Aleksandar Balalovski
Simple things overthought

Simple things overthought

How I chose which analytics tool to use.

How I chose which analytics tool to use.

Sharing insights from my journey to discover the analytics tool that works best for me.

Aleksandar Balalovski's photo
Aleksandar Balalovski
·Sep 1, 2022·

17 min read

Hi there 👋 I am Aleksandar and I am building Writings. Simple tool to write, organize and share your content. Hope you enjoy this article.

Builders cry and laugh the most over their analytics. If you are building a product, analytics are an essential part of the process. If you don't measure your users' intentions, you will not know if you are on the right track with what you build. Your intentions should match, or resemble, the intentions of the user.

I'd like to start by sharing an insight from my journey to discover the analytics tool that works best for me.

Analytics vs. Statistics

There is a thin line between analytics and statistics.

Analytics is about data that helps you understand actions and behaviors, flows and funnels, expectations and assumptions. Statistics is about data that helps you get an overview of an origin or interest. Where the user comes from, where do they go, how long do they stay on a particular page, do they convert from visitor to user, etc.

For your landing page primarily you need statistics. E.g. the number of visits, sources, references, visited pages, time to stay on a page, etc. For your application, you need analytics. Custom events, time spent on a page, funnels and goals, choices made, and so on.

By analyzing the behavior of your users, you can make decisions about your roadmap. Sometimes this is enough even without talking to users. You see a pattern by a significant number of users, and you build and test. In a more mature phase of the product, maybe you will an analytics tool that supports A/B testing.

But don't be confused. All of these tools are marketed as analytics tools. Some are niched down for a smaller audience, for example, LogSnag (not in the scope of this article) is described as an analytics tool with a focus on user events. Or HotJar - with its USP of understanding how users behave on your website.

Knowing what you want to achieve, will help you decide which tool to use.

What about Google Analytics?

The more you experiment with different analytics tools, the more you understand the need to create a narrow niche for your own product. Before I gave all of these analytics tools a try, I had experience only with Google Analytics (GA). Only when I got to learn what these other tools offer and how to use them, did I realize that they are segmented GA.

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For example, one of Splitbee's main features and in my personal preference the most useful one is called User Explorer. If you see how it works on Splitbee, it's magic. Clear, nice, elegant. But that's not a new concept. User explorer exists on Google Analytics for some time now. It's just very complex. But thanks to the many indie builders, we have tools that are broken down and isolated from GA.

The privacy bit

The privacy regulations, especially the heavy GDPR in Europe, are forcing developers to start building in the field. Privacy-first tools, no spy-pixel tracking, and so on. As GA is really privacy-invasive, someone recognized that moment and made a business model based on that flaw.

But let's be honest about something: you as an indie builder think about the privacy of your users secondarily. You consider it to be a commodity. Primarily you are after conversions.

Of course, it would be good if you gather data from users that have active ad-blockers and you do not prompt them with the annoying cookies-acceptance dialog, but the promise of the privacy-first orientation tools is a reason of lower priority for you to choose an alternative to GA. You want clean UI, simple APIs, easy SDKs, and cheap pricing.

I say this just to reassure you that even if you use GA, that does not make you or your product careless towards your users. GA is still a powerful tool. If you want to work around its invasive privacy and complexity, then it's ok to use it. It's free and advanced (and because of that, really complex).

What tools did I try?

In this article, I will not talk about GA. I want to share my experience trying to find something that works best for me. What I need is something to give me clues about users' behavior, and at the same time is simple so that I don't spend time learning it. Also not very expensive. If it is pricy, then I would really like to know why. I tried few more, but these 5 are the ones I would like to share my opinion about:

I am sharing my experience with them to help you decide which tool to pick. My opinion does not reflect the absolute reality about it. Your experience can differ and I encourage you, before forming your opinion, to try some or all of these yourself. They are all easy to integrate and offer a free plan or a trial period.

Logspot

Logspot is one smooth indie product that I have integrated into Writings from the beginning. Not only because I am a friend of Bartek, but also because I see the tool evolve. Often I and Bartek have interesting discussions where I share my feedback and he acts upon it. I know the tool and I want to help him reach his goals. What do I like about Logspot in particular?

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Search events by user properties

One of the most useful features is that I can search users by email or id (and a few more properties). With that, I can analyze what a specific user did as part of a flow. Matching events to user values is something that is missing in many other platforms. This was one of the first things I wanted to try as soon as I started to see some activity on Writings.

Automations

You can create a robot that will listen for an event in particular and then send you a Slack or Telegram message, SMS, or Webook notification. Then when the event happens, you get notified about it. It's really great.

Simple and powerful API

Another great feature is the API access to your analytics. For example, you can track an event and then via the API request the number of logs you have for it. In my case, with this, I can build features like “Likes” for a post or “Number of views” for a post. Really handy!

Technical Integration

You can integrate Logspot either by using the static script or via an npm package. The initialization is quite simple and I did not have any problems to start seeing numbers on the board.

Price

At the moment it comes with a free trial of 14 days and a first paid plan of $5 per month for 4k monthly logged events. That makes it $60 per year for an annual subscription.

Conclusion

I would say that some features need more fine-tuning, and I am more than happy that I am helping with that. But besides that, Logspot is an all-in analytics tool. It contains a lot of what the other tools are offering separately.

Splitbee

Very uniquely, Splitbee is defined as an analytics and conversion tool. It makes perfect sense, as the final goal of the analysis of your data should be conversion.

I fell in love immediately with Splitbee's clean UI and easy experience. That was the first quality I noticed. The next one is the by far irreplaceable free plan.

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The free plan

You can start using Splitbee for free until a limited amount of events and profiles is reached. Then you will need to upgrade to a paid plan. The free tier is more than enough for a start. This is one of those great examples where a product is made available for free so that a hook is created. With Splitbee that hook is made easy because of its amazing features.

User Explorer

As I mentioned above, this is the feature I use and like the most. It gives you a detailed overview of what your users do.

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For this to make sense you will have to create a good set of events that will appear in this explorer and will give you better clues about what they do. I can easily see when a user subscribes, what they use as a login provider if they start writing, and if they save their writing. For me, this is important, as for particular cases I can observe patterns. Like, when does a user give up using the app or if they prefer Twitter or Google login, etc.

Funnels

The funnel overview helps you to understand visually how many of the users are reaching a specific goal. That is why elsewhere this feature is called Goals. What I like about it in Splitbee, is that it's easy to set the funnels up. You understand what you are doing by the intuitiveness of the UI. Then you can just visit them and see how many of the desired goals have been reached.

Automations

Similarly to Logspot, you can easily setup Splitbee to ping you on Telegram whenever an event happens. Or send an email. Or write to a Notion database, etc. There are a few options that will help you be on top of the situation.

Technical Integration

It's really easy to set up Splitbee as a client in your code, by either importing the Script tag or installing the JavaScript SDK. What is amazing is that things are pretty much headless. You just need one initialization code and that's it. Then all you need is an import of a client through which you can log events. Documentation is very clear and straightforward. The integration can be configured to enable completely cookieless tracking.

Developer friendly I'd say.

What I don't like

I would really like to see some linear graphs and not just bars, but that could be just personal preference.

One real thing I miss is that you are not able to filter events per user value. If I want to see all events from a user, it's not possible. That would be helpful for me to see a list of all users that have logged an event in particular so that I can take some actions in that regard.

Another pain point is the support. Even though for the paid plan you are supposed to get a priority email, I had to write 2 emails to it and I still had to ping the authors on Twitter for a follow-up. The great thing with indie builders is that you can find them. They are not chatbots or some automated support flows. And in this case, it worked. I got the answer. On the other hand, I can understand how difficult is for an indie team to support all of its users. We are talking about a few developers supporting hundreds of users. It's massive! Maybe as advice, a ticketing system that will show and follow the status of a ticket could help.

Price

As I write this, an annual subscription for the next plan after the free one costs $11 per month which is $132 for 12 months, for 25 000 Events + 250 Profiles.

Compared to other analytics tools this is slightly more expensive. But considering Splitbee's unique features, I'd say quite affordable. Also, other tools with a much narrower value proposal cost much more. As a comparison, Hotjar costs $32 per month if charged annually ($384 per year).

Pirsch

I got to know about Pirsch by exchanging experiences with other builders. And I was surprised by how clean its UI is. Also, the price is so affordable that you can consider it a competitive advantage.

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Pirsch is a typical analytics service, that you can easily set up to collect statistics and events. I enabled it for both my landing page and app. For this, I had to talk with one of the developers behind Pirsch as I found it a bit confusing how to set up the client that I can use from my Next.js components (and not the HTML). But all got clarified fast thanks to the immediate attention from the team.

Bounce Rate and Session Duration

There are two fields on the dashboard that are very useful: the Bounce Rate and the Session Duration information.

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For example, I could see that the numbers for both of them are much lower for the marketing page (meaning, a higher bounce rate, and shorter session duration) than for the app. People usually stay about 2mins on the landing page as compared to the average duration of 4m on the app.

This is something that by then I haven't seen in other analytics tools and I really liked it.

Save View

You can easily set filters, select dates, events, etc., and save them as a bookmarked view. You can then have this view opened whenever needed. Really great.

Google Search Console integration and Keywords View

My favorite feature is the easy integration with Google Search Console. That would make it easier for the console to collect data based on what Pirsch collects.

Also, you get to see see the keywords related to the visits on your page.

Technical Integration

There is a 3rd party library that you can install (an npm package) that provides the logging client to use. Then you can create an export for that client, like:

export const pirsch = new Pirsch({ identificationCode: "…" });

which you can import wherever needed. Then you can start logging custom events with their data.

Export Data Support

Yes. The logged data belongs to you and you can export it in CSV format anytime.

What I don't like

Even though Pirsch is quite successful in collecting data (and it often outperforms other tools in that context), you cannot learn a lot about your users' intentions. Pirsch is just a data collection tool. Falls more in the category of statistics tools.

The closest you can get is to create goals and see if they are reached. And that would be it. You have no clear visualization of how the events happened.

Price

Really affordable. An annual plan with 10.000 events costs an amazing $5 per month or $60 per year if charged annually, and you can start with a free trial of 30 days. Then up to 100k events, it goes as high as $10 per month ($120 per year) which still is great price.

Conclusion

For some reason, Pirsch often outperforms other tools in collecting data. For example, there are a few visits that appeared on Pirsch that I could not see on any other tool (namely, the visits on Writings website coming from Tools for Creators. Why? I have no idea. But even though Pirsch is quite successful in collecting data, I could not use that data to learn about my visitors' and users' intentions.

The developers are kind and respond very fast, willing to help, something which is very important in terms of gaining time and be more efficient with your other work streams.

If you are ok with the statistical features of Pirsch, and you need a nice and clean UI/UX, keeping the promise of Privacy oriented Open-source tool, give Pirsch a try.

Plausible

I don't know why but Plausible and Pirsch are extremely similar. I do not say that one resembles the other, but they both resemble each other.

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All of the good things I mentioned for Pirsch can be said for Plausible too. The emphasis from the Plausible team is mainly on simplicity, privacy, regulative compliance (GDPR), and the size of the script. All of them can affect the experience of the user in one way or the other.

For example, privacy is important not only in how the data is collected but also to whom this data belongs. With Plausible you can export the data and have it raw, it is completely yours. The size of the script can impact the overall experience of the user. That is why it's always an important criterion when evaluating a page's SEO performance.

In that regard, similarly to Pirsch, Plausible is missing features like the aforementioned user exploring, automation that reacts to logged events, and custom event tracking without the need to first create them on the dashboard.

But don't get fooled by my personal preference. Plausible is a very simple and clean product. Once you start seeing the data on the board, you get hooked on its simplicity. As similar as it is to Pirsch, the dashboard of Plausible is way cleaner than the one of Pirsch.

What I didn't like

Plausible is open source, it has a large community behind it and that makes its documentation a bit bloated. I needed time to understand how to integrate Plausible in my app (for the landing page was quite easy). Luckily, based on some community packages I managed to do it.

Export Data Support

Yes. The logged data belongs to you and you can export it in CSV format anytime.

Price

You start with a 30 days free trial and then you have to subscribe to a paid plan that at the moment costs $9 per month (charged $108 for an annual subscription) for 10k events. Quite affordable.

Conclusion

Of all the analytics tools I tried, Plausible has the cleanest UI. That was the biggest differentiator from everything else.

I would say go after Plausible if your focus as a developer and builder is on some of the core principles of Plausible: simple UI/UX, GDPR Compliance, Open Source, Lightweight script, and basic statistics. Not to be confused with incapable or bad service, Plausible is amazing software.

I could not find the exact value to convince me to start using it in comparison with Pirsch (which still costs $40 less). But if you really appreciate simple and clean UI, you should go for Plausible.

Matomo

This one is huge. In both its value and UI. Contrary to all other tools, the simplicity of the UI is not something to mention when it comes to Matomo. I find it fairly complex and in that regard difficult to figure around. There are so many features that it really resembles a GA alternative.

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Matomo is yet another analytics tool with everything you will ever need from Analytics, Statistics, Behaviour and User exploration, etc. It has (almost) everything that GA has, but it's open source and can run cookieless.

The feature that surprised me: heatmaps! Heatmaps are part of the app for all plans. I would not even mention the Session Recordings, but almost all of the features that Matomo has, can be broken down to separate products. Actually, that's why the GA intro was about. From the perspective of Matomo, looks like they gathered everything that has to do with analytics and built it.

If you need statistics, user exploration, heat maps, a/b testing, etc. and you cannot decide which tools to use: Matomo is the answer. You will struggle a bit with the bloated UI but as Matomo resembles a highly corporate product, there are a lot of training videos available to teach you how to achieve anything.

It's literally a GA alternative.

What I didn't like

For me simplicity to understand a tool I use without having to have a masters degree about it, is very important. And in that regard I didn't explore the app itself a lot. The UI is too complex for my taste. I didn't grasp it. But, many other builders use it and they are ok with it. So it's definitely a personal preference.

Another thing is documentation. You are shown Training Videos instead of simple steps on how to integrate the tool for your app. Even the very first onboarding flow is filled with so much information that I just went and copied the script, enabled it, and pressed “Do not show this screen in the next hour”.

I could not find an easy way to explore Users individually (as in what they did on my page and how long they stayed) but —again, I could not figure out the UI a lot, so on occasions, I gave up.

Also, Matomo does not support easy Automations on an Event-log basis. You cannot receive an email or Telegram message if an event happens.

Technical integration

You easily integrate with a script on your page or by using an npm integration for the JavaScript SDK. Same just like with any other tool.

Price

At the moment, Matomo costs $19 per month which makes it the most expensive tool of them all.

Conclusion

If you decide to use Matomo, you will, most probably, not need anything else from any other tool out there. If you don't mind the complex UI and all-over documentation, start your trial, see the UI, dashboard, and data and decide for yourself.

For me, it's definitely more than what I need.

Conclusion

My journey to discover all these tools was fun. Yours can be fun too, but if you don't want to go through all the learning from above yourself, I hope this article helped you make the choice faster.

The tool of my choice is Splitbee. I feel comfortable when I use it as I feel close to what the users do. That is the sentiment that you need to reach. If you feel the tool is working to your benefit, pay for it, and forget it for a year.

The decision is really close to what you need. If you need privacy-oriented tools with cheaper paid plans, consider Pirsch and Plausible. If you are after user exploration and behavior analysis features, check Splitbee. If you want to have a bit from both of them, check Logspot. And if you still need more, then opt in for something more inclusive like Matomo.

On average you would need to pay $60-150 annually to have good analytics in your hands.

As all of these tools are amazing apps and great pieces of software, personal taste has a lot to do with your decision. In the end, it's important to see conversions, and if you achieve that even with GA, you've made good use of your choice.

Hope this article was helpful.

 
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