Piwik: Introduction and Resources

Piwik is a free, open source, web analytics application. It is a self-hosted software app designed to run on PHP/MySQL servers. Like any web analytics tool, Piwik allows website owners and managers to track and monitor their website's online performance. The free software collects a wealth of data, including incoming and outgoing traffic rates, on-site behavior patterns, and paid and organic search routes.

Since its launch in 2007, Piwik has grown in popularity with site owners and administrators looking for a viable alternative to Google Analytics and similar third-party analytics applications.

Unlike Google Analytics and many of its competitors, Piwik is not implemented as a software-as-a-service application. It is a self-hosted analytics application (though a paid hosted version, Piwik Pro, is also available). This makes it an attractive option for website owners and managers who want to maintain the privacy and security of their analytical data. The added privacy and security that Piwik affords has helped to fuel its adoption by many users around the globe.

History

Piwik was originally created by a team of international developers. Launched in 2007, it was the direct successor to phpMyVisites, team leader Mathieu Aubry's existing web analytics application. The team improved on phpMyVisites' architecture, incorporating modern graphics and a cleaner user interface to deliver higher level of performance.

Since Piwik's initial launch, the team has developed Piwik Mobile, Google2Piwik (allowing site managers to easily transfer data from Google Analytics to Piwik), and specific log analytics and ecommerce features. With more than a million downloads worldwide, Piwik has become one of the fastest growing self-hosted analytics applications on the market.

Specs and Features

As a hosted web application, Piwik needs to be installed on a personal server or offered through a web-hosting service that supports the app. Installation of the software itself can often be time consuming, and there is something of a learning curve to navigate when switching from a previous analytics tool. It is often recommended that users of Piwik continue to use their existing analytics tools while they familiarize themselves with the new application.

Piwik delivers most of the standard features one would expect to find in a robust web analytics tool. The application collects data on the geolocation of visitors, the source of those visits (organic search, ad campaign, social media, etc), and the actions taken while on the site (pages viewed, time spent on-site, method of departure, etc). In addition to these basic functions, Piwik also allows users to analyze transitions (how visitors navigate within the site), set and monitor goals (desired visitor on-site actions), and track ecommerce conversions (when, if, and how much visitors spend on a site).

Piwik also offers some valuable features that go beyond the basic analysis of web traffic. Chief among these are privacy options that allow users to anonymize IP addresses, purge data without reporting it, and disable on-site or cross-site tracking using the Do Not Track (DNT) header. Piwik also supports direct log importing from the server, and users can access reports and admin functions through a web API.

Finally, Piwik integrates well with most popular content management systems (WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc) as well as with the majority of shopping cart platforms (Shopify, Zen Cart, Magento, etc) for enhanced ecommerce tracking.

Open Source Web Analytics Tools

While Piwik has grown in popularity over the years, it is by no means the only open source alternative to Google Analytics. There is currently a wide variety of web analysis tools on the market.

  • Open Web Analytics: this is one of the more popular open source web analytics tools currently available, similar to Piwik in features and performance. In addition to the more standard web analytics features, Open Web provides "heat maps" that indicate where visitors to a page spend the most time, and tracks what elements on a page visitors click the most. Open Web also fully supports ecommerce tracking features.
  • eAnalytics: this shares many of the same features as Piwik, including real time tracking and a highly customizable reporting system. Users can track metrics over multiple domains and servers, and can pull data from multiple Google Adwords accounts. Added privacy features, including links that allow visitors to opt out of being tracked, puts eAnalytics in line with Piwik as a viable alternative to Google Analytics.
  • Clicky: While it is not quite a match for Piwik or Open Web Analytics, Clicky's simple to understand interface make it a viable option for less tech savvy webmasters. Clicky delivers the basic features one would expect in a web analytics tool, but little beyond content analytics, search and referral data, and basic segmentation. That being said, for websites with limited traffic (less than 3000 daily hits), Clicky is a decent web analytics solution.

Getting Started with Piwik

Those interested in making the move to Piwik, or merely using it as a supplementary analytics tool, will no doubt want to explore the application further. There are a number of online tutorials available, both text and video, that will introduce new users to Piwik and its various features. These tutorials run the gamut from basic overviews of the application to detailed instructions on how to install and configure the software.

  • Welcome to Piwik Analytics: this short video comes directly from the Piwik development team, and serves as a basic overview of the software. The video looks at the basic features of Piwik Analytics including dashboard customization, real time analytics, ecommerce analytics, and reporting procedures.
  • How to Install Piwik: like the previous video, this presentation comes directly from Piwik. The video walks users through the basic installation of Piwik on a MySQL database. Topics include establishing system requirements, uploading via FTP, running the installer, and how to insert Piwik tracking code into your website.
  • Install and Configure Piwik Web Analytics Tool for Your Websites: this is a fairly detailed guide designed to take users through the basic installation and configuring of Piwik. The author provides step-by-step instructions, supported by multiple screenshots and examples of code, to fully illustrate the Piwik installation process.
  • Installing Piwik — Real Time Web Analytics — WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal: in addition to covering the basic installation and configuring of Piwik, this brief tutorial looks at how to effectively integrate Piwik into the more popular content management systems.

Books

For a more detailed look at Piwik, there are two essential books available in English. These take a deeper view of Piwik than readers are likely to find online, providing a more comprehensive look at web analytics in general and Piwik in particular.

  • Piwik Web Analytics Essentials (2012) by Stephan Miller: this is perhaps the best book on Piwik, and the only one recommended by the Piwik development team. The book is written to appeal to those new to web analytics as well as to seasoned IT professionals. The author takes the reader through basic installation to day-by-day usage, including copious examples of code along the way to help the reader familiarize themselves with the software. Special sections on JavaScript, PHP, and Flash are included for advanced users and software designers.
  • Piwik Mastery (2012) by Jon A Griffin: this comprehensive guide acts as both an introduction to web analytics and as a complete handbook to Piwik. The author starts by taking the reader through basic installation and set-up of the software. It then goes on to discuss the importance of analytics and how to interpret the three different types of reports. Special attention is given to third-party plugins and advanced security features unique to Piwik.

Conclusion

Google Analytics is by far the most widely used web analytics tool around. It's accurate and effective — and it's free. However, many website owners want to personally control the process. Consequently, a number of independent software developers have designed web analytics applications as an alternative to Google. Piwik is one the most popular, in no small part due to its dedicated security features, which allow site owners to know that their data is not being shared with third-party entities. Webmasters and website owners looking for a viable alternative to Google Analytics, or other third-party applications, may want to consider Piwik as their new web analytics solution.


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