Does your website track visitors?

Over the past year or so, several browsers — especially Firefox and Safari — have begun to crack down on user tracking. It’s a smart move as it provides peace of mind to users and gives them the ability to promote their user-centered focus. From the perspective of a website owner, however, it’s important to take note of any tracking services you utilize because they can set off red flags for visitors. Should you utilize tracking services to track your visitors? Let’s take a look at the role tracking services play in your website and what you can do.

Not all visitor tracking services are equal

It’s important to remember that each tracking service does something different, so having more tracking services is not necessarily worse and having less is not necessarily better. The important principle to remember is that you need to be able to justify the tracking services you use to your website’s visitors.

For example, when you visit our website, you’ll find that Facebook is listed as a tracking service. It’s not that we’re using Facebook to track our users, however. Because we use Facebook’s commenting system, users can log into Facebook through our website so they can leave comments. This the only way in which we utilize a connection with Facebook, so we can clearly justify our reasoning.

If there’s no apparent reason for a tracking service, the use of these services could be more alarming. Some advertising companies use tracking to build a profile on users across multiple websites. These types of tracking services are important to avoid, from a user standpoint as well as from a website owner’s perspective.

What tracking services might a WordPress website use?

For years, many tracking services have been commonly utilized or even recommended for WordPress sites because of the additional data they can provide website owners. Here are a few examples:

  • An analytics service: A website can link to an analytics service like Google Analytics to track page views, browser information, referral links, and other related data. This information helps a website owner know how much traffic is coming to the site, where the traffic is coming from, and what devices users use most. This helps the website owner decide how to spend a marketing budget and which devices to prioritize in designs.
  • A comment service: Comment services like Disqus are designed to make commenting easy for users, since only one account is needed to comment on every website that utilizes the service. We utilize Facebook comments on this site for similar reasons. Comment systems can also help to avoid spam, although some comment systems attract spam of their own. We previously discussed 3 different comment systems if you need more information to decide on the right service for you.
  • A user behavior service: Services like Hotjar provide detailed information on user behavior on your site. You can “watch” recordings of users navigating through your site and see heat maps of where they click most. While this information can be incredibly useful to fine-tune your site, many visitors consider these types of services to be intrusive.
  • A login service: Many websites allow you to log in through a social media site or login service of your choice. Facebook, Twitter, Google, and Apple all offer login services.

What can you use instead, so you don’t track visitors?

If you want to eliminate tracking services for your website, here are a few ideas:

  • Use Jetpack Stats instead of an analytics service. Since Google is an advertising company, it’s possible that they can use analytics data to build customer profiles. While analytics provides website owners with useful data, Google could also use the data for more nefarious purposes. Jetpack does not track users in this way.
  • Use the WordPress built-in comment system with Akismet for spam comment filtering. While other commenting services offer unique benefits, you can use the WordPress built-in commenting system to avoid using a tracking service.
  • Use the WordPress built-in login system. You can avoid potential tracking from your login system if you don’t use a third-party one.

Ultimately, when it comes to tracking systems, sometimes you have to choose between extra useful information and the possibility of losing the trust of your visitors. This is especially important if you use multiple services, not because they are more detrimental but because users could perceive it that way. If you’re concerned that users will distrust your site, consider moving away from tracking services.