An excellent Open Source alternative to Google Analytics

Posted by David The Expert on: Thursday, April 5, 2012
Topic: Web Dev     Read 14,398 Times

Piwik is Open Source, so it's Free, constantly being developed, and full of as many features you would expect form a web analytics tool.

   Google Analytics is a great tool to keep track of traffic on any new website. It's free, it's pretty powerful, and it's from Google after all. But it has a lot of little problems which can make it an enormous hassle. The longer you use Google Analytics, the more you realize how these problems are getting in your way. In fact, Google Analytics is almost a necessity for anyone getting started with their first website. It's easy to set up, and it gives you more than enough information about who's visiting your website. But once you've gotten the hang of it and you know what kind of information you need to look for about your website, you will want to start thinking about alternatives to Google Analytics that will give you better data and with fewer of GA's problems.

Piwik the open source analytics tool

Piwik is Open Source, Free, and just as good or better than Google Analytics

Enter Piwik, the open source analytics alternative

   Piwik is an open source web analytics tool. Let me say that again: it's open source. That means it's free, it's constantly being developed and improved, and all of the code is transparent, so you can know exactly how it works and even modify it for your own circumstances. One of the biggest concerns about Google Analytics is that they have unbridled access to all of your website's data. They can use that for their own purposes, for marketing research for their advertisers, or anything else they desire. The great point about Piwik is that you host the entire thing entirely on your own web server. So all your data remains private and exclusively yours. You also don't have to rely on a third party, in case for some reason their server goes down while yours remains up.

   I have been using Piwik to monitor user traffic on for quite a while now, and I am very pleased with the results.   I have been using Piwik to monitor user traffic on Fireviews, being an active social network, sees quite a bit of daily traffic. And Piwik handles all that traffic like a champ. It even allows you to monitor each individual user, down to the pages they click on and in chronological order. I can not emphasize enough how useful it is to see the exact path of pages your users are taking. Google Analytics gives you only percentages. 70% of users may click on to page X after visiting page Y, but you can't see why they click on that page. When you can monitor the paths of individual users, you can see what pages they were on before and figure out what made them click on the next page from that page. I know this probably sounds confusing if you have only used GA, but once you use Piwik for a while you will realize how much more insight you have into your visitors' use of your website, and it will give you quite a bit of insight into what works on your site and what doesn't. Essentially while GA crunches all the numbers and gives you simple little packets of information (ratios and trends and such), Piwik gives you raw data. You can set up widgets and goals that do the same sort of number crunching, but you can get behind those numbers and see what is actually causing them.

   The only real complaint I have about Piwik is that it doesn't let you examine individual pages as closely. You can see normal page stats like bounce rate, time on page, etc. But it doesn't show you the statistics for the preceding page or next clicked page like Google Analytics does. But the great thing about Piwik is that it's open source! So for any problem you find with it, you can rest assured that it will be fixed by the community, as long as enough people think it's important enough to fix. I have also noticed that every time Google introduces a new GA feature, the Piwik community imitates it, usually in a much better way. It's the most state of the art, up to date, actively developed analytics tool I have ever used.

Mobile Apps

   A kindly redditor called patricksonion has reminded me about Piwik's mobile app, available for free for both iPhone and Android devices. This incredibly handy little feature lets you check on your website from wherever you are. The mobile app contains almost as much information as the full web browser version, in a compact mobile form factor. The web version will also load in your mobile web browsers, but it gets a bit compact. But it's still possible to get all the information you need from your phone without breaking the page. That was a problem I had with Google Analytics, where I could never get the data I wanted on my phone. There were a few paid apps that would only give you a little bit of the information you need form GA, and trying to load it in a mobile browser would often not work at all. But Piwik is so simple in its deisgn that it will load fully in just about any browser.

David The Expert

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