The Best Free Tools For Web Traffic Analytics
Good web traffic analysis tools can tell you where your visitors come from, what pages they tend to enter your site through, what page they last viewed before abandoning your site, what keywords they the search for and a lot of other information that can help you make your website, or web store, better. There are plenty of free alternatives to proprietary commercial web traffic analytics tools like Google Analytics that let you keep your data and, if you choose the right tool, keep the colelcted data to a minimum while retaining the actually useful information. Some of the free software tools are great and some of them are garbage-tier. Here's a run-down of the alternatives.
Web server log analyzers have one advantage over all other tools:
- You are in control of your data and there is little or no user-data to be in control of.
They do have a few disadvantages:
- You do need to be in control of a web server and have access to logs. See Analytics Servers below if you have a website on someone else's server ("the cloud", etc).
- You can't track users over time. There's no way to tell if someone who visited your website a month ago re-visited it today. That may be good or bad depending on how you look at it.
||Analog can create a single page report with a whole lot of data including yearly, quarterly, monthly, weekly, daily and hourly traffic breakdowns, breakdowns by the hour of week, search queries, search keywords, web browsers used to visit a site (not sorted in any way) and a few other things.
The one-page report analog creates does have most of the data you would want except:
The biggest problem with analog that make it a very poor choice is: It requires you to keep all logs so it can re-parse them every single time it creates it's report. That kind of makes it something you would only want to run once a week. Also, ever-increasing storage space is a concern.
AWStats will present traffic breakdowns by month, day of month, day of week and hours on a summary page. That summary page will also include traffic by country (if you configure it to use a GeoIP database), robots and spiders, web browsers used by visitors, entry and exit pages, operating systems, web browsers used to visit, referring websites, search engines used to find your site with both a keyword and a key phrase breakdown (increasingly less useful since most browsers have stopped providing a referrer string) and HTTP status codes and errors.
Each of the items in the general summary can be expanded on sub-pages with long lists sorted by the number of hits.
AWStats creates a database in the form of a text file with the information it gathers from logs so you don't need to keep old logs around. It's written in Perl.
AWStats is the by-far best free software log analyzer. Installing and configuring it can be a bit difficult and time-consuming.
Matomo can be used as a pure log analyzer if you really want to. You shouldn't.
Matomo has another huge disadvantage in comparison to pure log analyzers: You have to processes the logs again after they have been imported to Matomo's database.
||Webalizer creates a monthly overview that links to single-page monthly reports with daily and hourly statistics, top URLs by the number of hits, entry and exit pages, website referrers, top search strings, top web browser user-agents, traffic by country and, unless you disable it, the most seen IPs/hosts. The traffic by country breakdown requires a GeoIP database (the author provides one).
Webalizer does have all the most important data. There is no operating system breakdown or web browser breakdown, the list of web browsers is not grouped in any way unless you configure grouping yourself. It is not aware of any web crawlers beyond those you configure in it's configuration file, and the same goes for search engines. You will need a really long configuration file with a lot of
Webalizer does support partial updates and a history file so you can parse logs with it and throw those logs away and still have the statistical data from them intact.
|License||GNU GPL||GNU GPL||GNU GPL||GNU GPL v3|
|Requires storing historical logs|
|Summary of human visitors by day|
|Summary of human visitors by month|
|Summary of human visitors by year|
|Summary of human visitors by hour|
|Summary of human visitors by weekday|
|Summary of human visitors by country|
|Most seen pages / URLs|
|User session duration|
|Grouped Visitor Web Browser / User-Agent breakdown||(to some degree with configuration)|
|Visitor Operating System breakdown|
|Entry and Exit pages|
|Search Queries (full)|
|Filters web crawlers||(to some degree)||(to some degree)||(can be configured)|
|Report by file size|
|Report by file type|
|Supports ignoring URLs|
Web Analytics Servers
You can install and run your own web analytics server using free software and get pretty detailed information about your sites visitors. There are advantages and some huge disadvantages to this approach. The advantages are:
- You are in complete control of your data.
There's also some disadvantages:
- You need to be able to install and run the analytics server software on a server somewhere. There is a cost attached to having a bare metal server or a cloud instance. You probably have a server you can install a analytics package on if you have a websites with enough traffic to make measuring it worthwhile.
- Calling an analytics server like Open Web Analytics from a PHP CMS increases the server load.
- These solutions tend to set web browser cookies. That may be a problem if you're in the EU and you use cookie warnings (you can, of course, opt to not track users until/unless they consent to a cookie warning).
||Matomo is a really advanced and feature complete web traffic analytics platform written in PHP. It has all the features and it's capable of creating a wide range of reports.
Matomo has a very nice-looking dashboard with customizable floating widgets you can move around. It can generate a wide range of reports detailing just about everything. You can see the most visited pages, entry and exit pages, what operating systems and devices people use, what sites send traffic, what search engines were used to find your site and a whole lot more. All the reports have configurable time-frames so you can view them by day or week or month or just a few selected days.
|Open Web Analytics
||Open Web Analytics is a fairly complete analytics server written in PHP. You can install and run on a server or a cloud instance. It will show how much traffic you have with nice graphs, top page, page types, entry pages, exit pages, search terms, inbound links, referring websites, what search engines people use to find your site and the keywords and it can optionally show a lot more.
OWA allows you to define custom things to track like ad campaigns. It supports modules for additional functionality.
Free Web Services
Using a free third party web service to generate web analytics has one big advantage:
There are several big disadvantages to using someone else's server running someone else's analytics software:
- You're not in control of your data.
- You might as well go with Google Analytics if you're going to let random strangers gather, process and control user-data generated by your websites visitors..
Using someone else's analytics server, even if it runs free software, is not something that we recommend so we're not going to list any of the commercial zero-price solutions that are readily available. If you wonder why, consider this: If such a service is free then your user-data is the product. There is on free lunch, any company who's offering to analyze your traffic for free is profiting off that free service in some way (or they would be bankrupt and not exist).