Piwik – An Open Source Alternative to Google Analytics

Piwik - World Map (thumbnail)I don’t trust Google. I think that they’ve grown too large and it could be harmful to the health of the Internet. Competition is good for the consumer. It keeps big business honest. Because of this belief, I’ve been attempting to phase out Google products from this website. Google Analytics was really tough to beat, but I finally found a suitable alternative – Piwik – open source web analytics software. Last night, I installed Piwik on Photics.com. My preliminary experimentation with the software has yielded favorable results. In other words – Piwik is awesome.

While switching over to a Mac from a PC, I realized that I didn’t have software to process raw logs. My website runs Webalizer, but that’s not robust enough to satisfy my hunger for web traffic reports. I like to know what’s going on with my website — where do Photics.com visitors come from, what content are they interested in, how long do they stay and why do they leave? With a better understanding web traffic, I can build a better website.

Google Analytics was great at providing traffic reports. I liked the pretty charts and the data reports were fairly customizable. However, that comes with significant limitations. The data sits on Google’s servers. It keeps you tethered to their services. I rather control the data myself. That’s why I like Piwik. It eliminates the intermediary. The web analytics software sits on my server.

Piwik is a bit tougher to set up. Novice users might be intimidated by the acronyms PHP and MySQL. But to me, it was easy. Piwik has an excellent installer. All I had to do was properly upload the Piwik directory, set up a database, run through the installer and then add some Javascript code to the footer.php of my WordPress theme. (That last part is similar to installing Google Analytics.) If you’re familiar with installing PHP software on your website, Piwik shouldn’t give you any trouble. If you’re new to the more technical site of web administration, this is an excellent way to get started.

One of the nicest features about Piwik is the real-time reporting. I don’t have to wait until the next day to see what’s going on with my website. I just log into the web based reporting pages to see the Piwik reports. It’s quite similar to Google Analytics. Piwik uses Flash to generate nice charts and graphs. The dashboard is sweet. I can get highlights of my website and detailed information about the latest visitors.

Piwik - Visitor Browsers
Piwik has a dashboard, where you can choose your favorite widgets.

I haven’t experimented with goal tracking yet, as I only have one product to sell. Yet, I’m planning on running an e-commerce website soon. Knowing which advertising campaigns are most effective is important. That can save me money and increase sales. I can monitor the traffic from multiple website through one Piwik install.

I think Google Analytics is better suited for a AdWords / AdSense / Google Checkout website. The integration is quite strong. Google Analytics also has nice custom and comparative reports. Hardcore Google Analytics users might miss some features. That’s not me. While I really pushed Google Analytics to the limit, and I know what the software is capable of, I don’t feel limited by Piwik. I actually find this open source alternative to be more exciting. My web data isn’t trapped in a Google cloud. It’s mine. The software is PHP / MySQL, which means I can customize Piwik too.

If you’re not sure about switching to Piwik, you can run both Piwik and Google Analytics on the same website. They’re both free, so you can decide what works best for you.

If you’re interested in Piwik, you can download the software at the official website. There’s also an online demo, where you can try the software. (http://piwik.org/)