Measure your data and iterate on it

One of the incredible benefits of building for the web is that it’s very easy to understand how your customers use your products.

This is something that is baked into how people use the internet, because most interactions a user will have on your product requires a back-and-fourth exchange with your servers. Compare this to a more traditional industry such a retail, where companies have to go out of their way to collect data on customer behaviour - entering partnership with retailers, installing tracking hardware, and filtering the results to find the data that is relevant to their product. The comparative ease with which we can measure online behaviour is a real strength of software, and we believe that it’s very important to take advantage of it.

Being able to understand how your clients use your products can - and should - change how you build them. It rewards rapid iteration and experimentation. You are no longer obligated to guess exactly what your customers need; instead, you can come up with a hypothesis, build a good enough version of it, and see if customers adopt it in the way you expect. If they do, you can refine it and continue to build it up. If they don’t, you can scrap the idea before it becomes too costly or too familiar to your existing users.

Measuring data also opens the door to new ways of developing. For example, consider the A/B test. An A/B test is an experiment in which you create a variation on an aspect of your product. You can then push this variant out to a subset of your users and measure how it affects their behaviour. If it has resulted in a positive change compared to the control group, you keep it. If it doesn’t, you scrap it and try again. A/B testing is a bit of an art form, and there is a lot to explore on this subject (we recommend starting with Smashing Magazine’s guide). In practice, we’ve found it to be an incredibly powerful tool when trying to optimize a sales pipeline, the user onboarding experience, or another other critical subset of a tool.

A quick note on privacy. User tracking has gotten a pretty bad rap in the last few years, and rightfully so. If done badly, it can be a privacy nightmare and can now even run you afoul of government laws. Thankfully, all of the major companies that provide these tracking tools have embraced all of the new legislation, and it is now possible to design user tracking in a way that respects user privacy and allows customers to understand what data is being collected on them and opt-out.

User tracking is one of the great advantages from working on the web, and we encourage all of our clients to take advantage of it. A well-integrated data collection tool allows clients to design their programs based on the needs of their customers, which often results in simpler, more effective, and less costly programs.