Do the right thing: Choose privacy focused analytics

Do the right thing: Choose privacy focused analytics

Most website owners want to view analytics to see how many poeple are visiting their website(s) and how the site is been used so they can make improvements and produce content that their visitors are interested in viewing.

Screenshot of Google Analytics report

For years the go-to tool for most website owners was Google Analytics. Once installed on a website, it runs in the background capturing data about visitors and how they use the website. This data is then exposed to website owners through a series of detailed reports showing not just how many people have visited and what pages were viewed, but also the demographics of those visitors too (including their geographic location, age range, gender etc).

Screenshot of demographics report in Google Analytics

There are varying estimates for how many websites use Google Analytics, but the general consensus is that it's upwards of 75%. Why is it so popular? Aside from the detailed data it gives to website owners, one of the biggest factors is probably it's price. It's free. Website owners don't have to pay anything for this service.

That sounds great if you're a website owner - thanks Google!

But are they really doing it for goodwill? Well, it's not just the website owners that have access to and use the collected analytics data - Google do too.

As someone browsing the internet, Google can combine the data it collects about your visits to one website with your visits to other websites. All of that analytics data they've collected about you could also be combined with data about you from other Google services. Google now have a wealth of information about you and your life which they then use and sell for advertising purposes - with little respect for your privacy.

You are not Google's customer - you are their product.

The average user probably don't even know Google is tracking their activity across over 75% of websites they visit in order to build up a large data profile about them to then sell on. Would people be happy if they did know?

Whilst it is possible to opt-out of being tracked by Google Analytics, it's obviously not something that Google heavily promotes. As well as the official opt-out tool, many "ad blockers" such as Pi-hole will also prevent Google Analytics (and other tracking scripts) from collecting data about you. Some web browsers also offer(ed) a setting called "Do Not Track" which is supposed to instruct websites not to track you, however this hasn't been well adopted.

In some good news for your privacy, Apple have recently launched version 14 of their Safari web browser, which comes with enhanced privacy tools. If I visit the website for my local newspaper, Safari identifies and automatically blocks a whopping 31 different tracking scripts (including Google Analytics):

Screenshot showing 31 tracking scripts being blocked in Safari 14

It will also show produce a report for the past 30 days of your browsing history to show you which websites you visited had trackers installed - and how many. I've only being using it for around an hour, but it's already identified Google Analytics as the most contacted tracker:

Screenshot showing a Privacy Report in Safari 14

Whilst blocking Google Analytics (and others) is a great step forward for your privacy, it does create a problem for website owners. The data they're viewing in their analytics reports is going to become increasingly inaccurate and therefore be unreliable for making decisions about improvements to their website. That's not good for web users - we all want better content and services.

So what we need is a good middle ground - websites owners getting the data they need, whilst respecting your privacy.

Well there is a solution. Say hello to Fathom Analytics.

Screenshot of Fathom Analytics

Website owners can install it on their website and it will collect data about visitors and their usage of the website. It will then produce reports showing that data for the website owners. But hang on a minute, that doesn't any different from Google Analytics? Well it is hugely different in the way it achieves it.

I'll let Fathom Analytics explain how it works - but the privacy of website visitors is respected. They don't store any personal information. Website visitors aren't being followed around the internet from website to website. They aren't collecting and invasive demographic data about people. Due to their technology, they simply can't build up a detailed profile about you and your activity to sell.

Website owners still get the information they need about the traffic to their websites. It's true that the reports available in Fathom Analytics are nowhere near as complex as those in Google Analytics - but I believe that's a good thing. Google Analytics can be incredibly over whelming and take time to fully learn. Some larger businesses employ someone just to manage it.

Fathom Analytics is beautifully simple - showing the all the information you need on one dashboard. You don't have to navigate 4 levels deep to get the stats you need. There is no slicing and dicing of data with complex filters. Fathom Analytics will also (optionally) email you weekly or monthly reports.

Screenshot of the Fathom Analytics dashboard

There are also other benefits for website owners:

  • Fathom Analytics doesn't use cookies. That means you may be able to get rid of that pesky cookie consent message that EU privacy laws dictate you display.
  • You can choose to use a custom domain name to host the Fathom Analytics tracking script so your analytics collection won't be stopped by ad-blockers.
  • There is an opt-in uptime monitoring service for each site in your account. You'll receive alerts when your site goes offline and when it comes back.
  • It's run by a small team of real people - you'll get great customer service from Paul & Jack should you need it.

Privacy focused analytics with extra features too? This is sounding great!

We know Google are in the analytics business for the data they can mine and sell. So what's in it for Fathom Analytics? Well, honestly, they're in it for the money too.

But they aren't violating everyones privacy to make that money.

Instead, they charge a modest subscription fee (monthly or annually) based on the total number of page views you expect to track on your website(s) per month. Prices start at $14 USD a month for 100k monthly page views. You can install the tracking script on as many websites as you wish, and you won't get penalised if you have an unexpected spike in traffic taking you above your subscription plan limit. Their pricing is simple and fair.

Photo of a person hiding behind money

In terms of cash, Google Analytics is free, and Fathom Analytics isn't. But you are still paying a price if you use Google Analytics - you're giving away the privacy of your website visitors. Is that a price you can live with?

I removed Google Analytics from all of my websites a couple of months ago and replaced it with Fathom Analytics. I still get all of the traffic data that I need whilst respecting the privacy of my visitors. I've also stopped paying for an uptime monitoring service thanks to the one built in Fathom Analytics.

So why not do the right thing and protect the privacy of your website visitors by giving Fathom Analytics a try? It's free for 7 days and you can install it alongside your current analytics provider if needed - although I'd recommend making the full switch as soon as possible!

If you signup using this link you'll get $10 off your first invoice.

Thanks for reading this post! Let me know your thoughts about online privacy - I'm @gbuckingham89 on Twitter.