Welcome to the first article in a series aimed to help small business owners and freelancers choose an alternative website analytics solution to Google Analytics. We’ll begin by exploring why Google Analytics is a particularly poor choice for small businesses, followed by in-depth reviews of some of the popular website analytics products on the market.
If you've already decided to seek an alternative to Google Analytics, you can jump straight into the reviews here. We have reviewed three analytics tools at the time of publishing this article and will be adding more in the coming weeks, so watch this space.
Whether you’re new to website analytics and are searching for the best solution for your small business website, or you’re a seasoned Google Analytics user who has already invested time and effort to learn it, there are some valid and pressing reasons you may wish to seek out an alternative.
The current version of Google Analytics (Universal Analytics) will stop collecting new data for free users on July 1, 2023 and for its Google Analytics 360 users on October 1, 2023 and there is no direct upgrade path to the new Google Analytics 4. The only way to keep using Google Analytics is to install the new GA4 version on your site and set everything up from scratch.
To add insult to injury, GA4 is an entirely new product with a new interface and a different way of working and collecting data. This will undoubtedly involve a substantial learning curve for any of its customers willing to change over to GA4.
Over 4 billion people use at least one of Google’s products on a regular basis. From Google Search to Chrome Browser, Android OS, Gmail, YouTube and many more, it's mesmerizing how many of us have become reliant on the products from a single company for so many of our daily activities.
Google uses its network of free products to accumulate data from its billions of users from many different perspectives. This enables them to build incredibly deep audience profiles which are ultimately the bedrock of their Google Ads service.
A dizzying array of personal information feeds into the Google Ads database including location, age, gender, parental status, lifestyle, passions, habits, important life milestones and more. This formula has made Google the largest advertising company in the world with an annual revenue in 2022 approaching $300 billion, the lion’s share of which is from selling ads.
If you drive visitors to your website with Google Ads and you’re using Google Analytics to monitor that traffic, you are vulnerable to blind spots when it comes to managing fraudulent clicks and optimizing your ad campaigns to avoid wasteful spending.
It’s clearly contrary to Google’s business interests to crack down on click fraud or to help you optimize your ad campaigns to be more cost effective if that results in you spending less on ads. This is precisely why many Google Ads customers use an independent web analytics tool to keep their Google Ads activity in check.
Google’s flagrant disregard for privacy has recently led to data protection authorities in Italy, France, The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark to declare Google Analytics illegal due to concerns about GDPR compliance and protection of users’ personal data.
Users of Google Analytics need to consider the implications of Google's approach for their own privacy but also for the privacy of every visitor to their website.
Google Analytics is mostly suited to digital marketing teams in larger organizations where a certain level of expertise is assumed and budgets allow for ongoing training. This is precisely why so many small business owners and freelancers struggle to make sense of Google Analytics. Its popularity among this cohort of website owners is not because it’s a good product-market fit, it’s because it’s free.
Understand your website visitors the easy way
The heavy use of analytics terminology, multiple levels of navigation menus and endless array of reports in the Google Analytics interface make for an incredibly steep learning curve. The official ‘Google Analytics for Beginners’ course comes in seventeen parts. And that’s just a warm up for their 'Advanced Google Analytics' and 'Google Analytics for Power Users' courses.
The following image shows the Google Analytics menu hierarchy for the reports section with all menu items expanded.
Unless you’re a digital marketing expert analyzing website traffic for a large organization, Google Analytics may be analogous to using a sledgehammer to swat a fly.
As a tool designed for organizations who are interested in viewing website traffic collectively, in large groups or cohorts, Google Analytics only displays data at the aggregate level.
Aggregate stats are important for monitoring websites of all shapes and sizes, however they only show part of the story. They can tell you that a particular landing page isn’t converting well, or that more visitors to your homepage are bouncing since you changed the design. These metrics can be useful early warning signs that warrant further investigation, but they don’t show you the complete picture. Google Analytics can show you what is happening on your site but it can’t show you why.
As a small business, what you need in particular is to understand your website visitors’ behavior. This is how to find out why visitors aren’t converting, why your bounce rate has increased, why your Google Ad clicks have suddenly increased but your sales haven’t. Following the journeys of your individual visitors, from clicking on your ad to browsing, scrolling, clicking and exiting your website gives you an understanding of the obstacles that caused them to leave your site without converting. When you remove those obstacles, you improve the experience for all of your visitors which, naturally, will have a positive impact on your business.
Due to the massive volumes of data being processed by Google’s servers, there is a processing latency of 24 - 48 hours between somebody visiting your website and the data for their visit showing up in Google Analytics.
While there is a real-time report in Google Analytics which shows activity on your site at the current moment, the blind spot is in the 24 - 48 hours it takes for their visit to appear in the rest of the reports. So unless you have the time to watch current activity on your site, your analytics will be a couple of days behind.
Referral Spam is the practice of using automated bots to generate fake visits in your Google Analytics reports, designed to appear as genuine visits from referring websites. By exploiting vulnerabilities in the Google Analytics tracking code, these bots can even generate fake visits in your Google Analytics account without even visiting your website, a practice known as ghost spam. This bizarre practice is an attempt to get the website owner to visit the purported referring website out of curiosity.
Small businesses are most affected by referral spam because the ratio of fake referring URLs to genuine referring URLs is naturally higher for websites with less traffic, making the spam more visible in their Google Analytics reports.
Not only is referral spam an annoyance, it skews your data in Google Analytics and requires taking additional measures to stay on top of it, such as setting up segments to filter out the fake referrers and maintaining a referral exclusion list.
The choice of website analytics tools on the market today can be somewhat bewildering so we have reviewed a handful of popular products in depth to help make this choice easier for you.
We have reviewed three analytics tools at the time of publishing this article and will be adding more in the coming weeks, so watch this space.
Google Analytics is being discontinued
Google Analytics has been declared illegal in Italy, France, The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark
Number of Internet users worldwide
Number of smartphone users worldwide
Google Search market share
Google Chrome market share
Android OS market share
Google Drive users
Google Maps users
Google Play users
Google Photos users
Google Analytics users
2022 Revenue for Alphabet (Google)
Google Analytics data processing latency