Ben is a lifelong Nintendo fan who likes to build websites, and make video games. He buys way too much Lego.
Over the last few years privacy online has become a big topic. Lots of news stories about companies like Facebook, Amazon, and Google tracking us have raised awareness of privacy concerns outside of the tech bubble. The Cambridge Analytica scandal in particular has made a big difference to peoples attitudes towards privacy online.
As such I have been thinking a lot more about the things I build and how I can improve the privacy of the users of my software. I have done a variety of things, from dropping Google fonts, and removing tracking pixels, through to changing my website analytics (statistics) to a privacy focused company; Fathom Analytics.
Fathom has been around for a couple of years now, and has gone through a couple of iterations. It’s a small company made up of two people, and they are working hard to make Google Analytics irrelevant.
This article includes affiliate links to Fathom Analytics. These links will give me a small payment, but they will also give you a free trial and $10 credit should you decide to try Fathom for yourself.
Google Analytics is the gold standard of website analytics. It’s fantastically detailed and has all the information you could ever need. But you need a degree in rocket science to be able to use it. Just finding the page views, the most basic metric, is quite a challenge.
For big businesses Google Analytics is fantastic. It has so much data that can make a big difference to how your business is run, but for small businesses it’s overkill – you will spend more time trying to find the data you need than actually using it.
A few years ago(1) I was a bit of a Google Analytics ninja ?. I was in charge of the technical integration of Google Analytics at Miniclip.com; I worked very closely with our in house analytics expert, and worked directly with Google on integration and implementation of their product.
I know integration should be easy, but we were doing some quite unique things with it to allow us to do things like track which of our internal ads were most popular, or which link on the homepage generated the most clicks. Add events and goal tracking and it was quite a complex setup that was constantly being tweaked and improved.
Miniclip was(2) a premium Google Analytics partner. Because of the volume of impressions we generated Miniclip had to pay $XXXXX(3) each year. For this we had access to technical experts, weekly calls, visits to their office, early access to new features – it was very cool and really helped us get the best from the product.
But Miniclip had hundreds millions of page views a month. Whilst it was “expensive” to pay for Google Analytics it was a lot cheaper than running, and maintaining our own analytics service in house(4) so well worth the expense. You get what you pay for afterall.
So why don’t I want to use Google Analytics now?
Easy. It’s too complex, and it means sharing my users information with Google. Google knows when users are logged in, and by including a Google script on every page (analytics, fonts, tag manager etc) they can easily track almost every site that is visited by anybody who is logged in.
Most small businesses, Fathoms target audience, do not have the money, resources, or skills, to make the most of wealth of stuff Google Analytics can do. These small businesses are generally only interested in how many people visit their site. The old school hit counters are probably good enough for many.
Personally I think that the main things small businesses need are page views and referrer data. Of course there’s other things that are useful, but people running a cafe, or a small woodworking company, are not going to have the time, desire, or knowledge to do anything more than this. And this is the area where Fathom shines.
Fathom actually has quite a few different stats; nowhere near as much as GA, but enough for you to be able to make good business decisions.
Fathom covers a high level view of your page views, plus page views for individual pages, and referrers. But, there’s a little toggle at the bottom of the page which also gives you access to device types, browsers, visitor countries, and goal tracking.
Another thing that should be mentioned is the support you get. They are a small team who do everything, but they are also really nice people who care about their customers. I have used the customer support a few times and both Jack and Paul have been very friendly and helpful and ensured everything runs smoothly.
So Fathom Analytics is private. There’s a lot of laws coming in around the world that prevent tracking of individual users without consent from the user. GDPR was one of the first, and is probably the most widely known, but there are also laws in some states in the US (such as Californias CCPA), and in the UK we have PECR, that are also fighting for users privacy.
Largely they all amount to the same thing. Not allowing tracking of users personally identifiable information without their consent.
As such, Jack and Paul have spent a lot of time ensuring Fathom doesn’t need cookie consent boxes and doesn’t track anything that could identify individuals. All of the data in the stats is anonymous and easily conforms to data privacy laws. They have even developed a technique for tracking user sessions that is entirely private and can not be tied back to an individual.
Unfortunately privacy is not free, Fathom Analytics does cost money. But if you’re not paying for something with money then you’re paying in other ways – often through the sharing of user data – turning the free service into a data collection service. Plus Paul and Jack do this full time, they need to eat, and pay the bills.
I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a struggle for me to get used to the idea of paying for Analytics. I had grown so used to Google Analytics and it’s freeness that it took a while for me to get used to the idea of regular payments. I am more than happy to pay for goods and services but I don’t want to pay for things I don’t need. But I am so glad I did.
I had Google Analytics installed on all my websites but I rarely looked at it. These days I use Fathom and often take a peak to see how things are doing. The regular email updates, make checking in a fun part of my week.
Plus, the fact that I care about the people who visit my site and their privacy. I want what is best for them and a privacy focused solution is where it’s at.
When I first used Fathom there was no free trial so it was harder to get an idea of what to expect, but now that there are public stats (such as my Brush Ninja ones) and you get the first week free, it’s a no risk situation. If you don’t like it you can leave before you get charged.
Yes. I would like to get a bit more information about browser statistics (browser versions and screen sizes) so that I can make more informed decisions regarding the design & construction of my sites, but otherwise I’m really happy. Plus, as of November 2020, I know that version 3 is coming and promises to include more of the features I want, and probably some I didn’t know I want.
I now have an analytics solution that respects my visitors, and that I enjoy using.
- Fathom offers easily understandable, usable, website analytics.
- Fathom is focused on privacy for website visitors, they don’t track them across websites, save their personal information, or need the data they collect to be profitable.
- Fathom can handle viral content without breaking a sweat, so your site won’t slow down they won’t ever stop tracking you because of a spike in popularity.
- Fathom allows for unlimited websites to be tracked and has top-notch customer support.
If you want to try Fathom you can sign up here. This link will give you a weeks free trial and $10 credit. Plus I’ll earn a few pennies for introducing you. Win win! ?