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Why you should look for an open source alternative to Google Analytics

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While Google Analytics is a powerful, free-to-use tool for analyzing your website traffic, users should think twice before installing it on their site. The recent rise of other analytics tools plays a huge role in the number of users switching from Google Analytics to open-source alternatives.

This post will discuss the three most significant drawbacks of using Google Analytics and explore the benefits of open-source alternatives while also touching on alternative options to integrate with your website.

Google Analytics has three major issues

Despite being popular, Google Analytics users express some concerns with the platform. Worries about privacy, accuracy, and accessibility are the leading causes of why users are quickly seeking alternatives to Google Analytics.

What Google does with your data is a growing concern for users. A 2019 study from Tealium showed that 97% of consumers are worried about protecting their data. The same study found that 85% of customers would not forgive the abuse of data from a company even if they trusted the brand.

Websites that use Google Analytics do not own the data collected—Google owns it. Google controls what’s collected and where it’s stored. As a user, you rely on Google to act ethically with your data, as it is a closed-source platform that does not allow you to view the source code, unlike an open-source alternative.

With data compliance and governance being a concern for businesses, ownership of data is more crucial than ever before. Relying on third-party vendors to process your data can be scary. Your data is a valuable asset, which is why you should have ownership of your (and your customers’) data and infrastructure moving forward.

Consumer privacy concerns over the years have led lawmakers around the world to pass numerous privacy regulations, like:

  • The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a European Union law that lays out the requirements for businesses and organizations that are either established or serve users in Europe on how they collect, use, and store personal data.
  • The California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), which applies to California residents and gives users the ability to say “no” to the sale of their personal data. 
  • The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations (PECR), which apply to residents of the United Kingdom—one of the policies states that companies must tell users that cookies are used, and explain what the cookie is doing and why it’s there, and obtain consent to store a cookie on their device.

While it is a best practice to have a privacy policy on your website, if you use Google Analytics, there’s a requirement from Google to have one in place. Since the analytics software stores cookies on the user’s device to keep track of usage data, your privacy policy must disclose your use of cookies, the use of analytics, and how Google uses data when you use their platform.

Your privacy policy should also be available for customers to access once they enter your website. Most companies post their privacy policy in the header or footer of their website, allowing users to view the agreement at any time.

To comply with the rising concerns about tracking users’ personal information, websites that use Google Analytics have to display cookie banners and consent notices to visitors when they first enter the website. If you do not get a user’s consent to collect their data, you cannot collect their information. This is often referred to as “cookie consent.” 

It’s also important to know that websites use two types of cookies to track users. First-party cookies are set by the web servers hosting the website. Third-party cookies are placed by servers that are different than the ones serving the website. 

Google Analytics doesn’t provide a complete, accurate data set

Most Google Analytics users have expressed their frustration with the lack of reliable data they have access to in the software. Mitra Muehlman, who works on the data science team at Big Tree, a Snowplow implementation partner, expressed his frustration with how costly inaccurate data was for their company. The Big Tree team created their own custom Snowplow web analytics solution to compare with Google Analytics. From November 2019 to February 2020, Google Analytics attributed $430,000 less in ad revenue than the custom solution.

Google Analytics is built to show you the data trends and relies on data sampling, which, in most cases, severely impacts your data’s accuracy. Making decisions based on poorly sampled data leads to downright wrong insights and, arguably, is worse than guessing. This is a big concern for businesses when data is the basis of expensive business decisions that have a direct impact on your bottom line.  

Plugins and browsers are starting to block Google Analytics due to privacy concerns, which limits your ability to track users on your site. In September 2017, Apple released its Intelligent Tracking Prevention (ITP) for Safari, which blocks cross-site tracking techniques that use third-party cookies to track users. Since its release, Google Chrome and Firefox have built similar anti-tracking technologies to limit the third-party cookie capabilities.

To get the most out of Google Analytics, users have to pay a minimum price of $150,000 a year to access their premium version, known as Google Analytics 360. There are three significant differences between Google Analytics and Google Analytics 360:

  1. Hit limits in the free version are capped at 10 million per month, compared to the premium version, which caps off users around a billion hits per month. When you reach your hit limits, you can experience inconsistencies in your data.
  2. The free version limits the number of dimensions and metrics to 20 of each, respectfully. Google Analytics 360 gives you 10 times that number with 200 custom dimensions and metrics. An increase in dimensions and metrics is useful for data analysts to build out marketing and sales lists. Custom dimensions allow you to add extra information to your data, such as customer status, user ID, account ID, and logged in/out.
  3. One of the most powerful features in Google Analytics 360 is the user’s ability to create a custom funnel for their customer journey analysis. The ability to add or delete steps in your custom funnel is crucial to understanding how certain pages can either help or hinder a customer’s experience as they visit your site.

While there are many benefits to paying for Google Analytics 360, it might not be worth doing if you can handle open-source technology. Businesses that use Google Analytics 360 still can’t rely on the tool to give them all the insights they need and still don’t have control or ownership of their data.

Google Analytics is a black box you can’t access

Under data protection legislation, such as GDPR, PECR, CCPA, and others introduced worldwide, transparency is the golden rule rather than a nice-to-have feature. When using Google Analytics, a user might want to dig further into the data, which they cannot do. While the data is there, you can’t see where it’s come from or break it down for further use. 

Welcome to the Jungle, a Paris-based media company and job board, switch from Google Analytics to Snowplow, as they were frustrated with the inability to measure user engagement with client content. Aurélien Rayer, the Head of Data at Welcome to the Jungle, immediately saw a significant change in their web analytics after switching to Snowplow from Google Analytics. “Once we switched to Snowplow from Google Analytics, we saw we actually have 5% more page views and 3% more unique users than we thought,” said Rayer.

“Once we switched to Snowplow from Google Analytics, we saw we actually have 5% more page views and 3% more unique users than we thought.”

While tools like Google Data Studio exist to make reporting on Google Analytics easier, they still lack the ability to fix the fundamental issue of data access. The more you use Google Analytics, the quicker you’ll become frustrated with this aspect. Google Analytics users will never be able to see the raw data. To get access to the raw data, users have to upgrade to Google Analytics 360 and turn on BigQuery export, giving you access to all the hits you send to Google Analytics. However, you’re unable to access the raw data from the Google Analytics user interface, where most users typically interact with Google Analytics.

If you ever try to turn Google Analytics into your single source of truth, you will quickly discover that you’re up against an impossible challenge. To combat this, you need access to flexible, scalable, and transparent analytics tools.

Open-source alternatives boast multiple benefits over Google Analytics

Companies are slowly starting to switch from Google Analytics to open-source alternatives as the list of Google Analytics problems grows by the day.

Full control of your data

Unlike Google Analytics, certain open-source alternatives give you 100% data ownership, letting you control what happens with your data. Alex Beskin, the head of analytics at Animoto, mentions data ownership as the reason for switching from Google Analytics to Snowplow. “For us, Snowplow event tracking has replaced Google Analytics [GA], as GA cannot do everything we need, or even a fraction of what we need, such as easily tying data to individual users,” said Beskin. ”With GA, we don’t really own the data—and that is important.”

“For us, Snowplow event tracking has replaced Google Analytics [GA], as GA cannot do everything we need, or even a fraction of what we need, such as easily tying data to individual users. With GA we don’t really own the data—and that is important.”

Open-source alternatives give you control over where customers’ data is stored and what is done with your customers’ data. Ownership of data is crucial, especially after a recent ruling made by the Court of Justice of the European Union that blocked cross-border data transfers of European residents’ information to the United States, as it’s not compliant with GDPR privacy laws. Failure to stay compliant under GDPR laws can result in hefty fines for businesses, ranging from 20 million euros to up to 4% of a company’s global revenue, whichever is higher. 

Customization that drives results

Unlike Google Analytics, a closed-source platform, there are no limitations to what you can do with open-source analytics tools.

As your business needs become more complex, using Google Analytics becomes a bit like trying to fit a round peg in a square hole. It’s not the best option when your business is growing rapidly. With an open-source alternative, you can decide what you want to see from the data. The ability to capture and model data around your use cases and business model is an added benefit to moving away from Google Analytics and packaged analytic tools. 

USA-based company Green Building Supply was able to build an end-to-end attribution model to cover the full customer journey when it switched over to Snowplow. Having access to event-level data through Snowplow to build out an attribution model boosted its revenue by 137%. Aaron Hirshberg, Chief Operating Officer over at Green Building Supply, contributed Snowplow data as the reason for the company achieving record sales numbers. “With Snowplow data, we set sales records five months in a row from when we started the ad tests,” said Hirshberg.

“With Snowplow data, we set sales records five months in a row from when we started the ad tests.”

Open-source alternatives eliminate the unnecessary extra data that Google Analytics tracks from users. You pick what information is relevant to your business and track that information in real time to make critical business decisions on the fly.

Accurate data for better business decisions

Most open-source analytics tools are privacy-friendly and, in most cases, will not be blocked by browsers or plugins as easily as Google Analytics is. Alternative options don’t track any personal data or use cookies for onsite visitors.

And, unlike Google Analytics, open-source alternatives don’t rely on data sampling when providing you with numbers. Data sampling can cause inaccurate data that could harm business decision-making.

Google Analytics is not your only option

There are alternatives to Google Analytics that users find work better for their business needs. If you’re struggling to implement an open-source analytics solution, you can still use Google Tag Manager as you gradually test out open-source alternatives and use Google Analytics as a fallback. 

Here are three open-source alternatives we recommend trying out:

  • Matomo describes itself as an alternative to Google Analytics that takes privacy seriously. Over 1 million websites use the ethical alternative Matomo, which allows you to have 100% ownership of your data.
  • Plausible is a privacy-friendly Google Analytics alternative. The lightweight analytics tools script is 45 times smaller than the Google Analytics script. There isn’t a need for cookie banners or GDPR consent as cookies are not used, and it does not collect personal data on site visitors.
  • Snowplow is open source software that gives you full control of your data while delivering accurate, complete, and meaningful data to grow and evolve your business as needed.

If you’re interested in learning more about how Snowplow gives you back full control of your data or how we compare to Google Analytics, book a free demo, or alternatively, try Snowplow for yourself.

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