Sticky data: Custom data, referrers, and campaigns saved in cookies

[Do not panic. You do not need to update your tracking code.]

We've just pushed a major update to our tracking code so it works a bit more like one aspect of Google Analytics now, that being that some additional data is saved in first party cookies (set with Javascript) for visitors to your site. This data being referrers, dynamic (UTM) campaign variables, and custom data set with clicky_custom.visitor (renamed from clicky_custom.session - don't worry, the old name will still work indefinitely).

We're calling this "sticky data" and the point of it is two fold. First, for referrers and dynamic campaigns, this will better attribute how your visitors originally arrived at your site, as they visit in the future. In other words, if they find your site via a link or search, all future visits to your site where they go directly to your site instead of through a link, this original referrer (and/or campaign) will be attached to these new sessions. This will be particularly useful for those of you who have setup goal funnels using referrers or campaigns. These cookies are set for 90 days. Google does 180, which we think is a bit too long, so we're doing 90 instead.

(Note: This does not work for "static" (pre-defined) campaigns that you create in Clicky's interface. It only works with the dynamic ones created with e.g. "utm_campaign" etc variables).

Second, if you set custom visitor data, we've thought for a while now how great it would be if that data stuck across visits. For example if someone logs in and you attach their username to their session, that's great - everytime they login that is. But what about when they visit your site in the future but don't login? Well, now that we save this data in a cookie, their username will still get attached to their session so you'll still know who they are. utm_custom data will also be saved! These cookies are set "indefinitely", more or less.

A lot of you use custom visitor data to attach things that are very session specific though, such as shopping card IDs, that kind of thing. With this in mind, there are only 3 specific keys we'll save by default for custom visitor data. Those keys are "username", "name", and "email". Of course, if you have others you want to save in cookies, you can customize it with the new visitor_keys_cookie option. Click that link to learn more.

We think the vast majority of you will like this new sticky data. However, if for some reason you don't, we created another new clicky_custom option as well, sticky_data_disable. Setting this option will disable this data being saved to or read from cookies, without having to fully disable cookies. And of course, if you have fully disabled cookies, this data will never get saved in the first place.

Originally we wanted to add support for parsing GA's "__utmz" cookies, which is what GA uses to store campaign and referrer data for 6 months. The cookie format is fairly straight forward but upon investigating our own GA cookies we saw a lot of inconsistency across all the sites that it had been set for. So we're going to hold off on that for now.

Our privacy section on cookies has been updated to reflect these updates.

5 comments |   Sep 27 2013 1:27pm

New features: Site domains, and ignore pages by URL

We just pushed two new features today.

The first is site domains, where we break down the traffic on your site by the domain name each page view was on. This will only be interesting if your site has multiple sub-domains, or you are tracking more than one root domain under a single site ID - but we know that there are a lot of you out there that this will apply to, as it has been requested a number of times.

This new report is under Content -> Domains. Note that we are only logging the domain name for each page view, to give you a general idea of where your traffic is going. You can't filter other reports by this data.

A commonly requested and related feature is breaking down traffic by directory. We will be adding this in the future.

The second feature is the ability to ignore page views based on their URL. This has been requested by many customers!

This can be setup in your site preferences, as explained in this new knowledge base article. You can enter in one or more patterns to match and all page views that match those patterns will be ignored. Side effects: 1) If a visitor only views pages that match your filters, the visitor will not be logged at all. 2) If a visitor lands on one of these filtered pages but then views other pages, some data only available on their first page view, such as referrer, will not be available.

The help document linked above also explains how to set these up. We support wildcards but only on the end of a pattern, for example. Read it for full details.

We get requests to ignore traffic based on other things too, such as country, referrer, and organization. Some or all of these will likely be added in a future update, and when we do that we'll probably just create an entirely new preferences section just for setting up things you don't want to log, instead of piling more options onto the main site preferences page.
3 comments |   Aug 06 2013 7:31pm

The best return on investment we've made

Clicky is almost 7 years old and we've always been a very small team. We've handled all of the email ourselves since the beginning, using gmail, which we like. I doubt there's a single human being that enjoys doing tech support, but it's critical to customer satisfaction. It's also one of those things that quickly spirals out of control if you're not on top of it every single day, and it takes away precious time from what we really want do (write code).

At our peak we were getting almost 50 emails a day. Now we're down to about 20. How did we do that? Black magic? No. What we did was build a knowledge base with hundreds of topics (over 300 and counting), including many guides/howto's and tons of the most common problems people have.

Aside from hoping to get less emails, we really just wanted thorough guides and articles with screenshots to make things as easy as possible to understand for new and old customers alike, instead of having to type the same email 10 times a day when someone asks "where's my tracking code?". When a customer reads an article we link them to, they're now aware of the knowledge base if they weren't already, and will hopefully turn there first in the future when in need of help.

We released this silently back in March and the effect was immediately noticeable. Email volume dropped in half almost overnight, and has slowly declined a bit more since then as more people become aware of it. It also helps that the contact page is now only available as a link from the knowledge base page. We're not trying to hide our contact info like some companies do, rather we just want people to see the knowledge base first.

It was a solid two weeks of work coming up with a list of articles to write, categorizing them into a tree, cross-linking them, and writing them all out with screenshots etc. It was an extremely boring and repetitive two weeks, but let me tell you: it was worth every dreadful second.

It's been especially insightful using our heatmap tracking to see what items people are most interested in on each page, and how many people are exploring the knowledge base rather than clicking the link to contact us.

The only thing missing it from it was a search form. That's part of the reason for today's post, to announce that we finally added a search form to the page. The reason it didn't have one before was because I was going to write a custom search with customized weighting and things like that. But out of the blue yesterday, it was suggested to me that I just use Google's search for it. Not a bad idea, I thought. At the very least it's better than a kick in the pants. It only took about 5 minutes of work to do that, which was great, but also made me sad I didn't think of this before.

Anyways, when you do a search now, it redirects you to with " inurl:/help/" appended onto the end of your search, so the results are only from our help section (which is mainly the knowledge base). Yeah, I could do their embedded search thing, but I don't like that.

I was not planning to leave it as a Google search forever, but then I thought about the thousands of man-years of experience that Google has building a search engine, and frankly they're pretty dang good at it. With things like automatic spelling correction, accounting for word varations, and semantic analysis, it works really well. I tested tons of searches (to the point of getting banned because they thought I was a robot) and everything I threw at it worked great, including the order of the search results. I don't like that it takes people off our site, but for now I don't see a better option.

The real point of this post is just to say that building a knowledge base has been the best return on investment we ever made. We easily save 1-2 hours every single day because our email load has dropped so much, and I imagine with the new search functionality, it will drop even more.

Other amazing returns for us have been virtualizing all of our servers, which we wrapped up last year, and automated deployment to all production servers when we push new code to our main web server with Git. These save us huge amounts of time, and time is money my friends. Virtualization was probably the biggest project we've ever done, taking about a full year, so the investment was gigantic. But everytime I deploy a new server with a single command, I am one happy panda.

What's the best ROI your company has had?
3 comments |   Jul 30 2013 5:38pm

CDN fault-tolerance

This is a post for web developers.

What do you do when your CDN fails to serve a resource to a visitor?

For a year or two, we've had a message at the top of our site that more or less said "If you're seeing this message, our style sheet has failed to load. Try clearing your cache, wait a few minutes and try again, etc". Of course you wouldn't see this message if it our stylesheet had loaded, because our stylesheet had a rule to hide it.

That's a reasonable first step. At least we're communicating that we know something is wrong. But we still get customers emailing in a few times a month and the CDN just wouldn't work no matter what they tried. Maybe a CDN server in their location was having an outage, even though traffic should get routed around that, failures still happen. Maybe the customer's DNS is failing. Lots of possibilities, and almost always impossible to track down because eventually, within a day or two at the most, it would always start working for them again.

Clicky isn't usable without CSS (I know, I know...), and minorly broken without javascript (e.g. graphs). This kind of problem is just annoying, so I finally resolved to fix it. As any page on our site is loading, we use a few inline javascript tests to see if our master javascript file and master CSS file have loaded. If we detect a failure for either of those, then we try to load the resource a second time, directly from our web server. The code looks like this:

As you can see, this goes right at the top of the BODY tag. There are two reasons we need to wait until the BODY tag. First, we are creating an element to test its visibility immediately. We have to wait until BODY to do that. Second, if there is a CSS failure, we need to inject a new CSS element into the HEAD tag, but we can't do that until we are closed out of the HEAD tag. So, we wait until BODY.

Here's how the code works.

First, we create an empty element, #cdnfailtest, which we'll be testing the visibility of. Then we bust into javascript for the testing.

We want to use jQuery to test if this faux element is actually visible (because jQuery makes that very simple), so before doing that, we check if our javascript file has loaded by testing for window.jQuery. If that test fails, then our minified javascript wasn't loaded, so we need to load it from the web server. Unfortunately, we have no choice but to use document.write() in order to guarantee the script file is loaded immediately.

I did notice during testing however, even with document.write(), the javascript file wasn't always immediately available. It was a bit random on every refresh whether or not it worked. So we wrap the rest of the code within a setTimeout() call to delay it slightly (500 milliseconds).

After the 500 milliseconds, we start the CSS visibility test. We use jQuery to find the element #cdnfailtest and see if it's visible. (If jQuery still isn't loaded, we assume something is wrong and force load the CSS from the web server anyways, just to be safe). If it is visible, that means the CSS did not load, because otherwise its rules would hide the element.

This is the part where we need the HEAD element to be already fully declared, so we can attach and inject the CSS file into it. That's what the rest of the code does. Since CSS is fine to load asynchronous, we use the more modern method of adding it to the DOM (which we can't use for the javascript file, because even when "async" is not specified, it still seems to load it like that - e.g. parsing continues while that file is loaded in the background). So the page may still look funny for a moment, but that should only be the case for a second or two.

Anyways, this is our solution to this problem. If you have had to come up with your own solution, we'd be interested to see how yours works.
0 comments |   Jul 18 2013 5:04pm

1 minute uptime monitoring! And more new custom upgrade options.

We just launched a revamped upgrade page with some highly requested feature customization options.

  • 1 minute uptime monitoring intervals - When we launched uptime monitoring in beta back in January, we said that 1 minute uptime would be "coming soon". Ha. Anyways, we still haven't launched Monitage as its own standalone product yet, so we still consider it a beta feature for the moment, but we've had a lot of requests for 1 minute monitoring so now you can choose that interval if desired.

    There's also the option to increase the number of monitors you can have per site, up to 10 (default is 3).

  • Higher heatmap sampling - Heatmaps by default only sample 50% of visitors, minus mobile visitors (we'll eventually log them, once we get to test things them more). Now there are more options for this, all the way up to 100% (again, minus mobile visitors).

  • API throttling - Back in February we had to start throttling the analytics API, as some customers' heavy usage was impacting some of our database servers' ability to keep up with real time. This only impacted a couple of specific data types though: visitors-list, actions-list and segmentation.

    There are two aspects to throttling. One is that we only allow one request per IP address per site ID at a time. The other is that these types of requests are limited to 1000 results and a max date range of 7 days.

    The option to remove API throttling that we are offering now is for the first throttle only, that is, you will now be allowed to send unlimited requests per IP address per site ID. However, the date range and max result size of 1000 will still be in effect. We've analyzed the data and we just can't offer this without impacting a large number of customers.

Here's what the new upgrade page looks like:

Each customization you choose increases the price by a certain percentage, such as 10%. They don't compound though, meaning if you choose two upgrades that each increase the price, they are each calculated based on the core price of the non-customized plan.

If you're ready to take the plunge, you can upgrade here.
1 comment |   Jun 06 2013 5:52pm

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