Website Tracking: Is it necessary?

About the criticism of website tracking ...


16.01.2021

Why are we writing such an article? This question is legitimate, so we want to explain the background of the article:

Because of our name and our work, we are often confronted with various forms of criticism. In order not to have to reply every single criticism, we hereby try to react to the different criticism.

We therefore called on our social media channels again to criticize tracking. And yes, our appeal sounded a bit harsh and lackluster to some of you - but we consciously accepted that. Our goal was to provoke. Many responded to our call, thank you for that! As a tracking agency, we want to comment on this criticism, so please read on.

Contents:

What exactly is website tracking?

Before we start, let's first define what we are actually talking about. If you are not quite sure what we mean by “website tracking”, you can read the explanation in our knowledge base: Website Tracking

Criticism of tracking

As already written, criticism of our work repeatedly reaches us in various ways, or often only because of our name. Some are justified, some are exaggerated, some are based on myths and with some comments we don't know what to answer.

We promised you to publish some excerpts from criticism. So let's do that:

Justified criticism

Opinions that we fully or partially agree with:

MΠ wrote us two tweets:

"A lot of numbers are recorded, but if you really want to evaluate something, the necessary measured values are missing❗"

“Some pages get really fast without all the marketing tracking fuss, so the ad blocker is worth it”

We fully agree with both comments. Tracking should not affect the usage of a website (e.g. due to long page load, etc.). And of course it doesn't make sense to track something valueless.

FW commented very extensively:

“In Saxony we say "Drecking", but that does not mean that tracking is something dirty.
But it can be said that the aggressive re-targeting used in eCommerce in particular has led to the fact that today we have to be held up with very annoying cookie double opt-in requests.
And honestly, among us technicians, I hardly know of such a query that does not "clumsily" try to seduce the annoyed visitor or quickly "accept everything". The consent buttons are often more clearly highlighted and the "Save settings" button is rather inconspicuous.
Honest website operators who do not have to do tracking have nonsensical cookie notices built in, even if they do not need a cookie other than to save the consent (I just implemented it myself - that hurts!)
But what are the alternatives?
The website should be viewed as an honest channel to get to know customers. This can be achieved through real human address and a good offer.
Enthusiastic customers in a human way, since available, reacts and asks what customers want.
Creativity is required.
Retargeting is a technical solution to fish for sales without really caring about the needs of the customers.
For me this is more of a kind of lack of self-confidence which is compensated for by mass instead of class.
Fortunately, there are also customers who are slowly getting tired of the tracking madness themselves and understand that for many providers it is only about the proportion of sales that a convinced customer would have made.
And finally.
Why do I get retargeting advertising so often for products that I just bought - that just shows how little some providers understand about the buying process”

Here we only agree with the last part. If a user has bought something and then constantly is confronted with advertisements for this product, it is just annoying. Here one should give the technicians who implemented the retargeting so bad a salary deduction ...

Critics who take it with humor …

… at least that's what we think

EB writes to us on Facebook (translated from German):

“Tracking is like the "Stasi" (State Security Service of the GDR). Only better. And worse. And in colorful.”

CS, also on Facebook (translated from German):

“Tracking is stupid. If you want to have smart shoes for it, they cost a fortune”

AJ asked us back (translated from German):

“what is that anyway, never heard of. is that something for the garden? Fertilizer or something ?”

VH retweetete on our image (translated from German):

“I say only one thing: to tar and feather !”

JS said on Facebook (sorry, we can't translate that):

“Drecking hält, ne”

Opinions that we prefer to leave as they are

SMH said (translated from German):

“stalking at its finest …”

Finally, we would like to bring this comment here (translated from German):

“I fully agree with you, but I don't like that tone at all - we're not in School class 10”

... says someone who calls himself “Abbe der KettensaegenMan”.

Thanks again for the mixed reviews!

Why tracking makes sense ...

Unfortunately, most tracking reviews are based on a lack of knowledge or understanding. Therefore we would like to show that website tracking is very important and useful. Here are a few examples of why we are happy to support our customers with tracking integrations and evaluations:

  • Error detection
    Usually a website is constantly evolving. It is often unavoidable that technical or content-related errors arise, but often the effort cannot be made to test the website display on all browsers and devices. Therefore, various key figures are tracked and these are monitored for changes. If, for example, an important key figure such as the number of sales deteriorates, the web analysis system can be used to determine what the reason is.
    For example, the “Add to cart” button on a certain browser could technically no longer work, which would lead to a loss of sales.
  • Website optimization
    Website visitors should be able to use the website as easily as possible and find information quickly. For this purpose, the visitor behavior is measured and, for example, A/B tests attempt to simplify the website operation.
  • Conversion optimization
    The goal of a website can be to sell products, sign up for a premium area, or something entirely different. Conversion optimization tries to get visitors to a website to meet the goal and to remove stumbling blocks on the way there.
  • Measurement of marketing campaigns
    Marketing campaigns by websites are e.g. the use of Google Ads or placing banners on other websites, but can also be e.g. Radio or TV advertising. So that the website owner can use his marketing budget sensibly, it is important to measure which marketing channels are economical and which are not.
  • Offer optimization
    In the case of an offer optimization (for example for an online shop), an attempt is made to improve the appearance of the offer in order to correctly present the information that is important for the purchase decision to the user. But when it comes to list the offers, it is also observed which products are selling well and which are not (and why not).
  • Profiling
    With profiling, the behavior and interests of the website visitor are recorded and assigned to a visitor ID. This visitor ID can be used on other channels (e.g. Facebook) in order to recognize the visitor (and his profile) and to display targeted advertising for the interests of the user.
    For example, a visitor can be notified that a product that he has just viewed is available as an offer.
    The consent of the visitor should of course be obtained beforehand.

In addition to these reasons, there are many other reasons why website tracking is useful.

Without collecting tracking data, the websites would probably contain a lot of errors, would often be further developed in directions where they could no longer be used, would offer meaningless products and display advertising that would not interest anyone. In the end, some websites and the companies behind them would become uneconomical and in the worst case have to close.

So what? This is business life ... may someone say now.

A world without tracking - winners and losers

But who would be the losers in the end and who would be the winners if we do not use website tracking anymore?

Without tracking, the many small and medium-sized websites have a huge competitive disadvantage. Large sites like Amazon are not dependent on "normal" tracking technologies for the development of its own web sites against which most of the criticism is directed. They have internal algorithms to collect data. They don't need Google Analytics, don't have to set cookies and could survive without Google Ads. Small and medium-sized online shops or portals, on the other hand, depend on it.

Is website tracking dangerous?

We are often asked this question in personal conversations. To answer it, we first consider what is "tracked" by the use of website tracking. Let's take Google Analytics as an example.

First of all, nothing should be tracked as long as the website visitor (in the consent banner) has not agreed to the corresponding category (e.g. statistics). If he has agreed, the visitor is tracked in the form of an ID (identification number) in Google Analytics. Normally, the website owner may be due to this ID in Google Analytics no relation to actual visitors produced - there you can see only the visitor ID but no name or anything else, which allows conclusions on the person. Data is then tracked in Google Analytics, such as:

  • URL of the pages that the visitor accessed and time of access
  • the referring page, that means the page from which the visitor reached the current page
  • Browser information such as operating system, type of browser, visitors language and plugins used
  • IP address of the visitor (for technical reasons) - Google can use this to determine roughly which country and city the visitor is from

All this information can be viewed in Google Analytics based on the user ID (or in reports where different user groups are segmented).

Of course, other data is also tracked, in the case of an online shop, for example, which products the visitor places in the shopping cart and which ones he ultimately buys and at what price. Again, this is based on the user ID. When making a purchase, there is a point at which the website operator can actually draw conclusions about the buyer - namely when the order ID of the shop is transmitted to Google Analytics. However, if a website operator attaches great importance to data protection, he can disguise this ID with an algorithm. But let's be honest - the website owner has the information about the buyer anyway (for logistical reasons).

The crux of the matter (from our point of view with normal implementations) lies in the visitor ID, which Google e.g. saves in a browser cookie and can of course also be used to create a profile of the visitor with further information (but only if the visitor has agreed to Google's conditions). Here it is up to the website owner, because Google Analytics (as well as most other web analysis tools) can be configured in such a way that it is not the tool but the website that provides the visitor ID. In addition, this data cannot be used in detail by the website owner, at least not in Google Analytics directly.

The website owner is therefore normally not able to get conclusions about individual people.

In this respect (with a standard implementation) a risk comes more from the operators of the analytics software or the browsers, which can identify the website visitor if they want. But are these really a danger? What do they use the data for? They earn money by displaying advertising (as targeted as possible). And that's exactly what the data is used for. But this has nothing to do with normal website tracking anymore.

Our conclusion: In our opinion, a normal website tracking that complies with data privacy regulations does not pose a risk. If you still want to avoid Google & Co as a visitor, you should deactivate the corresponding services or category in the consent banner.

Of course, there are also techniques for tracking security-relevant data. You should therefore be careful with websites that appear dubious to you - but you should be careful with those even for other reasons. With a reliable website tracking integration, we (normally) do not see a danger for a person.

Closing word

So, maybe this article will make one or the other think before he (or she) speaks or writes negatively about website tracking in the next time. At least we hope that the article will bring our point of view closer to you.

PS: This article is of course tracked.


Autor:

Andi Petzoldt