When it comes to web analytics, Google Analytics is still the tool most people turn to. The basic version is free, comes with a range of powerful features, and it has stood the test of time.
But even though Google Analytics doesn’t cost money, companies pay for it: with the data of their website visitors.
More and more companies are questioning this deal by themselves – or they are being encouraged to do so by stricter data privacy laws, for example in the EU and Switzerland.
The good news is that once you start digging, you will find that there are quite a few alternatives to Google Analytics, many of which have their unique features that are hard to match by anyone else.
With that in mind, let’s look at some of the top web analytics tools you could consider. But first, let’s explore what web analytics is.
What is Web Analytics?
Web Analytics refers to the tracking and analysis of user behavior on a website. This includes, for example, the number of page views, the time spent on the page, the quantity and origin of visitors, and many others.
Companies can use this data to understand user behavior, optimize the site according to key metrics, and make more informed decisions.
Using such a consent management platform is bad for the user experience. Additionally, any collection of personal data presents a legal challenge with corresponding risks.
For this reason, some web analytics tools, such as Friendly Analytics, have decided to completely avoid setting cookies or storing personal data.
Top Web Analytics Tools
Not too long ago, there wasn’t that much to choose from in terms of web analytics tools. But that’s no longer the case.
Let’s look at the leading tools you should consider in 2021 and explore what each of them can offer.
1. Friendly Analytics
Many analytics tools treat website visitors as data points rather than people with a right to privacy.
For this reason, Friendly Analytics does things differently. Unlike most other solutions, it sets no cookies and stores no personal data.
Also, Friendly Analytics processes all data at local providers in Switzerland or Germany (EU). After the termination of the EU-US Privacy Shield, this is a big legal advantage for companies operating in Europe – especially in comparison to Google Analytics.
Friendly Analytics can do more than just data protection, however. The software offers all the features of a professional analytics solution, including evaluation of website behavior and visitor sources, conversion tracking including funnels, and a complete tag manager.
Technically, Friendly Analytics is a privacy-optimized version of Matomo (formerly Piwik), the world’s most popular open-source web analytics solution.
Thanks to open source, there is no lock-in effect – switching to another provider that relies on the same software, or even hosting your own, is possible at any time.
Pricing: from $9 /mo
Plausible is an increasingly popular alternative to Google Analytics. Like Friendly Analytics, it offers good data protection as it also does not set cookies, does not store personal data, and is compliant with GDPR, CCPA, and PECR.
Plausible also hosts all of its data in the EU – though not with a provider from the EU, but at the Frankfurt location of a cloud provider from the USA.
The user interface is easy to use, so even the less tech-savvy can quickly set up tracking and start collecting data.
However, there are drawbacks to this simplicity. Plausible offers only a limited feature set. You get the most important reports – but if you want to dig a little deeper, you won’t get much further with Plausible.
Pricing: from $6 /mo
3. Simple Analytics
This makes it privacy-friendly and well suited for beginners. It provides all the basic reports like top pages, referrals, and breakdown by country and device.
As with Plausible, simplicity is also its drawback. Unlike more powerful tools such as Friendly Analytics or Google Analytics, Simple Analytics offers very limited functionality. For example, there is no way to track conversions.
The company behind Simple Analytics is based in the Netherlands in the EU. The hosting of the data is also in the Netherlands with a local provider, which is another advantage for data protection.
Pricing: from €19 /mo
4. Matomo Cloud
Matomo Cloud, like Friendly Analytics, is based on the open source software Matomo.
Thanks to the integration of numerous premium plugins, Matomo Cloud offers a very extensive range of features. In addition to all the standard reports, it offers such things as heatmaps, session recording, A/B testing, and custom reports.
Matomo Cloud hosts its users’ data in Frankfurt, Germany – though not with a European provider, but with Amazon. Also, the company behind Matomo Cloud is not based in Europe, but in New Zealand.
Both of these points, unfortunately, decisively weaken Matomo Cloud’s privacy protection.
Pricing: from €29 /mo
AWStats is a free analytics tool designed to track web, streaming, FTP, or mail server statistics in a graphical way. The tool is relatively simple, providing visual data from your log files and can offer information about visits, users, locations, and much more.
The software is free, is based on open-source code, and only requires access to server log files to produce helpful analytics data.
It’s important to note that unlike other top web analytics tools on this list, AWStats does not track individual website visitors or users across multiple sites and instead is used for evaluating activity on servers.
If you understand the limitations of AWStats and use it as an overview of your server activity, then it’s a fantastic tool that can be very useful. But at the same time, it can’t really compare to the broad scope of features offered by other analytics tools.
6. Google Analytics
It provides all the basic reports for evaluating website traffic. And because most marketeers are used to it, it’s relatively easy to use.
In addition, Google Analytics doesn’t cost website owners any money. However, even though Google Analytics doesn’t cost money, as mentioned at the beginning, companies pay for it: with the data of their website visitors.
Google earns a lot of money with advertising. To do this, the company needs data that website visitors provide involuntarily. Plus, as a U.S. company, Google stores data in the U.S. and must cooperate with the NSA intelligence agency.
And there are other disadvantages. For example, Google Analytics does not evaluate all visits, but only a part of them. The software then extrapolates this part to the totality of visitors. This “sampling” saves computing power, but is less accurate.
Also there are limitations: the free version is capped at 10 million hits (pageviews) per month and 500 hits per session. That’s enough for most sites – but larger sites will have to switch to the paid version, Google Analytics 360 (see below), and then it gets quite expensive.
7. Google Analytics 360
Google Analytics 360 offers more features than the free version while removing some of the limitations.
Additional features include raw data export and data-driven attribution.
Also, the limitation of 10 million hits (pageviews) per month and 500 hits per session is removed. And Google Analytics 360 evaluates each individual visit, so it doesn’t use “sampling.”
However, Google makes you pay dearly for these advantages – Analytics 360 costs from $135,000 per year for up to 500 million hits.
Pricing: from $150,000 /year
8. Adobe Analytics
Adobe Analytics is a professional analytics solution not only for websites, but for all marketing channels.
Users praise the software’s extensive functionality and high customizability. However, both are associated with a high complexity of the interface and great training effort.
Adobe Analytics isn’t cheap, either: prices start from $30,000 per year.
When it comes to privacy, Adobe doesn’t have the best reputation. The software company is headquartered in the U.S. and accordingly transmits data there.
Pricing: from $30,000 /year
Hotjar is different from most of the tools in this review. It positions itself not as a general web analytics tool, but as conversion optimization software.
The heart of Hotjar is heatmaps. With it, you can measure where website visitors dwell with the mouse and where they click. From this, you can draw conclusions about which part of the website generates the most attention, and whether there are any weaknesses in the user experience.
Another feature is screen recordings, which is the recording of complete user sessions including mouse movement and navigation across different subpages of the website.
From a privacy perspective, however, both heatmaps and session recordings are tricky because they can reveal personal data if no precautions are taken. Hotjar is also a US company and therefore also transmits data to the USA.
The software is free for up to 2,000 page views per month, after which pricing starts at $99 per month.
Pricing: free / from $99 /mo
Mixpanel is a business analytics tool that’s especially popular among SaaS companies. It offers an easy-to-use web interface and comes with features such as KPI tracking on websites and mobile apps, funnel analysis, and even the ability to contact users directly through the dashboard.
The last feature is particularly intriguing for SaaS companies. It doubles as a sort of marketing automation tool that allows using the insights and data to segment direct messages based on events and activity.
This analytics platform is designed with the SaaS business model in mind, allowing companies to get real-time insights not just about website activity but also about how the users interact with the product.
However, some users cite a steep learning curve and the lack of key features for SaaS companies, such as tracking installations and few configuration options on charts.
If you’re a SaaS company that wants a product-based analytics solution, this is an interesting option to consider. But for others, the available features won’t really be as valuable, and other top web analytics tools will probably make more sense.
Mixpanel has its headquarters in the USA and consequently also transfers data there.
Pricing: Free version / pro plans from $25 /mo
Which solution should you choose? The answer depends on the size of your business, your industry, your needs, and a variety of other factors, among others. One fundamental factor you should consider, however, is the security of the data you collect.
If you want to comply with EU and Swiss data protection laws, you should look for a provider that is ethical, transparent, and willing to store your data where it is adequately protected.
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