Outbound Link Tracking in WordPress

Chain links in front of a lake

Using links in your content to identify key resources or make your content richer with extra information is a pretty common practice. Keeping tabs on those links and how many times your users click on them can also yield valuable marketing information.

Fortunately, there are several resources available for tracking outbound links in WordPress. Once you know what links visitors interact with and how, you’ll be better positioned to improve your content and increase engagement and conversions. 

In this article, we’ll explore the benefits of tracking your outbound links. We’ll also walk through the steps for setting up link tracking on your website. Let’s get tracking! 

Why Track Outbound Links?

Tracking outbound links can give you access to a number of valuable metrics about your website. Additionally, it can tell you a lot about how your typical users behave. For example, you can analyze what affiliate links are clicked on the most, and discover what products or content outside of your website are resonating most with customers. 

Another reason to track your links is to find out how your visitors are using their time on your website. Then, you can use that data to make adjustments to your content strategy if needed.

How to Track Outbound Links in WordPress

The most accessible way to track your outbound links on a WordPress website is to use Google Analytics. Fortunately, there are also some helpful plugins available that make it easier to tie your analytics account directly into your WordPress dashboard. With that in mind, let’s take a look at how to get started using both Google Analytics and a plugin.

Step 1: Create a Google Analytics Account

Before you start, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with Google’s data and marketing products. Many of the features and tools that can help you be successful with outbound link tracking are coordinated through Google. With that in mind, in order to get started, you’ll need a Google Analytics account

Google analytics account

Once you’ve set up your account and added a property to it for tracking, you’ll need to make sure the tracking code is placed on your website. This is typically done by placing the tracking code in the header of your site.

Alternatively, you can use a plugin like MonsterInsights:

Monster Insights plugin

Using MonsterInsights or another plugin to place your Google tracking code is a great option if you plan on changing your theme in the future. This is because you’ll use the plugin’s settings panel to place the tracking code in your theme’s header. If you change your theme later on, your tracking code will transfer to your new theme files through the plugin automatically.  

If you place the code manually, on the other hand, you’ll just need to remember to add it to your theme files if you activate a new one in the future. 

Step 2: Enable Outbound Link Tracking

There are essentially two different ways to use Google Analytics to track your outbound link activity. You can use Google Tag Manager or set up Google Analytics Events. To do either, you’ll first want to make sure you understand how Google Analytics works, and spend some time with Google’s Developer documentation

Essentially, Google Events tracks when a user interacts with content on your website. If you are configuring it manually, you’ll be using several different code snippets. These are used to set the parameters of what interactions will be reported in your analytics dashboard. 

You can use this approach for capturing user interaction that is not typically reported otherwise. This includes valuable data about how users interact with any forms you have on your website, for example. 

Now, let’s take a look at Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager sign in page

Tags are part of Google’s Marketing Platform. For free, you can integrate its tagging technology in with your other Google tools, like Analytics or Ads. Tags enable you to set triggers, so that a tag will fire and send data back to your Analytics dashboard based on specific user interactions. 

This might sound similar to how Events work, but the Tag Manager creates a slightly bigger data umbrella and offers many integrations with other tools. For example, you can create custom Events as triggers for more targeted reporting. You’ll need to connect your Tag Manager account to your Analytics account to enable the corresponding reports, however. 

If this sounds too labor-intensive for your needs, don’t worry! You can always rely on the MonsterInsights plugin to help you out. By default, the plugin tracks outbound links for you. However, if you want to enable tracking for affiliate links, you can do that by going to Insights > Settings > Publisher

Monster Insights settings

If you use internal affiliate links, they likely are not counted as outbound links. This is especially true if you’re using a plugin or code to cloak your links. By using the Affiliate Links feature in the plugin settings, you’ll ensure that clicks on affiliate links will be reported more accurately. 

Step 3: Track Performance

If you chose to set up Google Tag Manager, you’ll be able to track your outbound links by going to your Google Analytics account and navigating to Behavior > Events > Pages:

Google Analytics Pages Report

You can click on any of the listed pages to view all the events that were captured on that page. If there was outbound link activity, you’ll be able to review it for that page. Additionally, any custom event information you have set up will be reported. 

If you’re using MonsterInsights exclusively, you’ll find the relevant reports under Insights > Reports > Publishers. However, it’s important to note that in order to access the reports for outbound link tracking, you’ll need to upgrade to a MonsterInsights Plus account or greater. 

With that being said, if you’re using the free version of MonsterInsights, you’ll still be able to access the outbound link data back in your Google Analytics account. In fact, the steps outlined above to locate the appropriate reports will still work. 

Outbound Links – Conclusion

Keeping track of outbound link activity can help you fine-tune many elements of your website. This includes targeting specific events or user interactions to gain a better understanding of where and why users spend time on your website. 

Additionally, using some of the tools we’ve outlined can help you capture data you may have been missing. Specifically, we’re talking about internal affiliate links that are usually not reported as outbound links, and can be a valuable source of market information.

Ultimately, it’s important to understand the relationship between the features and tools we’ve mentioned. You can think of your Google Analytics account as a home base for all your tracking needs. Then you can branch out from there. 

For example, you might integrate Tag Manager and Events functionality for more targeted data collection options. What’s more, you can also reap the benefits of a plugin like MonsterInsights, without disrupting the base functionality of Google Analytics.

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Engaging in continuous website improvements can often be easier when you incorporate the necessary data. Tracking your outbound links is one way to gain valuable insight into your WordPress site and user behavior.

We also understand how essential having the best developer resources can be to this process. Here at WP Engine, we offer dynamic WordPress solutions and features, so you can build the best user experiences. Check out our hosting plans today!

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