It’s been a while since I have written a nerdy type article. Apologies in advance to the lay readers out there (including Mum), but tonight I’m going to technobabble a little about Web Analytics and an Open Source application called Piwik.
For many a blog or website owner (including myself) web analytics or visitor statistics can easily lead to an unhealthy obsession over daily or weekly reader counts. I have been known to sit there and gape at the screen as the visitor count slowly climbs (more often not!) – noting during the process that my level of self esteem ends up directly proportional to the rate at which I am able to attract traffic to my site (or not!).
Around the middle of 2009 an unfortunate incident happened and I was left no option other than to take Trupela Tok offline – it remained dormant for almost two months during which I ditched K2 and migrated to the fantastic Hybrid Theme – and I haven’t looked back since. During this short exile I also took time to reflect on my reason for blogging and one of the decisions I made was to stop wasting time staring at visitor counts and re-focus on content. (I still stare at visitor counts but no where near as often!).
So what are Web Analytics?
Web analytics is the measurement, collection, analysis and reporting of internet data for purposes of understanding and optimising web usage.
Also and as found at Wikipedia:
Web analytics is not just a tool for measuring website traffic but can be used as a tool for business research and market research. Web analytics applications can also help companies measure the results of traditional print advertising campaigns. It helps one to estimate how the traffic to the website changed after the launch of a new advertising campaign. Web analytics provides data on the number of visitors, page views etc to gauge the popularity of the sites which will help to do the market research.
Let’s bring this back to a WordPress context and list some of the more popular tools available for collecting visitor statistics on this popular blogging platform:
- Google Analytics: Google Analytics is an enterprise-class web analytics solution that gives you rich insights into your website traffic and marketing effectiveness. Powerful, flexible and easy-to-use features now let you see and analyze your traffic data in an entirely new way. With Google Analytics, you’re more prepared to write better-targeted ads, strengthen your marketing initiatives and create higher converting websites.
- StatPressCN: This plugin shows you real time statistics about your blog, tracks your friend’s visits, provide functions such as post’s hotness, hottest post, related post, visitor’s list at current time, also supports Chinese perfectly. It collects information about visitors, spiders, search keywords, feeds, browsers, OS etc…
- Sitemeter: Site Meter’s comprehensive real time website tracking and counter tools give you instant access to vital information and data about your sites audience. With our detailed reporting you’ll have a clear picture of who is visiting your site, how they found you, where they came from, what interests them and much more.
- WordPress.com Stats: There are hundreds of plugins and services which can provide statistics about your visitors. However I found that even though something like Google Analytics provides an incredible depth of information, it can be overwhelming and doesn’t really highlight what’s most interesting to me as a writer. That’s why Automattic created its own stats system, to focus on just the most popular metrics a blogger wants to track and provide them in a clear and concise interface.
- WassUp: WassUp is a new WordPress plugin to track your visitors in real time. It has a very readable and fancy admin console to keep tracks of your blog’s users visits. It has a “current visitors online” view and a more detailed “visitors details” view where you can know almost everything your users are doing on your blog, it’s very useful for SEO or statistics maniacs. Now it comes with a new “Spy” view in Ajax like the Digg Spy.
- Woopra: Woopra is the world’s most comprehensive, information rich, easy to use, real-time Web tracking and analysis application. We deliver the richest library of visitor statistics in the industry through our innovative desktop application. But Woopra is more than simply statistics.
When it comes to stats collection tools this list is only the tip of the iceberg – there’s a zillion others. The ones I have listed above are the applications that I have used and taken for a test run of which Google Analytics, Sitemeter, WordPress.com Stats, StatpressCN and WassUp I have used quite extensively.
The attributes and features that I now look for in a web analytics tool are as follows:
- Ease of installation,upgrade and use.
- User interface and presentation of the admin/management console.
- User community loyalty and support.
- Various Open Source indicators: author/project team commitment, response to bugs, frequency of upgrades and fixes.
- User and Developer Documentation.
- The availability of an API and level of customisation.
- The location, security and privacy of collected data.
- Level of difficulty to extract user data and reports.
- Vision and roadmap of the product.
- Associated cost for service or software.
- The depth and range of collected visitor data.
- Developer(s) responsiveness and enthusiasm.
And along came…
Piwik: Open Source Web Analytics
What is Piwik?
Piwik is a downloadable, open source (GPL licensed) web analytics software program. It provides you with detailed real time reports on your website visitors: the search engines and keywords they used, the language they speak, your popular pages… and so much more.
Piwik aims to be an open source alternative to Google Analytics.
- Piwik’s features are built inside plugins: you can add new features and remove the ones you don’t need. If you are a developer, you can easily build your own web analytics plugins!
- You own your data: because Piwik is installed on your server, the data is stored in your own database and you can get all the statistics using open APIs (publishing the data in many formats: xml, json, php, csv)
- The user interface is fully customizable: you can drag and drop the widgets you want to display and create a report especially tailored to you!
- Real time web analytics reports: in Piwik, by default reports are generated in real time. For high traffic websites, you can choose the frequency for reports to be processed.
- Ease of installation: to install Piwik, download the latest release, upload it on your webserver (you need at least PHP 5.1 and a Mysql database), and open your browser: the installation process is automatic and takes less than 5 minutes.
- Embed your stats in your website! You can very easily embed your graphs in your blog or website or dashboard.
- The momentum: user loyalty and commitment currently behind the software. The forum is very active and the interaction between users is intelligent and supportive.
- Independence: not locked into one platform (eg: WordPress) but can be installed on a wide range of websites and frameworks.
- The software can be used to centralise and manage stats collection across multiple sites.
- Scalable: individual sites using Piwik can be low traffic sites (100′s of visitors per day) all the way up to very busy sites (10,000′s of visitors per day).
The moral of this article and a general tip (free of charge!): if you ever find yourself evaluating alternatives and you are seeking a stable, well supported and feature rich Web Analytics solution then do your self a favour and take a closer look at Piwik.