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Piwik Open Source Analytics: A Primer

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For many people, web analytics on a budget means Google Analytics. There are many log file analyzers that help the do-it-yourselfers. However, they merely report the data. They often don't provide the analysis tools to make the data meaningful information.

Piwik is a web analytics package that aims to be a free software alternative to Google Analytics. Like Google, it allows you to place JavaScript code within your site to collect visitor page views and other events.

However, unlike Google and other remote-hosted analytics services, it also comes with its own analytics collection server that runs on your website's server. This means you control the data collected.

piwik-dashboard

Privacy in Web Analytics

Privacy is a fundamental point in the Piwik project. Changes to Google's privacy policy have many people rethinking the idea of "going Google." Piwik is on a mission to put users in control. All data collected remains on your server, stored within your MySQL database.

Piwik respects privacy so much that there are built-in privacy settings that allow you to anonymize visitor IP addresses and even delete raw visitor data – while still keeping your reports archived in a manner where you can still filter them. There's even code you can place on your site that would allow visitors to opt-out of Analytics tracking and a plug-in that complies with visitors' Do Not Track preferences.

Free, but Feature Rich

piwik-multi-sites

Open Source and Free Software have come a long way. Just because Piwik is free doesn't mean it isn't chock full of features.

Piwik offered real-time analytics reports long before Google Analytics. The interface allows for individualized reports to be exported in a variety of formats or emailed automatically.

While this is not a definitive list, here are some major features Piwik has that compares it to other top-billing web analytics packages:

  • Multiple Website support - complete with mini-dashboard
  • Filtering of IPs, page parameters, currency
  • Goal & Revenue Tracking
  • URL Tracking Parameter Support
  • Automatic tracking of downloads without tagging
  • Automatic tracking of Outlinks (URLs people left your site for)
  • Custom Variables
  • Full API support
  • Segmentation (through API only for now)
  • Custom dot, bar and pie graphs, tag clouds and sparklines
  • Customizable Dashboard
  • Support for multiple users with varying access levels
  • Report export to PDF, Excel, XML, JSON and various other text-based files

There's also a roadmap of features coming soon in version 2.0, due out this year. These features include:

  • Page speed reports and load time analysis
  • A graphical UI for implementing segmentation
  • Log file analysis includes
  • Improved site search tracking
  • Improved AdWords campaign tracking
  • Many other UI enhancements

Give it a Spin

Piwik offers an online, live demo so you can kick the tires and get a feel for how it works. It is based on anonymous access, so some features aren't available. However, you can see how multiple sites operate and how nearly all the reporting works, including the real-time reports.

Piwik is easy to install. All it requires is standard FTP access and the ability to create a database.

If your hosting provider allows you access to phpmyadmin and file uploading, you're all set. The set-up process takes about five minutes in seven, quick, web-based steps. In fact, if you're familiar with a self-hosted WordPress setup and/or upgrade process, the Piwik processes are nearly identical.

Piwik is Free Software

The differences between open source and free software are relatively subtle to the average user, but quite dramatic to the developers. Regardless, this means free, quality software for you to use. And, in turn, software that you can study, modify, change, and redistribute to clients, if you feel so inclined.

Is your data and your users' privacy a concern for you? With a focus on privacy and keeping data safe, will you be checking out Piwik? Do you already use it? Do you have questions? Drop a comment below and tell us!


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