User and events tracking for early products – part 1

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It’s rarely too early to instrument a web or mobile app with user and event tracking services. Sure, it’s ideal to only track the metrics needed to answer specific questions, yet it’s not often the case that those questions are known during the early stages of product development. It’s been our experience that we can manage problems associated with having too much data (analysis paralysis), but we can never go back and magically collect data that wasn’t tracked.

Over the course of a few projects, we’ve come to rely on a core suite of four analytics apps for their flexibility, ease of use, low startup costs and ability to adapt and mature with the product or business. It might seem like four tools is a lot, but the tendency in the analytics business has been for specialization, with countless vendors offering extremely niche products to cater to very specific needs.

Because of the proliferation of offerings, it can be difficult to make a final choice on analytics platforms when you are starting up a product, as you may find your needs changing over time. This brings us to the first product:


Segment’s main purpose is to be the single layer of code implemented in the product which allows data to be pulled out and then handed off. Segment enables hand-offs to an incredible number of other analytics-type products without having to write or insert any additional code, typically allowing non-technical business users to add or remove analytics products without the need for dev and test support.


Heap is the next product we’ve implemented. Heap is a great general purpose analytics platform; tracking both users and events. It allows a user to visually tag parts of the site for analysis and setup funnels to measure these tags. Beyond the ease of use, Heap’s other big selling point is that it can do this analysis retroactively. For example, if Heap has been implemented in a product for three months and one day you decide you want to look at the click through on an untagged CTA you can tag it in Heap and see the data from the previous 90 days. This is very powerful tool as product development ramps up, as the business may not know 100% of everything they want to measure up front.


Intercom is a user-centric analytics and messaging platform. They present a lot of the same data as a general purpose analytics platform, but they do so by showing activity clustered around individual users. Moreover, they provide an unobtrusive messaging tool which enables the business to communicate with users for customer development and support. Intercom is great for understanding the behavior of users across their lifetime, tracking engagement, retention and strategically communicating with users.


Optimizely is a great product for quickly and easily setting up A/B/Y tests to test all kinds things, and is especially well suited for testing UI and content. For products with a small number of users, Optimizely can be used for rapidly iterating on user interfaces to gain qualitative feedback. It really shines when the product has enough users to run tests at scale. Like Heap, Optimizely tests can generally be set up without the involvement of a developer which reduces the barrier and cost of running tests.

We’ve found this suite to be a great starting point for a new analytics implementation as it reduces time to set up and enables the business to easily slice and dice their application usage data in ways that produce insights – which is the true goal.


In the next chapter we’ll take a look at how we’ve used three of these tools on our product Stickies to quickly scale tracking users and events.


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