Until recently I had no idea there was something like this, and it’s an important shortcoming especially for some websites and businesses, which can’t analyze the traffic their PDF files receive, but here is the answer: PDF Analytics.
What is PDF analytics and how can it help me?
PDF Analytics is a WordPress plugin that tracks PDF views on your website, in Google Analytics.
It’s free and, unlike other solutions, captures 100% of the traffic (including direct and organic search).
How do you crawl Google analytics data in PDF files?
With 7 out of 10 websites using Google Analytics, it clearly holds the title of the most popular analytics platform.
But a major drawback to how Google Analytics works is that it can only track visits to your website’s HTML pages.
Unlike previous generations of web analytics packages, which were based on log file data, Google Analytics can’t see the traffic that goes directly to your other media files, including everyones favorite, PDF.
In the past, the recommended solution was to tag internal links to these files so that Google Analytics could assign a view/point of contact.
However, this only records a small fraction of the views, and none of the search engine traffic, email clicks, or third-party links.
Finance, insurance and public sector websites are particularly affected by this problem. Since important information, data, forms, product/service details and brochures are generally delivered in PDF format.
These institutions do not want to convert their PDFs into websites as it is not easy to control, version and check compliance. Even those that do, usually link and promote a PDF version of the information.
Restaurants also prefer PDF files for their food and beverage menus, but cannot see if anyone downloads or reads them.
Some customers have PDFs competitively classified on Google. However, none of this traffic is measurable.
The solution is “PDF Analytics“, a plugin for WordPress that makes those visits visible in Google Analytics for the first time.
PDF Analytics intercepts any request for a .pdf file on your website and collects the visitor’s Google Analytics cookie (if any), UTM tracking tags in the URL, and other metrics.
These are sent to Google Analytics through its official API. The PDF file is then served as usual, from the same URL and without the visitor knowing anything different.
To make it fast and reliable, the PDF tracking script works independently of WordPress. This way, PDF files remain accessible if the WordPress database crashes or has an error, and it is not affected by any problems, as Plugins could slow it down.
It does not send any information to the author of the Plugin, or anyone other than Google Analytics itself, so you will pass the company’s compliance and security audits.
On top of that, the plugin is free! Its only drawback is that it’s not (yet) in the WordPress.org directory, but the author has made it freely available.
Just click here to download the ZIP file, then upload it to your WordPress at “Plugins > Add New > Upload“. Then activate it and enter your Google Analytics site/tracking ID on the plugin’s settings page, as in the screenshot above.
What does PDF analytics do?
All requests for .pdf files on your website are redirected to the PDF Analytics plugin. The plugin reads the user’s Google Analytics cookie, session data, and any UTM tracking tags attached to the requested URL.
This data is compiled and sent to the official Google Analytics API. It is then integrated into your Google Analytics account and visible on your desktop within seconds.
Does it produce redirections?
No. PDF Analytics uses an “internal rewrite” to direct PDF requests to the tracking script.
As long as there is a PDF file at the given URL, it will return an HTTP status code of 200 (OK), and a 404 (Page Not Found) if it does not exist.
Is it safe to use PDF analytics?
The software is free and open source, so there is no warranty or liability. It has been tested in multiple sites without any problems.
The tracking code works independently of WordPress, so your PDF files remain accessible, even when your WordPress site has a problem with the database or the plugin.
The publicly accessible PHP file does not access the database and does not write to any file. Plugin settings require administrator-level access to your WordPress, and cannot be changed by anyone without it.
The base code is intentionally small and neat, making code audits fast and simple.
Come on, it’s a gem to be able to analyze actual PDF traffic.
Read this post in Spanish: PDF Analytics – Mide y analiza el SEO de tus archivos PDF