Declarative Tracking

Posted on in Web

On ‘reactive’ projects, it’s pretty common to attach event tracking to buttons/forms etc using inline onClick/onSubmit handlers. It usually starts with the harmless “can we track how many times this button is pressed” request, and without thinking, you attach a handler that looks something like this: onClick={() => ga('event')). This continues for many months & years until your codebase is littered with these inline tracking functions.

I’ve had the opportunity to work on a greenfield project recently and was able to trial an alternative approach. A more declarative approach. I’m certainly not the first person to think of this, but I wanted to share my experience. It looks a bit like this:

<button
	type="button"
	data-track="cta"
	data-track-category="homepage"
	data-track-name="heroCta"
>

<form data-track="submit" data-track-category="createAccount">

<a href="..." data-track="click">

Any anchor, form, or button can be marked up with data- attributes that describe the event. Rather than attach a handler to each event, we register one global click and submit event handler on the document. Thanks to event bubbling and event.target.closest, we can easily filter out elements that don’t have the data-track attribute.

Benefits

  • This is a substantially more efficient pattern to attaching events to each element, particularly in a re-render heavy framework like React
  • Abstracting this functionality allows us to declare less per element. For example, we can read event.target.textContent, rather than re-supply the label on every call-to-action button. We can automatically pull in the href on an anchor once, rather than duplicate the URL in an inline function
  • There’s less code to write per component
  • We can add new tracking providers without touching every component
  • Common values can be set globally, rather than per component. For example, we may wish to pass the current page URL for all events
  • This all started in a Next.js project. I’d painstakingly constructed my server/client components to minimise the number of client components. And that would’ve been entirely obliterated with inline tracking functions, that have to exist in a 'use client' file. This approach allowed me to keep as many components as pure server components

Drawbacks

  • It’s extra HTML to send over the wire - sending markup for something that is entirely client-side isn’t ideal
  • Everything that’s tracked is easier to see in dev-tools - it’s not as if inline functions are hidden, but they’re certainly less obvious. This could be a positive; if you’re not comfortable with someone seeing what’s being tracked, then maybe it shouldn’t be tracked? The tracking sunlight test
  • Non-primitives can’t easily be tracked without stringifying JSON

Abstracting the tracking

Rather than calling, say, Google Analytics directly in the global handler, I’ve taken to dispatching a CustomEvent in a consistent format that can be listened to by any number of handlers. For the few times you may need to track something outside of the global handler, you can dispatch a CustomEvent with the same format and it’ll be fed to all the handlers.

Implementation

This is a rough implementation of the concept - I can’t guarantee perfection but it’s broadly what I’ve been using:

const TRACKING_EVENT = 'namespaced:tracking';

// Fire events to all tracking providers
const trackEvent = (eventAction, trackingDetail) => {
	window.dispatchEvent(
		new CustomEvent(TRACKING_EVENT, {
			detail: {
				eventAction,
				trackingDetail,
			},
		}),
	);
};

const globalTrackingHandler = async (event: Event) => {
	// Detect if we're on a trackable element
	const target = (event.target as HTMLElement).closest('[data-track]');
	if (!target) return;

	// Prevent click events from firing on trackable forms
	const action = target.dataset.track;
	if (action === 'submit' && event.type === 'click') return;

	// Extract data from the trackable element
	const category = target.dataset['track-category'];
	const label = target.dataset['track-label'];
	const name = target.dataset['track-name'];
	const url = target.dataset['track-name'] ?? target.getAttribute('href') ?? window.location.href;

	// Pass events to the global tracking helper
	switch (action) {
		case 'click': {
			trackEvent(action, {
				category,
				label,
				name,
				url,
			});
			break;
		}
		case 'submit': {
			const formLabel = target.querySelector('[type="submit"]')?.textContent ?? label;
			const formUrl = target.getAttribute('action') ?? url;
			trackEvent('cta', {
				category,
				label: formLabel,
				name,
				url: formUrl,
			});
			break;
		}
		default:
			break;
	}
};

document.addEventListener('click', globalTrackingHandler);
document.addEventListener('submit', globalTrackingHandler);

const specificTrackingHandler = (event) => {
	const { detail } = event;
	if (!detail) return;
	const { eventAction, trackingDetail } = detail;

	switch (eventAction) {
		case 'click':
			trackClick(trackingDetail);
			break;
		case 'cta':
			trackCta(trackingDetail);
			break;
		default:
			break;
	}
};

window.addEventListener(TRACKING_EVENT, specificTrackingHandler);

Posted on in Web