Updates & Writing

Bar, line and pie charts

Alternatives to Google Analytics

For a long time, Google Analytics has been the product to provide information about website visitors. It’s reliable, free, and provides a huge amount of information.

The ability to track user journeys, to track click events like downloads or video plays, to create filters and compare data, is really powerful. For some businesses, especially those that need to demonstrate return on investment or achieve certain traffic levels as performance indicators, it’s practically a requirement.

But if you don’t use the information it provides to direct your SEO and content strategies or your development roadmap, there’s probably not much point using Google Analytics. Most websites aren’t taking advantage of the information it provides and many Google Analytics properties are incorrectly set up, victims of referrer spam and bot traffic.

There’s also the uncomfortable fact that while you might not be making use of it, Google is certainly making use of your visitor data. So if you aren’t using the information, why track your users?

You probably don’t need it

Most website owners are only interested in some very basic facts.

  • how many people are visiting my website
  • what pages are the most popular, and
  • where are my visitors coming from

So how can you get this information without Google Analytics?

Google Search Console

Originally called Google Webmaster Tools, Google Search Console allows site owners to submit sitemap data directly to Google and provides feedback on any issues Google might find while crawling your site.

The service has grown over the years and now, along with crawl errors, it offers information about mobile usability and security issues along with some basic statistics.

The statistics include your website page views, the number of times your site appeared in Google search result pages and the click-through rate from those pages. It gives you a breakdown of the devices your visitors use, the countries they come from and which pages they visit.

If you manage a website it should definitely be listed in Google Search Console, if only for the ability to submit and manage your sitemap. The additional features, in some ways, exceed Google Analytics since it provides information on how your site is being found in Google Search.

And none of this information requires modifying code on your website or giving up any data or user privacy.

Fathom Analytics

Fathom Analytics provide website stats with a focus on simplicity and privacy.

The Fathom dashboard provides important visitor data — unique visits, page views, time on site, and bounce rate. It also breaks down the most popular content and the top referrers. Which should answer the basic questions that site owners have about their traffic.

Fathom Analytics dashboard

The main difference between Fathom and other products is their clear focus on data privacy. As they put it on their website:

Our tracking policy is simple: Fathom collects trends and insights, not personal details about specific website visitors.

Unlike Google Analytics, Fathom respects browser Do Not Track settings by default, something that privacy-minded businesses and site-owners will appreciate. It’s certainly something government websites should consider.

Fathom offers a free open source version of their product that you can install on your server. It requires some technical knowledge but it’s fairly straightforward.

Alternatively, you can subscribe to their paid version and take advantage of their cloud servers and support, while also contributing to the ongoing development of the product.

Other alternatives

AWStats

If your site hosting uses cPanel or Plesk, it’s likely that you have access to AWStats. AWStats is an open-source web analytics tool that provides a way to analyse and visualise server logs.

Server logs record content requests while JavaScript tracking typically fires when a page loads completely. This often means that server logs will show more activity than JavaScript trackers.

Jetpack

If you have a WordPress website you can also get statistics via WordPress.com by installing the Jetpack plugin.

Jetpack bundles together a range of features from uptime monitoring to a free CDN, but it requires a WordPress.com user account and adds quite a bit of additional code to your site, including additional CSS and JavaScript requests. So there’s definitely some overhead that comes with the features.

Want to know more?

If you want help analysing your website traffic — everything from configuring your analytics product to reporting and understanding the data — get in touch.