Goodbye Universal Analytics
Earlier this year, Google Analytics came out with an announcement that would shake up the world of website analytics–starting July 1, 2023 Universal Analytics will no longer work. This post from Google was expected, but still equally surprising.
For the past few years, Google has been pushing more and more website owners and digital teams to migrate over to their new analytics platform, Google Analytics 4 (GA4).
As a team, we had mixed feelings when Google announced their migration from Universal Analytics to GA4. The new platform that Google launched seemed like a misstep, and we first cautioned our audience against migrating immediately.
While everything that Google was trying to do seemed like it was headed in the right direction, the proposed analytics solution was lacking at the time–and if this was the best Google Analytics had to offer… well, it warranted a look elsewhere.
Why We Wanted a Google Analytics Alternative
Ease of Use
When considering what to do for ourselves and our clients, we consistently returned to one idea. We wanted to find a simple analytics solution that would allow anyone, with any background, to be able to view their analytics dashboard and make data-driven decisions.
One issue that we’ve consistently seen from GA4 is that business owners and marketing teams struggle dissecting the information, which results in little to no action being taken from those findings. Over the years we’ve watched as Google Analytics has become more bloated and, as a result, more difficult for our customers to use.
It takes time to try to understand all that’s contained within the current Google Analytics platform. Usually additional trainings are required to understand Google Analytics properly, and often companies have to hire external experts to help get the data they’re after.
Measuring and understanding web analytics and website traffic is one of the most useful things website owners can do for their site. Understanding and identifying what pages website visitors engage with most, how those visitors interact with the content, if/where they’ve converted, and where they’ve come from is the basis of almost all analytics software.
But if companies don’t know where to look and how to navigate across the hundreds of pages and dashboards, then all of this tracking and all of this data is serving no one.
That’s something we wanted to change.
Along with finding something that was simple to use, we also wanted to find a Google Analytics alternative that tracked users more simply as well.
For those unaware, when a company is using Google Analytics they’re allowing Google to freely track all of their individual users and collect all of their individual information. That information is then analyzed and stored by Google for their own purposes. We still don’t know exactly what they do with all the information.
Over time, using data from hundreds of different sites, Google builds out individual “profiles” that are pieced together bit by bit. These profiles, while not unique enough to identify you by name and address, are unique enough to be used consistently for advertisement targeting. Your gender, age, demographics, and interests are all captured for companies to be able to bid on.
While this is something we’ve been conditioned to ignore over time, more and more people are questioning how healthy this practice is. There is also no guarantee your personal data will only be used by Google in the future, as they don’t have the best track record of handling and securing personal data.
Whether or not you feel you have something to hide, it’s important to understand this data is out there and being used against you. Depending on where you live, you might have a very different understanding of privacy thanks to recent efforts of digital privacy laws.
We cannot talk about privacy without addressing the compliance of digital privacy laws. There are a number of privacy laws out there, but the ones you’ve likely stumbled across before include the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).
Although we’re not going to get into each law specifically here, it’s important to understand that all these laws focus on trying to protect the privacy of your website visitors. They must be considered when determining what analytics tool you’re going to use.
Most analytics tools will track personally identifiable information, like your physical location, age, and IP Address. That personal information is then added to a profile and stored in a database for companies to do… well, whatever they want with that information.
We wanted to find a solution that would be a privacy-first solution to avoid any legal issues.
Hello Fathom Analytics
On our search for a better analytics platform we tried a number of different options, but we finally settled on Fathom Analytics. Fathom was started by Jack Ellis and Paul Jarvis with a tweet and a screenshot. You can learn more about their platform and their story at usefathom.com, but we wanted to share a few reasons why we think this alternative to Google Analytics is so great.
It’s easy to build something bloated and complex. It’s much harder to build something intentionally simple, and keep it that way. While exploring Fathom we noticed right away just how simple the analytics tool is to use and we loved the user experience. Coming from Google Analytics, Fathom has been a breath of fresh air. Any marketing team should be able to pick this up out of the box and make data-driven decisions based on what they find.
Privacy-Focused, Compliance Minded
Fathom has the opposite approach to Google Analytics–individuals are never tracked. Instead, data is aggregated and pulled into your analytics dashboard. This allows businesses to capture information on their top content or top referrers, but doesn’t compromise the privacy of individuals to do so.
Given that Fathom Analytics has worked so hard to comply with privacy laws like GDPR, CCPA, ePrivacy, and PECR, you can avoid having to take that on as a business owner. They’ve done the hard work for you.
EU Data Isolation
Unknown to most business owners, if you have EU website visitors it’s important to understand how and where you process that data for legal compliance. Whether your business is in or outside of the EU, the website traffic for EU visitors has to be processed on EU servers, which are owned by an EU company.
Fathom Analytics includes EU data isolation for businesses out of the box.
No More Cookie Banners
It’s estimated that 27% of American internet users block ads, and that number is continuing to increase annually. We’ve certainly seen it impact our analytics, but luckily Fathom has a way around it. Without getting too technical, they allow website owners to collect 100% of their website traffic by using a custom domain solution to serve their analytics from.
Anyone who’s familiar with tracking and analytics tools knows each new tracker slows down your website, and now more than ever it’s important to have a fast website for your visitors. Fathom’s tracking code is super-lightweight and blazingly fast to load, which is a win for your users and a win for SEO, as sites that run faster, rank better.
Open Source Option
For those website owners who may not be able to afford the fair pricing of Fathom, there’s an open source solution for you. Fathom Lite is a free Google Analytics alternative and is a self-hosted solution that you can set up yourself. It has very similar functionality to Fathom Analytics and is available on their github repo.
While we haven’t implemented this personally, Fathom does offer website monitoring out of the box and you have the ability to get notified about your website going down through email, text, Telegram, or Slack.
With a growing focus on sustainable businesses, we loved learning that Fathom is like-minded. They’ve pledged 2% of their gross revenue to funding next-generation carbon removal technologies. What’s not to like there?
Using Fathom Analytics
When you first land on your Fathom Analytics dashboard you’ll notice that everything is contained on the one page. Their team has done a great job at keeping everything clean and focused on the key metrics that large and small business owners would want to know.
Instead of having hundreds of charts and filters scattered across hundreds of pages, everything is contained on a single page. All of your most important metrics like visitors, page views, and goals are stripped across the top of your page, with additional helpful information like referrers and devices used housed below. Fathom also offers real-time reporting so you can see who’s actively using your site, what they’re viewing, and where they came from.
At the top we can see:
- Real-Time Website Visitors
- Website Visitors
- Page Views
- Average Time on Site
- Bounce Rate
- Event Completions
These blocks can be turned on/off which update our chart.
Below, you’ll find additional data tables that include:
- Pages (Entries, Viewers, and Views)
- Referrers (Visitors and Views)
- Device Types (Visitors)
- Browsers (Visitors)
- Countries (Visitors)
- Events (Unique Completions, Completions, Conversion Rate, and Value)
- UTM Campaigns (Campaign, Source, Medium, Content, and Term coupled with Visitors and Views)
All 7 of these data tables can be clicked on to filter down the data for further analysis.
If you want to share your analytics with your team, you can create a shareable link and password protect it, or make it fully open to the public.
Installing Fathom Analytics
Fathom can be installed through a simple script in the header of your site’s code, or you can use one of the many integrations the Fathom team has built out. For our WordPress websites, we’ve found the plugin is simple enough to use, and it gives the admins flexibility should they need to change something down the road.
Fathom Analytics Review–A Final Word
While there are a few things we’re looking forward to seeing as Fathom continues to grow like their API and some easier filters for sources/acquisition channels, we’ve loved just about everything we’ve seen from Fathom. We’ve been testing the platform since February 2022 and we’ve just started using it on our own site in September.
If you have questions on your own website analytics or how to consider migrating to something new, let us know. We’d love to help support your analytics migrations so your business has that data needed to optimize your ROI.