Analytics are important for any site owner to get a sense of which content they are producing is getting traffic and which content isn’t. This allows you to tailor the content that you produce to be more in line with what people are evidently wanting to see.
Google Analytics is the default choice for just about everyone, and for good reason. It works really well. The amount of detail you get from Google Analytics for free is pretty remarkable. But are you really getting it for free?
The truth is, Google uses this analytic data from your website to improve their advertising data on users and that of their partners (like Facebook). It may be fair to say that it is a lost cause at this point, and that you may as well use it since if they don’t get the data from your website, they will certainly get it from the next. I’m not going to pretend to stand on some moral high ground, but since I have the ability to use an alternative, I will choose to do so.
What other options are there?
Thankfully there are a multitude of options out there, both hosted and self-hosted, free and supported. If analytics are important to your business, and they probably are given the importance of your web presence, you will probably want to opt for a supported/hosted option so that your service is reliable. Here are a couple of options (note: I haven’t personally tried these hosted services):
Alternatively, if this is more for personal projects or blogs, you may want to go the self-hosted route as it is cheaper. And when you set things up yourself, there are often some good learning opportunities. Here are some self-hosted options (more can be found here: https://github.com/Kickball/awesome-selfhosted#analytics):
I ended up choosing Fathom
I ended up going with Fathom since I liked the UI as it is super simple and doesn’t give all sorts of extra unneeded data to clutter up the interface. Also it is privacy-focused and as a result there is zero personally identifiable information tracked for the users.
How I set it up
The Fathom folks were kind enough to provide a nice production installation guide: https://github.com/usefathom/fathom/blob/master/docs/Installation instructions.md.
Since the scope of my tracking is just for my personal blog, I am using the default SQLite DB rather than worrying about maintaining a production database. If I lose some historical traffic data, I am not going to be too upset.
I decided to go for a cheapo instance on Vultr since the specs needed to run this should be low. The beauty is, if I find that I need more juice, I can just scale up the instance.
I’m quite pleased with how easy it was to setup. The beauty is that I can use this for as many websites as I want to track. For (currently) a measly $3.50 for the Vultr instance, I have working website analytics which actually honors user’s “Don’t Track” policy in their browsers.
If you are starting a new site, or are trying to move away from Google Analytics why not try out one of these Google Analytics alternatives? Worst case scenario you can always switch back if needed.
Update: Not sure if it was the cheapo instance or the application configuration itself, but the setup didn’t end up lasting all that long. When it worked, it worked fine.