A comment, sometimes I hear is: “Why would I bother with Piwik, when I have Google Analytics working fine”. Let me preface by saying I am a fan of Google Analytics. I got myself qualified and I work in Google Analytics all the time. In many instances Google is simply the best solution. You don’t need to worry about servers, upgrades or backups. You also get some pretty neat integrations like social media and advanced graphics like goal flow reports. There are also other things such as custom alerts, in-page analytics and Google Experiments. In most cases the story should stop there, but then the limitations (or rather issues) inherent in Google Analytics are never fully disclosed. Piwik addresses many of them.
I am not going to say to you Piwik is a walk in the park. It’s a nice walk in the park with a slight incline. If you use Piwik, you need to have a host. For some people, this scares them away. It really should not. Hosting is cheap, and if you have a website, you essentially already have a host. That’s really the only barrier. Piwik is relatively easy to install honestly. All you need to do is download the latest repository, create a databse, upload the script to a folder on your server and then follow along with their handy wizard which will set up the rest.
Right away out of the box, you will start to see that Piwik does some things Google Analytics does not. Here is a non-exhaustive list of what Piwik gives you:
- It can tracks file downloads
- It tracks outbound links
- It tracks cart abandonment
- It has handy summaries in the conversion report to quickly figure out what is going on,
- It has an officially supported Mobile App,
- They publish a clear and open road map of where the application is going
- Piwik’s team offers Proffesional Services to help customize your site for a fee. (You need Google Premium at a $100,000/year to get that)
More importantly, with Piwik, you control the information. There is no sampling of your reports. To avoid sampling in Google Analytics once again you need to pony up for Google Analytics Premium. Piwik can also be used as a log analyzer where you can import raw logs, and then parse the info easily. You have access to an amazing API you can build applications, reports dashboard, or customize/segment output as needed. You can also (easily) export data in CSV, TSV (Excel), XML, JSON, PHP and via RSS Feeds when you click the save icon next to a report. You can easily modify the javascipt tracking codes behaviour to force, ignore or modify how things are tracked.
Piwik is also widely supported by a great community and great team. There have been over 1 million downloads of Piwik so far, and there are plenty of third party integrations (including three built by yours truly for Vanilla Forums, Concrete5 and Magento)
One area of growing concern in the analytics realm is that of privacy. As you know Google Analytics has been scrutinized over the way they handle data. For the most part it seems that as long as you use First-Party Cookies and reasonably notify users they are being tracked you should be fine. With Piwik, you are covered as they also take privacy seriously. They use first party cookies and you can control the data and type of data collected so you can be in compliance as required. This means you can anonymize IP’s, allow people to opt out easily, or respect Do Not Track requests. In the case where you need IP information (like a private site), you have the option to gather this data too.
As you can see Piwik is a powerful tool, which can be molded to your needs. What makes Piwik also a pleasure is you get all the features you love in Google Analytics and expect such as : customizable dashboards, email reports, goals, events and of course the every powerful custom variables. To be fair, though, there are some things missing/ annoyances in Piwik. For me they are not deal breakers, but I did want to point them out. There are no custom alerts, to be notified if a certain data point has been triggered. Out of the box, you cannot add a filter or advanced segments directly in the interface the way you do with Google. Sure you can modify items with an API call, but for some less code savy it can be hard to figure out. You cannot set privacy at the site level (so if you need IP data for only one site, it’s not possible). There is no goal graphical goal flow/conversion flow/goal funnel reports (yet) that you will find in Google. Piwik does not automatically detect Google adword search & display campaigns. There are no in-page analytics, or heat-maps native to Piwik. There is a plug-in, but it’s not a core or officially supported. Actually the whole plug-in process needs improvement, because it’s hard to to get your plug-in found. There is no easy way to get plugin feedback, ratings or support easily. This is not to say the Piwik team is unaware. Almost all of these issues/limitations fall into a couple of categories: either the feature is being worked on, will come out in the future or is something a web developer can certainly build themself or sponsor the Piwik team to build. Honestly, though, none of these issues would stop me from endorsing Piwik. If you are still unsure about Piwik, I would ask you consider the below list as the perfect scenarios/projects/people who should consider using Piwik:
- You need maximum flexibility to modify code
- You do not wish to be limited by Google Analytics or their API
- You do not have 100,000k a year for Google Analytics Premium
- It’s important to own/control your data.
- You need a tool to collect data so you can create custom dashboards.
- You are looking for a robust analytics solution, with active development and road-map
- You like to get your hands a little dirty with code and access to a good hosting solution
There you have it. I know you’re ready to get started, so get going and download the latest version of Piwik. You can also check this handy video they produced showing off the capabilites:
There is also a live limited (admin-closed) demo which you can play with here.
So there you have it. I hope those were some compelling reasons to give Piwik a chance. Happy Tracking :)