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Where are the privacy focused Web Performance Analytics tools?

Privacy, Web-performance3 min read

I want to make the case for privacy focused Real User Monitoring tools. To continuing bringing web performance forward, it is imperative that we have tools that captures both the user experience and business value - with respect for the customer's privacy. The most successfully companies knows that customer happiness correlates with business success. A fast user experience is the foundation that creative content and delightful design builds on. But we need privacy focused tools that allow us to analyse the relationship between web performance and business metrics.

Speed matters

It's a well-established truth that web performance correlates with business outcomes. Many articles discuss the relationship between web performance and business metrics, and there is even a book on the subject. One of the most recent articles is Andy Davies' Strengthening the Link Between Site Speed and Business Outcomes. In here he sets forth a framework for understanding and communicating about the relationship between web performance and business metrics. One of Andy Davies conclusions is that we as a profession lacks readily available tools to analyse the relationship between website performance and business results.

Aside from the technical and practical problems that needs to be solved in the specific analytics tools and the integration with the website you want to analyse, Andy Davies also hints of a much more fundamental problem: what data is acceptable to collect? For me this becomes a question of privacy.

Privacy matters

Privacy is steadily moving into the conscious of the more and more people, governments and business. Personally, I have for been using privacy tools to block ads and trackers for more than a decade. Most of the time I have tweaked the settings, so that I have allowed web and RUM analytics tools, because I knew how valuable this data is for anyone taking their online business seriously. Not a scaling strategy... Times have changed and now privacy regulations have begun to make data privacy and protection a human right. And companies like Apple build tracking protection into Safari. Privacy is trending strong.

The big milestone for data protection and collection of analytics data was the enforcement of the GDPR in 2018. The previous ePrivacy directive that introduced the "cookie law", that introduced cookie banners in 2014 was both from a technical and enforcement perspective a complete failure. The problems with the endless cookie banners stem from the ePrivacy directive using consent as the primary legal basis for setting cookies. I will argue that regular internet users don't understand cookies and if "sharing data with marketing partners" limits their privacy. Asking for users consent for this is very problematic at so many levels. But that is for another blog post another day.

Analytics craves data

To create the tools that allows us to understand the relationship between web performance and business metrics, we need to collect a lot of data. The more data the better has for the longest time been most web performance analyst slogan. And that is for a cause, when we want to answer questions like:

  • What pages are the slowest?
  • What is the difference in page load experience based on geographical location?
  • What is the correlation between page load time and conversion rate?
  • How does page load time affect Customer Lifetime Value?
  • Does ROAS correlate with page load time?

This requires lots and lots of data, and this is where we must but privacy to the forefront of how we approach this task. Not only in order to comply with privacy and data protection regulations, but also because this is the "right" ethical choice. As an individual I don't want all of my browsing history to be collected, stored and aggregated. Neither do I as a business want to take on the responsibility of storing large volumes of browsing history. I regard peoples browsing history as personal data, and this is backed by research. As an added bonus, I believe that ethical right solution that aligns with our inner moral compass is more likely to being compliant with any future regulations.

Bridging the gap?

So how do we bridge the gap between answering the questions that advances our business goals and are in aligned with contemporary privacy regulations and ethics? As a both a web performance professional, a privacy enthusiast and technologist this is a fascinating conundrum with the following requirements. It's even more fascinating because I don't have the all the answers, just more questions.

  • How do we track sessions without cookies?
  • How do we track customers across sessions, without leaving a trace that can lead to identification?
  • How do we collect both web performance and business metrics across the multitude of web frameworks and technology?

We need more innovation in privacy focused web and business analytics space to answer these questions.

I keep track of good hand full of privacy focused analytics services and products, with Fathom Analytics and Cloudflare analytics as two examples. From the business metric perspective, I have come across Metricsflow that offers a cookieless tracking perspective. But none that combine Real User Monitoring data together with the business metrics - and a "take no prisoners" approach to privacy.

With both web performance and privacy as two mega trends, I'm confident we will see tools emerge in this space. With this post I hope to spur further discussion in both the web performance and privacy focused analytics communities.