For everyone in the digital world, it is clear that collecting and analyzing web visitors data is an important and necessary part of many online businesses. What matters is the way visitors are tracked and how this valuable information is processed and stored.
Google marketing tools are extremely popular because of the useful metrics they provide to their users, and it's no surprise that a large percentage of marketers and site owners use their products. We can't ignore the fact that the information collected about site visitors using Google Analytics remains property of Google and site owners only get access to them.
More and more users are thinking about how the information collected with cookies is used and, more importantly, how it is stored. The need for anonymity and protection of personal data and confidentiality is growing more and more.
We at VPS.BG value privacy and we do believe that personal data protection is a fundamental human right. This is also the reason why we choose to give up on using the useful marketing tools that Google provides and we have chosen alternative open source analytics that is self-hosted, and this way the personal data is secured. We have never used third-party cookies and have never shared any information about visitors with third parties.
There are different options for analytics software, some are cloud-based and others are self-hosted.
Cloud-based software for web analytics
The cloud-based analytics use tracking code installed on the website. The most popular one is Google Analytics, where site owners place the Google Analytics tracking code and share detailed information about visits with Google. According to the General Data Protection Regulation - GDPR, the operators of these sites are required to comply with the following requirements:
- seek the consent of their visitors, their data to be collected and shared with third parties;
Self-hosted software for web analytics
Self-hosted SEO analytics tools store the tracking data on a private server and do not share any data with third parties. Methods include tracking snippet in the website that sends data to the private server database or alternatively, by importing visitors data from the webserver logs. This type of software is very suitable for companies that want to ensure the anonymity of their users and want to meet the high-security standards for data privacy. If you are not sure whether to start using a self-hosted software solution or keep using Google Analytics - it is perfectly fine to try and use them simultaneously.
The best self-hosted analytics tools
In the following lines, we will pay attention to four of the most popular self-hosted solutions for website traffic analysis. All four platforms are also available with our 1-click installer for shared hosting (Softaculous).
Matomo is a self-hosted open-source software and offers its users many of the tools that you can also find in Google Analytics (and even more).
The platform offers security and anonymity. The visitors tracking data remains property of the site operator and is not shared with third parties. It is not a coincidence that our choice is Matomo.
Matomo offers its users real-time data analysis and has diverse functionalities, such as colour visualizations about what users have done on the site, which pages they have visited, what their geolocation is, various interactive maps through which you can track user behaviour on your site and get an idea of what their searches are, where most visits come from and how they convert. In some respects, the information is much more detailed, rich and better presented than that in Google Analytics.
Matomo is completely free, and in order to use it, you need to install it on your server. If you are not familiar with server administration, Matomo offers the installation of the application at an affordable price, which favours the work of marketers who choose to use the platform.
There are currently over 70 additional plugins that you can use to customize the platform to the needs of your business.
With all that said so far, we believe that Matomo is a really good alternative to GA. In addition to being an open-source platform and all information about site visitors is private and secured, the software is becoming increasingly popular and we expect it to be used even more actively in the future.
2. OWA (Open Web Analytics)
Open Web Analytics is PHP based platform, which offers developers various options for its implementation through an adaptive, richly developed and fully documented API at its disposal. The code is again Open Source. OWA fully meets the security requirements of users of the sites that the GDPR requires to be covered.
It is easy to use and install and has various plugins designed for it, with which you can modify and customize the way you get the information you want to collect and process, whether you use WordPress or another platform.
Web server logs provide rich data about the visits of your website. However, it is difficult to make a useful analysis with the raw data. AWStats comes handy with detailed metrics and statistics extracted from the logs. The software was developed a long time ago and the interface is not modern, but it is an easy way to get analytical information without making changes to your website (and put tracking code). Even more, AWStats is available by default in almost all cPanel based shared hosting, without requiring install or setup.
However, for larger sites, we recommend the use of a more advanced system, such as Matomo.
4. GoAccess - review of current visits
This is a real-time tracking tool using the server logs and allows you to monitor visitors' interactions with your site through a Linux terminal.
The advantage is that it does not require a complex installation or database. You can start using it right away and expect a very good performance and speed of the processed data. It is a good addition to the above mentioned software tools if you want a quick snapshot of the current users online at times of peak traffic, or to keep track of what's happening after a page change or a new post.
Go Access supports all popular formats for tracking server logs, such as Amazon S3, Apache, CloudFront, Nginx and provides real-time information on all popular metrics: keywords, time spent on the site, geolocation, user-used platforms, browser of the user.
Whether or not you use Google Analytics, it's a good idea to start using a self-hosted analytics software as well. It gives you full access to the valuable visitor’s data for digital marketing purposes. Google can always deny access to the data and by using a self-hosted solution, the data will remain your property, so you won't lose any visitor information.
And in the future, if you decide to improve your reputation as well as protect your users, you can simply give up GA altogether and use only self-hosted software. By doing this, you will be prepared for the upcoming changes in the digital industry.