Autotracking vs Custom Events Tracking - What's The Difference?
A decade ago, website owners had limited data on web visitors; generally, only IP addresses and pages browsed. That wasn’t a problem since browsing pages was really all that visitors could do back then.
Modern websites are more complex; they include interactive elements, AJAX, personalization, marketing automation etc. Not to mention that people are now using websites on all kinds of devices that differ in screen size and connectivity. In order to keep track of website users, web analytics had to change how data is collected.
Google Analytics now allows website owner to track up to 500 custom events per session to enhance page views data. Mixpanel entirely dropped tracking of page views in favour of manually instrumented data points to eliminate noise and focus on the most important metrics. UseItBetter, on the other hand, fully embraced Big Data (Volume Velocity Variety) and automatically tracks everything that visitors do, even if that means collecting tens of thousands of events over a single session.
When you manually instrument data collection you have to upfront decide what events will be important to your business. It’s a sufficient approach if you use analytics for reporting. For example, to track sales funnel in your store you just need a few steps to track - how many people opened a product page, how many added a product to basket, went to basket and finally how many converted.
If you want to do something beyond reporting and use analytics to investigate why your funnel looks worse then you would like it to be, the manual instrumentation will likely fail you.
Since you can manually set up tracking only for the events that you know about and consider important, you can’t track the unexpected. This means that your data set will miss critical events or, in the best case scenario, context in which those events happened.
That You Know About And Find Important
Manual tracking is also prone to both human and technical errors that can further complicate your analysis. You should make sure that the most important events for your business are tracked properly and review your integration periodically as even a minor change on a website can break tracking. If you have many “most important events” then the costs of integration and maintenance of your analytics will be high.
The goal of automated tracking is to collect everything that can happen on a website and leave it’s up to a researcher or analysts to decide whether a certain event is important or not during the analysis. That allows to answer questions that otherwise would have to be dismissed with “sorry, there’s no data”.
You could automate tracking (of clicks and form submissions) in GA with Google Tag Manager but there is a high risk that you would quickly exceed the limit of 500 events per session and the events critical for measuring the funnel would be lost making your data set unreliable. Even if you could track everything, tools that were designed for reporting do not excel at investigative analysis.