Analytics and smoke screens

Jeremy Keith points out a few funny myths about analytics:

There are also blind spots that come with JavaScript-based tracking. According to Google Analytics, 0% of your customers don’t have JavaScript. That’s not necessarily true, but there’s literally no way for Google Analytics—which relies on JavaScript—to even do its job in the absence of JavaScript. That can lead to a dangerous situation where you might be led to think that 100% of your potential customers are getting by, when actually a proportion might be struggling, but you’ll never find out about it.

Related: according to Google Analytics, 0% of your customers are using ad-blockers that block requests to Google’s servers. Again, that’s not necessarily a true fact.

I do so agree with both points.

  • It is not because I have JavaScript enabled that you can track me. Remember that JavaScript can and will fail in some cases – and if your website is developed well, I must still be able to use the critical path to achieve what I’m supposed to do there; if not, your loss, I’m out of here.
  • You have no reliable way at all to know whether I visited your website, period. Since ad blockers and tracking blockers abound (and I use them all the time, for performance and privacy reasons), third-party and JavaScript are both no-go to give reliable results.

I’m trying to remember at what point self-hosted software for analysing your log traffic became not good enough.

When someone decided that maintaining yet another tool within the company was overhead, and when someone else decided to make money as a third-party provider by persuading them (not unfoundedly) that websites could be accessed behind several layers of cache proxies and you would not be able to accurately count each and every visit and page hit.

Of course, they intentionally forgot to mention that third-party Javascript has more and more drawbacks, including this very same incapability to count accurately.

Also, one of my pet peeves these days is to count the sheer number of trackers on one page. I wouldn’t mind seeing maybe one tracker (after all, if you analyse the network on my website you’ll see one tracker, provided by my CMS), but 15 and more is overkill. Every time I think that Department A and Department B met different salespeople and decided that this tool was better than that tool. Rinse and repeat, for all departments up to Department Z.

The level of crazy is even more incredible when you realize that eventually all those departments only use trackers for one thing: counting visitors. All the fine-tuned options usually end up as “this was put in place by the person before me and I forgot why and I don’t use it”. True story.

I’m going to use blockers for a very long time.


  • Boris (6 February 2018)

    I’m trying to find out if there are still simple solutions to replace analytics JS with Apache or Nginx log analysers. I can’t find anything. This section of the market has completely disappeared, or is aimed at very large companies.
    There is an opportunity for Data Privacy and Open Source lovers.

    Reply to Boris

  • Stéphane (6 February 2018)

    Boris: Yes, definitely. Good idea.

    Reply to Stéphane

  • Nicolas Hoizey (6 March 2018)

    Server logs are useless too, unless you can merge logs from all edge servers that answer browsers requests: cache/proxies, CDNs, etc.

    But you don’t own/manage all of them, so you can’t.

    Reply to Nicolas Hoizey

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