Analytics for the Rest of Us

Tracking the success metrics of any new project is super important, and the first thing many of us do when launching a new web project is to instinctively install Google Analytics. Their user tracking software is used by almost 90% of the top 10,000 websites (source: BuiltWith), but their software comes packed with a growing list of problems and concerns. Solid, reliable alternatives do exist, and I no longer recommend Google Analytics as the default choice for most projects.

The problem with Google

Privacy

This is the big one. I wouldn't be writing this article without Google's blatant disregard for your users' privacy. The fact that Google makes its software available for free makes your users and their data the product that's being sold, and none of us want to be commodified and have our increasingly terrifying profiles sold in bulk.

But you don't have to view this in the same moral light that I do (Google is evil) to reach the same conclusions that I've reached (you shouldn't, necessarily, use their software). All you need to know is that your users don't trust Google so much so that they've already gone to great lengths to ensure that you don't take their data and pass it on.

The most popular plugin for Firefox (Ad Block Plus) has almost 10 million users. You know what it does? It blocks Google analytics. Do you know what their second most popular plugin does? It also blocks Google analytics. If you're using Google Analytics you're not seeing more than 10% of your legitimate web traffic (though you probably are seeing more junk traffic generated from bots)

Complexity

Almost everybody using Google Analytics isn't doing much more than looking at a few key metrics:

There are a hundred reasons a large or complex site might require something like Google Analytics (because it does so much more than give basic traffic numbers), but for most use cases those four things are really all you need. And there are a lovely alternatives that are extremely affordable, especially considering the true cost to your users associated with using Google to provide these numbers.

GDPR

This is obviously connected to privacy, but in my opinion it deserves special mention because do you know what I never want to do ever again? Click a button that allows a website to track my personal data. Because of the GDPR (Europe's sweeping protections on consumer's digital privacy) everybody has to put these notices up... if they insist on collecting users' personal information.

Good alternatives

There are two great alternatives to Google analytics that will probably give you everything you were using Google Analytics for, without invading your users' privacy and without being blocked by most ad-blocking plugins. They're fast. They're simple to setup. And they generate reports that are easy to digest by anybody.

First up is Fathom Analytics. It features privacy-first analytics that generate simple reports , they don't use cookies to track users' personal information, and they throw in website uptime monitoring that will shoot you a text or an email when your site goes down. All for $14 / month.

Next is Plausible. They're offering a very similar product to Fathom, but without the uptime monitoring. Pricing starts at $6 / month.

Tl;dr

Google makes your users the product, and because your users already know this they're increasingly stopping Google Analytics from even loading in their browsers. If you need the complexity of Google Analytics, I get it. But if you don't? It'll take you about 10 minutes to set up a really good alternative, and the minimal cost is well worth it.