Let’s be honest, talking about a tracking plan isn’t the sexiest topic in analytics.
It’s more interesting to talk about how machine learning can help you analyze your data, how you could do personalization at scale or how to use automation to improve all of your conversion rates.
However, all of these things have one thing in common: you need good, clean data to actually do them.
And as you know, maintaining clean data is actually really hard. Most companies are in a never ending battle to keep their data organized, hoping that it doesn’t break randomly.
This is where tracking plans come in. They are a prerequisite to clean and actionable data and skipping this step can have serious repercussions on your ability to actually use your data.
In this post, I’ll show you the role that tracking plans will play in your analytics strategy and how to create them (even if you have never done it before).
I’ll also show you some examples from common industries since most products actually use the same 5 to 10 events. Finally, I’ll give you a bunch of free templates from different companies including the one we have used and refined across 55+ projects and 4 years.
Feel free to use the links below to jump around to the most relevant sections for you.
What is a Tracking Plan and Why Should You Use One?
Tracking plans give you an opportunity to think about what events and data you want to collect. This is especially relevant for event-based analytics tools such as Mixpanel, Segment, Amplitude, Intercom and many more.
Even tools like Google Analytics support the idea of events and almost all tools that are coming into the market now support it as well.
You’ll also find that you want even non-analytics tools like Facebook Ads and Google Ads will accept events which can be used as conversions to optimize your campaigns.
A tracking plan will help you organize all of these events in a central document that will change over time. It will also become a reference document for everyone in your team who wants to know what data is being tracked.
Another thing to keep in mind is that tracking plans allow you to edit the data that you need to collect before you start writing code. This editing process is crucial since your initial ideas are typically bloated and inconsistent with any existing data.
Here are some specific tips when creating this document:
- Event names should be logical and simple e.g. sign up. Don’t get clever here. You should also choose a tense e.g. present (sign up) or past tense (signed up).
- Event properties will tell you more about an action and most events will always have a few event properties.
- Choose a naming convention for event names, event properties and user attributes. Lowercase (e.g. sign up) naming conventions are typically easier to maintain but anything works here as long as you stay consistent.
- When you edit your tracking plan, you should be trying to reuse the same event names and properties whenever possible. Think about condensing your data into fewer events. This will make it easier to implement and easier for your team to learn.
- Finally, look for templates for your industry or product. This will give you a good idea as to what events you should be tracking. We created a product called the Analytics Toolkit for Web & Mobile Apps which includes prefilled tracking plans for common industries.
15 Minute Video Walkthrough on How to Use Tracking Plans
This is a video I recorded where I’ll walk you through our tracking plan template and how to fill it out. Sometimes a visual guide can be better for understanding this process.
Example Tracking Plan: SaaS Products
SaaS products have a common customer journey where a user will typically self sign up, go through an onboarding process and then become a paying customer. All of this customer journey can typically be covered in 5 – 10 events.
Here are two options for you: one by Segment.com and one by us (which is paid)
Example Tracking Plan: Mobile Apps
Mobile apps will also have the same core lifecycle events and a couple of fundamental challenges. You definitely want to track when a user installs your app, opens your app and any other core actions within the product.
Here are two options for you: one by Segment.com and one by us (which is paid)
Example Tracking Plan: Ecommerce Stores
Ecommerce stores have predictable customer journey and are typically quite heavy on user acquisition. The most important flow in an ecommerce store is the checkout flow and understanding which channels are driving the most purchases. Eventually, you can focus on understanding retention and what will bring repeat buyers.
Here are two options for your: one by Segment.com and one by us (which is paid).
Example Tracking Plan: Two-Sided Marketplaces
Our fourth category is two-sided marketplaces. This kind of product is tricky because you have two users groups which influence each other (e.g. job seekers and employers) and you need to understand the relationship between.
Here is an option by us (which is paid):
Practico Analytics Tracking Template (Tested in over 55+ Projects)
You can also download the template we use in our consulting projects. We have tweaked this template over the past 4 years and 55+ projects based on what we have seen in our work.
Taking a tracking plan from ideation to implementation in real life projects is what makes this template great.. Download that plan for free here.
Other Tracking Plan Templates from Segment.com, Mixpanel and Amplitude
Other companies have also created their own tracking plans which are typically geared to their products. They can be a great choice if you’re implementing their products and want a document that uses their language e.g. People Properties for Mixpanel or Traits for Segment.com
You can find those here:
Software Solutions for Tracking Plans
I’m also starting to see software come out to replace spreadsheets. I like these solutions because they typically integrate into your engineering flow and can help you validate data in real time.
Segment released a product called Protocols which does most of these things and there are a few startups in this space as well. I’ll update this section over time as we use more of these tools in our client projects.
Long Term Challenges You Need to Be Aware Of
Creating the initial tracking plan is a huge win for your company but maintaining this plan is also a challenge. You need to ensure that your data is conforming to this plan and that any new events are following your naming convention and rules.
This process will be mostly manual (though software solutions can help). You want to ensure that someone in your team takes ownership over your data which means they are responsible for defining new events and catching any errors in existing data.
This is the never ending battle that I mentioned at the beginning of this post. Having an organized tracking plan can make this easier as it will become your source of truth.
As you can see, tracking plans are simple documents but they are quite crucial to your data implementation. Spending time to create them at the beginning is important but you also need to be aware of the long term costs of maintaining this document (or software solution).
Do you have any questions about tracking plans that I didn’t answer? Let me know in the comments below.
I find most companies are stuck with high-level metrics and they aren't able to properly understand what actually drives user growth for their web and mobile products. To do that, you need the right data and the right tools.
If this sounds like your situation, then you should download our free tracking plan (and tutorial video). This is the document that you should create before you ever implement tools like Mixpanel, Amplitude, Segment, and Intercom. Click the image below to download your own free tracking plan (and tutorial video).