Google Analytics dominates the web analytics market, because it’s free to use and because it offers a wide range of features to track a website’s performance. But what less users are aware of is that GA gives all statistics to Alphabet Inc., that the tool’s script doesn’t always run and that it increases a page’s load time. For this reason I recently tried out an alternative for Google Analytics called Piwik, an open-source web analytics platform.
After observing that analytics.js, Google’s external script required for Google Analytics tracking, regularly refuses to load and slowed down our website, I decided to look for a solution. I first thought the code’s slow down and refusal to execute was a simple bug, but after analysing other websites I found that the same problem also occurred on all other websites that use GA.
After encountering the same issue when I used Google’s older ga.js script, and even after trying to host the entire analytics.js script on our own server, I decided it became time to try something completely different. It meant that GA wasn’t only slowing down the overall page speed and negatively impacted the user experience, it was also failing to deliver accurate web statistics.
After searching on the web for GA alternatives it didn’t took long before Piwik caught my attention. Different than other analytics solutions Piwik is open-source, that means it is freely available and can be modified at will. To make things look even better, the free and open-source analytics platform comes with as good as everything the semi-professional webmaster needs.
Piwik comes with all the bells and whistles that are available on Google Analytics. So does it provide an overview of page views, visitors numbers, location tracking, analytics for e-commerce, content tracking, event tracking, site search analytics, real-time analytics and more. At the same time all the data is owned by you and it doesn’t have to rely on any externally loading scripts.
The only thing that somewhat troubled me at first was that in order to install Piwik on your own server you have to follow several seemingly complex steps.
Luckily the Piwik website offers an extensive step by step explanation on how to install the platform, which proved much easier than I initially thought. In short, I only had to download the source code and upload it to the web server via FTP.
I believe that all with all it didn’t take me more than 15 minutes to download and install Piwik from start to finish, which is a bit more than the 5-minute installation time promised on the Piwik website, but still not so much.
Of course, one of the first things I tried out after completing the installation was to check if the page speed and the refusal to load error were still there. Although the website speed test from Pingdom said that a ‘?’ in Piwik’s tracking url meant it wasn’t cached and reduced load time, I did manage to improve the page speed to less than two seconds in every part of the globe. Aside that, the refusal error I encountered with GA was gone as well. It proved a good start.
When I logged in to Piwik (found at the location where it’s installed) for the first time I didn’t expect it would be so similar to GA. The first page you see is the dashboard, which basically shows everything you need to know. Here you find the visitor graph, the amount of visitors within the last 30 minutes, where they came from, which browser they used, and many more important data (all of which can also be customised to your own needs).
Since our website is hosted on a shared server I also expected some significant load time compared to Google Analytics, which is hosted on Google’s servers. This didn’t prove the case. The ‘loading data’ message is visible for a second or so, but it didn’t take significantly longer to load than GA.
One of the things I also liked about Piwik is that it offers the possibility to display specific statistics anywhere on your website, using simple shortcodes. Although it isn’t something I use today, it does seem like a useful feature that could prove of value on a future about page or a page for advertisers.
The good and the bad
Before I wrote this review I read a handful of other Piwik reviews. Other reviewers frequently mentioned that installing Piwik is a pain and that Google Analytics offers a lot more features. After experimenting with Piwik myself I disagree.
Installing Piwik isn’t hard and doesn’t take long when you follow the step by step guide provided on the tool’s website. Furthermore, the notion that GA offers a lot more than Piwik isn’t true as well. Piwik basically offers everything GA does and it’s more a matter of taste and custom if you like to see Google-style or Piwik-style graphs, for me there is no real difference.
The only thing I don’t like about Piwik is that users that are not able to install the analytics platform on their own server will have to pay at least 29 euro per month for hosting up to 100,000 actions. For a small website owner that’s a substantial amount of money, in most cases a lot more than the price to host a single website for one year.
In other words, I believe Piwik is a great solution for webmasters that are in search of a truly free and open-source analytics solution that can match Google Analytics and are able to install the tool on their own server.
I believe Piwik is a great solution for webmasters that are in search of a truly free and open-source analytics solution that can match Google Analytics and are able to install the tool on their own server.