Implicit vs. Explicit Event Tracking: A Hybrid, No-Code Approach

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In product analytics, there are two types of ways to capture user behavioral data – implicit event tracking and explicit event tracking

Engineers and product leaders have debated which is better – having SaaS tools that automate the data collection and event tracking of users or having engineers manually write code that tracks specific user events.

This debate is often lively and still happens today. There is a war between codeless & code-based product analytics companies. There are valid points on both sides.

In this article, we’ll break down both implicit and explicit event tracking, the benefits and limitations of each, and the emergence of a new hybrid approach that offers product teams the best of both worlds.

What Is Implicit Event Tracking?

Implicit event tracking is also known as “no-code”, “codeless”, and “auto-capture” event tracking. All of these terms have the same definition: an automatic, no-code tracking system for collecting event data.

Product analytic SaaS platforms power implicit event data collection. Product teams simply add a snippet of Javascript into their website or product, allowing for all user events and behavioural data to be collected automatically. This allows for product teams to capture product data without requiring support from the engineering team.

Traditionally, implicit event tracking has been a more attractive option for smaller teams that lack the resources to invest large amounts of time, hours, and money into product analytics – or an organization lacks the engineering resources to manage a data lifecycle project.

Benefits of Implicit Event Tracking

There are quite a few advantages of implicit event tracking, including:

  • Less dependency on developers: All it requires is a single line of Javascript that developers need to add to the application. Implicit event tracking empowers product teams to move quickly and offload the burden of managing event tracking with an automated, codeless solution. This makes it a fantastic fit for non-technical teams.
  • No delay between conceptualization and data availability: Data that is not available at the right time is worthless. With implicit event tracking, data is always available for product managers, and there is no need to create a plan for how to start capturing user behavior data.
  • Retroactive data for past-data patterns: Since implicit event data is collected from the start of a project, product managers are empowered to see historic trends & they don’t need to know what to track beforehand.

Limitations of Implicit Event Tracking

While implicit data tracking has its advantages, it also comes with disadvantages. Here are a few of the most commonly mentioned limitations of implicit event tracking:

  • Missing context and messy data: With automated implicit data tracking, events are captured, but isn’t able to pull the contextual data needed. This results in the data  being not being as robust as needed for a proper analysis. For example, you understand that a user clicked on the “add to cart” button, but you don’t know the product that is added to cart. This limits the depth of analysis.
  • Application changes breaking the events: As the application undergoes changes, there is potential for event tracking collection to stop due to code errors breaking. This is because codeless tracking tools are attached to a page’s CSS, meaning small product changes can break your tracking system. 
  • Increased data management effort: Codeless analytics tools ask product managers to tag pages & events on a continuous basis, resulting in much additional effort than a code-based implementation on the product managers.
  • Security issues: All data including sensitive and confidential data is collected by the tracking tool that can put your organization at risk. If you disable data collection, then your events become unmeaningful. If you take the route of asking developers to add explicit flags to not track certain data, this will result in quite a bit of additional engineering work, which defeats the purpose of a no-code, automated implicit event tracking solution.

What Is Explicit Event Tracking?

Explicit event tracking allows product teams to define the events they want to capture by having developers instrument the code & add event tracking logic. This empowers product teams to capture the exact behavior events they want to track in contextual ways to get the desired analysis of user behavior inside a product.

With explicit event tracking, product teams use their goals and KPIs to determine what event tracking metrics they need to capture. They then create a plan to write and implement that custom event tracking code into a product’s codebase.

That code then pulls custom events into a popular explicit event tracking tool such as Mixpanel or Amplitude Analytics.

Benefits of Explicit Event Tracking

There are quite a few advantages of code-based, explicit event tracking, including:

  • Customized, contextual event tracking: With explicit event tracking, product teams are able to track the exact data they need, with the right contextual information with all product interactions.
  • No fear of event tracking failure: With explicit event tracking, your code-based system is integrated into your product. This means that unlike CSS-based implicit tracking systems, you never have to worry about your event tracking to break.
  • Better compliance and governance: With GDPR and other end-user data protection laws, data lifecycle is important. With explicit event tracking, product teams have better governance control allowing product teams to control what is being tracked, who can access it, and where it’s being stored.

Limitations of Explicit Event Tracking

There are also legitimate reasons to not use explicit event tracking, and those limitations include:

  • Relies heavily on developers support: Explicit event tracking is technical by nature and requires the support of your developers to create events. Each time you need to add new events, tweak how you currently capture them, or adjust them in anyway, you’ll need to again rely on help from your development team.
  • It takes time to implement: Explicit event tracking is also much more time-consuming than implicit event tracking. You must first list out data tracking requirements then go through the engineering development cycle to get these incorporated into the application. That includes code, test, deploy. Further you need to wait for data to be captured, and then query that for the results.
  • You need to plan everything: As with all technical projects, you’ll need to put together a project plan before anything is implemented. Explicit event tracking is a developer-intensive approach that takes quite a bit of effort, resources, budget, and time – but the results often provide better, more contextual data. Iterations are slow, You need to wait for next development release for even a small change.

A New, Hybrid Approach: Explicit Event Tracking with a No-Code Implementation

Historically, product teams have been forced to choose a manual, code-based, explicit event tracking system, or a codeless, automated, implicit event tracking system.

Whatfix is changing that.

Whatfix is taking a stand to approach event tracking by taking the best of both explicit and implicit worlds – empowering product managers with no-code tools to set up explicit event tracking parameters for exactly what they need to measure.

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Explicit event tracking in a codeless implementation is powerful when the element detection algorithm is of high quality, as with Whatfix. Codeless implementation removes the dependency on engineers to set up manual event tracking parameters.

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Product managers have the ability to mark events to track through the user interface so there is flexibility to identify supporting properties of events. No developer intervention is required for this purpose – and minor UI updates will not break Whatfix’s codeless event tracking.

Benefits of Whatfix’s Hybrid, Codeless Event Tracking

Whatfix’s hybrid event tracking approach allows for product teams to take advantage of the benefits of both explicit and implicit event tracking – including:

  • Collecting contextual data: With Whatfix’s hybrid, codeless approach, product managers are able to collect the exact event and behavioural data they need – without the limitations of other implicit event tracking tools.
  • No dependence on engineers: Whatfix Analytics allow for product teams to collect the exact data and events they need, without relying on engineering resources to build out and manage a custom event tracking system.
  • Robust, stable event tracking: Unlike implicit event tracking solutions that break when UI changes are made to a platform, Whatfix’s element detection algorithm is sturdy. This means changes and updates are able to make to the product’s UX/UI without causing data and event tracking downtime or issues.
Whatfix-codeless-explicit-analytics-dashboard

Limitations of Whatfix’s Hybrid, Codeless Event Tracking

Whatfix Analytics allows for product teams to track custom events, without the reliance of engineers, meaning there are few limitations. However, one limitation of the platforms event tracking solution includes:

  • No retroactive data: While the only missing piece with Whatfix is retroactive data, it overcomes that challenge by making data available in real-time for instantaneous analysis.

With Whatfix, empower product managers with the tools to capture contextual data with a codeless approach to event tracking.

Learn more about our no-code event tracking implementation by exploring Whatfix for Product Managers.

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