I once heard Google Analytics described as crack cocaine for marketing folks and webmasters. Now I've never tried crack cocaine, but I have tried Google Analytics and I can see why once you have had it, it's pretty hard to let go.
It gives you a bunch of information, most of which is useless for most webmasters1. It could be argued the knowing that 20% of your visitors are on mobile, or that x% are using firefox or y% are still using IE8 is useful. In means you know what to focus on supporting and which browser to design for2. Knowing what content is most popular can be useful and knowing where your traffic is coming from might help you work out where to focus your advertising.
All those things are kind of useful, but the thing that I think gets most people hooked is the self validation and being able to track your popularity. If you have ever made a post on facebook and then obsessively refreshed the page to see how many likes you get you know what I'm talking about. It gives you all sorts of stats about how often people visit your site, how long they stay there for, what content they look at and where they are coming from.
Piwik gives you all of that, it's growing very fast and very easy to setup and install. The first time I installed Piwik I went over to their docs page and had a self hosted analytics tool setup installed and running with in about an hour and I'm sure with practice it wouldn't be too hard to get a server setup in under 15 minutes.
There are some good arguments for using Piwik over Google Analytics too, for one thing you can then choose to respect do not track requests. But the other reason is that your sending people's personal data to a third party. If you have Google Analytics on your site, it's not just you who knows when people are visiting but Google knows who is visiting your site. They know in more detail than you do, they know the IP address and details of people who visited your site rather than just the information in aggregate which you get.
They can then use this massive amount of data about who visits which sites, when and for how long to do targeted advertising. I don't like the idea that Google are tracking people not just on their own sites, but on sites they don't control which use Google Analytics.
I think it's reasionable to argue that people using Google services like Mail and Search are aware that Google are tracking them and are choosing to give up their data and privacy to Google in exchange for a free3 service. But with Analytics it's not the same trade off, it's the webmaster that's getting the benefit of the service, but it's the users of the site not the webmaster who are giving up their privacy and they get nothing in return.
So if you wan't don't want to share your users browsing habits with a third party but still want analytics, Piwik is an excilent alternitive. It's easy to setup one Piwik install for multiple sites, on this site I'm using using a Piwik server from another site4 that I run.
Where is that flameproof fire fighter's suit when you need it? And yes, I'm fully aware of the irony that last week's post was about how great it is that Google have statistics about IPv6 addoption. ↩
Yes... It would be great if we lived in a world where all our sites would just stick to standards complaint HTML and CSS and which browser people choose to use shouldn't be an issue. ↩
gratis not libre ↩
For those that are curious view this page source, I haven't tried to hide it. ↩