Understanding Google Analytics: The Pros, Cons, and Alternatives

Google Analytics is a free, powerful web analytics tool, but do you need it? Are there any alternatives? What implications are there for privacy?
30 May, 2023

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free, powerful web analytics tool offered by Google that allows website owners to analyse in-depth detail about the visitors on their site. It provides valuable insights that can help you shape the success strategy of your business website, and has been pretty much the go-to website analytics tool for many, many years.

Google Analytics lets you measure sales and conversions, as well as offering fresh insights into how visitors use your site, how they arrived on your site, and how you can keep them coming back. Its capabilities range from tracking visitor demographics to understanding the user experience on your website, all the way to measuring your advertising ROI.

This tool provides data visualization, segmentation for analysis, custom reporting, integration with other Google products, and more. It’s a popular choice among website owners due to its robust features and the fact that it’s free to use.

Do I need Google Analytics on my website?

If you run a business, whether it’s an e-commerce store, a blog, or a corporate site, a website analytics tool is extremely beneficial. Google Analytics provides actionable insights that can help you understand your audience better, optimize your website, improve your marketing strategies, and ultimately, increase your revenue.

Understanding user behavior and preferences is important in digital marketing. Google Analytics can help you track visitor behavior, such as the pages they visited, the duration of their visit, and the path they took through your site. This information can help you optimize your website layout, content, and navigation to enhance the user experience and increase conversions.


Privacy issues with Google Analytics

While Google Analytics is a powerful tool, it has faced criticism over privacy concerns. The tool tracks detailed information about visitors, including geographical location, device used, pages visited, and time spent on the site. This tracking is done through cookies, which are small files stored on the user’s device.

Although this data is not necessarily linked to specific users, privacy advocates argue that it can still be used to create detailed profiles of individuals, potentially infringing on their privacy. Responding to these concerns, Google has implemented features that allow website owners to anonymise visitor IP addresses and disable data sharing.

The DMJ view is that these are genuine concerns – Google Analytics is free to use, and therefore Google must get their return on investment from somewhere else – your data. Even if you are happy that Google is tracking your activity, don’t forget that it will also be tracking the activity of each of your website visitors. They might not be happy with this, which brings us on to our next point…

Do I need a cookie manager if I use Google Analytics?

Given the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) and similar privacy laws worldwide, using a cookie manager or a consent management platform (CMP) has become increasingly important. A cookie manager can help you ensure that you’re obtaining valid consent from your website visitors before any cookies are set, including those used by Google Analytics.

Sample cookieyes Cookie banner for WordPress website.

Remember, under these laws, you are required to inform users about the types of cookies your website uses and the data they collect, and obtain their consent before setting non-essential cookies. Therefore, if you’re using Google Analytics, having a cookie manager in place is recommended to help you comply with these regulations.

This presents a bit of a dilemma.

If you install a cookie manager and only track the visits of those that have accepted your cookies, this can reduce your Google Analytics reported traffic significantly. So, if you end up only tracking 35% – 45% of your actual visits, you might reasonably ask yourself whether it is actually worth all of the effort. This could be a bigger problem if you already don’t get that many visitors.

Do alternatives such as Matomo Analytics offer better data privacy?

There are several alternatives to Google Analytics that prioritise data privacy, one of which is Matomo Analytics. Matomo, previously known as Piwik, is an open-source analytics platform that provides similar functionality to Google Analytics but with a strong focus on privacy.

Matomo analytics logo

With Matomo, data is either stored on your own server, giving you full control over it, or it can be stored in the cloud on Matomo servers. Storing data on your own server can be a significant advantage for businesses that deal with sensitive information or those that want to ensure maximum data privacy. Matomo also provides a range of privacy features, including IP address anonymisation and the ability to respect Do Not Track settings.

With the correct settings, Matomo Analytics won’t save cookies onto your visitor computers. This would mean you can track every visit, and might also mean you can legitimately remove the need for a cookie acceptance widget on your site (provided you don’t store other cookies!).

Are website analytics useful for low-traffic websites?


While it might seem that website analytics (such as those provided by Google and Matomo) are better suited for larger sites with lots of traffic, they can be really useful for smaller, low-traffic sites as well. For instance, you can learn where your traffic is coming from, what content is most popular, and how users navigate your site.

Even with a small number of visitors, understanding their behaviour can lead to meaningful changes that improve your site and increase your traffic over time. Plus, as your site grows, you’ll already have a powerful tool in place to help you understand and respond to your audience’s needs.

Saying that, if you don’t get much traffic, or don’t need to know specifically what people are doing on your site, you could always break rank and remove the tracking code altogether! This will also speed your website up (slightly) as there will be one script less to run when your pages load. Just a thought!

Matomo Analytics isn’t free (Cloud version £17/month), but we can offer it through our own account at £10/month. Fill out the form if you’d like to try it on your website.

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In conclusion, Google Analytics is a robust tool that can provide deep insights into your website’s performance and visitor behaviour. However, its use comes with privacy considerations, and it’s crucial to have proper consent mechanisms in place to comply with privacy laws. Alternatives like Matomo can offer better data privacy but may lack the integration and convenience of Google’s tool. Regardless of your site’s size, understanding your audience through analytics is a key step towards growth and success.


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Martin Jarvis

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