Over the past few years I’ve become progressively more uncomfortable by the software industry’s default of adding client-side analytics collection tools (i.e. Google Analytics, but also all the ad tools and social network embedded buttons). I’ve made the commitment to myself to not add these to this website or my personal projects when I can absolutely avoid them.
There’s a few reasons why I think more people should skip adding third-party, passive event tracking resources to their projects.
First, these tools generally don’t respect the user. They’re more useful for the third-party business or you than they are for the person who’s being tracked.
Second, they trick you into thinking you know more about what’s going on than is actually true. They allow you to tell yourself stories about why certain things are happening.
Finally, and most importantly, these tools convince us to focus on the wrong metrics. How often have you focused too heavily on pageviews, time on page, bounce rate, etc. In my experience, they rarely actually matter, and it’s time to stop trying to convince ourselves they do.
When I publish this post and share it, it would be tempting to check pageviews in an analytics tool and use that as a measure of quality. Did this post perform better than the average of my last few? But in reality, it tells me very little. A bunch of people passing by my store but not coming in doesn’t really help me too much. Sure, there’s some awareness X-factor, but I don’t need to measure that.
When you actually look at my goals and purpose for writing, I’m focused on finding other like-minded folks, getting clients, and building my own newsletter audience who will be interested in my products. Nothing about those goals correlates with more pageviews.
So is it worth tracking my visitors’ every action across my entire site just to get a simplistic idea of if people viewed, and maybe read, this post?
I emphatically say no. A better measure is how many emails and tweets I get about any individual post, if any potential clients reach out, or if my newsletter gets noticeably more subscribers. The good vibes I get when I publish a post that positively affects those variables is far more energizing than seeing a few hundred or thousand more views in an analytics tool. If I’ve noticed anything, incessantly checking the charts of analytics tools can be maddening.
The same argument can easily be made for any new product I build. When I track people with an analytics tool, I can see which pages they visited, what they clicked on, if they converted to a user, or paid me money. But that never tells me why, and that’s all that really matters for me.
I’m as guilty as anybody of using analytics to prove a user story or reason for why things happen. “Why aren’t people converting? Oh, because these numbers on that page don’t match up with the numbers on that page, and the event count over there is too low. People must be upset that we don’t offer this feature.” Ha! If only. That sort of rationale makes it far too easy to toss aside the idea of actually talking to customers and learning from them. You feel like you have all the data you need.
When you ditch low-signal analytics data and focus instead on the outcomes, it doesn’t matter how many people visited the site and left. Zoom in on the ones who stayed, talk to them, learn from them, and do more of the stuff they want. Over time the folks who left will slowly find their way back and now you’ll be better equipped to help them too.
Try it for a bit. I think you’ll be happier with how it makes you feel and the results will speak to their worth.