2023 update: I’ve now been using Fathom Analytics for 3 years and have not looked back. If you’d like to make the switch too, click here to save you $10 off your first invoice.
Measuring your website traffic is one of the most useful things you can do for your online business.
Identifying your most-viewed pages, how people are finding your site and where people are bailing is important for intelligently revising your marketing strategy on an ongoing basis.
In my early days as a web developer, my go-to tool for this was Google Analytics (GA), long considered the industry standard for web analytics.
I loved trawling through the tables and graphs, cross referencing attributes and spotting patterns in data. It helped me improve my site as well as those of my clients – which has improved their businesses as a whole – over the years.
Whilst GA in all its graphy splendour is free to use, it does not come without cost.
The problem with Google Analytics
The reality is that when someone visits a website with GA installed, it passes your website usage data as well as a considerable amount of your visitors personal data back to Google, including the very grey ethical area of the personal demographic data of your website visitors who are logged into their Google account.
So much so that Apple’s Safari browser (used by roughly 33% of UK internet users), plus many ad blockers treat it is an advertising script and blocks GA by default.
Ethical arguments aside, this incomplete dataset combined with GA’s habit of logging bot traffic raises serious questions over the accuracy and ultimately the usefulness of the data that is actually visible to website owners.
It seems the only party that actually benefits from installing GA on your site is Google. It’s safe to say that it would not hurt to have a little less ‘big tech’ in our lives (and in the lives of our website visitors).
Update: In July 2023, Google has retired (ie. switched off) it’s original Universal Analytics software in favour of it’s new GA4 script and intends to delete all historical data at some point in the future.
Enter Fathom Analytics
Fathom does not track personal data, so when someone visits your site, it will only log that a page was visited, but not by who specifically. It collects the important stuff such as which pages are popular, not what Jim from Manchester who likes beer and cat memes did on your website.
Created by an indie software company run by Jack Ellis and Paul Jarvis, Fathom Analytics seemed to be building quite a reputation amongst my more digital privacy-conscious peers.
Minimalist analytics interface
Fathom promises simple analytics and it delivers this by presenting your website usage data in a single page that lists only the most useful data. This includes:
- Page views
- Number of visitors
- Average time on site
- Average bounce rate
- Goals completed (e.g. a button click or form submission)
These topline stats also come with a label comparing them to the previous month.
Both unique visits and page views are tidily displayed on a single graph. More detailed information, including your top pages (with page views and unique visits) and referrers, are listed in tables.
Other useful (check-once-in-a-while) data such as device type, browser and country can be toggled on and off to reduce the amount of clutter on the page.
Reducing your data diet
Realistically there is enough on show here to spot opportunities for improvements and action them. However, for a statistic fiend like me who looks at website data most days it initially took me a little while to stop asking: “Where’s the rest of it?”
Ultimately, I’ve had to ask myself if I really needed to collect all this data. How much of this is actually useful to me as a business? For example:
- Do I really give a hoot how long people spend on each individual page?
- Looking at the world map with all the little dots on is fun (“Mum, someone viewed my site from Papua New Guinea!”), but how useful is it actually?
- Do I need to know the bounce rate of people viewing my site from Blackpool?
In the grand scheme of things, is it worthwhile for me to collect umpteen metrics of data and then pass it all to Google when I’m only using a few key numbers?
It horrifies me just how much personal data is being hoovered up by Google, just so website owners can casually glance at their traffic every six months.
The Fathom dashboard tells me which pages are more viewed and which channels my visitors are coming from. It’s immediately clear which pages are popular and which days had the most traffic. Do I need much more?
Ethical Google Analytics alternative
When I first installed Fathom back in 2020, a simplified dataset was an ethical compromise I was willing to make. Since then Fathom have introduced a ton of new features such as:
- Bounce rates for individual pages, allowing you to drill down into which landing pages are performing well and which need attention.
- Filter the tables, e.g. just seeing pages with /blog/ in the URL so you can analyse specific sections of your site.
- Drilling down into individual pages and referrers
- Reorder the content and referrers tables by unique visits. Knowing which pages have been viewed by 20 people once can be more valuable than knowing which page has been viewed 20 times by one person.
- Identifying landing pages based on acquisition method. This is really useful to help work out what content is attracting people to the site via search/social.
The ability to drill down into your page data really is a massive upgrade in functionality from the previous version and really does close the gap in functionality between Fathom and Google Analytics.
Suddenly we have all the great functionality of Google Analytics without all… the bad stuff. Fathom presents enough information to be useful without feeling bloated and you are safe in the knowledge that you own the data without it then being passed on to an untrustworthy corporation.
Going forward, the Fathom team have announced they will continue pushing smaller updates rather than large scale changes. Since v3 was launched I’ve already noticed minor improvements and feature updates. It’s great to use a piece of software which is continually evolving based on customer feedback.
There are still a few things I think would be useful to include like being able to:
- Add annotations to the graph, so I can remind myself why I had spikes on certain days (e.g. I posted a blog or sent a newsletter out).
- Present the graph in weeks or months rather than just days, so it’s easier to identify long-term changes.
Privacy-focussed Analytics Software
Overall, I think Fathom Analytics is a fantastic piece of software. Especially since the launch of Fathom v3, there has been such a step up in functionality I feel that it’s a no-brainer making the switch from Google Analytics to Fathom.
Switching away from GA to Fathom Analytics feels like a small step in the right direction towards making the internet a better place.
One challenge Jack and Paul face will be convincing people to pay for an analytics tool when they can already use Google Analytics for free. Fathom costs $14 (roughly £10.50) per month for tracking up to 100,000 page views for unlimited sites which is very fair for improving the privacy of your customers.
Understanding how your website is used is valuable to your business and is a worthwhile investment!
Fathom proudly announced that they don’t sell data, they sell software. This is a timely reminder that if you are not paying for the product, you probably are the product.
Moving from Google Analytics to Fathom
Despite it’s misgivings, some GA users I speak to are put off to move away to a new software for risk of losing their historical data and effectively having to start over again.
The Fathom team team were obviously aware of this as in 2023 they launched their Google Analytics importer which can move all of your historical GA data (whether from Universal Analytics or the newer GA4) into Fathom.
With Google having now retired their old Universal Analytics script and planning to erase historical data at some unnamed point in the future, this tool makes it very easy to keep your old data backed up.
Reasons to switch from Google Analytics to Fathom
Unfortunately these days I struggle to acknowledge GA as an accurate, useful or trustworthy tool. Fathom provides a fresh and ethical approach to web analytics that I hope will become the norm moving forward.
- GA collects a lot of your visitors personal data
- GA is blocked by Safari, Firefox and Brave plus many ad blockers, providing an incomplete data set
- GA logs a lot of bot traffic, further obscuring your data
- Google’s old Universal Analytics script has now been switched off and logged data will be deleted at some point in the future
- Fathom only measures your site’s usage data, not WHO visited the site
- Fathom is GDPR compliant doesn’t require a cookie notice
- Fathom’s script loads considerably faster than GA
As people become more aware of their digital privacy and as more ethically-minded contenders come to the fore, I am looking forward to seeing more people turning away from big tech companies towards more positive alternatives.
For me, switching to Fathom has felt a bit like switching from fossil fuels to solar energy. And it feels good!
Fathom Analytics discount
I’ve now been using Fathom Analytics since 2020 and have not looked back. If you’d like to sign up too you can use the button below to save $10 off your first invoice.