If you've just finished watching Snowden, then please don't spoil it for me. Although I think I know how it ends. Security is a hot topic right now, with daily hacks and email leaks and "private email servers", which I'm sure no one that's said those words in the past month has any clue about. But it's mysterious, because it's private, and a server. So today I thought I'd go over an overlooked, but important, element in this online privacy and security world.
I'll be going over what I track personally on my websites, why I track those items and why it's important. And why if done correctly you don't have to worry about your privacy. Government surveillance is different though, worry about that. I don't know how that works, and frankly, I don't wanna know how it works.
this blog has no tracking..because it's a blog
What I do track
I have basic tracking on all of my non-blogging websites. Aside from the usual Analytics, which will tell me basic data such as page views, bounce rates and which pages are getting all of the traffic. All good stuff, but sometimes, not enough. I also have my own tracking set up in order to view when certain action items are taking place. This includes when a user uses the search tool to find something and what they do after they find their desired result. I want to know what they have searched for and whether they ended up clicking on an item essentially.
It's not important here really "who" the person was, just what they were looking for. I'll cover more on that down below.
it's not the who that matters, but the what
I also track "Call to action" items such as affiliate links and banners for one main reason. If it's getting zero conversion, then it needs to go. That's more of a usability reason for me. I don't normally enjoy having to wade through random content on a website when I visit it, so I try to keep that same rule for my own websites.
Tracking is different for sure if you're logged out vs if you're logged in. There's only so much data that one can grab from an anonymous user online. I can see which browser you are using and maybe which country. But again, each website will implement it their own way. Some websites track every single click, which I feel is a kind of waste, and others track absolutely nothing, which will lead to a poor user experience down the road.
It's more important in the beginning
I'm currently coming off of a project which just went public, beta really, and what we've found is that it is insanely difficult to work on the website, without knowing what people are doing. It's hard to tell if certain elements grab the users attention, and more importantly, if it even makes enough sense to be functional.
We can see records created in the database, which is a plus, but we're not certain of how that came to be.
the how is also important
If you don't add tracking features to a brand new website, you're pretty much sentencing that website to a fast and painful death. Because, just like in many real world counterparts, it's the customers that dictate how businesses run. Imagine a grocery store that carried 80% beet and beet related products. More than likely, that store isn't going to do so well in the beginning, probably. Depends on the town I guess. It's possible that this store found the one city in America that can't live without beets. And that's my main point really. Without the right data, that store can pack up and move to the next beet loving town.
Let me give you an example really quickly. On our website, we have a search feature which in turn will output many results. Each result has it's own page with details on it, which further has 1 very important call to action on it. That's the goal on the website, that one click. But in order to get there, we first need to know how a user got to that page, what they searched for, whether they went to page 2, 3, 4 etc, and lastly whether they, that same user, clicked on that link.
As a fledgling company, this is huge. Because we can't make a living without that click essentially. So we want to make that process as seamless, as fun, and as smooth as possible to all site visitors.
And that's what tracking really is. It isn't "I want your email and phone number" to sell to a third party later on. Maybe to some shady websites. But I just want to know if my process makes enough sense for you to use it and if it doesn't, why. Because if it doesn't, our website isn't doing its job. It's very non-nefarious really.
The privacy issue
For me, tracking is as non-personal as I can make it. Each "user" is just a random long ID, which has a short lifespan. And this is because I don't technically care who the person is, as I mentioned above. I just care that they own a computer, found my website, and can potentially find some use in it.
This would be a possible sample data set. Just the basics. If you're getting traffic on your website, but you're conversions are low, and your bounce rate is high maybe it's a good idea to start to see why, before your website joins the list of freshly deceased ones.
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Walter Guevara is a Computer Scientist, software engineer, startup founder and currently mentors for a coding bootcamp. He has been creating software for the past 15 years.