In a consciousness-shift that even your grandma seems to be vaguely aware of, internet users are waking up to the fact that using Google isn't free. You're just paying for the service with something other than money: your data.
And European governments are responding to how Google Analytics processes personal data with heavy fines for any website violating the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) rules. So if your website uses Google Analytics, it is not GDPR-compliant. That means Google's "free" analytics tool isn't free, either, but instead could cost you weighty fines and legal fees.
Google Analytics (GA) was once the most powerful analytics tool available, and it cost no money, so it became ubiquitous. But cultural shifts and the laws that reflect them have changed the landscape of online traffic analytics, and it's time your website dropped GA for something better.
Google Analytics is illegal
GDPR was established by European governments and affects any website with any European traffic. So even if you only have an occasional European visitor, if your company or client website uses GA to process their data, you're in direct violation of the law and could incur fines up to €20 million.
The main problem is that Google Analytics takes personal and specific user data out of the EU to process it via servers in the US. Consent banners and IP anonymization don't solve this problem as those tactics don't alter the fact that data still leaves the EU to be processed by Google's servers in the US.
This data transfer has been deemed illegal by European courts, and any website that uses GA is held individually responsible for the data of each website visitor. So using GA effectively becomes a crime.
If that isn't scary enough, using Google Analytics opens your business to the headache of GDPR complaints. At best, these require time and attention to address. At worst, they could require legal counsel and crippling legal fees.
Google Analytics is a headache to use
Perhaps it's a question we should have asked ourselves a long time ago, but why do we need a training course and certification to use and understand Google Analytics?
Software should be intuitive, not head-wrecking. GA's backend, however, is complicated to navigate, and the data it presents is esoteric and unhelpful. In fact, it is so tricky to extract any meaningful information from GA that Google created Google Data Studio, a separate software to help you interpret the first software. How meta.
Google Analytics misses almost 50% of traffic
Changing attitudes to online privacy has seen 43% of online users adding ad blockers and similar extensions to their web browsers. Unlike the GDPR requirements, ad blockers are not unique to European web visitors: ad blockers hide US visitors, too.
Google Analytics can't circumvent these extensions, so you're losing data on about 50% of your website traffic. That's why you can't make the numbers add up in GA, and that's why your analytics data is confusing. Without data on every visitor, you are optimizing your own and client websites and product offerings based on incomplete, inaccurate data.
Choose a far better website analytics option
You could block all EU visitors from your client websites, but most business owners aren't in the habit of turning away customers. Or you could self-host your analytics, but that requires some deep technical understanding that most of us don’t have time for or don't possess. You could even ignore GDPR and hope the EU ignores your websites in turn, but the risk of substantial fines won't go away, and you'll still be missing half of the visitors’ data.
OR. You could choose a different website analytics software.
Why We Love Fathom Analytics
Fathom is a website analytics software developed to be ethical and private. Their agency's solution delivers separate accounts for each of your clients so that they can only see their own dashboard, and their weekly or monthly analytics emails are tailored to their own data.
Plus, Fathom is way easier to use than GA, so you, your team, and your clients can create insightful strategies from Fathoms' intuitive presentation of meaningful visits data. No special training course required.
See for yourself on a live public dashboard we created.
We also love that Fathom gives you EU Isolation, meaning that no data from EU website visitors leaves the EU. And Fathom's software eludes ad blockers without compromising on visitor privacy. So you get aggregate information on 100% of your page views and unique visits without spying on your customers.
In a recent live event, we interviewed Fathom's co-founders, Paul Jarvis and Jack Ellis, to learn more about their solution and how agencies can better position themselves by staying out in front of the laws.
There are other online analytics tools besides Google's. However, we've found that Fathom really does offer the most powerful data gathering and analytics solution while still respecting the privacy of your customers. It's $14 per month, and we consider it money well spent.
Check them out: https://theadminbar.com/fathom/ (if you use our link, you'll save $10 off your first month — that's over 70%!)
You don't need cookie consent banners. You don't need a team of lawyers. And you certainly don't need to be complicit in Google's illegal data grab to understand your website visitors and how to serve them better.
In the end, you have two choices:
- Continue using Google Analytics and hoping that where it's illegal, you don't get caught.
For me, the choice is simple. Fathom helps protect my clients and my agency — and that's $14 well spent.
If you're considering a similar move, check out the email scripts we've put together. You can use these to inform your clients (both past and present) about the move (yep, they are free!).