Order vs. Chaos: Taming Digital Analytics Complexity With Automation

March 29, 2022 Michael Fong

Order vs. Chaos: Taming Digital Analytics Complexity With Automation

As the world of digital analytics moves forward, tracking customer behavior becomes more and more sophisticated, making the processes involved in collecting accurate customer data increasingly complex.

This complexity comes largely from the fact that companies create extensively complicated analytics implementations in an effort to track vast amounts of customer data across their digital properties, and then these companies struggle to manage and maintain their implementations over time because of the following:

  • Ever-changing websites and analytics implementations. Websites and their associated analytics implementations change frequently, creating a moving target for analytics professionals.
  • Disorganized analytics tagging. Robust analytics implementations are large and complex, often containing thousands of tags, which opens the door for potential tagging disorganization if analytics professionals aren’t careful. 
  • Team misalignment. When teams don’t communicate effectively, their implementation can become misconfigured and data integrity suffers as a result. A change made by one team can break a requirement of another.

So, what can companies do to manage the complexity involved in maintaining accurate data?

The answer: Automated analytics testing.

 

You Need to Test

Analytics testing is the process of auditing the analytics implementation associated with your website or mobile app to ensure your tracking meets expectations and collects the right data. Regularly testing your analytics implementation is critical to maintaining accurate data on an ongoing basis. 

There are two primary methods of conducting analytics testing:

  • Through manual testing
  • Through test automation

These two testing strategies are not created equal. Let’s dive into each separately.

 

Manual Testing

Manually testing an analytics implementation is the lesser of the two options and generally involves using the developer tools in your browser to inspect individual tags on your site to make sure they are meeting your expectations. This process requires using human effort to comb through lines and lines of code, verifying analytics tags one-by-one. 

Manual analytics testing is highly time-intensive and prone to human error, as the tedious nature of manual testing leads people to regularly miss analytics tracking errors that negatively impact accuracy and customer experiences. Additionally, as digital analytics tracking increases in complexity, manually validating analytics implementations becomes harder and more time consuming.

However, there are times when manual testing is appropriate. For example, if you’re testing the tracking on a customer journey that will only be run one or two times, or if the nature of your test is extremely dynamic, you would not want to take the time and resources to set up an automated test of that journey. Setting up automated testing for that journey would likely take longer than simply testing the journey manually. 

Due to the cumbersome and error-prone nature of manual analytics tracking, we recommend minimizing this route wherever possible. In most cases, you will be better off utilizing an automated testing solution like ObservePoint, but you need to weigh the needs of each testing situation individually.

 

Automated Testing

The complexity involved with analytics tracking doesn’t have to keep you from obtaining reliable insights, especially since this complexity becomes manageable when you apply test automation to your analytics implementation. 

The goal of automated testing is to continually test the functionality of each component of your analytics implementation to ensure you obtain valuable insights from accurate data on an ongoing basis. 

More specifically, the process of utilizing test automation for analytics data entails the use of automated audits to run against your analytics implementation following a change. These audits check for tracking errors such as missing tags, missing variable data, incorrect formatting of variable data, and other errors. A fundamental piece to discovering these errors involves setting up tests—called Rules in ObservePoint—within your solution that allow you to compare and evaluate individual elements of your implementation to make sure your expectations are being met at the tag, variable, and variable-value level.  

Regularly performing these tests will help you ensure the integrity of your implementation by systematically scanning your website pages for tagging errors to ensure accurate data collection. 

In order to effectively utilize an automated testing solution, you need to complete a couple of steps.

 

What you need to do

  1. Build or purchase an automated testing solution
  2. Implement your automated testing solution with the following best practices:
  • Target your analytics testing
  • Use monitoring and alerts
  • Train and align your teams on your analytics testing strategy
  • Synchronize tests with implementation updates

Let’s jump into each of these steps.

 

Build or Purchase an Automated Testing Solution

Obviously, if you want to engage in automated testing, you need a testing solution. Your options here are to either build an automated testing solution yourself or purchase a pre-existing third-party option like ObservePoint. 

Build your own solution

Building a solution yourself is possible but is also a task of serious magnitude, as doing so would require individuals with comprehensive expertise in data collection, processing, and querying. You would also need to consider how to incorporate functional visualization, UX/UI, notifications, and reporting functionality. 

Additionally, if you build your own solution, you will have to deal with the extensive burden of training. You will have to train and support all the individuals who use the solution, and essentially sell your solution to different teams in order to get company-wide buy-in. The people in your organization involved with using the solution basically become your customers, and those people need to be supported, which will require a significant amount of time and resources. 

Also, even if you were able to build a solution, you would need to dedicate manpower to updating and maintaining that solution over time so the solution continues to adequately serve your needs as time goes on. 

Undoubtedly, you would need to dedicate extensive man-hours and resources to the creation, customization, and maintenance of such a solution. 

Purchase a third-party solution

Due to the labor-intensive nature of building—and especially, maintaining—an automated testing solution yourself, you’re likely better off finding a pre-existing solution, especially since you will be able to configure and customize a well-made automated testing solution to your specific needs at a much quicker rate than you could ever build one. Also, with a third-party solution, you don’t have to worry about having someone on your team maintaining and updating that solution as you move your business forward. 

Additionally, with a third-party solution, the third party takes care of all the needs of your users. An adequate third party solution provider will have extensive resources dedicated to supporting your users so your users get the most out of your solution. The third-party will even help you get buy-in from others in your organization.

Regardless of your choice between building and buying, once you have your solution up and running, you will need to set up testing processes to ensure your analytics implementation is collecting accurate data on an ongoing basis. These processes are outlined in the remaining steps. 

Implement Your Automated Testing Solution

Once you have an automated testing solution at your disposal, you’ll want to strategically deploy it to yield the greatest benefit. Here are tips to get you started.

Target Your Analytics Testing

A key way to ensure accurate data over time is to target your analytics testing. You have critical, high-traffic pages and user journeys on your site, and testing these high-traffic elements needs to take precedence over testing other site elements. With an automated testing solution, you should prioritize testing on these pages and user paths by focusing frequent scans on these critical site elements.

As a rough guideline, you should prioritize running daily testing on your top 5-10 critical customer experiences, but you could easily have more than that if your site is especially large. Just remember that tests require maintenance of their own, so the more tests you run, the more you have to maintain.

Use Monitoring and Alerts

You need to regularly keep tabs on your implementation. As a result, you should use an automated testing solution to set up monitoring and alerting to regularly scan your site’s analytics implementation and alert you when something goes wrong. With the help of integrations, you can configure these alerts to notify you of errors through your preferred means of communication, whether that be through email, Slack, text, or in-app notifications.

By using monitoring and alerts, you can verify the integrity of your analytics solution is preserved on an ongoing basis. 

Once you have your solution and processes in place by going through the previous steps, you’ll want to train and align your team members around those processes. 

Train and Align Your Teams On Your Analytics Testing Strategy

For automated testing to be effective for your organization, you need to train and align your teams around processes and practices that ensure accurate data. You do yourself no favors if you obtain a testing solution, put a bunch of analytics processes in place, and then fail to organize and optimize the manpower behind those processes.

Luckily, an effective automated testing solution will help you align communication between your teams. An adequate solution will allow you to accomplish the following:

  • Configure notification settings to alert and align team members on problems as they arise.
  • Create data owners who are responsible for specific aspects of the data collection process. 
  • Use permissions to keep unauthorized employees from messing with data.

Additionally, to ensure ongoing alignment, you’ll want to appoint a data champion with company clout (preferably someone on the C-level) who can be the driving force behind your analytics testing strategy and give you the support you need. 

Synchronize Tests With Implementation Updates

The last step involves synchronizing your tests with updates (also known as release validation). Release validation is the practice of running timely tests after making changes to your website and/or the associated analytics implementation. To maintain accurate data on an ongoing basis, you should conduct regular release validation as your site and analytics implementation go through updates. 

A well-rounded automated testing solution will allow you to schedule—or better yet, trigger—automatic tests whenever you make changes to your analytics implementation or website, which will help you quickly resolve potential errors before they impact your data or your customers.

Now, keep in mind that automated testing isn’t a silver bullet, as you still have to deal with maintaining your testing solution and continually calibrating your tests. But overall, the benefits of automated testing far outweigh the costs.

Once you accomplish the aforementioned steps, you put yourself in a position to reap all the benefits of using an automated testing solution.             

 

Benefits of Automated Testing

Effectively using an automated testing solution will help you:

  • Manage the ever-changing nature of websites and analytics implementations
  • Use site-wide governance to monitor tags and comply with regulations
  • Align teams around your analytics testing strategy
  • Save time and resources
  • Increase your data quality
  • Gain ongoing confidence in your analytics data for decision-making

Let's break down each of these benefits individually.

Manage the ever-changing nature of websites and analytics implementations

Change is an inevitable part of managing websites and analytics implementations, and an automated testing solution will allow you to monitor the integrity of your analytics implementation through each and every change as time goes on. 

Use site-wide governance to monitor tags and comply with regulations

Tagging can get messy, especially with large, complex implementations. An automated testing solution will help you ensure all the tags on your site are in the appropriate place and functioning properly, and you can be notified whenever your tagging goes sour. 

You will also be able to ensure your site is complying with regulations and protecting your customers, as an automated testing solution can help you quickly find and eliminate any rogue or piggybacking tags on your site that could be compromising your data. 

Align teams around your analytics strategy

Managing an analytics strategy is a dynamic process with lots of moving parts, which creates opportunities for miscommunication and misalignment between teams. An automated testing solution will help you align teams and eliminate potential miscommunication by allowing you to set up data owners, user permissions, and notifications. 

Save time and resources

Using an automated testing solution frees you from having to expend manual effort on monitoring your implementation. As a result, you’ll save time and human energy that can be spent on increasing your analytics testing capacity—helping you obtain even more accurate insights—or other important initiatives that will move your business forward. 

Increase your data quality

Through automated testing, you can quickly obtain knowledge about the status of analytics tags on your site, including if any tags, variables, or values are missing or if duplicate tags are present. These tests allow you to quickly discover errors in your implementation and ensure data quality on an ongoing basis. 

Gain confidence in your analytics data for decision-making

By increasing your data accuracy and saving time and resources, you are able to more fully dedicate your teams to understanding your customers. In turn, this greater understanding allows your company to confidently serve your customers through customized experiences.

 

Establish Analytics Order and Move Your Business Forward

Utilizing an automated testing solution makes the sheer complexity of a robust analytics implementation manageable, especially because these testing solutions help teams hit the moving target of an ever-changing analytics implementation. 

Ultimately, the chaos associated with managing an analytics implementation can be transformed into order with the help of an automated testing solution, as these solutions allow you to put your focus into creating more accurate data and moving your business forward with other priorities. 

To find out how ObservePoint’s automated testing solution can help you bring order to your digital analytics practice, schedule a demo today. 

About the Author

Michael Fong

Mike is the Sr. Manager of Product Go To Market at ObservePoint and assists in aligning the Product, Marketing, and Revenue teams on product strategy, value propositions, and promotion. Previously a Senior Consultant and Solutions Engineer on ObservePoint’s EMEA team in London, Mike has been integral in ensuring ObservePoint users are obtaining the highest quality of data from their marketing technologies. With over 10 years of experience in the analytics world, Mike is an expert when it comes to data analytics, SQL, problem solving, and spreading good vibes.

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