If your website’s goal is to help you earn money or attention of some kind, it is imperative to know how many people are visiting your site. And not only how many people are visiting your site but how many are returning visitors, where they are coming from, how they are getting to your website, and so on.
That’s what analytics solutions do for you; they give you information about your visitors that, with a bit of time and analysis, you can act on. Any analytics solution will also help you figure out what promotional methods are working, and which aren’t, ensuring you don’t waste time and money on whatever isn’t working.
The behemoth in this space is certainly Google Analytics. Google acquired a well-known solution called Urchin back in April 2005, which eventually became Google Analytics. It is very powerful and has a decent learning curve for the more advanced reports, but generally it’s easy to use and integrate into your site thanks to CMS plugins.
That’s great, but Google Analytics can also slow down your site. Since it has to load code from Google’s servers, Analytics is often the culprit of slower load times. You also lose a bit of a control over your data, and even if you can export it it’s not likely to be useful in other solutions.
So how do you set up an analytics solution? Chances are your host offers something basic like AWstats or Logaholic. These are great for getting started with some basic stats like number of hits (web pages viewed), unique visitors, time of day, and so on. They cannot, however, give you insight about how visitors are interacting with your site.
Mixpanel is a hosted solution that, while fairly new, has been very well received so far. They have a free tier for sites up to 25,000 data points/events, and the costs quickly go up from there. If you’re aiming to be the next Airbnb or OpenTable though, it might be worth the cost.
Clicky is another hosted solution that focuses on two features: real-time statistics and heatmaps. Real-time is self-explanatory. Heatmaps refers to tracking how your customers interact with your site on a page-by-page basis, giving you insight into where your users click, how often, where their mouse (and likely their eyes) focus, and so on. It’s also much easier to drill down into a single user’s actions, giving you deeper insight if you know how to use it. There is a free tier available as well.
Alternatively you can host your own analytics solution. For a long time Mint was the best alternative to Google Analytics. Unfortunately, it was discontinued. It had a one-time cost of $30 but you can see the money is well used to develop features and an interface that is very easy to use.
Matomo (formerly Piwik) is a free, open source solution that gives you a lot of the power of Google Analytics and is very popular. The dashboard is entirely customizable, one instance can give you access to the stats for all the sites you’re tracking, and it gives you the vast majority of the stats you’ll need. It isn’t as helpful for e-commerce, but more than good enough for most sites.
Lastly, Open Web Analytics is in many ways a self-hosted, Google Analytics clone. It also features heatmaps, mouse tracking, and even some caching capabilities. If you adore Google Analytics but want to maintain full control over your data, and get access to some of the premium features without all the hassle, OWA is worth a look.
Suffice to say that many options are available, whether you want to offload the tracking to a third-party or maintain control over it. Happy testing and picking!