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What’s the deal with privacy-focused analytics?

Since Google Analytics hit the market in 2005, it’s had a cast-iron grip on the analytics space. W3Techs estimates over 55% of all websites use Google Analytics to understand where visitors come from, how they browse and much more.

One of the reasons Google Analytics is so popular is that it’s free. Except, in some cases at least, the data Google collects is mined and fed back into advertising services. From Google’s privacy policy:

When you visit sites or use apps that use Google Analytics, a Google Analytics customer may choose to enable Google to link information about your activity from that site or app with activity from other sites or apps that use our ad services.

This is an aspect of Google Analytics that isn’t widely known among site owners, let alone internet users who are never told that their information is used this way.

Privacy-focused alternatives

In recent years, a range of privacy-focused analytics companies have come up. There several common benefits to using alternatives to Google Analytics.

1. Easier to understand

Privacy-focused analytics collect the most important high-level data site owners need. This typically includes:

  • Unique visitors

  • Page views

  • Referrals

  • Event tracking

  • Landing pages

One of the benefits of collecting less data is that it can be presented in simpler interface that is much easier to understand. This is helpful for a wide range of site owners, especially those who don’t need the level of granularity of Google Analytics.

2. Compliance

In January 2022, Google Analytics was ruled illegal by the Austrian Data Protection Authory (DPA). This ruling is likely to be replicated across other DPAs in the EU.

The ruling affects websites globally as site owners can’t guarantee their website won’t be visited by EU residents. Opting for privacy-focused analytics helps organisations comply with privacy regulations.

3. Capture more traffic

Google Analytics is blocked by a range of sources: browser ad-blockers and some browsers, including Firefox. 42.7% of internet traffic using ad-blockers meaning Google Analytics misses a significant portion of traffic, even if the goal of analytics is to see trends in aggregate.

On top of this, privacy regulations in the UK and EU explicitly state that analytics cookies cannot be set before a user opts-in. If cookie banners are implemented correctly and without deceptive design patterns, user visits would not be registered until a user accepts the Google Analytics cookie. That reduces the percentage of data collected even further.

Privacy-focused analytics don’t tend to be blocked by ad-blockers which gives site owners a much better indication of how their site is used by all visitors.

4. Cookie banners

Imagine if your site could be shown without a cookie banner. If analytics are your site’s only source of cookies, using a privacy-focused alternative may mean you can get rid of them completely.

That’s a big win for user experience.

5. Lightweight scripts

The scripts from privacy-focused analytics tend to be incredibly light. This improves a site’s performance, makes it more environmentally-friendly and reduces load times – something that has a lot of benefits (SEO, conversion rates, etc).

For site owners considering switching from Google Analytics, it means they can run privacy-focused analytics scripts in parallel to test it without significant performance impacts.

6. Cost

The cost of privacy-focused analytics varies on the provider and the amount of traffic a site receives. But the annual fee for the lowest plan would often outs cheaper than development time for creating/testing the correct implementation of a cookie banner.

7. Privacy awareness

Users are becoming increasing concerned around issues of tracking, privacy and data protection. Look at opt-in rates for in-app tracking among iOS users: as of April 2022, only 1 out of 4 users choose to be tracked when they’re given a clear yes/no option.

Using analytics that respect user’s privacy demonstrates that an organisation is taking steps to reduce the data they collect.

8. You are not the customer

In a this episode of Above Board (a podcast from the makers of Fathom), they discuss Google Analytic’s move to delete all analytics data in the move to GA4. They raise an interesting a point: users of Google Analytics likely aren’t the customer. The customer is most likely to be users of Google’s advertising services.

If you’re not paying for a product, you’re unlikely to be the customer. That means your business needs won’t be a high priority and you have little sway over their decisions. Reducing our reliance on free tools like this is good for a business’ independence and resilience.

Wrapping up

While using Google Analytics has some clear downsides, the benefits of privacy-focused analytics are increasingly strong. It’s never been easier to switch away from Google Analytics.