Web analytics used to be no more than analyzing your webserver's log files, back in the days of "hits". Today, there are multiple analytics solutions to choose from, both free and paid, with a dazzling array of features. Why would you choose software that you have to install, maintain and monitor with all the other choices available.

Why Piwik?

You may think that it is best just to leave your website analytics to some service like Google Analytics, but using software like Piwik does have its advantages and I think for many of you, the advantages may be enough for you to consider Piwik as the only solution you need.

First, Piwik is Open Source and free. This means that you have access to the code that tracks your analytics data and not just the data itself. Add to this Piwik's plugin architecture and you have a recipe for any type of analytics experiment you want to cook up. If you wanted to, you could take the features that seem spread out across multiple paid and free analytics services out there and emulate all of these features in Piwik plugins. It would take a while, but it's possible.

And once you have that tracking data, it's yours, all of it. And with Piwik's Analytics API, you can access that data remotely, mash it up however you want and present it in another application. Or you can customize Piwik's widget based dashboard system to present just the data you need.

And yes, you do have to install it. But once you upload Piwik to your server, it only takes about 5 minutes to go through the web based install process.

I had the chance to write Piwik Web Analytics Essentials for Packt publishing and in doing so, I gained much more respect for Piwik and its developers and managed to put together a wealth of knowledge on using Piwik to track visitors at your site.

Some Tips From The Book

1 Don't trust your social media link referrers report. If you are just using standard tracking on your web site to track social media links, chances are you will get a higher percentage of direct entry referrers. This is because links from Twitter and Facebook and other social networks.

2 Use asynchronous JavaScript for a better user experience. Using asynchronous tracking code won't really speed up your page load time, no matter what anyone says. It doesn't magically give you extra bandwidth. But what it does do is present the rest of your page to your visitor more quickly. When a browser encounters a <script> tag in your HTML code, it will download that entire file before moving onto the next. There is a multitude of ways to load JavaScript asynchronously including an async attribute for the HTML5 script attribute. But each method does the same basic thing. It waits to load your JavaScript until the rest of the page has loaded.

Chapters In Piwik Web Analytics Essentials

  • Chapter 1 goes through installation and setup of Magento and using the default tracking code.
  • Chapter 2 is a guide on using Piwiks dashboards and widgets so you can customize your Piwik reports to your needs.
  • Chapter 3 shows you how to customize Piwik's default tracking code to your needs and use asynchronous tracking.
  • Chapter 4 will teach you how to set up and track goals with Piwik.
  • Chapter 5 will show you how to use Piwik to track visitors, conversions and revenue from paid ads and other marketing channels.
  • Chapter 6 is a guide on tracking events with Piwik when you need to track each click as well as page loads.
  • Chapter 7 goes into e-commerce tracking and teaches you by going through the process of writing a Piwik tracking plugin for Zen-Cart
  • Chapter 8 shows you how to administer users and websites in your Piwik installation.
  • Chapter 9 teaches you how to use image tracking, Piwik's tracking API and how to write a simple plugin for Piwik.
  • Chapter 10 is a guide on integrating Piwik into other applications and on using the Piwik Analytics API

Running your own analytics software is not for everyone. For some it is easier just to sign up and forget about it. But for those of you who need more control of your data and the ability to modify the code that collects that data, Piwik is the answer.