Plausible - An alternative to Google Analytics?

Plausible - An alternative to Google Analytics?
Photo by Myriam Jessier / Unsplash

If you run a website you probably want to know how much traffic you are getting. The chances are if you are running a site, you are running Google Analytics (GA) to get that information.

But with GA, are you really tracking all of your users? There's a bunch of privacy based browsers, like Brave, who will block GA by default. Some users run blockers in their browsers to stop tracking. Others will run Pi Hole which, again, blocks the traffic to GA so you don't record those users.

Why? Privacy!

A cemera lense looking straight at the user. Reflected in the lense is the photographer

Google are renowned for being invasive to your privacy. They make money selling advertising based on your data. Or, more specifically, they make money from the profiles of the users they generate when someone visits a site with GA on it.

Somewhere along the line, the size of Google and the free tracking offering of GA made if the de-facto standard for tracking website visitors.

However, people are more aware of privacy and are more concerned about what is happening with, and who has access to their data. This is one of the few positive side effects of GDPR, in my opinion. Websites who have visitors from the EU must inform the user about what data are collected about them, to whom it is sent, and obtain their consent to do so (or just block their access because they wont do the work).

At the time of writing, I use GA on this site. I have recently set up another blog, and would like to track the traffic there. Google Analytics is an obvious choice for a small hobby site, simply because it is free, but I want to try and avoid it.

Looking for an alternative

Instead, I wanted to see what alternatives are out there and give something else a shot. A little bit of search-engine-fu later and there were a few options, but all paid for (unless you host it yourself). I also like to read real user stories when looking at these things. Some tools promise the Earth, and deliver nothing but dirt. So I asked my small audience on Twitter:

Two options came up. Neither one of them free (without self-hosting).

Plausible and Fathom.

Both had been results in my searches, and both looked good. Pricing wasn't too expensive for either (£6 per month for Plausible, around £10.50 for Fathom for 10k and 100k monthly page views respectively). Both privacy focused, GDPR compliant, and overall viable candidates to use as an alternative to the norm.

After taking a look at both, I settled on trying Plausible. There were two reasons for this:

  1. They offer a 30-day trial (compared to Fathom's 7)
  2. Their lowest price is a nice entry level tier which more than covers my traffic volumes.

For the entry-level pricing on Fathom you get up-to 100,000 page views per month. The entry for Plausible is only 10,000. I can spend £6 a month across my two blogs, and more than double my current visitors without needing to pay more. I also have longer to run a trial and compare data vs. GA and see how much difference there is.

I don't charge for my content, and have little in the way of advertising or affiliate links to generate revenue. As such, I want to keep costs as low as possible. It costs me more than just time to run the blog!

So what is Plausible like?

Fast, useful, but not as feature rich as Google Analytics. I'll start with the last one first.

Google Analytics has built itself up over a decade and a half. By comparison, the first release of Plausible was October 2020 - a little over 14 months ago. In fact, the first commit (of the file was only in September 2019). It is no wonder that GA has more features. But with those features come privacy invasion which is useful to some businesses, but not needed by all.

I don't need to know the gender of my audience. I don't need to know if you are 2 or 102, or how you get around my site. I have a simple blog. You are probably here for a single article and then going off to solve the problem you have with the information you (hopefully) find here. So I don't need a lot of the features the 15 year advantage GA has over Plausible has given it.

Plausible is, in part due to not having as many features, a lot faster to view than GA. Using a non-scientific method of checking the network tab in a browser (Firefox, if you care which one), the "finish" time for loading a Plausible dashboard for my site was 1.07 seconds and used 25 requests. Google Analytics took a glacial 13.82s to load, and needed 173 requests to show me the overview information.

There's a lot of common information across those two dashboards, so they are largely doing the same thing. They both show (for the last 7 days):

  • Users/Visitors
  • Bounce rate
  • visit duration
  • current active users
  • user device breakdown
  • location of users (at country level)

Google Analytics will also show a breakdown of users by time of day, how your users are trending over time, and how good your user retention is. A little more information, and the stats like bounce rate appear to have greater precision (2 decimal places compared to Plausible's rounded to the nearest whole percent). I don't think that justifies being 13x slower to load.

A side-by-side comparison of the dashboards from Plausible and Google Analytics

So Plausible is fast, GA has a lot of features, but what about useful?

Take a look at the dashboards in the image above. Okay, they don't show everything, but this is what they look like by default when they are aligned side-by-side on the same screen. GA shows me how many visitors I have now, and what page they are on, as well as a breakdown of the last 7 days. Plausible shows the same 7-day breakdown, but gives me easier access to what the top pages and top sources are.

Top pages are easy to understand in Google Analytics also, but the traffic sources aren't as clear. Actually, that's an understatement. The traffic sources report in GA is garbage.

The Google Analytics traffic sources graph. It is largely useless and doesn't show qualitative data - instead it tries to be quantitive about it.

Seriously, what does all that even mean? If you are new to analytics, that's going to take some investigation. The "Source/Medium" and "Referrals" tabs are much the same - they graph the data rather than list it. To get anything near the level of clarity and use which the Plausible dashboard offers, you need to go to the "aquisition report" and then select "Source/Medium".

See, Plausible is useful!

How does the data compare?

Actually, it's pretty close. It's not identical, but I did not expect it to be. I mentioned at the start the some browsers will block GA by default, and some people will have things like Pi Hole running to block it for them regardless of browser. As such, it came as no surprise to me to see a higher number of users on my site than GA was tracking.

The bounce rate and average session duration are both extremely close. It's just a matter of rounding and precision keeping those apart. The "devices" breakdown looks significantly different, but that's because Plausible tries to differentiate between Desktop and Laptop users. The combined traffic between those is really close to GA values.

It is comforting to see that the "top pages" are near identical on both. That shows I can rely on the information to drive future content ideas and posts.

Is it worth paying for?

As with most things in life, it depends. If you are an e-commerce business who needs to track trends, customer journeys, sales goals, revenue per page etc., then no. It doesn't have all the features you are likely to need.

However, if you are a blog or other article type site, then the stripped down version and easy access to the information you really need makes it worth it. It has the added benefit of being privacy focused (so no Google tracking and spying on your users), and doesn't slow down your site as much as GA does (so your site will appear faster to Google, which may then rank it higher...added win!). The team at Plausible also donate 5% of their revenue to environmental causes and open source.

I think £6 per month is a small price to pay for user privacy (for my low traffic volumes). If it increases that will double in price for me, but if I was getting that volume of traffic, I would seriously look at monetising my site in some way. Hopefully I'd be able to offset some of the cost. And if I started getting 1m+ page views per month, I'd be pretty annoyed with myself if I couldn't cover the cost of analytics through some form of monetisation.

Will I be ditching Google Analytics?

So I've said that Plausible is fast, useful, does what I need it to, and isn't too expensive. But am I willing to move away from the long-time market leader (I was going to say "trusted", but that was pushing it), Google Analytics? After all, it's one thing to say good things about a product, it's another entirely to switch to it.

Check the source of the site, or reload it and check the network traffic. No GA here - I have made the switch. Google Analytics is no-more on my personal sites.

Plausible is more than its name suggests. I'd say it's more recommended than plausible!