Why you should avoid Google Analytics
By Anthony·July 6, 2021·5 min read
From understanding which blog posts are trending, to measuring how fast a page loads across the world, analytics play an important role in how websites are improved over time.
However, not all analytics tools are created equal. Google Analytics is particularly popular due to being free to get started, and well-known. But before you add it to your website without giving it much thought, let's review some important aspects you should be aware of from the start.
There's no such thing as a free lunch
Google Analytics is free up to 10M page views per month, which makes it particularly attractive when getting started. However, once you cross that limit you'll need to upgrade to Google Analytics 360, which starts at $150,000/year. That means it can be prohibitively expensive for many businesses once they grow, possibly leading to vendor lock-in too, as moving your data might not be easy or cheap.
But it’s not only a question of how much traffic your website has. Just because you're not paying for something doesn't mean that you’re getting a free lunch. Ever heard the phrase "if you are not paying for the product, you're the product being sold"?
In this case, the personal data collected on your website may be used for advertising purposes and to track your visitors across the web.
The hidden cost of using Google Analytics is that it can have ethical and legal implications for your website. You are responsible for the collection and use of personal data on your website, and how it's shared with third-parties. While these concerns are not exclusive to Google Analytics, it raises privacy concerns which can lead to compliance issues and even hefty fines down the road.
It's complicated and may slow down your website
While Google Analytics can be a powerful tool for marketers, it might be too complicated for most websites' needs. There's more than 200 metrics available and nearly a hundred distinct reports. Additionally, it can require significant configuration to be compliant with various privacy regulations.
Nobody likes a slow, bloated website. Depending on your implementation, Google's tracking script can significantly increase your website's load time. So it's worth evaluating if Google Analytics might be hurting your website's performance, and consequently your search ranking and end-user experience.
It raises privacy and compliance concerns
Using Google Analytics can lead to privacy concerns and legal compliance issues. As a website owner, you are responsible for the collection and processing of personal data from your visitors, as well as any third-parties with access to this data.
Since the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into effect, companies that fail to achieve compliance are subject to hefty fines. This not only affects EU-based companies, but any company that processes the data of EU citizens and residents anywhere in the world.
Additionally, there's now GDPR equivalents in many jurisdictions around the world that pose their own set of requirements when handling the personal data of your website visitors.
When using tools such as Google Analytics you should ensure correct use of IP anonymization features, tracking without cookies, and correctly installing a consent banner when required. Otherwise you risk being exposed to hefty fines, and may compromise the privacy of your visitors.
It might be the wrong tool for the job
If you're looking for simple analytics that respect the privacy of your website visitors, Google Analytics might be the wrong tool for the job.
From taking to my customers, most website owners are interested in a few key metrics:
- How many visitors come to my site every day
- Which pages are trending
- In which countries is my site most popular
- How fast is my website for the end-user
Without analytics, it's difficult to answer these questions reliably. You wouldn't be able to know how popular your site is, or if anyone is using it all. Some form of analytics, whether log-based or web-based, is necessary in order to derive useful insights.
It’s possible to configure Google Analytics to be compliant with privacy regulations, but the concerns over the use of visitor data remain, and it might still lack the features that matter for your use case (eg. performance monitoring or real time dashboards).
That's why I believe there's a need for alternatives that give you useful insights without invading the privacy of your visitors.
Alternatives to Google Analytics
Luckily, analytics software doesn't need to track personal data in order to be useful. There's a trend towards privacy-first, customer funded analytics. These new tools are often designed for ease of use, and bundle additional features such as performance monitoring and traffic spike alerts.
Panelbear is one of these tools, which I run from the EU for thousands of websites around the world. It's super easy to get started. Just add the tracking snippet to your website, or use one of the popular framework integrations.
Once you publish your website, Panelbear automatically collects, and aggregates all traffic and performance metrics in real time - no additional setup required. The resulting metrics are stripped out of personal data, giving you useful data without invading the privacy of your visitors.
I believe Panelbear is a great alternative to Google Analytics, but there’s several more worth checking out too (in no particular order):
- Plausible, simple analytics that also offers an open source version for self-hosting.
- Fathom Analytics, a popular alternative and one of the first to focus on visitor privacy.
- Splitbee, offers various automation and conversion optimization features.
- Simple Analytics, another great alternative focused on simplicity and privacy.
As a website owner, you have more options than ever before, each with its own set of benefits. Most of these tools offer a free trial, so feel free to check them out and decide for yourself which one suits your needs best.
Whichever tool you decide to use, I hope this article helped you understand some of the things to consider before using Google Analytics on your website, and how privacy-first analytics can benefit both visitors and website owners.