Are you spying on your customers without their consent? This is what running Google Analytics can feel like but you can stop this and put privacy first in your business without sacrificing long term growth. Finding a Google Analytics alternative has become a popular topic in the last few years.
Some have lost their trust in Google while others are simply concerned about the ever-increasing amount of tracking in their world. Regardless of their reasons, you can live without Google Analytics and I’ll show you how in this post.
Google Analytics is estimated to be running in at least 30M websites online and the official figure could be even higher. On an objective basis, Google Analytics is a fantastic product. It’s easy to install, can capture all the data you need without minimal configuration, and has an extensive suite of reports.
The second reason, can capture data minimal configuration, is one of the attributes that also causes issues for people. The good news is that you can find these 3 attributes in other tools while also adding a fourth one: privacy-friendly controls.
Even if you aren’t concerned about the data-vacuum-sucking black hole that is Google, you may be swayed by practicalities. GA’s popularity also means that it is a prime target for ad blockers.
From my client’s work, I would estimate that at least 10% of all online users take advantage of ad blockers including myself. I have seen this number as high as 40% in certain user segments like security professionals and corporate intranet users.
Finally, I think that companies should put privacy at their core of the data strategy. This is good for business on a practical and moral level. Laws like GDPR and CCPA can hit you with fines for abusing your data privileges while eroding customer trust. On a moral level, focusing on privacy means that you capture only the data you need and you are careful in how you use it.
Perhaps none of these reasons capture your reasons for searching for a Google Analytics alternative. You may simply not like the product. I wouldn’t blame you. I have spent enough time explaining it’s functionality to know that most people are overwhelmed by everything it does. It’s UI could be improved to make it easier to unlock insights but its design hasn’t fundamentally changed in 10 years. Using Google Analytics can feel like trying to drink from a broken red fire hydrant.
Looking for a Google Analytics alternative is a tactic and before we get to that level, I want to talk about strategy. After all, Google Analytics isn’t the only software tool that captures data in your organization. It’s not enough to move away from this software tool if you’re still sharing PII data with other vendors without any constraints.
I always ask companies what data they actually want. Some of them have only given this question a passing thought. Instead of answering, they simply decide to “collect it all and then analyze it later”. The challenge is that later never comes or becomes hard to do because you have too much data.
I would recommend that you use my 3Ps framework for determining what data you need and how you will get it. Each P stands for: People, Process, and Providers. I won’t cover this in detail here but thinking through each of these options can crystalize how to go about getting relevant data.
You don’t need to be peeking through windows to understand your customers. You’re tracking users anonymously but it’s merely peeking. Instead, you can ask customers directly what they think and be upfront of what tracking you’re using.
If you’re putting privacy first, you also need to think about the importance of your data and how it should be shared. I wrote in another post the different kinds of data and how each should be handled differently.
This idea isn’t crazy but it may be easier for some companies than others. For example, companies, where users are logging in, can easily keep track of their users. Others may have to rely on multiple data sources to get the complete picture.
I’ll show you two categories of alternatives: SaaS and self-hosted. SaaS tends to be easier to manage since the product is hosted by someone else but this comes at a financial and philosophical cost. Self Hosted is under your complete control but you also need to manage everything yourself.
Matomo is one of the oldest alternatives in this list. They were formerly known as Pwiki and have one of the most complete alternatives. You will actually see them twice in this list since they offer a SaaS and a self-hosted option.
Their Matomo Cloud option has everything you would need to analyze your product’s behavior. Heatmaps, session recordings, attribution, funnels, and ecommerce tracking are all here.
If you notice any similarities to the Google Analytics reports, you aren’t mistaken. I think Matomo was designed to be almost identical to Google Analytics which is why there’s an overlap in their reports. In recent years Matomo has built things that are unique to them but their fundamental structure is inspired by GA.
Matomo Cloud technically hosts the data for you but they specify in their terms of services that this data belongs to you. This is what they say on their website:
“We acknowledge in our Terms that you own all rights, titles, and interest to your users’ data. We obtain no rights from you to your user’s data. This means we can’t on-sell it to third parties; we can’t claim ownership of it, and you can export your data at any time”
Simple Analytics is an up and coming product focused on simplifying how businesses consume data. Their product isn’t as extensive as Google Analytics but this is a feature, not a bug. By showing fewer reports, you focus on the essentials.
I like their approach because I think businesses could do with less data and more insights. Reducing how much data you collect is one of the ways to do this. They also avoid using cookies and other methods to capture the data, giving your users complete freedom.
Fathom is similar to Simple Analytics. They offer less data, with no tracking on the user’s part. I’m a fan of these approaches and I think businesses could benefit from using a tool like Fathom. I do worry what happens when these limits constrain you but Fathom’s easy setup means that you aren’t spending days or weeks getting this software tool going.
Matomo is back on this list because they offer a similar product but self-hosted. They call it Matomo On-Premise and it can be installed on any web server such as Apache or Nginx. The functionality is almost the same but there might be a few reports missing from this option. I don’t think these missing reports are a deal-breaker and you do get 100% control and ownership over your data.
Open Web Analytics
Open Web Analytics is another self-hosted option. They have fewer reports than Matomo but you have the option to add custom actions like events (they call them site actions). It’s not clear how it would perform under heavy loads or if it could track millions of data points.
AWStats generates reports and insights from the log files that all servers generate. It’s better suited for engineers or people who are comfortable with a Command Line interface. Your data would be limited to whatever your logs capture.
Countly actually offers a SaaS and on-premise option but I’ll focus on the latter only. They have quite a few reports with a modern design that isn’t just an inspiration for Google Analytics. They offer a free option and a paid self-hosted option with granular data and access to their plugin marketplace.
Privacy-friendly strategies may seem like self-imposed cages but they are actually freeing. The constraints forced businesses to think through what they actually need from their data and how they could get it without spying on their customers.