For many website owners installing Google Analytics is the first thing we do when starting a new website. It's understandable. GA is the industry standard, it's robust, free to use, plays well with the Google ecosystem, and the level of insight it provides is essential for effective online marketing.

My top reason for switching from Google Analytics to Plausible Analytics on this website was not privacy but rather regulatory compliance and the annoyances that come with it. It's not that I don't think privacy is important –on the contrary, but online privacy is a complex topic, and opting out of GA doesn't mean you opt-out of surveillance capitalism.

My Top Reasons for Switching:

Curiosity

I've been following the story of Adriaan from Simple Analytics for quite some time now, and I was interested in his product. Unfortunately, the price of $19/month is too steep for me. Although I feel that the cost is justified (and I want to support indie makers), it would be amongst my most expensive subscriptions. With nearly every software and service being a subscription nowadays, monthly payments tend to pile up. Because of this, I try to avoid adding expensive subscriptions –especially for a small passion project like this site.

After doing some digging on alternatives, I came across Plausible Analytics, a similar idea built by different makers. Starting at $6/month with a 30-day trial, it's also possible to try out/sustain for a hobby project.

Regulatory Compliance Is Just Too Much

Having a website requires keeping up with the latest regulations, such as the CCPA, GDPR, etc. Also, every 3rd party tool or service that you use needs to comply with these regulations. This usually comes with signing endless user agreements and amendments to the agreements (hello G Suite!).

Using a service that doesn't collect personally identifiable information means fewer emails and e-paperwork.

GDPR Banners Offer a Bad User Experience

I've been trying to find a good GDPR compliance solution unsuccessfully for some time now. Such a solution needs to support active consent (install cookies only upon visitor approval, and not before that), and offer the option to accept cookies for selected purposes only, e.g. analytics but not advertising.

I've tried some of the most popular tools in the market, including Cookiebot and Iubenta, and all of them left me with mixed feelings.
First, they (usually) automatically block Google Analytics before user consent, so the basic implementation is as easy as copying some JS to your website header. But if you have more complex implementation needs such as multiple remarketing pixels, JS from 3rd party services, etc. the implementation can be more complicated –and sometimes even broken.

If I had to make a guess, I'd say that for most websites GDPR banners are not properly implemented.

Moreover, these GDPR tools load bloated Javascript that slows down websites considerably. Unfortunately, you can do very little about it (I haven't found a tool that is good enough yet).

This tends to pile up, especially when the GDPR wall is accompanied by Google Analytics, AdSense, and remarketing pixels as in the example below:

Last but not least, I hate the idea of showing a wall of legal text and options to my first-time visitors. It's intrusive, implies imminent danger, and hides content. Calling it a bad user experience is an understatement.

My Thoughts so Far

Switching to Plausible

If the only tracker on your website is Google Analytics, switching over makes the most sense (unless you are prepared to part ways with remarketing and behavioral targeting). The benefits of not collecting personally identifiable information cease the moment you include AdSense or remarketing pixels to your website. Because of this, and the limited insights compared to Google Analytics, I wouldn't recommend it as a replacement to the majority of my clients and businesses out there –at least not yet.

If you live in the bleeping edge of indie publishing though, utilizing other open-source software such as ghost for your membership site, catering to hyper-niche audiences, then I think Plausible is for you.

Plausible Analytics and Ad Blocking

Even if you use Plausible in conjunction with your other non-privacy focused analytics tools, there's still an upside. Plausible makes it easy to run a reverse proxy for your analytics code.

This means that it's possible to load Plausible's Javascript from a subdomain of your website instead of their server (literally a few clicks to create a DNS record, copy-paste the script, and flip a switch). The benefit of reverse proxying is that you immediately circumvent IP blacklists for analytics and trackers (ironically many lists do blanket bans, including privacy-respecting tools), so you can compare data between your Google Analytics and Plausible and see a.) how much data you loose from Ad blocking, and b.) the extra insights from these users.

What is funny about this, is that you can setup a reverse proxy for Google Analytics if you want to do so (Google doesn't make it easy for you). Some data (e.g. location) will be skimmed due to the proxying, but you still get to bypass ad blockers. This configuration could take some time though to do properly, and introduce unnecessary complexity.

How Does Plausible Stack up Against Google Analytics?

In terms of features Plausible is very simple and it offers core insights such as overall traffic, channels, top pages, location, etc. If you feel intimidated by Google Analytics, you might enjoy more the simpler dashboard of Plausible. You can see the level of insights that you get in their dashboard here. Another very nice feature is that if you are an open startup it makes it easy to share your web analytics dashboard.

Overall I think Plausible Analytics is a very interesting idea; I plan to continue using it and update this post with more insights. One of the things I'm particularly looking forward to is any new features as the tool reaches maturity.