Looking for an alternative to Google Analytics? Want to understand your traffic, get a deeper view? Open source contender Piwik Analytics may be your answer.

RC-Death Star leg0fenris on Flickr via Compfight

Piwik is the leading open source web analytics software, used by almost half a million websites (est. 460,000). It gives interesting reports on your website visitors, your popular pages, the search engines keywords they used, the languages they speak and so much more. Piwik is an open source alternative to Google Analytics.

Your Analytics. Your Way. Meet Piwik.

The goal of this article is to introduce you to Piwik analytics software, remove the high-level myths and misinformation that would cause you to hesitate to use it as a serious contender for your site and blog analytics, and give you a glimpse into how it works in case you have never had the time nor opportunity to check it out for yourself.

Much of the factual information in this article comes directly from the developer’s user guide, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), community forums, and informational pages.

Additionally, because Piwik is open source, too many have the notion that it is an unstable, fly-by-night, lightweight software that cannot rival the best of what’s available. Not true as Piwik began life as phpMyVisites (the original French incarnation) back in 2007, has a committed group of developers and thriving knowledgeable community behind it, is backed by strong funding sources, uses crowdsource financing to pay for new requested features, and is trusted by both small websites and huge businesses around the world.

Open Source Piwik Analytics Dashboard showing visitor graphs and columns

Built upon a solid technical foundation, the Piwik developers also stick to their core belief that users should be in control of their data and hosted service solutions — like Google Analytics — should not have full access to the data users collect.

What’s In A Name? Piwik = Pee Wick

Piwik Analytics - alternative to Google AnalyticsHow to pronounce Piwik has been a mystery to me every since I first came across it years ago.

It was only recently that I saw any reference to just how to say the name on the developers’ website. Unfortunately, whatever link they thought they were providing has apparently gotten lost in the site’s redesign!

Even though I didn’t find a pronunciation guide, when I watched the video below, listening carefully to the lovely accent of the narrator, she pronounced the name loud and clear: “Pee” “Wick”!

Say it with me: Pee Wick! Aha!

With that out of the way, we can get down to the serious business of analytics, that is, how Piwik (PeeWick) could be an alternative to Google Analytics, if you’ve been wondering about such a thing.

What Is Piwik?

If you’ve ever thought about how you could manage your stats on your own, you probably came across Piwik, saw it was server-side software that would have to be installed in your hosting account or VPS, and likely decided that was a bit much.

Maybe you’ve never even heard of Piwik and you use GA or an alternative stats program like Clicky or StatCounter or just a plugin like Jetpack stats on your blog.

By way of introduction, Piwik is a free (GPL licensed) web analytics software platform that you download and install on your own web server.

Once installed, you add a Javascript tag to the bottom of each page of your website. Piwik will then record the activity across your website within your database. Piwik aggregates this data to provide detailed web analytics reports about your visitors, page views, referrer information, search engine keywords, Ecommerce, campaigns . . . even the browsers and mobile devices used to access your site.

See the screenshot over on the left? You login to it, on your own domain, just like you would login to WordPress or Joomla or PrestaShop. (For example, www.yourdomain.com/analytics)

Piwik shows you illustrative graphs — some in real time — about what has transpired on your site over a period of time — whether for today, this week, last month or year-to-date. You can easily customize views to suit your need-to-know, filter and drill down for detail in a plethora of reports, check out your least popular or most visited pages, and scope out stats about your visitors, like the search engines keywords they used, the languages they speak, the time of day, and length of visits.

Piwik Analytics Visitor Profile shares cool information about visitors

There is a full-featured Dashboard with widgets for various functions, drag-and-drop capability, and exports in a variety of formats.

The web analytics platform works with static websites, CMSes like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and Content 5, and ecommerce platforms including Magento and others. In addition to incorporating plugins to Piwik itself (for more functionality), there are plugins created that work from within your CMS, blog or ecommerce application which means you don’t have to login to your Piwik dashboard to get certain high-level stats — just view them from within WordPress, for example.

The best part? Piwik is indeed an alternative to Google Analytics and you get premium benefits without a price tag.

For those interested in the underpinnings, it’s programmed in PHP (like WordPress), uses a MySQL database to store your stats data, and is extensible with plugins. It is open source (meaning you can do what you like with the code so long as you abide by the license) and it is easy to install (if you have a little technical know-how).

Video: Piwik Overview

Rather than give you a laundry list of features, take a few minutes to watch this video overview of Piwik.

Piwik Analytics Open Source for Your Website or Blog

This video provides a quick overview of the many benefits of using Piwik to track your stats and measure your analytics.


Key Questions About Piwik

One way to get more comfortable with the idea of hosting your own stats and analytics is to have some of the most pressing questions answered with factual information, straightforwardly before they become issues that prevent you from going any further.

To that end, here are some of the top-of-mind questions and answers straight from the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) section on the Piwik site.

(1) How is Piwik different from Google Analytics and other web analytics tools?

Piwik is the leading open source web analytics software, but there are dozens of other free and paid web analytics solutions; why choose Piwik? One of the principle advantages of Piwik is that you are in control.

  • Unlike remote-hosted services (such as Google Analytics), you host Piwik on your own server and the data is tracked inside your Mysql database. Because Piwik is installed on your server, you enjoy full control over your data.
  • You can access the data easily via the Piwik APIs. Advanced users can use Custom Variables, Segmentation, or even run manual queries on the database in order to build advanced reports.
  • Piwik protects your visitor’s privacy with advanced Privacy features. When using Piwik for Web Analytics, you ensure that your visitors behavior on your website(s) is not shared with advertising companies.
  • As well as tracking via the Javascript file, you can also import web server access logs into Piwik.

(2) Can I use Piwik and Google Analytics / Yahoo! Analytics / WebTrends etc. at the same time?

  • YES! You can use any combination of analytics packages at the same time on your pages. (The downside is that your pages might take longer to load as each analytics Javascript tracking code will add some delay to the page load. It is recommended that you put Piwik Tracking code first, above other Javascript codes.)
  • If you are using Google Analytics and starting to use Piwik, you can import your Google Analytics data history into Piwik.

(3) Does Piwik have a way to replace the now missing Google “Keyword Not Defined” (not provided) keywords?

Not exactly.

“Keyword not defined” means the search engine did not pass to your website the keyword used by your visitors. (This started happening in late 2011; the most common reason is “privacy.”) There is no way to access the keyword in this case, and no other web analytics tool can get this information either, thus Piwik also reports the keyword as “Keyword not defined”.

SEO experts continue to struggle with ways to circumvent this annoying circumstance and mitigate the impact on income of small businesses. Inbound Mastery published an article by internet strategist Gail Gardner that highlights the best solutions for re-capturing some of the stats about your visitors that is hidden by the “not provided” metric. See Best Google Keyword Not Provided Solutions for those recommendations.

(4) Can my data be imported (or at least used) from Google Analytics?

Clicky Web AnalyticsAccording to Piwik developers, migrating existing data from Google Analytics to Piwik involves using a special script to get the job done. They recommend Google2Piwik script, written and maintained by Clearcode.

Be aware that you might need to engage a professional to assist with this type of migration as there are some quirks in the process. Additionally, according to Clearcode, you won’t be able to do a migration directly from a Google Apps for Domain account; instead, you’ll need an intermediary GMail account.

You can get full details on this type of GA-to-Piwik migration from Clearcode.

(5) Can I still set Goals and use Campaigns?

  • Piwik detects URLs tagged with Google Analytics campaign parameters.
  • Piwik supports Google Analytics campaign parameters (utm_campaign, utm_medium, utm_source, utm_term).
  • Piwik offers two dimensions for Campaign tracking: name, and keyword. (The campaign parameter (in this order: utm_campaign, or utm_medium, or utm_source) is used as the Campaign name. The parameter utm_term is used as the Campaign keyword.)
  • You can use campaign parameters in the query string (landing?utm_campaign=PaidSearch), and Piwik also detects campaign and keyword in the hash tag string (landing.html?q=test#utm_campaign=PaidSearch).
  • Piwik also sports its own URL Builder.

More info :: See Piwik FAQ # 119 and Tracking Campaigns in Piwik

So Much More…

There is absolutely no way to dig into the breadth and depth of Piwik open source analytics in just one article. In fact, there is an entire website filled with FAQs (frequently asked questions), user guides, tutorials on individual features, screenshots, and video walk-throughs. (This mountain of how-to information actually puts Google Analytics to shame!)

But, don’t let the availability of so much information scare you off from getting to know Piwik. Because there is so much information, so many of your questions already answered, this gives you the opportunity to get in where you fit in — that is, decide which analytics would be useful to you, learn how to find, measure, and use just that bit of information, then expand as your needs change or to satisfy your curiosity.

The data is yours. That’s what matters.