Data is the future of business. Every mouse click or swipe, every clicked tab, each backend function can be used to shape business decisions. And theoretically, it is possible to track the billions of interactions users make with your website using tracking plans. The only problem is, this doesn’t make a whole heap of sense.
Once upon a time, all of the clicks on a website would be tracked. People were addicted to collecting data without having recourse to a purpose. It was the beginning of tracking and analytics and there was a genuine interest in finding out where people clicked on any given webpage. Thus began the advent of user experience (UX) analysis.
When a user interacts with your website they can do so in myriad ways. Let’s just think about scrolling for a second. A user can scroll slowly or they can scroll quickly. They can scroll to the bottom of the page or not so far. And the difference (shown up in scroll heat maps) matters. If you want to optimize your website for making conversions, you need to be paying attention to what page length is ideal for most users and place your CTA before too long!
However, it simply doesn’t make sense to track every piece of data (or even most!) just for the sake of it. You want to make sure that your tracking plan records the most important user interactions that help your business to improve its operations. A tracking plan is a singular and centralized source of truth in your company. It is the document that everyone in your organization uses when establishing and recording trackable events. It shines a light on the metrics your business cares about.
This is just one of the many important things I have learned during my time as an analytics engineer. Data analytics and how it can benefit businesses is a continually evolving conversation. That is why I have made it my career to help understand companies make better business decisions based on data. That said, here are 10 other important things I learned about tracking plans.
#1 Make sure you have a tracking plan
Sounds like an obvious thing to say, especially in an article about tracking plans. But you would be surprised how most businesses try to operate their analytics without one. Tracking plans often necessitate covering two main areas: marketing analytics and product analytics. Marketing analytics is easier: it usually takes only 5-6 core conversion events – but you want to make sure that they are well defined. In my experience, the goal of a great marketing tracking plan should be to hone in on where your website users are coming from. What key events do they perform on your website? Have they signed up for the newsletter? Are they interested in your new product range?
Product analytics track more events than marketing does. Essentially, you want to understand how users interact with your product’s features. A lot of companies simply roll out products and features without first understanding whether or not these are meeting customer needs. By recording and analyzing users’ product interactions you get the chance to increase conversion rates by designing excellent digital experiences.
The tip here is to not go too crazy. Start with the core events that define your business – I would say 5-10 events is a good start – the more events you add, the more you have to maintain in the long run. Take your business goals – like what you want to achieve in the next 6 months – then break this down to the core metrics and then the metrics can become tracking events. It’s not only easy to get started with a tracking plan, it’s essential.
#2 Store the tracking plan in a central and accessible place
Put simply,your tracking plan does not belong on your computer or in a team folder. It must be accessible for the whole company. Why? Because it’s one of your data blueprints. It’s a data map. So, if you want a data-driven company don’t hide the core data assets! However, the central location of the tracking plan does not mean everyone is responsible for contributing to it. Usually, that responsibility falls to one person or one team (usually the data team). Therefore, it’s important to grant editing privileges to one individual or one team and read only access for everyone else. A good place to store your new tracking plan is in a Google Drive folder, a Dropbox folder or on Microsoft OneDrive – somewhere where everyone can just open it with a link. Also, allow people to submit changes and new events in an easy way (maybe an online form, or by using a specific email address).
#3 Abide by naming conventions
Ok, I know what you’re thinking: this sounds like a boring thing only a tech guy would say. However, just hear me out. Using naming conventions correctly and consistently is really really important. That’s because when tracked events are named in the same way and structure it makes it easy to read them and, ultimately, it makes the data more useful. Tracking events should have an easy structure, such as: Object + Action (i.e. “Subscription created“). See how easy that is to read and make sense of instantly? There is no one prescribed naming convention that trumps all others. Simply find a naming convention that makes sense to you and your team and avoid using abbreviations. The point is to make your event as easy to read as possible for just about anyone. Pro tip: create a first version of a naming convention with your data team and then share it with others to get feedback. This will help ensure that everyone can understand the naming and work with it.
#4 Use less events and more properties
A tracking plan consists of events (like Object + Action) and event properties. Properties are the defining context for an event. To explain this point further, an event might be named something like ‘Subscription created’, whereas the properties would detail such things as the subscription plan, amount, and time period. When creating your company’s tracking plan, try to input as much context as possible in the properties and keep the events generic. Remember the golden rule: have a low number of events and a high number of properties.
#5 Be strategic about what you put into properties
Here is something I learned throughout my career working with tracking plans: some values do not work in properties. Let me explain. Let’s say you have an event like “Video started”, using a property like “video length” is interesting, but the actual number of seconds or minutes does not really help you to analyze it. One video might be 45s, another 156s. The aforementioned property doesn’t allow you to easily compare. What helps in that case is to use clusters like <60s, 60-200s. These clusters are much easier to analyse and to compare. User generated content does not work as well – imagine you track a task management application and have an event: “Task created” and the property: “category”. Inputting how users name the categories does not help since it will be unique for each user. Pro tip: imagine what the values of a property would like as a bar chart; a good bar chart has 5-6 different values. More is not analysable.
#6 Have a visual version of the tracking
This is especially important for tracking events for websites and apps.That’s because it makes it easy for all business teams to quickly understand where the event data was generated. And doing so is very straightforward. Simply take a screenshot and annotate where the event is triggered, for example: where
someone clicks on a specific button. What’s more, it makes it easy for developers who implement the tracking to understand where they need to add the code.
#7 Have one team or one person responsible for the final version
It’s really important that whenever you are introducing a new system or process into your business operations that it is something sustainable. Make the process work for you (or your data person) as well as your whole team. It’s great to have multiple teams working together on a tracking plan. When a new feature is released, the product and marketing teams can contribute what actions are important for them to track and they can propose new events. However, the final decision about what to include in a tracking plan should be made by one team or person. This guarantees proper naming conventions, consistency and reasoning about which events really make sense to track. Think about it as quality assurance
#8 Pro tracking plan set up
When you first create a tracking plan in a spreadsheet you should be proud of yourself. You have just made the decision to be a data-driven company! And when you update and evolve the tracking plan over the next 6 months, you can be even more proud. Maintaining a tracking plan is key and over time you will see that doing so in a spreadsheet saps a lot of your valuable time. It’s time to go pro!
Using a professional tracking plan service like avo.app to manage your tracking plan makes adding and evolving a tracking plan easier, plus it also streamlines collaboration. When it comes time to level up your tracking plan game, it’s time to utilize a professional approach. This is because of the following reasons:
- when several different people are editing and working with the same data things tend to get quite complex
- overseeing all of the tracking plan additions yourself becomes a full-time job
- onboarding someone else in your organization similarly takes them away from their core tasks
- the need to keep engagement with the tracking plan high across your organization so business goals are met.
Therefore, a professional tracking plan should do four main things:
- list the key events relevant to your business goals
- focus clearly on optimizing the customer journey
- define the reasons for tracking each event and property
- explain how the data will be used to measure your progress.
#9 Introduce a process around your tracking plan
This is part of utilizing a pro tracking approach. Sketch out the process for how you will add new tracking events. Will you use a submit form or email template to ask for new events? Or use a revision process with the data team? How will event implementation, testing and deployment be factored in?. Most importantly, define your SLAs (how long does it take until a new event is live?), It’s important to track and optimize it. When you’re sketching out your process, decide how you will refine or even remove events. Here’s a process I find works well:
- Analyse the usage of event data
- Get stakeholder’s feedback on event usage
- Make a list of event removals
- Remove them from the code
- Document it – removing events is as important as adding them. If things are not relevant any more there is no need to track them.
The world of business is changing every day. Your product is changing every day. Your marketing is changing every day. So your tracking plan has to not only keep pace but also lead the way with where your business is moving. Two major risks threaten the vital impact a tracking plan can have on your organization. One is that it is created and then quickly forgotten. The other major risk is that too many people start to build elements into it that makes it too clunky to use. To make sure this second scenario doesn’t happen, it’s important to institute some processes around how your organization tracks data. Here are my top 5 tips for creating a tracking plan process:
- schedule when the tracking process will be updated
- have clear guidelines that explicate how and by whom your tracking will be changed
- decide who is responsible for the tracking setup and management
- make sure you and your team regularly review the tracking plan
- have a process whereby changes to the tracking plan are accompanied by a briefing explaining what the change entails, i.e.: what the metrics are, how the success of the implementation will be measured, etc. Then let the data team recommend whether or not these changes should be made.
#10 Fall in love with tracking plans
Okay, just hear me out on this one. Some people (me for example), love to create tracking plans. It’s satisfying to drill down on what the business cares about in the form of high-value events. Aligning all of the different kinds of variables, such as business goals, products, user experience, customer journey, and having them come together in a very concise and powerful tracking center, is very rewarding. Showing businesses how and why it’s important to create their single source of truth is my truth.
After these 10 tips maybe you too can start to see the value of tracking plans. When you feel a little joy while pulling out your plan to extend it, refine it or just revisit it, you will know you are on the right track. You now understand the true value of a tracking plan. When a co-worker just writes you on Slack, “I just found in our tracking plan that we measure newsletter subscriptions in the blog, so I could build a new optimization process for it this week” – these are the moments you will see the value of a tracking plan.