March 2021 update: I’ve now been using Fathom Analytics for a year and have not looked back. If you’d like to make the switch too, I’ve included an affiliate link to save you $10 off your first invoice at the end of the article.
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 the past, my go-to tool for this has always been Google Analytics (GA).
I loved trawling through the tables and graphs, cross referencing attributes and spotting patterns in data. It’s 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 truth is that it feeds all your awesome website data into the Google hivemind, including the very grey area of the demographic data of your website visitors who are logged into their Google account.
As scary as all that sounds, GA has always been considered the industry standard for web analytics and is installed on roughly 70 per cent of ALL websites.
Enter Fathom Analytics
Fathom does not track personal data, so when someone visits your site, it will only log that someone went on this page and that page, but not 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.
I decided to experiment, so during March 2020 I ran both GA and Fathom side by side on my site to see how they compared at measuring my site traffic.
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
Whilst great for giving an overview, for a statistic fiend like me who looks at website data most days it took me a little while to stop asking: “Where’s the rest of it?”
It’s made me realise how much personal data is required for Google Analytics to be as useful as it is.
Ultimately, I’ve had to ask myself if I really need 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?
The Fathom dashboard tells me which pages are more viewed and which channels my visitors are coming from. Do I need much more?
A few things I’d like to see
OK, so yes, there are a few things I think would be useful to include.
- 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).
- 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.
- Present the graph in weeks or months rather than just days, so it’s easier to identify long-term changes.
- Filter the tables, e.g. just seeing pages with /blog/ in the URL so you can analyse specific sections of your site.
- Identify landing pages. This is really useful to help work out what content is attracting people to the site via search/social. However, this probably requires cookies to differentiate from what is a normal page view.
- Bounce rates for individual pages. This is the one bit of info I would find useful on a page-by-page basis, as it allows you to spot which pages need attention. I acknowledge this risks cluttering the dashboard,but perhaps it could be toggled.
Ethical Google Analytics alternative
Overall, I’ve been very impressed. It took a little while for me to adapt my way of thinking to let go of collecting all that extra data, but ultimately making the switch felt like the right thing to do.
Since April 2020 my site has been free of Google Analytics for the first time since I launched all the way back in 2009!
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 £11.50) 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.
Whilst I still acknowledge GA is a very useful tool, 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!
Get a Fathom Analytics discount
I’ve now been using Fathom Analytics for a year 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.
Transparency notice: Other than being a happy customer, I’m not associated with Fathom nor have I been paid by them to write this article. I will receive a small commission for any registrations made via the affiliate link above but my main motivation is to reduce the number of Google Analytics tracking scripts across the internet.