Why I Switched to Fathom Analytics

I’ve been using a product called Fathom Analytics since November and I really love it. I thought I’d write up a sort of mini-review of my time with the product and let you know why I think you might want to consider it as well.

For a long time I had been grappling with my blanket use of Google Analytics both for my personal website and for the client projects I work on at Micah Walter Studio and of course in my previous role as the “webmaster” at Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum.

As a web person, GA was always a default installation — meaning, I’d always make sure it was installed and set up for any new project I was involved in. I never really thought twice about it. Clients sort of assumed I’d install GA. They’d always send me the tracking code without much prompting at some point in the process, or I’d mention it in an early meeting to make sure it was added to the list of tasks. Because why not? GA is free, it’s comprehensive, we want to know how many people came to the website, we want to know as much as we can about everything. It’s a no-brainer, right?

I’ve been using Google Analytics for years, and have made good use out of it to help inform the people I’m working with about how their site is performing, what we can do differently to achieve our goals, how we can follow user journeys — all that. I never really stopped to consider what installing that little snippet of Javascript really meant. I never stopped to consider how this little default behavior really impacted the privacy of the people visiting the sites I was working on. I never really thought about any of this at all. I’d just plunk that little code snippet in the bottom of the template and forget it ever happened.

Last year I really started thinking about online privacy. I think a lot of us have. It’s obvious now the amount of private information that is being shuttled around the internet without much care. When we land on a website, and then go to another website, and go to a third website, we leave a trail. If those websites use Google Analytics or have Facebooks tracking pixel installed or some combination of the many free tools available to anyone to utilize, the companies who provide them wind up with our data, and a clear picture of who we are, what we are interested in, and what motivates us to buy is formed. It’s this picture that Google and Facebook and Amazon and many others package up into a nice product that it can sell to other businesses. When you ask the questions “what does Facebook make?” The answer isn’t a social network or a free photo sharing website for your friends and family to use together. Facebook collects and sells private information about its users to businesses. Google doesn’t make a search engine, it collects and sells private information about its users to businesses.

I kept thinking about that and I realized I didn’t want to be a part of it anymore. I don’t want to feel like I was secretly capturing my visitor’s private data and sending it off to Google just, so I’d know how many hits my site was getting each month. I decided to delete that little code snippet I mentioned earlier and find another solution.

When I first heard about a privacy-focused product called Fathom Analytics I was a little skeptical. I mean, how can you track someone without tracking them? But the more I read about the product, the more it made sense. Fathom is protecting my website visitor’s privacy by only tracking the data that I think most people would consider to be public knowledge. Here’s what I mean.

When a website visitor lands on my website, Fathom essentially does the same thing that Google Analytics does. A small snippet of Javascript captures a bit of data about that visitor and sends it to a server that Fathom owns, which in turn creates a dashboard that I can have a look at. Nice.

The big difference is how Fathom is treating that bit of data. There are no cookies that tell Fathom where that visitor has been, or who they are. The IP address of the visitor is obfuscated, and the data about those visits is only shared with me. This is a really nice solution because it means that people like me who run websites can still see a picture of the kind of traffic that their sites is receiving, but without compromising the privacy of those visitors.

Fathom Analytics isn’t free. It costs $14 a month or more depending on how much traffic you intend to track. For $14 a month I can track up to 100,000 page views a month. This applies across as many websites, domains and projects I want. I’m nowhere near that amount of traffic.

$14 might seem like a waste at first when Google Analytics is free, but the thing is, GA isn’t actually free. The tools are free for you and me to use, but all those happily paying advertisers pay for the product, and the real cost is your web visitor’s privacy.

I prefer the idea of paying for the product directly. For $14 a month, I’m supporting a small business, and using tools that don’t compromise my visitor’s privacy — meanwhile I get a solid, well-designed product that lets me know what I need to know.

One thing I really like about Fathom is that as long as I stay within that 100,000 page-view limit, everything else is unlimited. It’s simple pricing and it means I can use the same account across unlimited websites. I can also create unlimited goals in Fathom, and I even get unlimited uptime monitoring for those sites, which has already saved my butt once since they released the feature!

I really like this pricing model. It’s simple, fair, and well, unlimited!

Another feature I really like is that I can share my Fathom Analytics dashboard. If I want I can create a public, sharable link that anyone can go to. This is a great idea for people working on open data projects, museums looking to provide a new level of transparency or just someone like me who gets a kick out of sharing this kind of nerdy stuff.

Of course, you don’t have to share your dashboard, but if you work at a company or and organization and just want to share the dashboard internally, you can easily do so with a password-protected page.

Of course one of the biggest advantages to using Fathom is its simplistic approach to design. There is no sidebar navigation because there is just one page. That’s all! One page of data. No more hunting through menus to find the right view, making sure you’ve got the right combination of metrics and segments selected. Fathom is super clean and simple and all on one nicely designed page.

The public dashboard I share is exactly what I see when I log into Fathom aside from the billing, account and settings pages.

There’s even a button at the bottom that lets you switch on or off “Show more data.” This just shows 4 more panels of information. If you don’t want to look at it, you can switch it off anytime.

With GA there’s a ton of information, views, sections, options, and metrics to dive into. It’s a pretty robust product, but what I’ve found in my experience is that you don’t need most of that stuff. In fact that information overload is what makes GA so hard to deal with if you are a novice. I really love Fathom’s approach when it comes to information design. Clean and simple.

This is the part of the blog post where I mention that if you click my affiliate link and become a paying customer, I’ll get a little kickback, but that I’m writing this mini-review not because I want the kickback, but because I want more people to know about this product and how it could potentially impact your visitor’s privacy.

Fathom Analytics has a pretty generous affiliate program. Lots of companies on the web have affiliate programs, but Fathom’s seems pretty awesome. For every paying affiliate I get 25% for life. That means if you sign up with my affiliate link and pay $14, I get $3.50. You also get $10 off your first invoice.

I just realized how much smarter it is to put the tl;dr at the end of the post instead of the beginning. I hope you made it all the way down here!

One last bit I’ll add is that Fathom is created by Paul Jarvis and Jack Ellis. It’s a small team, and they’ve done an excellent job writing about their journey, their process, and sharing all the ins and outs of building a privacy-focused product in this world we live in. Be sure to follow them.

The short version is, if you are looking for an alternative to Google Analytics, if you are concerned about the privacy of your website visitors, if you like a clean and simple design, Fathom Analytics might be a good choice. I’ve really enjoyed it so far, and I am looking forward to having no idea who has visited this blog post.

This post was originally posted on my website over here!

Art, technology, museums, design, work, photography, and writing.

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