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How to track file downloads in web analytics

• Written by Hricha Shandily
How to track file downloads in your analytics

If you have a website with downloadable resources like content or software, it’s a good practice to track how they are performing for your audience and business/marketing. Staying in sight of this information reveals interesting insight into how valuable a resource is to your audience, how effective is your distribution strategy and what improvements can be made to these two.

It is therefore a direct reflection of the degree of value a business or marketing is generating for its audience, and could offer deeper analysis into a business’ core strategy itself. Let’s see what a file download is, and how to keep in touch to improve your marketing and distribution strategies.

  1. What is a file download?
  2. Why track file downloads?
    1. What’s in demand
    2. How well positioned your resource is
    3. Your audience
    4. Your campaigns
    5. Lead generation
  3. How to track file downloads on your website?
  4. How to optimize for file downloads?
    1. Optimize content quality
    2. Optimize landing pages
    3. Optimize distribution channels
    4. Monitor and adjust
  5. Before you go…

What is a file download?

A downloadable file on a website can be any of the following:

  • A software or app download, if your product has an app version. For eg. Figma.
  • An eBook or whitepaper download, if you have helpful content to share with your audience.
  • A spreadsheet download, if you have a useful template to share with your audience. For eg. a product implementation checklist.
  • A sales deck, or brochure, to help promote sales or your product’s features.
  • An audio, video, or PDF download, that could be anything from a song download to a research paper download.
  • Anything else.

Most web analytics tools, including Plausible, track a file download as a link click including a specific extension. Plausible tracks the following: .pdf, .xlsx, .docx, .txt, .rtf, .csv, .exe, .key, .pps, .ppt, .pptx, .7z, .pkg, .rar, .gz, .zip, .avi, .mov, .mp4, .mpeg, .wmv, .midi, .mp3, .wav, .wma, .dmg, and other custom extensions.

Why track file downloads?

Tracking how your downloadable files are performing can help you learn about…

What’s in demand

If your resource comes as a downloadable feature extension (like a font pack for a design software), an educational piece (like a customer success guide), or a complementary tool (like an analytics plugin), tracking the downloads of a resource helps understand if it’s something that’s in demand with your audience.

How well positioned your resource is

With learning about what’s in demand, comes the understanding of how well your resource fulfills it. With this understanding, you can improve both the content quality and its distribution ways.

Your audience

A good look at your file download patterns also reveals some insights about your audience. For eg. Do they enjoy lengthy reads with an eBook? Maybe the download numbers are not encouraging, and it might be beneficial to start repurposing your content into infographics.

Moreover, analyzing download data alongside other metrics like demographics and behavior can help you segment your audience better. You can identify specific audience segments that are interested in particular forms and types of content and tailor your marketing accordingly.

Your campaigns

If your downloadable resources are a part of a marketing campaign or a funnel, tracking them also gives a good indicator about the health of the campaign. By quantifying downloads and comparing them to costs, you can calculate the campaign’s ROI, opening up opportunities for refining strategy and assiging resources.

Lead generation

If your downloadable file is gated behind a contact form, tracking its downloads can help understand which content drives the most form submissions. In turn, you can measure the effectiveness of your lead generation efforts.

How to track file downloads on your website?

File downloads are pretty standard to track with any Web Analytics tool. If you are using Plausible, adding the code snippet for tracking file downloads to the Plausible integration script is optional. Once done, it starts capturing file download events each time a link is clicked containing a file extension.

All types of file extensions can be tracked with Plausible, either by default or by specification. On the Plausible dashboard, you will be able to see:

  • The number of total file download clicks
  • The number of unique file download clicks
  • The conversion rate
  • Top referral sources that lead to clicks
  • Top pages that drive the clicks
  • Countries, regions and cities that click on file download
  • Devices (screen size, browser, OS) that click on file download

If you don’t have file downloads to track, you can keep the original script intact, which is effective and efficient at 0.7 KB only. This helps us keep our main tracking script lightweight and not deteriorate page load speeds and visitor experience.

Google Analytics 4, on the other hand, has a bloated tracking script as it comes with automatic file downloads tracking as part of its Enhanced Measurements. Generally, a compressed Google Analytics integration script is about 75 times larger than Plausible’s lightweight script.

How to optimize for file downloads?

Optimize content quality

After learning what works well with your audience, focus on enhancing the quality of your high-performing resources by updating them with the latest information, improving their design, or adding more value through additional features or insights.

Similarly, either weed out the less effective ones or experiment with a different kind of improvement.

Optimize landing pages

Ensure that the landing pages hosting your downloadable content are optimized for user-friendliness, and hence conversions.

Some good practices are to use clear and compelling copy and calls-to-action (CTAs), making the download process straightforward, and highlighting the benefits of the resource. Also, A/B/C… test different page elements to see which variations drive more downloads.

Optimize distribution channels

Use the insights from your analytics to identify the most effective distribution channels, while segmenting the audience.

Figure out which kinds of audiences (and whether they are your ideal customers) come from email marketing, social media, or your blog, and double down efforts on the channels that drive the most traffic and conversions.

Monitor and adjust

Keep an eye on metrics such as download counts, conversion rates, and referral sources to identify emerging patterns. Adjust by promoting, updating, or withdrawing resources as needed.

Before you go…

We’re creating a series on Web Analytics features, like this one, to help you learn and apply web analytics with ease. If you have specific topics you’d like us to cover, let us know at reading@plausible.io. We’re listening!

Written by Hricha Shandily

Hi! We are Uku and Marko. We're building a lightweight, non-intrusive alternative to Google Analytics. You can read about our journey and what we've learnt along the way on this blog.