As of today (January 11, 2021), Google Analytics is used by 84% of websites that use some form of traffic analysis, according to W3Techs. It's no surprise, either. It's a valuable tool and Google provides it for free.
Of course, when it comes to Big Tech companies, if you're not paying for the product, then you are the product. And when it comes to web traffic analysis specifically, your website visitors are the product. Yes, that means you, dear reader.
I'm not about to sit here and judge other website owners for using Google Analytics. Besides, it's not like I'm actively trying to live off the Google grid. I have multiple Gmail accounts. I own a Pixel phone. But if I can do my own small part to claw back a bit of online privacy for all of us, then I'm going to try to do that.
All that said, my decision to avoid Google Analytics is not purely altruistic.
Reasons to avoid Google Analytics
There are three main reasons I chose not to use Google Analytics:
- Respect for my users' privacy
- Not wanting to implement a GDPR cookie pop-up
Because I was uncomfortable using Google Analytics here on NoLongerSet, I just went without analytics altogether. It was probably for the best when I first got started, since there probably wasn't much to see in the way of web traffic anyway.
I finally got spurred into action, though, by this tweet from @DenverCoder:
I didn't have the requirement to support Create React Apps, but the tweet caught my attention nonetheless. I had been thinking I should add some kind of website analytics tool for awhile. The replies to the tweet mentioned several promising alternatives. I've listed them below, along with a brief bit of info about what I thought set each option apart from the others.
- Fathom Analytics*: most popular recommendation from above tweet
- Matomo Analytics: optional cookie opt-in (cookie-free tracking instructions)
- Plausible: made and hosted in the EU
- Simple Analytics: view Twitter referrals by source tweet
- Insights: includes custom event tracking
- umami: free and open-source
- Posthog: app-focused usage tracking
Though it was an admittedly small sample size, the majority of recommendations in the replies of the above tweet were for Fathom Analytics*. So that's who I went with. For $140 per year, I get up to 100,000 page views per month, which I can split among as many websites as I want to track.
This blog (NoLongerSet.com) runs on Ghost. Fathom has Ghost-specific instructions that popped up as soon as I added this site to my Fathom account:
It took me less than five minutes from the time I decided to sign up with Fathom until I was tracking traffic on my site. My pataxsoftware.com site runs on Wordpress. Fathom has a free Wordpress plugin that made set up as easy as on Ghost and almost as fast. My grandjean.net site is currently hand-crafted HTML (and in need of a serious update). Adding the tracking code took a bit longer there because I don't have a common base HTML file, so I had to add it to each page I wanted to track. That's not an issue with Fathom, though, that's a side effect of my own website's outdated design.
A note about the self-hosted alternatives
Many of the analytics solutions in the list above are either open source or include free/freemium self-hosted options. There was a time, not too long ago, when I would have spent several hours setting up a self-hosted solution rather than pay for a pre-packaged solution. But I've come to value my time more than I once did.
I've also gotten better at simple math. My current hourly rate is $105. As I transition to value-based pricing, my effective hourly rate should be even higher. That means if I spend even 90 minutes a year setting up and maintaining a self-hosted "free" solution, I will be losing money.
Opportunity costs often make "free" software a poor investment.
* The Fathom Analytics links in this article are affiliate links. If you use them to sign up, you get $10 off your first order and I get compensated for sending your business their way. Full disclosure and all that.