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  • Jason Lucey

Is Matomo the Google Analytics Killer?


I have been working with web analytics for a long time. I remember when Google Analytics was called Urchin, and tools like WebTrends and Web Position Gold were the dominant analytics platforms of choice. I remember the debates over JavaScript tracking versus server log file parsing, and the challenges of getting accurate data from different log file formats. Over time, these issues became irrelevant, as WebTrends and other competitors faded away, Omniture was acquired by Adobe, and Google Analytics became the default analytics platform for most of the world.

I have learned to rely on Google Analytics over the years, and to bypass most alternatives. That’s why the transition to Google Analytics 4 (GA4) is so troublesome. GA4 has a steep learning curve, a spotty data model, and many gaps and frustrations. GA4 feels like it's not ready for prime time. Because of this, we may be on the verge of another analytics revolution, where we need to consider our options and look for the right analytics platform rather than defaulting to the most familiar.

That’s why I have been trying out Matomo for the last couple of weeks, and I am impressed by what I have seen so far. Matomo is an open-source web analytics platform that offers many features and benefits that GA4 does not. Of course, there are also some drawbacks and limitations that I need to explore further, and my trial account may not allow me to test everything. But based on my initial experience, I can confidently say that Matomo is at least as good as GA4, if not better, for out-of-the-box analytics and privacy concerns.


To illustrate this point, I have created a table of pros and cons below. This is not an exhaustive list, but it covers some of the main aspects that stood out for me in the last two weeks.

PROS

CONS

Google Analytics 4

  • Legacy as the "Industry standard"

  • Free (for most)

  • Event - Parameter data model is an improvement over the past.

  • Confusing new limits on data associations (i.e. attribution with conversions but not with standard events. )

  • New reporting interface is totally different than previous versions of GA and difficult to use

  • Custom reports limited to most recent 93 days

  • No time on page

  • GA4 export format to Big Query is overly complex (nested JSON)

  • No A/B testing (Optimize is depreciated)

  • Strict query quotas being enforced with Looker Studio

  • Data sampling can be aggressive and difficult to recognize.

  • Not GDPR compliant.

  • No on prem option.

Matomo

  • A user-friendly interface that is easy to navigate and customize.

  • Recognizes UTMs by default

  • Built in simple A/B testing (URL splits)

  • Session recordings

  • Easy multi-site management with combined views

  • Page technical performance is easy to understand

  • Build in tag manager

  • Works with other tag managers (GTM, Tealium, etc.)

  • Events use familiar Category-Action-Name structure

  • More detailed visitor logs help with understanding user experience.

  • No data sampling.

  • API allows for raw data export


Available but not tested:

  • Can delete data from settings (does not require a request)

  • Free On Prem option provides a compelling solution for larger organizations, especially if GDPR is a concern.

  • Heatmaps

  • Session recordings

  • Allows for Google Analytics historical data import

  • Does not have native linking to Google Ads

  • Tag manager is not as robust as GTM or Tealium

  • Built-in Tag Manager debugging is not as good as GTM and could not get debug mode to work correctly.

  • Event reporting could be better.

  • On Prem base installation is free but has many paid add-ons.

  • Custom reports cannot be scheduled.

  • Hosted version starts at $229 per year and scales based on volume.

  • Raw visit data requires advanced data modeling skills.

Verdict

Matomo is looking very strong, especially in the face of the GA4 complications and shortcomings. I would use Matomo first and GA4 second at this point. Even though it is not free, the pricing is reasonable.

Here are some screenshots features that I found helpful and unique:

The Dashboard is easy to use and clearly puts the sites you manage in one view.
If you want to dig into the details of each visitor, the Visitor Profiles report is interesting and easy to use. It also makes identifying repeat visitors easy, along with the details of each visit.
Campaign reporting recognizes UTMs by default, which makes switching or running parallel with GA very easy. The report dashboads are flexible and can be organized however works best for you. Each item is clickable for drill down exploration.
Although I did not try this, the historical GA data import feature appears easy to use. If it is accurate and creates a clean import, this could be the golden feature that allows for a seamless transition from GA to Matomo.

Overall, I would recommend considering Matomo if you are looking for an alternative to GA4, or simply looking for a web analytics platform that meets your needs and expectations. The ease of use., on-prem options, historical Google Analytics import, and out-of-the-box tracking capabilities make this an easy tool to adapt and transition to.

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