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Compare 7 free web analytics platforms (product analytics included)

Analytics

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Published September 27, 2021 · Updated September 24, 2021

Compare 7 free web analytics platforms (product analytics included)

Download the full 65-point comparison table here (direct link, no form to fill out). We’ll walk through the highlights in this article, but the full table provides a valuable overview of the products we’re comparing.

Why use a free web analytics platform?

Free web analytics platforms are limited. To get the price down to zero, there have to be sacrifices somewhere: features, data sampling, performance, data privacy, etc.

This doesn’t mean that every free web analytics platform isn’t good enough for (fill in the blank) project. It just means you need to carefully consider the trade-offs involved when you pick a free product. It’s also worth considering the short- and long-term goals of each project. Some platforms offer a smooth path from free and limited to paid and highly capable. Others only remove select limitations as the price goes up.

Which trade offs and limitations are most important depend on your particular case. That’s why we’ve written this comparison. We want you to make an informed choice. Even if the product itself is free, your time is not. Spend time implementing the platform that will fit your needs.

Here is some basic information about the seven platforms we’ll be comparing:

Performance and features Functionality vs. paid version Privacy and security compliance Action limit
Piwik PRO Core good 500k
Google Universal Analytics (GA3) good 10M
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) good none
Matomo On-premises very limited depends on server
Countly Community very limited depends on server
Mixpanel good 100k
Woopra ok 500k

One thing to note right away: four of the products offer many of the analytics features of their paid versions. This means that some projects could rely just on these free versions. Even for those that can’t though, getting started with a free platform could be a good proof of concept for a larger and more demanding future version of your analytics project.

A final introductory note: we’ve left out some free platforms that offer only basic features, such as Cloudflare’s lightweight analytics plugin or Open Web Analytics. These tools are useful in many situations, but they aren’t in the same class as the products above. We’ve focused this comparison on fully featured and extensible analytics platforms.

Now we’ll dig into more details.

What free web analytics platforms have to offer

Let’s start with some big features:

Access to raw data Built-in consent management Built-in tag management
Piwik PRO Core
Google Universal Analytics (GA3)
Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
Matomo On-premises
Countly Community plugin
Mixpanel
Woopra

Tag management, consent management and access to raw data can help create a robust analytics setup from the start. Even if you may eventually run into action limits for a growing analytics project, you won’t have to start from scratch when that project outgrows the free platform.

Another important thing to look at is data quality:

Data freshness Data retention Data sampling
Piwik PRO Core 30 min 14 months none
Google Universal Analytics (GA3) 24 – 48 hours 26 months by default, customizable automatic sampling for more than 500k sessions per month
Google Analytics 4 (GA4) 24 – 48 hours 2 or 14 months only for advanced reports
Matomo On-premises 15 min customizable none
Countly Community 1 hour customizable none
Mixpanel real-time 60 months none
Woopra N/A 90 days none

Note that even though Google Analytics has higher action limits, they come with data sampling. While this may be acceptable in some situations, it will lessen the accuracy of your data.

Lastly, let’s take a quick look at reporting features. Even if you have access to raw data, a good set of customizable reports in the platform itself will save you a lot of time.

Conversion funnels User flow report User-level reporting Multi-channel attribution
Piwik PRO Core
Google Universal Analytics (GA3)
Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
Matomo On-premises paid plugin paid plugin paid plugin
Countly Community
Mixpanel
Woopra

Data privacy – the quiet feature you can’t afford to ignore

Data privacy is often ignored by those looking to collect analytics data. We think this is a mistake. First, there is the question of compliance with regulations, which is growing in importance.

Learn more about the rise of data regulations in our article 10 new privacy laws around the world and how they’ll affect your analytics.

Second, and probably even more important: better data privacy often means better data. Let’s look at two examples of this. 

First example: Most post-login areas contain personal or sensitive data. If your analytics platform can’t handle that data appropriately, you can’t track anything in post-login areas. That could be a big loss for many analytics projects.

Here are a few features related to data privacy:

100% data control Suitable for handling sensitive data Privacy features (opt-out & opt-in) EU cloud hosting
Piwik PRO Core
Google Universal Analytics (GA3)
Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
Matomo On-premises
Countly Community plugin
Mixpanel
Woopra

Second example: Platforms with better handling of anonymous data will allow you to collect data more often, even in some jurisdictions with strict data privacy regulation.

Here’s how each platform handles anonymous data collection:

Zero-identity tracking (stricter form of anonymous tracking) Anonymous data without consent (zero-cookie load) Possibility to link personal & anonymous data
Piwik PRO Core
Google Universal Analytics (GA3)
Google Analytics 4 (GA4)
Matomo On-premises
Countly Community
Mixpanel
Woopra

Why free web analytics platforms are free

Why each analytics platform is free has a big impact on what you can do with it.

The best example of this is Google Analytics. Google’s business model is based on selling targeted ads across several products. That requires a ton of data. So this next part shouldn’t be a surprise: Google often reserves the right to use the data collected in Google Analytics.

For users of Google Analytics, this has two big consequences: 

  • Data privacy issues make it hard, and often impossible, to collect personal and sensitive data
  • Your data is effectively available to others, so you lose the competitive advantage of working with a unique dataset

Learn more about Google Analytics and data privacy in our article Is Google Analytics GDPR-compliant?

The other vendors on our list have a different business model. Their free products are all designed to promote a paid version of the product.

The good part of this model is that it’s transparent. You don’t have to wonder how the company is making money. It also allows for an additional set of features to be offered – anonymous data tracking, simpler consent for visitors, tracking in post-login areas, and more.

Among the vendors with this business model, there are two general groups. On one side, Countly and Matomo offer a basic product and sell many small plugins and upgrades for it. On the other side, Mixpanel, Woopra and Piwik PRO offer a more advanced product with tiered plans that bundle together bigger features and capabilities.  

The limits of free web analytics platforms

While some analytics projects will start small and stay that way, others will grow faster than you expect. You start analyzing that first dataset and you realize how useful it would be to get that data point. Oh! And that one too. Try to plan for that growth. With free products, you’ll probably run up against the built-in limitations at some point.

If you can make a free product work for the long term, more power to you. But it’s still good to plan for the possibility that your little project grows out of its free phase. If you think you might need to plan for that, take a look at some of our other comparisons.

Download the full 65-point comparison table here (direct link, no form to fill out). We went through the highlights in this article, but the full table provides a valuable overview of the products we’re comparing.

Author

David Street

Writer, marketer and data+stats specialist with a left and a right brain | LinkedIn profile

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Szymon Grzesiak

Performance Marketing Manager

Marketing expert with over 10 year experience in SEO and SEM campaigns. Last years mostly worked on the B2B lead acquisition. Wordpress webmaster with HTML and CSS knowledge. LinkedIn Profile

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