Domains, Subdomains and Tracking- Explained!

Google Analytics is often the be-all and end-all of data tracking for many marketers. It is standard practice to install a tracking code, set up some goals, and analyze the reports. But, once you have multiple web properties, things can be slightly more challenging to track. Oftentimes, when marketers want to leverage new tech, many SaaS platforms come in the form of plug-ins, which likely means a subdomain. So how do we track all of the domains, subdomains and ensure Google Analytics isn’t attributing the movement between domains as a bounce? No need to fear this new terminology or technology! In this article we are going to discuss and define domains and subdomains, cross-domain tracking, why this is all important, and how to mitigate the risk of increased bounce rates. Let’s dive in!

Domains, Subdomains, and Cross-Domain Tracking, Oh My!

Before we get into the nitty-gritty of cross-domain tracking, analytics, and bounce rates, let’s get all of our ducks in a row and define some terms you’ll be seeing a lot in this article.

Domain: the name of a website (mywebsite.com

Subdirectories: is the part of the URL that houses a specific subset of content after the slash (mywebsite.com/blog)

Subdomain: an extension of the root domain, excluding ‘https’, often used for site organization or to host other components. (blog.mywebsite.com)

Subdomain Tracking: tracking how a user moves between the root domain and its subdomains (mywebsite.com and blog.mywebsite.com)

Cross-Domain Tracking: a single report that displays user behavior across two domains as if they were on a single domain (mywebsite.com and ourwebsite.com)

Oftentimes, people use the ‘normal’ setup for their domain (mywebsite.com) and use subdirectories like (mywebsite.com/blog) to keep everything together. But in this article we are digging into domains and subdomains which involve multiple web properties rather than just one. But don’t worry, after we walk you through it, it’ll be a breeze.

For example, if your main website was under the domain name mywebsite.com but you had your blog sitting on blog.mywebsite.com, you would need subdomain tracking. As website visitors move between the domains and subdomains, you should be tracking the activity on both domains.

Alternatively, cross-domain tracking is used to track a user’s activity across different domains and exists so you can see sessions on any related domains you own. For example, you would need to use cross-domain tracking if you wanted to track the user experience from mywebsite.com and ourwebsite.com. This allows you to track two different domains that are related to each other, so you can understand the user experience across both domains.

This essentially means roping them together so you can view the Google Analytics reports for both of them in a holistic way. After setting up cross-domain tracking, the analytics report will record things like navigation paths between pages, total time on site, unique users, and unique sessions - the usual suspects on a Google Analytics report. We’ve covered what you need to know, but for more details on each step to implement cross-domain tracking, we’ve attached a great guide that dives even deeper at the link attached here.

Many marketers are leveraging website technologies like OpenHouse.ai to improve the digital experience for each unique website visitor. These tools are often plug-ins, that are hosted on a subdomain which, like we described earlier, calls for subdomain tracking. Let’s get into the details of how this all works, so you can do it too!

So, What About Subdomain Tracking?

Many SaaS companies, like OpenHouse.ai, seamlessly plug-in to existing websites as an application (app.mywebsite.com). We recommend keeping these two entities separate to ensure our customers have the utmost ease and flexibility for content management of their site, and to ensure they are not restrained by version control, security, or other issues. It can be common practice to keep the two accounts separate for tracking data in Google Analytics, but depends on your business. The two separate accounts being: your root domain (mywebsite.com) and your subdomain (app.mywebsite.com).

For example, the OpenHouse.ai plug-in is connected to our home builder’s catalog which is hosted on a subdomain. So, when home buyers visit our builder’s website and click to shop for a home, they are moving to a subdomain of their website. Unfortunately, this is often counted as a bounce and can skew analytics. This is a common issue for any website that has multiple web properties, and we want to ensure your analytics are as accurate as possible. Many organizations prefer to keep the analytics between their main website (attached to their root domain) and their software as a service platform, separate. But we know that you’ve created an experience that is connected, and we want your analytics to reflect that. This is where subdomain tracking comes in, and the good news is, it’s an easy fix!

The two main steps are: setting up the cookieDomain and updating your referral exclusion list. We won’t turn this article into a tutorial, but we will attach a link that sets out some great instructions here. So, if you’re reading this, and you find yourself asking “do I need subdomain tracking or domain tracking” the answer is simple. If you have the same tracking code installed on multiple domains and you want to track a single user as they visit those domains, you need cross-domain tracking. BUT if you have a single domain with multiple subdomains, you don’t need cross-domain tracking, just subdomain tracking. WOW. We know that’s a lot of information to digest- but now you’re done! With this information, you can track buyer journeys across, domains, subdomains and every where in between!

Let’s Wrap it Up

We understand that centralization of data is critical. The best way to understand a buyer and their journey is through a single view of the customer. The more disjointed your data sources are due to wonky tracking the harder it is for marketers to understand that buyer journey. Cross-domain tracking and subdomain tracking are a few of the many ways to tie together all of that data to give a clear picture of each individual’s visit to a website.

As we mentioned earlier, the OpenHouse.ai platform is hosted on a subdomain, and we want to ensure home builders know that with some simple subdomain tracking you can see a holistic view of your home buyers, so you can create the best online experience possible.

- The OpenHouse.ai Team


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