Is Fathom the Best Google Analytics Alternative?

Some companies are looking for an alternative to Google Analytics. Is Fathom the best one?

Video transcript:

David: Tricia, you had a really interesting question about Fathom as an alternative to Google Analytics. What did you realize about Fathom?  

Tricia: I have to remember back on it. So, the question came up with me, you know, when I do Google Business Profile manager, I always access Google Analytics because I want to see specifically how they’re doing. I do the UTM codes and everything. So, I had someone that I was talking to about possibly doing some management for a few clients. And I mentioned Google Analytics, and she said, “Oh well, we use Fathom.” And although I’ve heard of it, I’ve never used it before. So, the first thing I’m like, well, can I even do UTM codes with Fathom? And what do the reports look like? Because I go into Google Analytics and I set my reports up, I go to Google Search Console, you know, all that stuff. So, I actually went to Fathom and did a little bit of research. You can do UTM codes. I can’t remember exactly if it’s any different than how Google does them, but there’s a way you can go in and set up your UTM codes and tags or whatever you call it. So then, my next question is, what does it look like? I’m used to looking in Google Analytics. And if you’ve got your goals set up properly, you can look and see, okay, someone clicked on the Google Business Profile, your URL, or your appointment, and how many clicks directly there, how many of them actually went to completion, and if you have dollars assigned with that, you can see how many dollars it was. So that’s good for Google Analytics. Fathom doesn’t give that because they consider that to be private data. So, you’re getting, like, lump-sum numbers. They said that there was a way to put in a goal, and I was a little confused about it. So, there was a way, but they said… I can’t remember what exactly it was. But that was kind of the thing when they showed me. They said it’s a more simplified approach and easier to look at. However, it’s because of the privacy that they have on it that you’re not getting the data that we’re used to looking at and seeing. I think that’s a summary of it?

David: Interesting.

Tricia: What are your thoughts, David?

David: For me, the goal is a really important piece of information. Everything else is up to the goal if it doesn’t end in a goal… When I say goal, I mean something that generates income for the client. That could be a lead, it could be a completed shopping cart, it’s something like that. If you can’t track that, we’re just relying on false metrics to gauge your success.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And so, we’re not doing great. Now you could still set up a goal. You could still watch how many people are coming to a particular page on your website, the confirmation page of your website. And not having looked at Fathom, I don’t know if you can then say, well, how many people from organic search ended on this page? How many people from paid search? Or Google my business, for that matter? So that suggests to me that either Fathom isn’t quite ready for use, or they’re so concerned with privacy, they are actually not rendering useful data. But I haven’t looked at it. So, I can’t say. Right?

Tricia: Let me just kind of read a bit because, basically, it says they’re looking to achieve privacy. So, when I asked about the UTM codes, it said you could see the UTMs, how to filter them, and how to navigate between the source, medium, etc. But they don’t have reports. So, I’m used to doing a monthly report with my UTMs. And they said they don’t have the reports in Fathom because it’s simpler than Google Analytics. And let’s see. It says you can see the date and the last month and see them as weekly or monthly email reports, but those with the totals and no UTM data are present. And then I asked about more stuff as far as the goals, and they said they don’t have data at the level of detail from the Google Analytics screenshot that I sent them, which I marked some things out of it. Mostly because Fathom fundamentally is set up to show data in aggregate to achieve privacy. So, to me, if they’re saying they’re doing it in aggregate to achieve privacy, then they are not showing all the detail that we’re used to seeing.

David: But so is Google Analytics. So does Google Analytics. So, for instance, it’s against Google Analytics’ terms of service to associate individually identifying numbers with goals.

Tricia: When you say numbers with goals?

David: Information. So, you can’t attribute a person… Like, this is this person’s email address who completed a goal on this day. There used to be ways to import that information into Google Analytics, and it is no longer allowed.

Tricia: Okay.

David: There is a way to do it still, but it’s not allowed. So, the goal numbers and analytics are aggregated.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Now that’s because one of the advantages Google Analytics has in that is last-click attribution. So, it’s not following the individual through as they visit pages. It’s saying, this many people visit this page, of those many people, so many typically visit this… And so, you can’t follow a user. One person came here, then there, and there, there, and there.

Tricia: Yeah.

David:  So, if Fathom is not aggregated and you can follow individual people through their website visits and track them. I could see you not wanting to show a goal data because you’ll know it’s that person.

Tricia: Yeah. Yeah.

David: But Analytics, by default, and this is universal or GA4, is all aggregated. So, again, not knowing how Fathom is calculating things, it sounds like they’re either overreacting or they are able to follow an individual as they visit through to the website. And if that’s the case, then yeah, having goal completion data would be a privacy violation because you would see this person had just contacted me; I watched them visit my whole website. I could see the exact path they took before they contacted me, or purchased something from me, or whatever. And so that’s what I’d be curious to know as far Fathom. And I know everyone’s touting Fathom as the Google Analytics replacement. So, it might be compliant with privacy policies, but if it’s not giving us the data we need, it’s not useful.

Tricia: Let me… Can I do a screen share? This is like the demo on their page that kind of shows their reporting. Let me see. Nope, wrong button. Share screen. Okay, let me know if you can see. Can you see that? Can you see me? See my screen?

David: Yes. Okay. Sorry. I said yes, but I’m muted.  

Tricia: Oh, I didn’t hear you. Okay. So, yeah, this is their demo page that they send people. And so, it kind of gives you this stuff, and so it does have events, .pdf download.

David: Sign up. Merch purchase.

Tricia: So, they do have those. They have…

David: They don’t call them goals, but they’re called events. Now that is what GA4 will be doing. They will be calling all of these things the events. And so, yeah, they even have values associated with that.

Tricia: Yeah. Here’s like the UTM. I like how on Google, you can see the source campaign and medium together. I like how Google Analytics does that.  

David: Select one, select, like campaign. See if you can select one like the Reddit AMA.

Tricia:  Where? Oh, I see.

David: Okay. So now you’re only looking at Reddit AMA.

Tricia: Okay.

David: So, now you go down… Yeah. Now you’re at referrers.

Tricia: Okay.

David: And so now you can go to source or medium, and it’ll only be limited to that.

Tricia: Okay.

David: Okay. Yeah.

Tricia: The one thing that I’m used to is setting up all of my monthly reports and Google Analytics and having that UTM there, you know, with all the stuff. I can just go and say print that report on this day every month, and it gets done in an email to me. That’s very useful in Google Analytics. That’s one of the big things that I look at for Google Business Profile. I had a client with some questions this week actually. And I ran a current report in the previous month and was able to show them how much it had gone up in no time at all. You know?

David: Yeah. So, you can do that with this. Right? So at the very top left, you have the filters. Right? It says clear filters, but the UTM code. So, all this data is for that campaign. So, if you said campaign Google My Business, then you would be able to see for the time period in the upper right. This is all the data for that UTM.  

Tricia: Yeah.

David: Including event completions, which is what they seem to call goals…

Tricia: Yeah.

David: …and visitors and views.

Tricia: So, I guess my understanding is that I can’t set this report up to run on a single day every month.

David: Well, I guess not.

Tricia: That’s one of the benefits that I have with UTM codes on Google.

David: So, before I used Google Data Studios for reports, which I really love.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: I would just once a month put data into a Google sheet and create my own graphs and charts.

Tricia: Ooh, yeah.

David: The advantage that it had over Data Studio is it forced me to take time to look at it. And see like, oh my gosh. Why is this? And I’d have to take the time to find the why, which is what’s missing from my Data Studio reports. So, you could still take a little time to create things. I think that I’ve said this before, quoting my old boss, that clients pay for reports. They want to know that what they are doing is producing money, so it is worth your time and their time to show the value of what they are receiving. And if that has to be manual… Let’s all hope we have too many clients where we don’t have time to do it manually. We’re making so much money that well, then we hire someone to help us. So, this does look like it does have that ability.

Tricia: Yeah

David: It’s pretty… I mean, if this is the only page of their report, it’s pretty bland.

Tricia: Yeah. And my understanding is the home page of the report is what you can run every month. That was my understanding from the email that you can run a report once a month or… And I say once a month, but you can set up scheduled reports on the dashboard. But then, if you want something specific, then you would have to go in and manually do that, I believe.

David: You know, Google Analytics didn’t always have the reporting features it does.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And Data Studio does work… You know, at the same time, you might be able to have a Data Studio connector to import this into Data Studio.  

Tricia: Yeah. That’s true.

David: Now, with my lack of understanding of GDPR, if you export data into Google sheet and use that to create a report, you have to disclose that you have put data… Now it’s not personalized data because this is just a raw number of people, but it is data that’s shared.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And it belongs to Google at that point.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: You know, you’re renting it from Google, or however you want to see that.

Tricia: Yeah. Okay. So, it was just it was interesting to see because I think we are going to see more people with Fathom and since I don’t do website building and everything like that, and I focus my services on Google Business Profile; it’s something I may run into more than you all.  

David: Well, you know, we’re coming at this: what’s old is new again. When I got started in this, Google Analytics was not yet universally used. And so I had some clients, and this is embarrassing now, it was probably embarrassing at that time, but we’d have to every first day of the month go to their homepage and look at the number on the counter there.

Tricia: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. That little counter thing. My gosh, I remember those.

David: And that would be how many visits you got. You know, that’s…

Tricia: What if somebody didn’t go to their homepage, they went to their about us page?  

David: There were so many things wrong with that. Yeah, but I remember at my first job in internet marketing, that was one of my responsibilities. On the first of every month, go to the homepage and pull down the counter. Now that’s terrible. And nowadays, we would never do that or call that reliable. I would feel terrible reporting that number to a client. That would be so misleading because it doesn’t even weed out bots.  

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And speaking of bots, I had a client, and they didn’t have Analytics, so we installed it. And we gave them their first monthly report, and they were like, “Oh my gosh, we have ten percent of the traffic we had the previous month.” And we’re like, “Wait, you don’t have analytics, you didn’t have analytics the previous month. How are you saying you have ten percent of what you used to have?” They were pulling their server log data. Do you remember those old server log analytics packages in c-panel and stuff?

Tricia: Mm-hmm.

David: Anyway. They were not distinguishing bots from their traffic. So, they were including every time the Google Crawler came, every time a spam bot came looking for email addresses, and every time someone downloaded a CSS file was considered a page view in their mind. In reality, they were way overestimating the amount of traffic because they were so unsophisticated. So, what’s old is new again. We might see that people will be diverging away from Google Analytics, but…

Tricia: Yeah. I think Google is going to do something before that happens.

David: Yeah, Google has a major financial interest in doing that.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: Right? Fathom has a financial interest in them not because they charge for their services. But Google has a lot of money tied up, and it is worth their time to figure this out.

Tricia: Yeah.

David: I read something in my morning RSS feed reader thing, as I still use RSS feeds, that said, basically, Germany has already agreed that one of Google’s solutions is acceptable. Which again, was on the internet, so we don’t even know whether to believe it. But here we are. But that suggests that people are actively working on the problem and trying to find a solution. I pretty much guarantee by the time GA4 completely rolls out next year, this will be a resolved issue.

Tricia: Yeah. I think so.

David: Why would Google be putting all this money and resources in GA4 if no one can use it?

Tricia: Yeah.

David: And we Americans, we’re really good about only thinking about the United States. There’s a big world out there full of a lot more people to you know… And frankly, that’s the burgeoning market for Google. They’ve got everything tied up here. What they really need is outside the United States to grow. So, they better deal with it, and they’re going to. So, you know, I made a list of clients that I am preparing to possibly move to something like Fathom. And I’ve even gone to some clients, and they’re like, we totally don’t even care, we’re going to keep using Google Analytics. Okay, that’s their choice.

Tricia: Yeah, as long as you tell them…

David: I’ve told them, and it’s their choice. And I even said, “Hey, Google Analytics might be illegal. I don’t know if it’s illegal; I’m not a lawyer. It might be.” And they said, “We don’t care.” So… Okay. But I’m pretty sure it’ll be resolved.

Tricia: Yeah. But it’s interesting because Fathom is the one that I’ve really seen as a lot of people going to as the alternative. So, it’s interesting to see that. And I think that I’ll probably be learning a little bit more about it in the future if I have clients that are using it.  

David: I’m thinking about installing it on a couple of sites just to play with it. And I might use it concurrently.

Tricia: This was just the first time I had somebody say, oh, this site has Fathom and that I would have to do that to do reports.

David: I was kind of struggling with this too because I’m trying to keep Curious Ants focusing on free tools. I don’t want someone who uses Curious Ants to have to pay for this and then this… Okay, Fathom is not that expensive, and if we can’t use Google Analytics, it’s valuable to get it. But I’m pretty confident I will keep using Google Analytics on Curious Ants, if only because it’s a free option. There may be other free options we might have to move to. But I’m glad you were looking at that. That’s really interesting.  

Tricia: And I did look. They do have a link to their UTM builder. So there’s a thing that they’ve got a builder and everything too for it.

David: It makes sense that they’ve used the same parameters in the URLs just to make life a little easier. It’s almost becoming a standard.

Tricia: Yeah.


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