Tracking tools: infos, functions & providers

One of the most important insights that online marketers can gain is the user behaviour on a website. To obtain this important data, you need a website analysis – and this is done with versatile tracking tools.

Content

What is tracking?

Tracking refers to the observation and tracking of user behaviour on websites. This observation is immensely important to properly address performance, usability, costs and many other factors in process optimisation. Questions that a tracking tool can provide insight into are, for example:

These and many other questions are answered by tracking tools and web analytics software, which help to initiate the right measures for your own online success. This article will tell what exactly web analysis is, how it is carried out and what it looks like. In the case of an online store, for example, tracking tools are used to determine not only purchasing behavior, but also high- and low-turnover products and their respective target groups. With these insights, the user experience on the website can be optimised. Tracking, however, is also interesting for apps, corporate sites, service providers, and any other website operator.

Depending on the website tracking tool, there is a different portfolio of functions that enable more or less extensive analysis. The best-known tracking tools include Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics, Matomo (formerly Piwik), etracker, Mapp (formerly Webtrekk), and Econda.

Tracking Tools Übersicht

How does tracking work?

Depending on the tracking tool used, there are various ways to track user behaviour. In general, a distinction can be made between different types of data collection: First-, Second- and Third-Party-Data. In the 2-party model, two components play a role – the trackers and the users. The tracker offers its own websites, which the user accesses consciously. However, the user is usually not aware that this website is a tracker. By sending code elements to the user’s computer, the tracker has the ability to track Internet activity asynchronously. This data is first-party data, as it is collected directly by the website operator.

In contrast, a 3-party model consists of a tracker, a website operator (so-called embedder) and a user. Embedders implement a code element of the tracker on a website. Trackers learn about every website visit by users. In this model, tracking is synchronous with the user’s web activity. For example, a company uses Google Analytics as a tracking tool to analyse behaviour on the corporate website. This requires the integration of GA cookies on the pages of the respective website. The individual Google Analytics tracking code, which is generated following registration, is used for this purpose. This can then be implemented in the source code, for example. Google Analytics and the respective company have a partnership relationship. Google Analytics collects second-party data from the respective companies and thus further expands its database. In return, the companies can collect and analyse the necessary data free of charge and use it for their own processes and optimisations.

Third-party data is sold to companies by data providers. These data providers collect data, purchase data from a wide variety of online and offline sources, and aggregate it with the aim of monetising or marketing this data profitably.

Cookies, finger prints & further tracking methods

Probably the most common tracking option is via cookies, which requires user consent. In order to collect first and second party data, different cookie types are necessary.

Visitors to a website receive a personal number that is stored in the background. When visitors return to the site, they are recognised by this number. Other tracking options are the use of tags, log files, Java script or HTTP headers. Here is an overview:

Cookies
  • Text files stored in the browser to identify users
  • Different types of cookies:
    • First-party (data is exchanged only between user and domain,
    • Third-party (placed on an advertising medium via third-party servers)
    • Session cookies (active during a session, deletes itself afterwards)
    • Persistent cookies (tracking across sessions)
Supercookies
  • Complex removal for users, similarity to cookies
  • Use of multiple in-browser methods
Flash cookies
  • Storage of data by server on user device
  • Large storage capacity
  • No due date
  • Cross-browser tracking
  • Enable recovery from third-party cookies
E-tags
  • Cache cookies
  • Delivery of already visited websites
  • Enable recovery from supercookies
Social widgets
  • Embedding a widget on operator website
  • Easy sharing of website content on user profiles of social networks
  • Cookie with identifier is created on user’s computer when logging into social network
  • Widget contacts social network server & provides information about page visited by users
  • Cross-domain tracking possible
Counting pixel (Web beacons or pixel tags)
  • Images integrated on embedder pages (one or a few pixels)
  • Not noticed by the user thanks to size and transparency
  • Analysis of visitor behaviour between two page views
Logfile
  • Servers use log file analysis to create a user log with important data such as IP address, browser version, date, click path, and more.
Fingerprint
  • The “digital fingerprint”, unique to each user, collects characteristics of the user (which device, browser, IP address, and more) and stores them on the server. This type of tracking can be done without cookie consent
App based
  • Use Advertising IDs to gain information within an app and beyond (for iOS and Android devices).
Cross device tracking
  • Ultrasonic side channels required for tracking
  • Ultrasonic signals sent & received by one device
  • Not audible, but detectable by microphones & loudspeakers
    Analysis of media interest

In order to derive appropriate benefit from web tracking tools and methods, it is important to set targets for one’s own website or campaign in advance – so-called key performance indicators (KPIs). These can relate, for example, to traffic, the conversion rate (did the visitor become a customer?) or the click-through rate (CTR).

Web tracking tools not only help to acquire important data, but also present the collected information in a clear and structured way. This way, the information can also be compared over different time periods, so that the success of optimization measures can be measured and put into perspective.

Further tracking options

In addition to the important KPIs such as CTR, bounce rate and conversion, tracking can also be used on individual landing pages, for example, to understand user behavior and compare several pages with each other. Options such as mouse tracking or eye tracking are used for this purpose. If you want to track multiple domains and corresponding user behavior on them, you can use cross-domain tracking (also known as multichannel tracking, for example via etracker). Since mobile access to websites is becoming increasingly important, cross device tracking is also an ingenious option to track the customer journey of users on different devices. App tracking tools and IP tracking tools are also available.

Web analysis tools

Tracking and data protection

What about tracking user behaviour and the GDPR? Of course, no personal data may be collected, stored or further processed without the explicit consent of the user concerned. Data collected with website tracking tools are purpose-bound and may only be collected for this purpose. Certain data protection regulations ensure that misuse of sensitive user data does not occur.

Users who wish to prevent their data from being tracked on the Internet can do so in certain cases by, for example, not consenting to the use of cookies or by preventing data tracking for certain tools such as Google Analytics. However, such a complete opt-out from a website tracking is usually difficult or even impossible. Detailed recording of user data is controversial in terms of data protection, but many tools are adapted to data protection requirements and thus meet the requirements of the GDPR.

Tracking tools overview

There are numerous free as well as paid tracking tools, which, depending on the option, can do pretty much everything from basic functions to professional data recording and analysis. Google Analytics is probably the best known website analysis tool. However, there are also numerous other providers that are in no way inferior to the Google product. Regarding data protection, etracker stands out. The tools all have in common that they collect important data such as page views, sessions, information about the user and much more and present it clearly.

In my overview, I have listed the best known and best tracking tools in comparison to bring some light into the web analysis jungle and also to highlight the differences:

Tool

Strengths

Weaknesses

Google Analytics

  • Free version available
  • Ideal connection with other Google services (Ads, Tag Manager, etc.)
  • Versatile evaluation options
  • Many tips & tricks accessible


  • Free version limited to 20 targets
  • Inflexible pricing
  • Data sampling by Google, as data is processed on google servers (problematic for sensitive data)
  • Dependence on Google


Adobe Analytics

  • Complete package with CMS, testing and other tools and features
  • Numerous options & flexible segmentation of data  
  • Reports without data sampling


  • Cost-intensive
  • Requires very good knowledge/analysts
  • Is difficult to connect with Google products or other providers & tools


etracker Analytics

  • DSGVO compliant tracking
  • Cookie-free tracking 
  • Data storage in Germany
  • Low cost (from 19€/month)
  • Integrated heatmap
  • Videos zur Customer Journey


  • No free version available
  • Data collection with JavaScript only
  • No own support team


Econda

  • Specialization in e-commerce
  • Integrated RFM model
  • Data protection compliant


  • Specialization in e-commerce
  • No free version available


Mapp (ehem. Webtrekker)

  • Server location Germany
  • Versatile features (customer journey)


  • No free version available


Matamo (ehem. Piwik)

  • Free download
  • Data processing on servers of the users


  • Less detailed reporting
  • More complex structure


Countly

  • In addition to analytics, also product analysis 
  • Additional features such as heatmaps, dashboards, and more. 
  • Compliance with data protection regulations worldwide


  • Manual installation of JavaScript tags
  • No integration with Google


Piwik Pro

  • User as owner of his data
  • Data protection compliant
  • No data sampling


  • No free version available
  • No smooth Google integration
  • Qualified assistance necessary


Which tool suits me best?

In order to find out which web analytics tool suits you best, it is important to clarify in advance which purposes are to be fulfilled and what goals are to be set. This way, you can quickly find out which features are absolutely necessary for you. Questions you should ask yourself are for example:

  • What do I want to track with the tool?
  • Which data would be relevant for me?
  • Which data must be linkable with each other?
  • How many data and targets do I need? Is a limited amount enough?
  • What should the reporting look like?

Depending on how you answer these questions, some tools may be excluded or considered more closely. If you have any questions about web analytics, would like a consultation, strategy or partnership, you can of course contact us anytime via the contact form.

More about tracking & analytics

All important information about automated data collection with Google Analytics and Pentaho Data Intergration is available here:

Interested in web analytics, tracking, data analysis and visualization? This way:

Our services

Are you looking for support? We would be happy to explain the advantages and disadvantages of current tracking and tag management solutions to you. Benefit from an individual tracking concept, our own business intelligence tools and our years of know-how.

Strengths and weaknesses of tracking tools, problems and risks in your project, general questions? Depending on your requirements, a digital analytics training course can take place at your company, at our premises or online. The seminar covers the topics of tool integration, KPIs and reporting.

FAQ

What are tracking tools?

Tracking or web analytics tools allow website operators to track how users move and behave on their website. This valuable data, which includes, for example, sessions, CTR, bounce rate and conversion rate, helps companies to draw appropriate conclusions and to take appropriate optimisation measures.

What are tracking tools actually doing?

Tools that track user behaviour collect important data and create corresponding analyses and reports. This is done, for example, with the help of cookies, log files or fingerprint tracking. This tracking is used to identify valuable KPIs.

Which tracking tools are out there?

There are numerous free and paid tools on the market. Among the best known and most feature-rich are Google Analytics, Adobe Analytics, etracker, Mapp (formerly Webtrekk) and many others.

Is tracking allowed?

Generally speaking: Yes. Many tools are privacy-compliant and only collect data if the user has given the correct permission. In addition, data may only be stored and processed for a specific purpose.

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