Why I Switched to Fathom Analytics

Why I Switched to Fathom Analytics

dev.to - Jan 23

Disclaimer: All links to "Fathom Analytics" on this page are affiliate links. This means that if you sign up using one of my links, I'll get a tiny kickback that helps to support the blog. You'll also get $10 credit for your first month.

Introduction

At the end of 2021, I decided to make the jump from Google Analytics and start using Fathom for my website's analytics. There were a lot of factors that played into this decision, such as the features that Fathom offers, the simple (yet insightful) dashboard layout, and the fact that Google Analytics was deemed illegal and in breach of GDPR.

In this article, I'm going to dive into what Fathom Analytics is, the key features it offers, and why I decided to make the switch.

As a quick disclaimer, I'm not a legal expert and this article is not legal advice. So there's a small chance that I've got something wrong, and I'd recommend doing further research yourself when deciding whether to make the switch yourself. If you're unsure about anything, I'd recommend you speak to a legal expert.

If you want to get started with using Fathom Analytics, you can use my link to get $10 credit for your first month.

What is Fathom Analytics?

Fathom Analytics is a GDPR-compliant, privacy-focused analytics service built by Paul Jarvis and Jack Ellis.

It focuses on privacy and keeping analytics simple, yet still manages to provide insightful data that you can use to monitor your site's growth.

The thing I love about Fathom is that it doesn't track individual users, as such. For example, Google Analytics may let you know that you have a visitor on your website that is 26 years, from England, that's interested in cycling, and that's visited your site 5 times in the last 30 days. Fathom doesn't track individual users like this! It tracks users using aggregation. So instead, you'll just know that you have a single user on your site from England. You won't know anything else about them.

I love this! This means that I can get enough insight into my sites' visitors to know which pages they're visiting the most without needing to intrude on their privacy.

It's not just me that thinks Fathom is great either. It's used by huge companies such as IBM, Bosch, Laravel, McLaren, Bootstrap, GitHub, Transistor, Buffer, Tailwind, Tuple, SavvyCal, Hashicorp, Vue.js, and many more.

Why You Need Analytics For Your Website

Analytics are a vital tool that every website owner should be using. They can help you to understand your visitors and how they interact with your site. For example, you can find out information such as:

1. How many visitors your site gets

As a business owner, it's important to know how many people are visiting your site. It lets you know whether your marketing efforts are working or not. It also lets you know whether you're getting enough traffic to make your site profitable.

2. Which pages are the most popular

It's important for you to be aware of which pages are performing the best. This well help you understand what types of pages and content your visitors like the most. You can then focus on creating more content like this.

3. Where your traffic is coming from

Where's your traffic coming from? Facebook? LinkedIn? Twitter? Google? Knowing where your traffic is coming from can help you to understand which marketing channels are working the best. You can then focus on these channels and increase your traffic.

4. The time of the day your site gets the most traffic

Understanding what time of the day your site gets the most traffic can give you an insight into when your visitors are online. It can also sometimes give you an insight what your users are doing. For example, if you tend to get a lot of traffic in the evenings, it could be that your visitors are using your site to relax after a long day at work. Or, if you get a spike in traffic between 12 noon and 1 pm, it could be that your visitors are using your site during their lunch break. This could help you to tailor your content to suit your visitors' needs.

5. The devices your visitors are using

Are people visiting your site on their phones? Are they using their desktops? Or maybe a bit of both? Knowing what types of devices are frequently being used can help you to tailor the layout of your website to ensure the optimal experience. For example, if you find that most of your visitors are using their phones, you may want to consider spending more time improving the mobile experience.

6. The browsers your visitors are using

Are people using Chrome? Safari? Firefox? Knowing what browsers your visitors are using can help you understand the types of features you can use on your site. For example, if a large number of your visitors are using Safari, you wouldn't want to add a new feature to your site that only works on Chrome and Firefox. It can also help you to make the business decision to drop support for Internet Explorer 11 (if you haven't already!) by proving with numbers that it's not being used to visit your site anymore.

7. The countries your visitors are from

Are you getting a lot of traffic from the UK? Or maybe the USA? Understanding the countries your users live in can help you to understand the timezones they're in, and this can help you to decide when to schedule content to be published. You can also potentially use this information when creating new content to ensure you're targeting the right audience. In particular, I love this statistic myself because I've found that a large majority of my traffic comes from India, USA, and Germany. So I find it really motivating knowing that my content is reaching people around the world.

8. The amount of time visitors spend on your site

How long are visitors spending on your site? 10 seconds? 2 minutes? 5 minutes? Knowing this can help you to understand whether your content is engaging enough to keep your visitors on your site. If you find that your visitors are leaving after only a few seconds, it might be an indication that there's an issue with your site (such as a slow loading time). On the flip side, if you find that your visitors are spending a long time on your site, it could be a hint that they're enjoying your content and you can focus on making similar content in the future.

9. The bounce rate of your site

The bounce rate is the number of visitors that leave your site after only viewing one page. For example, if 100 people visited your site and only 20 of them went to another page on your site, that would mean you have a bounce rate of 80%. Being aware of your bounce rate can help you understand whether your content is engaging enough to keep your visitors on your site. Again, if you find that your bounce rate is high, it could be an indication that there's an issue, such as a slow loading time. On the flip side, if you find that your bounce rate is low, it could be a hint that your visitors are enjoying your content and you can focus on making similar content in the future.

10. Find out if your traffic is converting into paid customers

If you're running a business and using your website to generate income (whether that be selling products, services, or subscriptions), you'll want to know whether your traffic is converting into paying customers. Analytics can help you to understand whether your marketing efforts and content is helping to convert your visitors. Using well-configured analytics can help you to understand which pages are converting the best and which pages might need some improvements. For example, I use analytics for tracking the sales of my ebook "Battle Ready Laravel" and I can see exactly which button on the site converts the best.

Why I Switched to Fathom Analytics

Google Analytics Confused Me!

For around 3 or 4 years, I used Google Analytics for my own website and blog. I didn't really take my blog too seriously and added Google Analytics to it because that's what I'd read on so many articles to do. But once I'd added it, I didn't really check it. I maybe looked once or twice a month for a few seconds.

After my blog started to grow, I started to look at my analytics more often (sometimes daily) so that I could get a better understanding of what blog posts my readers were enjoying.

But, I was so overwhelmed!

There were so many pages and options that I didn't know where to start. I didn't know what to look at first. I didn't know what was important and what wasn't. I didn't know what I should be focusing on. I found it pretty difficult to just get a high-level understanding of my site with numbers that I could put into practice.

Of course, for someone whose job involves working with analytics, they might find it easy and be able to get a lot of value from it. But for someone like me, that just wants an easy way of understanding what's going on with their site, I found it really difficult. This meant I wasn't really getting any value from using Google Analytics.

I decided to look out for an alternative analytics service to start using. I actually came across Fathom Analytics on Twitter after seeing tweets about it from a few people I follow. I didn't really know much about it, but over time, I kept seeing tweets about cool new features that were being added. So I decided to give it a try.

Respecting My Visitors' Privacy

I'll be honest, I'm not very clued up on GDPR and I'm not a lawyer, so I can't comment on any legal aspects of privacy.

But I kept hearing rumours that Google Analytics was illegal and was deemed to be in breach of GDPR. In fact, I read the "Your website analytics are breaking the law" blog post on Fathom's website that explained this, and it started a chain of events in my mind that led me to make the switch.

In my opinion, it's completely up to me what I do with my personal information and how I treat my privacy. If I want to share my personal information with Google, that's my choice. But I don't have the right to make that choice for other people. So I don't want to use a service that is intrusive and tracks my visitors' personal information without their explicit permission. Of course, if they want to share their own information, that's totally cool. But it's got to be their choice.

Of course, we can display privacy policy banners on our sites, but, let's be honest, how many of us just click "accept" without actually checking what's being done with our data? Plus, how do we know that the privacy policy is up to date and actually being followed?

Fathom actually has a really informative blog post that I'd highly recommend checking out: https://usefathom.com/blog/insights. But just to highlight a few key points from their blog post, using Google Analytics gives Google the ability to analyse your users':

  • user behaviour
  • user interactions
  • user experience
  • user journeys
  • traffic sources
  • conversions

This is a huge amount of information that, when connected all together, can be extremely powerful. But it's also a huge amount of information that can be used to track individuals. And that's where the problem lies.

In fact, Fathom mentions in their blog post that "the data Google collects about all of us from their services can be subpoenaed by lawyers and even used in civil cases (over 75,000 requests for 160,000 users were submitted in 2018 alone)". That's pretty scary stuff.

On the flip side, Fathom doesn't track all this information about users, and it doesn't track any personally identifiable information. Fathom has no idea about the personal information of the people visiting your site. It doesn't keep hold of any IP address activity, and it doesn't track any user behaviour. Instead, they track data using more of an "aggregated" approach, meaning that we still get insights into things like the number of visitors, the number of page views, the number of returning visitors, etc. But we don't get any of their personal information.

I don't need to see a user's age, ethnicity, gender, and so on. Of course, statistics like these can be super helpful to some companies and can seriously help to tailor their marketing efforts. But I don't need any of this information (and I wouldn't know what to do with it anyway). I just want to know whether my site is getting traffic, where it's coming from, and if my traffic is converting into customers. I don't need to know anything else. If I did decide in the future that I wanted to record this information, I'd want to make sure that my users were aware of this and that they had given me explicit permission to do so.

I knew that Fathom would be a great alternative to Google Analytics because it still ticked the boxes for me in terms of what I wanted to know about my site without invading my visitors' privacy.

Key Features & Benefits of Fathom Analytics

Before I made the switch to Fathom, I made sure to check what features they offered and the benefits I'd get from them. Technically, Fathom prides itself on being a "simple" analytics service. But it's actually a lot more powerful than it might seem at first glance. Here are some of the key features and benefits that convinced me to make the jump:

1. EU isolation

Fathom Analytics offers a really cool feature they call "EU isolation". This means that any of your traffic that comes from within the EU is processed on Fathom's servers which are provided by the German company, Hetzner. This allows Fathom to remove the IP address (which is personally identifiable information) before it's sent to their servers in the USA. This allows you to be legally compliant with privacy laws.

As I've already mentioned, I'm not a legal expert, so I would definitely recommend doing more reading into this yourself. But Fathom has a dedicated page that explains this feature in depth: https://usefathom.com/features/eu-isolation.

2. Bypass most ad blockers

If you've used Google Analytics before, you might have noticed that some of your traffic doesn't get recorded. This is because, according to Fathom, 43% of internet users use an ad blocker. This means that some analytics services, such as Google Analytics, will be blocked and the user activity won't be recorded.

Of course, this isn't very useful, because you don't get the full picture of what's happening on your site.

However, Fathom offers a feature that allows you to bypass most ad blockers by making a small change to your DNS records. It does this by creating a unique subdomain for your site that is used to track your traffic. This means it's unlikely to get caught in an ad blocker. This is a really cool feature that I think is super useful!

3. The script loads much quicker

You're probably aware that page load times are a big deal. In fact, Google uses this metric as a ranking factor for their search results. So it's really important to ensure that your site loads as quickly as possible.

Fathom's script is quicker than Google Analytics, which means that switching over to Fathom will likely improve your site's load times. This is something that could also benefit your site's SEO (search engine optimisation).

4. Email reports

You can configure Fathom to send weekly and monthly email reports that give you a quick overview of your sites' analytics.

I find this feature really useful because it means I can stay on top of my site's performance and see how my site is growing.

Another bonus is that you can configure who to send the reports to. So if you're using Fathom for a client's site, you can send the reports to them instead of yourself. I think this is a nice feature that will show clients that you're taking their site's performance seriously.

5. Doesn't compromise your users' privacy

As we've already mentioned, Fathom takes privacy very seriously. In fact, they claim to be 100% GDPR-compliant!

So you can rest assured that your users' privacy is being respected.

6. Track campaigns with UTM

Fathom provides you with the availability to use UTMs (urchin tracking modules) to track the performance of your ad campaigns, newsletters, and so on. This is handy because you can use this information to actively make decisions on your marketing efforts and improve your marketing strategy with real-life statistics and data.

7. Event tracking

You can use events to track specific actions on your site. For example, you can track when a user clicks a button, adds a product to their cart, or pays at the checkout. This kind of information is extremely valuable because you can use it to understand how well your site is converting visitors into customers.

As I've already mentioned, I use event tracking for my ebook "Battle Ready Laravel" to find out which buttons on the page convert visitors to paying customers the best. As a result of doing this, I've been able to tweak the site to focus more on the buttons that convert the best and increase my sales.

8. Unlimited data retention

Fathom doesn't limit the amount of data that they store about your site. So there's no need to worry that they'll only have the last 30 days, 90 days, or 6 months of data. They'll have all of your data, forever (or at least until you ask them to delete it).

I love this because it means that I can use historical data from my site to look at how my site has grown over the years and see if I can spot any trends.

9. Easy to install

Fathom is super easy to get set up and installed on your site.

Granted, I am a developer, so I'm used to working with code, but I managed to get it all set up and running within minutes. It's just a single line of code that needs to be added to the top of your HTML. And that's it!

I was really impressed at how easy it was to get running.

But if you're needing a bit of help getting set up, don't worry. Fathom has dedicated pages that show you how to install it on/with: Bloggi, Cal, Carrd, ConvertKit, Discourse, Ember.js, Gatsby, Inertia.js, Next.js, Remix, SavvyCal, Transistor, Vue.js, Webflow, WordPress, and Drupal. So there should hopefully be a guide that helps you to get up and running pretty quickly.

10. Up to 50 sites (but can request more)

All of Fathom's plans allow you to track up to 50 sites. This is great for someone like me because I have a few different sites that I track.

If you do require more than 50 sites, you can get in touch with Fathom to request more.

11. 30-day free trial

Fathom offers a 30-day free trial, which I personally found really helpful. It gave me a chance to run Google Analytics alongside Fathom to try and compare the two and see if it fit my needs.

By running these alongside each other, it actually highlighted to me how much of my traffic was being missed by Google Analytics (presumably because it was being blocked by ad blockers).

So, for me, the 30-day free trial actually encouraged me to make the switch because it allowed to investigate the service without any financial commitment.

12. Reports

The Fathom dashboard allows you to view the following information about a site:

  • Current visitors active on your site (this can be quite a morale booster if you're working on a site and you see a spike in visitors!)
  • Total visitors
  • Total page views
  • Average time on site
  • Bounce rate
  • Event completions
  • Referrers (to see which sites your traffic is coming from)
  • The amount of traffic per page
  • The amount of traffic per country
  • The amount of traffic per device
  • The amount of traffic per browser

So, as you can imagine, there's a nice amount of information that you can use to help you understand how your site is performing.

I particularly love the real-time view and being able to see the current amount of visitors on my site. I always have Fathom open in a tab in my browser, so I can have a constant eye on how many people are currently reading my blog content. So it can be quite exciting when I get a spike in traffic and get to see it happening in real-time!

If you're interested in seeing what all this looks like, you can check out their demo dashboard.

13. API

Fathom offers an API so that you can access your site's data programmatically. This is great if you want to build your own custom reports or integrate Fathom with other services (such as your own web applications).

The API offers features such as being able to list, show, create, update, and delete sites, and events.

14. Uptime monitoring and notifications

As well as being able to track your site's visitors, Fathom also offers a feature that allows you to monitor your site's uptime and receive SMS notifications if your site goes down.

This can be extremely handy and can be used to alert you immediately if your site is experiencing any downtime.

At the time of writing this article, Fathom will send out a maximum of 4 notifications per 30 minutes per site. You can also configure how often you'd like Fathom to check your site's uptime status. For example, you may want to check every 30 seconds or every couple of hours. This is all configurable.

15. Dark Mode

Let's be honest, everyone loves dark mode! Or at least, I do.

I don't know if I'd class this as a deal-breaking feature, but it's definitely a nice-to-have. And I'm glad that Fathom has it. It's a nice touch that makes the dashboard feel a bit more modern and fits in with the rest of the sites and applications that I use where I have dark mode enabled.

16. Google Analytics Importing (Coming Soon)

At the time of writing this article, the Fathom team are working on building a Google Analytics importer. This importer will allow you to import your Google Analytics data into Fathom so you can see all your historical data in one place.

In my opinion, this is huge! This was also a huge factor in me making the decision to move over to Fathom because it means I don't have to lose all my old data.

I'm really looking forward to this feature! As soon as this is released, I'll be using it to import my data so that I can confidently delete my Google Analytics account and know that I don't need it anymore.

17. Really Cool Founders!

One thing that I love about Fathom is the team! I always see Jack and Paul interacting with the community on Twitter and they've always been super helpful and friendly whenever I have a question.

In fact, seeing Jack talking (or should I say, trolling) with people on Twitter is one of the main reasons that I decided to give Fathom a try. You could see that he really loves the product that he's built with Paul!

I love the fact that there's a face to the company. I know that whenever I'm talking to them I'm talking to real people that are super passionate about the project that they're building. I much prefer this than interacting with a faceless company. And that isn't an insult in any way to any of the people that work on the Google Analytics team. Whenever I've needed to talk to them, they've also always been super helpful and friendly. But I just prefer to interact with the same people over time and build rapport with them.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this post should have shown you the importance of analytics for your website or web application, and why you should use Fathom Analytics. I think it's a great alternative to Google Analytics and I'm really looking forward to seeing how it develops over the coming years.

If you'd like to get started with using Fathom, you can sign up using my affiliate link and get $10 off your first month.

If you enjoyed reading this post, I'd love to hear about it. Likewise, if you have any feedback to improve the future ones, I'd also love to hear that too.

You might also be interested in checking out my 220+ page ebook "Battle Ready Laravel" which covers similar topics in more depth.

If you're interested in getting updated each time I publish a new post, feel free to sign up for my newsletter.

Keep on building awesome stuff! πŸš€

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