In this post we are going to learn how we can use Google Analytics to find out how a web application is being used.

This method applies to any single page application even if they are not PWAs (Progressive Web Apps).

Tracking traditional web sites

Adding google analytics to a traditional website is very easy. Google provides a script we can add to each page. Every time a page is load, the script will be run and the visit will be recorded. The script looks something like this:

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<!-- Global site tag (gtag.js) - Google Analytics -->
<script async src="https://www.googletagmanager.com/gtag/js?id=G-XXXXXXXXX"></script>
<script>
  window.dataLayer = window.dataLayer || [];
  function gtag(){dataLayer.push(arguments);}
  gtag('js', new Date());

  gtag('config', 'G-XXXXXXXXX');
</script>

The reason this by itself doesn’t work for PWAs is because the tag only sends a page view event when the page is loaded. Since PWAs transition between pages without reloading the page, we need a way to send events programmatically.

Tracking Progressive Web Apps

In PWAs we also need to add the script above to get the Google Analytics library. On top of this, we need a way to send events to Google programmatically.

We can use the gtag function to track arbitrary events whenever we want. For example:

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gtag('event', 'message_liked', { 'message_id': 'ABCD' });

Google Analytics will automatically send some events, but we might also want to manually track our page views:

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gtag('event', 'page_view', {
  'page_location': 'feed',
  'page_referrer': 'article-123'
});

When to send this event depends on how our application works. Most frameworks have a router that takes care of moving between pages. This is a usually a good candidate.

If our application has a centralized place where it keeps its state, we can send events when a change is noticed in the state. For example:

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stateChanged(state) {
  const previousPage = this._page;
  this._page = state.app.page;

  // Track the page change
  if (previousPage !== newPage) {
    gtag('event', 'page_view', {
      page_location: newPage,
      page_referrer: previousPage
    });
  }
}

Conclusion

Given the way PWAs are usually built, it becomes very easy to record user events simply by adding a function call every time we detect a page change. Furthermore, this method gives us the flexibility to track anything we are interested in.

[ google  javascript  programming  ]
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