knowing this can save you a fortune building out your mobile site.

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