Today I came across the article “Why you should remove Google Analytics from your site”. Immediately I was intrigued because, as a performance marketer, I only know good reasons to use Google Analytics, not to remove it.
After I read the article, I was surprised by the amount of incompetency, fear-mongering, and insignificance.
I wouldn’t say I like to label someone that way without giving a good explanation. So let me explain in the following paragraphs why I label this person as incompetent and fear-mongering and give you some food for thought around this entire topic (web analytics and Google Analytics in particular).
I will do this by rebutting the author’s central claims and giving you some additional concepts on how this entire topic can be dissected. I hope that you get a broader view for you to be able to assess better what is suitable for your particular situation.
Claim 1: It’s owned by Google, the largest ad-tech company in the world
It is true. Not much I can say about that. Except that Google probably has done an excellent job to get there.
Claim 2: [Google is a] company with a business model that loves to devour all the personal data it can get access to.
It seems the author tries to build an arc here, starting to use language that suggests something terrible is happening here by using the word "devour". This is a big word and suggests Google is doing something terrible. But what kind of personal data does Google Analytics gather and analyze? Cookies, IPs, and visitor behavior on the website. It does not collect credit card details, names, or any data that could be used to identify a specific person. Their policies strictly mandate avoiding sending PII to Google Analytics. Also, Google Analytics allows us to anonymize IPs out of the box.
Someone could argue that collecting even cookies and IPs are far too much. Please read on. You might change your opinion on that, maybe not.
Claim 3: [Google Analytics is] a bloated script that affects your site speed.
This is not true.
The Google Analytics script loads asynchronously and, therefore, practically cannot affect the speed of how fast the underlying website is loaded and rendered. By now, every beginner web developer should know this. The fact that the author makes this claim only lets him glow as incompetent in my eyes.
Besides, the Google Analytics script gets cached in the browser after the first pageview. After that loading, it is even faster.
Here is an explanation of what asynchronous script loading is and how it affects the underlying website: https://www.keycdn.com/support/prefer-async-resources
Claim 4: It’s overkill for the majority of site owners
I worked with many clients on their websites. Either they were interested in learning about web analytics, and for them, Google Analytics was always easy enough, or they were not interested in diving into web analytics data. In no way Google Analytics ever was overkill for anyone I know.
Also, I like our clients to be able to grow their knowledge. Any solution that limits this and keeps the user "dumb" is suspicious. Google Analytics helps to expand knowledge.
Claim 5: Google Analytics is a cookie-based analytics tool, and it’s not possible to use it without cookies.
Not true. Cookie tracking can be turned off. Although it definitely will lower the accuracy of all reports.
In case you want to know how. Here is a simple instruction for disabling cookies in Google Analytics: https://stackoverflow.com/a/31557718/4688612
Claim 6: To abide by the privacy regulations while collecting personal data, you need to compromise the visitor experience by displaying annoying cookie banners and GDPR or CCPA consent notices. […] Google Analytics makes the user experience on your site more inconvenient.
It’s not Google Analytics that makes the user experience inconvenient. GDPR and CCPA regulations do.
Plus, see my rebuttal of Claim 5. Turn off cookie tracking in Google Analytics, and you can keep using it without cookie banners.
Claim 7: It’s blocked by many so the data is not very accurate
The author suggests that there is an alternative (obviously trying to sell his solution).
The logic, again, is simple. Those people who block Google Analytics will block every web analytics script. There is no alternative or better solution to circumvent this. So every other web analytics solution faces the same problem.
Besides, the percentage of blocked web analytics scripts is far lower. The most common reason web analytics scripts are blocked are ad blockers, and they account for up to 25% of blocked visits, but usually less than that: https://moz.com/blog/analytics-black-holes#reason1
Claim 8: It’s abused by referral spam that skews the data
True, but it is only a minor annoyance in the big picture that you can get from Google Analytics.
Plus, no other web analytics platform is immune against referral spam, making this claim pointless.
Claim 9: It’s a proprietary product so you need to put your trust in Google
True. But so do I have to in any other solution, even if it is open source. And I’ll explain that a bit further down below.
Claim 9: Plausible Analytics [the authors own product] as an alternative
I made it clear enough that developing an alternative based on the above claims is nonsense, and the resulting product is probably worthless.
But hang on. I don’t think there is no space for alternative solutions. There are alternatives to Google Analytics that have been developed for years. But let me tell you. There is no "better" alternative, only alternatives with different pros and cons.
Big Corporation vs. Small Companies
There is this omnipresent fear of big corporations and a suspicion that they potentially abuse our trust, interests, and much more. I get it. I don’t want to go deep here because this topic is endless.
I want to make the following points:
Big corporations are scrutinized by so many other companies, by the government, and by the people that it is not so easy for them to mess around with the interests of the consumers. On the other hand, small companies have a lot more leeway for incompetent or malicious behavior, which can stay undetected for much longer.
Big is not a synonym for evil, and small is not for good.
In our particular example, we have a long history of Google delivering high-quality services and respecting laws and regulations all around the globe. It is fair to say that Google has given us many reasons to trust them enough that they are doing their best to keep our data safe and respect consumer interests. Yes, they are not flawless. But they seem to always improve on what they're doing.
Centralized vs. decentralized data
We can even take it up a notch and argue that web analytics data could be decentralized and thus would be out of the hands of big corporations. The problem with that is the fact that even decentralized data needs to be organized by some entity. Take cryptocurrencies as an example, and Bitcoin in particular. The body of people who write the code and set the rules are often anonymous and out of reach of any governance. Who oversees the programmers? Who scrutinizes their intentions, motivations, and code?
Having data in the hands of big corporations can be a good thing because it is easier to govern them.
In the wake of data-driven optimization, the web has changed extremely fast in recent decades. We enjoy conveniences through the web on a scale that we could never have imagined. Many, if not most, of the optimizations that lead to those conveniences, were only possible through web analytics and service adjustments to improve user experience.
We slow down or prevent this process if we cripple or even remove the ability to analyze that data. It is like having invented the wheel and then banning using it just because some bad actors have used it for their gains.
And yes, there are alternatives to Google Analytics. However, there is only one that I would consider: Matomo (formerly known as Piwik). Created in 2007 as Piwik, this web analytics solution has built a large user base and kept a good reputation over a long time. The main difference between Matomo and Google Analytics is data ownership. While Google Analytics stores all data in its cloud, Matomo puts data ownership in your hands. That sounds good but comes with its own set of downsides. With Matomo, you have the responsibility to keep the data safe and set up and maintain your Matomo installation. And although Matomo has a considerable user base, it is much smaller than the Google Analytics user base, making it more difficult to find solutions to problems you might encounter. Therefore I’d only recommend Matomo to persons willing to face the additional workload and responsibility that comes with that model.
For everyone else, Google Analytics is just fine. It’s free, well documented, has a large community, well thought-out reports, and many options to customize it to your privacy standards.