Tired of Google Analytics? – Why not try Piwik

Open source analytics from Piwik - an interrestin alternative to Google AnalyticsGoogle Analytics is the default choice of many Webmasters. However Google Analytics isn’t perfect for everything and depending on your needs, there are many other alternatives.

In this post we’ll look further into the Open Source web analytics tool – Piwik.

Background

After writing the post on free alternatives to Google Analytics, the Open Source Analytics tool Piwik got my attention. I decided to install it on this blog to see how the tool performs compared to the default – Google Analytics.

According to the official Piwik website, the vision of Piwik is: “To create, as a community, the leading international open source web analytics application, providing access to all functionality through open components and open APIs”.

Piwik is currently available in 36 languages and has been downloaded more than 300.000 times – pretty impressive for a Open Source project.

I have been running Piwik for 6 weeks now, and I have been very impressed with the quality of the tool, and especially how fast the tool is evolving. Several major upgrades has been launched, steadily improving the tool.

Installation

One big difference between Google Analytics and Piwik, is that you need to install Piwik locally on your PHP and MySQL based hosting environment.

Google Analytics is running remotely from Google which makes installation very easy, but introduces a external dependency which some Webmasters don’t like, and which might slow down site performance . You also give very important details about your site to Google, which some people don’t like.

The installation of Piwik is very easy, just copy the files to your server, run the installer, and insert the tracking scripts on your site. Then you’re up and running in 5 minutes.

Tracking methods

Both Piwik and Google Analytics offers JavaScript and Server Side tracking, but Piwik also offers tracking from a tracking image. The many tracking possibilities means that Piwik can track almost all online media like:

  • Normal websites (JavaScript)
  • Blogs (JavasSript, Image tracking)
  • RSS feeds (Image tracking)
  • Mobile devices (Image tracking/JavaScript)
  • Newsletters (Image tracking)

User interface

Both Google Analytics and Piwik has very appealing user interfaces. The Piwik UI is divided into 4 sections: Dashboard, Visitors, Actions, Referrers.

Main dashboard iu - piwik open source web analytics

Dashboard is the initial page. Dashboard can be customized with different key statistics and widgets.

Visitors contains informations about your visitors:

  • Engagement
  • Locations & provider
  • Visitor log (real time)
  • Times
  • Settings

Actions contains information on how visitors interacts with your site:

  • Pages
  • Entry pages
  • Exit pages
  • Page titles
  • Outgoing links
  • Downloads

Referrers contains information about your sites traffic sources:

  • Evolution
  • Search engines & Keywords
  • Websites
  • Campaigns

Compared to Google Analytics, the Piwik user interface is simpler, but it contains all the relevant data and metrics for most Webmasters.

Real time statistics

Working with Blogs, social media and viral campaigns, real time statistics is one of the features that I’m missing the most in Google Analytics. With real time statistics you can more or less instantly see if a campaign is working or not. Having to wait several hours for updated traffic figures isn’t optimal for these needs.

Real time analytics from Piwik

Piwik offers real time statistics in the form of a user log, that logs the following information per user:

  • Date
  • IP address
  • Country
  • Browser
  • Operating system
  • Browser plugins
  • Referring URL
  • Visit length
  • Visit depth (number of pages)

By default, Piwik recalculates the usage statistics, each time a new browser logs  in, which means that you can have fresh statistics several times each per day, and not just on a daily basis as in Google Analytics.

However if you have a high traffic site, you can also use Cron jobs to automatically calculate the data, so you don’t have to wait for the data being processed, each time you log in.

Goal tracking

One of the best features in Google Analytics, is the possibility to define goals and assign certain values to them. With this information you can easily calculate cost/benefit of your campaigns.

Piwik has a simple goal tracking plugin, that basically has the same features as Google Analytics.

How to define goals and values in Piwik

With the goal tracking feature and real time statistics, You get a very strong setup for tracking and optimizing your campaigns.

API

Piwik has 2 API’s: The Piwik tracking API for generating unique tracking tags, and the Piwik Analytics API for retrieving statistics from Piwik.

The API’s gives you great flexibility to retrieve data and integrate the data in other applications.

The API’s delivers output in the following formats:

  • XML
  • CSV
  • json
  • serialized php
  • etc…

Piwik resources

If you want to know more about Piwik, you should try these additional resources:

Piwik home page

Piwik blog

Piwik user forum

Online documentation

Conclusion

Is Piwik then a real alternative to Google Analytics?

Absolutely! – generally speaking, Piwik offers the same basic functionality that Google Analytics provides.  Piwik might not have all the fancy details and options yet, but the missing details makes Piwik very easy to use and get started with.

For some, it might be positive that no data is sent to a 3th party site, and for others, the API’s offers interesting possibilities to integrate web analytics in other applications.

The many different tracking code implementation possibilities makes it easy to track a broad variety of media, thus having one tool for all your tracking needs.

The only thing I’m missing compared to Google Analytics, is the close integration with Google Adwords, for very detailed campaign tracking, and scheduled reports. However maybe these things might be available in a Piwik plugin in the future.

Since Piwik is free and very easy to get up and running, my strongest suggestion is that you spend 30 minutes downloading and installing the program – it’s really great.

Google AnalyticsPiwik
InstallationRemotely hostedOwn server
RequirementsNonePHP + MySQL server
TrackingJavaScript, Server side scriptJavaScript, Server side script, Image tag
APIYesYes
UI - DashboardsYes - can be customizedYes - can be customized
Real time statisticsNoYes
Feed statisticsNoYes - for Feedburner feeds
Scheduled reportsYesNo
Google Adsense integrationYesNo

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About the author
Jørgen Nicolaisen has been passionately interested in everything online since 1995. His experience is based on working with small hobby projects as well as high volume websites. Jørgen is currently focused on the PHP based programming framework - Codeigniter, and WordPress naturally

3 Replies to Tired of Google Analytics? – Why not try Piwik

  1. Peter Adams says:

    You might also want to give Open Web Analytics (http://www.openwebanalytics.com) a look. It too is an alternative to Google Analytics.

  2. Pete says:

    I’m using piwik now and it does scheduled reports with PDF reports

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