Why you should remove Google Analytics from your site. Or, should you?

Aleksandar Google Analytics Leave a Comment

Today I’ve come across this article with the title “Why you should remove Google Analytics from your site”. Immediately I was intrigued, because, me 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 of the amount of incompetency, fear mongering and insignificancy.

I don’t like to label someone that way without giving a good explanation. So let me explain in the next 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 main claims and give you some additional concepts on how this entire topic can be dissected. My hope is that you get a broader view in order for you to be able to better assess what is good 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 a really good 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 really bad is happening here, by using the word ‘devour’. This is a hefty word and suggests Google is doing something really bad. But what kind of personal data does Google Analytics gather and analyse? Cookies, IPs and the visitor behaviour on the website. It does not gather credit card details, names or any data that could be used to identify a specific person. Also Google Analytics allows to anonymize IPs out of the box.

Now, someone could argue that collecting even cookies and IPs is 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 simply not true. The Google Analytics script loads asynchronously and therefore cannot affect the speed on 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.

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 simply were not interested in diving into web analytics data at all. In no way Google Analytics ever was an 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 to me. Google Analytics helps expanding 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 the 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 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 own 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 of web analytics scripts being 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, which again renders 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

Really, is it?

 

I think I made it clear enough that developing an alternative based on above claims is nonsense and the resulting product probably worthless.

But hang on. I don’t think there is no space for alternative solutions. There are alternatives to Google Analytics which have been developed for years. But let me tell you. There is no ‘better’ alternative, only alternatives with different sets of 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, our interests and much more. I get it. I don’t want to go deep here, because this is an endless topic. I want to simply make following points:

  • Big corporations are scrutinized by so many other companies, by the government, 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 behaviour, which can stay undetected for much longer.

Big is not a synonym for bad and small is not a synonym 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. I think it is fair to say that Google has given us a lot of reason over time to trust that they are doing their best to keep our data save and respect the consumer interests.

Centralized vs. decentralized data

I think we can even take it up a notch and try to 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 crypto currencies as an example and bitcoin in particular. The body of people who write the code and set the rules are in many cases anonymous and out of reach of any governance. Who oversees the programmers? Who scrutinizes their intentions, motivations and the code?

So, having data in the hands of big corporations can be a good thing of sorts, because it is easier to govern them.

In the wake of data driven optimization

The web has changed extremely fast in the past decades. We enjoy conveniences through the web in a scale that we could never have imagined. A lot, if not most of the optimisations that lead to those conveniences were only possible through web analytics and adjustments to the services in order improve user experience.

If we cripple or even take away the ability to analyse that kind of data we slow down or even prevent this process. It is like having invented the wheel and then ban using it, just because some bad actors have used it for their gains.

Alternatives

And yes, there are alternatives to Google Analytics. Though there is only one that I recommend, and that is 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 their cloud, Matomo puts the 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 save and you have to 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 that you might come across. Therefore I’d only recommend Matomo to persons who are 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 own privacy standards. 

 

 

 

Source article: https://dev.to/markosaric/why-you-should-remove-google-analytics-from-your-site-5c7h

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