The Pros and Cons of Using Website Tracking

There is a right and wrong way to go about using website tracking.

There are a few ideas in technology that are as divisive as website tracking. For the majority of consumers, website tracking is an invasion of their privacy. After all, who wants a company to know all of their browsing history? To that end, web browser developers go out of their way to prevent sites from tracking user behavior.

But website tracking isn’t just about keeping tabs on where users have been and anticipating where they might be going. In fact, there’s a lot to be gained (for both the user and the company) by employing website traffic.

Lets take a look at the pros and cons, so you can decide if this is a task you want to undertake before you hire the developers and the software QA outsourcing for the job.

What is website tracking?

First, let’s answer the question “What is website tracking?”

Website tracking is a process that uses scripts to collect and store data about users and their preferences as they interface with a website. There are four main types of web trackers:

  • Cookies — are the most commonly used method to track user behavior. These are small pieces of data that are saved by the web browse) to the local browser cache. These cookies can be easily deleted by the user.
  • Supercookies — are a special type of cookie, injected by an ISP, that can access user information, behavior, and preferences. These cookies can’t be deleted by the user, but some modern browsers do prevent their injection.
  • Embedded scripts — come in the form of pixel trackers (clear images embedded on a web page or email) or tracking scripts (which run as you visit a website). These scripts can track users, record IP addresses, and capture device specifications.
  • Fingerprinters — scrape data from web browsers (such as browser type and version, operating system, screen resolution, installed fonts, and apps). With this collected data, a fingerprint is created that is unique to your device and can track you across sites.

Now that you have a better idea of what website tracking is, let’s find out what’s good and bad about it.

The pros of website tracking

There are quite a few good reasons for you to use website tracking — none of which will make you come off as trying to do anything nefarious. Let’s take a look at these benefits.

Real-time insight

As a company, it’s in your best interest to know who’s visiting your website, so your marketing team can improve on their efforts. If you sell product W and find that most of your visitors fall within the age range of Y, your marketing staff can tweak the verbiage on the page so that it speaks more to Y. Or, you might find that Y is too narrow an audience, so your staff can find ways to attract X and Z as well. That insight is invaluable.

Improve the customer experience

One of the most important aspects of your website is the UX (user experience). If your website offers a poor user experience, you’ll have a hard time retaining visitors. This is especially so as the competition for user attention continues to increase. You can bet your competition is doing everything they can to improve the UX of their site. Web trackers can go a long way to help you collect the necessary data to improve the UX of your site.

You’ll discover what visitors are viewing, how long they stay on the site, and even what page they left the site from. That’s valuable (and actionable) information you can send to QA companies who work with you to improve your site.

Know what your customers want

Marketing and sales is already a challenging job. They have to be able to make predictions and often do so without enough data. Using website trackers empowers those staff members to make more informed decisions, so they can know exactly what your customers are looking for.

Knowing search terms and where users are coming from (where they found your website) can be very helpful. For instance, did a user directly type your URL or did they find your site by searching specific terms in a Google search? With that information in hand, you can fine-tune what you present on your site and even the URLs used. For example, if a user searched for ProductX and found your site, but ProductX’s actual URL is http://yoursite.com/item=101, you might want to change that address to http://yoursite.com/ProductX.

The cons of website tracking

It’s not all clouds and roses here. There are a couple of very specific cons that can play against you. Let’s take a look.

Upfront cost

In order to make use of website tracking, you’re either going to have to hire developers who can make it happen in-house, or hire a third party to deploy the necessary tools and scripts. If you’re already working on a tight budget this can be a real deal-breaker. But if you feel the pros far outweigh this con, you can always pay for training, so your current staff can make it so.

The court of public opinion

This one isn’t so easy to get around. Consumers like their privacy. And the more browser developers pounce on this, it serves to reinforce the idea that website tracking is a bad thing. In order to get around this opinion, your company (and its developers) will have to find a way to make it very clear you only use website tracking to enhance the user experience, and not to sell or repurpose customer data in any way.

It can’t be stressed enough that you win over the trust of the consumer. If you don’t, word will spread very fast about how your company is using collected data against the consumer. You probably aren’t, but the court of public opinion holds powerful sway, and this battle could certainly be uphill if not handled the right way.

Conclusion

There is a right and wrong way to go about using website tracking. If you do it by first gaining the public’s trust, the data you collect will be a gold mine to you and your company. Go the wrong route and you’ll find yourself struggling to make things right, all the while watching your competition grow and expand, using all of that collected data to improve their bottom line and expand their customer base.

I’m a tech writer, IT enthusiast, and business development manager living in Miami.