At this stage, it may seem like I just hate Google. Let me start by saying, Google Analytics isn't the only analytics tool out there, with an issue, when it comes to user privacy. Programs like Hotjar and Microsoft Clarity have similarly problematic features
 
So, why is this blogpost – yet again – all about Google? 
 
This starts with the two things, which so often set Google apart.  
 
First off, is its accessibility. Google Analytics offers a free service to anyone with a Gmail account. It requires minimal tech expertise, and offers comprehensive data which easily competes with many paid-for analytics programs. This makes it particularly appealing to solopreneurs, start-ups and SMEs, which often run on a tight budget, with limited in-house tech expertise.  
 
 
As the founder of an ethical brand specialising in, say, sustainable fashion, or plant-based milk, you may not want to spend all your time thinking about SEO. It's not why you went into business. It's this peripheral thing, you maybe only half-understand, which will hopefully help you get your message across to more people.  
 
It makes sense you'd take the cheapest, easiest and most effective option available... maybe the only web analytics program you've ever heard of! Before you know it, all roads have led you to Google Analytics. 
 
But would you believe me, if I told you using Google Analytics is placing your SEO strategy at odds with your brand's entire mission? 
 

Google Analytics and SEO: What Do You Give the Brand that Has Everything

As the previous blogpost hits upon, Google, arguably, has a problem when it comes to collecting people's personal data. This is, once again, closely linked to its monopoly status. Because when you’re a monopoly, you’re everywhere
 
Here are some of the places Google collects personal data
 
Google search histories 
Users' locations – taken from different digital devices  
Messages sent on Gmail  
YouTube viewing, where users are logged into Google 
Mobile phone activity 
AND third-party websites (like maybe yours!) 
 
When your brand uses Google Analytics, the data you’re collecting for your own SEO is also being sent to Google. This raises the question of, who owns it? Some of this data may also be sensitive – so passing it to third parties immediately creates a security risk.  
 
As a brand, your views on user privacy and data security may be very different to Google’s. But when people visit your website, it’s your brand they’re placing their trust in – not Google. Even if you do have the appropriate cookie banner, your site visitors are probably unaware that their personal data is flying its way over to Google as they browse. 

What Does Google Analytics Do with the SEO Data it Collects? 

At this point, we get onto what happens to the data collected by Google from all these sources – including your website. Because Google isn’t just scrapbooking here. 
 
Data for each individual is gathered and stored under separate user profiles. And when it's all put together in one place, this data could, collectively, be enough to identify someone. 
 
Google uses all this information to categorise individuals into demographics and interests. Google Ads then invites businesses to target ads to users within certain demographics and interests. The personalised ads we know so well, are often the result of real-time ad auctions – the winners paying for the privilege of flashing up on your screen as you browse. (This great article by Simple Analytics explains this in more detail.) 
 
Google does offer users the chance to change their settings and opt out of personalised ads. But trying to stop Google from collecting your data in the first place is a little more complicated – as this Wired article explains. Even after you've opted out of everything, Google may still be collecting some categories of data about you – for example, if you have a Gmail account. Recent allegations around Google's privacy button raise further questions about how far its opt-out options can even be trusted. 
 
As Google’s algorithms and data processing are not fully transparent, it can be difficult for a business owner to understand exactly how Google uses the data it collects on your behalf. Particularly if you have limited tech expertise in-house. (And I say this as a business owner and former Google Analytics user with limited tech expertise!) 

What Information Do You Need From Your SEO? 

Web analytics are there to help you gauge how well your digital marketing is working for you and identify anything (like a website glitch!) that could be holding you back. 
 
For many businesses, all you really need to know is: 
 
how many people are visiting your site 
where they came from (e.g. social media, online searches) 
how long they stayed 
and how many were converted – i.e. went on to purchase, subscribe, or just get in touch! 
 
Google Analytics goes a lot further than that. For example, it collects unique user and client IDs, geographical information, users’ demographics and interests, and – perhaps most troubling – e-commerce information, such as user purchases, which contain sensitive data. 

The Hidden Costs of Google Analytics 

The three questions you need to ask yourself, as a brand owner using Google Analytics, are first – is it legal? Second – is it OK? And third – is it helping your business? 
 
Consider the question of consent. Does your website’s cookie pop-up box adequately alert users to all the ways their data's being collected and used? Even if it satisfies global privacy law, does it sit comfortably with your ethos as a purpose-led brand, putting people over profit? 
 
Ignoring these questions could – ironically – be a bad marketing move. 
 
If people feel your website is engaging in aggressive data collection, this can leave a bad taste – especially if ethics are a central part of your brand's story. And as more and more businesses opt out of these kinds of invasive SEO tactics, backlash for brands that fall behind will only intensify. 
 
Collecting all this data could even be counterproductive – because it may not be as accurate as you think. 

The Legal Implications of using Google Analytics 

Wherever you do business, the internet itself can pull you into the orbit of privacy laws anywhere in the world. All it takes is for someone from another jurisdiction to visit your site and for your analytics program to collect their personal data. 
 
 
Google Analytics 4 (GA4), which officially replaced the older version in July 2023, has made improvements. For example: - 
 
Users' IP addresses are no longer collected 
Users can now delete certain categories of information about them directly from the Analytics servers 
The default period data can be retained, was shortened from 14 months to 2 months 
 
GA4 has not been tested directly in the courts, however, and there's every reason to suspect it still doesn't comply with the GDPR. In its March 2023 ruling, Norway’s Data Protection Authority cast serious doubts over GA4's legality too, and advised businesses to look for an alternative. 

Is Google Analytics Really Effective SEO? 

Legal and ethical concerns aside, maybe Google Analytics isn’t helping you as much as you think it is? 
 
Growing numbers of ad blockers, browsers blocking Google Analytics, and people just saying ‘no’, when a cookie consent box pops up, means there's a growing chunk of web traffic Google Analytics simply cannot reach. Estimates vary – but it could be as much as 25%. Missing such a large proportion of your SEO data can have a hugely distorting effect on the conclusions you draw and could send you off on a wildly wrong path, when it comes to your digital marketing strategy. 
 
Excessive data collection also slows down your site, which can actually damage your search ranking. And it may leave you sifting through huge rafts of data that's not even very helpful to your business! 
 
Ethics and legality aside, there's a lot to be said for streamlining your web analytics. 

So, What’s the Alternative to Google Analytics? 

The good news is, there are plenty of privacy-focused analytics tools out there to choose from. As well as being ethical and legal, these Google Analytics alternatives have lots of other great benefits for your business: - 
 
No more cookie banners to annoy everyone 
Less data=lighter scripts=faster website (great for customers and your digital carbon footprint) 
Both of the above, lead to a better user experience which – ta-da – boosts SEO 
more accurate insight – every site visitor, where they came from, the pages they visited, the time they spent there is all logged, minus their personal data 
 
When you’re switching over to a more ethical web analytics provider, there’s a few questions to ask. 
 
Which data metrics will be most helpful to your marketing strategy? How big is your team? What are your core values? Which privacy regulations do you worry about? What’s your budget? How much traffic comes to your site? And what kind of tech capabilities do you have in-house? 
 
Here are just a few great programs to consider: - 

Free Programs for the Tech-Savvy 

Koko 

This WordPress plugin is lightweight, with minimal data storage – all historic data is automatically deleted. It also doesn't store any personal data or send the data it does collect to third parties, making it GDPR-compliant. You can also turn off cookies altogether and get rid of the pop-up. On the downside, it lacks more advanced features some businesses may need. 

Umami 

This technical self-host has a light 2KB Javascript. You can pick the data categories most important to you and keep ownership of any data you collect, which won’t be passed to third parties. As Umami does not collect any personally identifiable information, it’s GDPR- and CCPA-compliant. No cookie notices are needed because Umami doesn’t use cookies. Umami’s mobile-friendly dashboard also empowers you to share the data with your team through a unique URL – a big plus if you’re working with freelancers. 

For start-ups, solopreneurs and SMEs… 

Fathom 

With a super-streamlined 1.6KB Javascript, Fathom is completely transparent about how it handles data. As well as the basics – like unique visitors, page views, time spent on the site and bounce rates, you can track further useful metrics – like downloads, mailing list sign-ups and purchases. As it doesn’t track personal data, it's fully GDPR-, PECR- and CCPA-compliant. And there's no need for a a cookie banner. 
 
Fathom’s prices begin at $14/month for up to 100,000 page views. 

Cabin 

Cabin keeps all visitor data anonymous and doesn’t share anything with third parties. This makes it fully GDPR, PECR and CCPA compliant, without a cookie banner. Its streamlined script also makes it considerably faster than Google Analytics. Cabin is powered by 100% renewable energy and includes energy efficiency and carbon footprint metrics for your website. Its simplicity does mean more limited features, however. 
 
Cabin offers free and paid-for plans. 

Plausible 

Plausible is similarly defined by simple metrics, lightweight script and easy setup. It’s also completely GDPR, PECR and CCPA compliant, meaning, once again, there’s no need for a cookie banner. 
Prices begin at £9/month for up to 10 sites. 
 

For Larger Teams 

Matomo 

Used by the European Commission (so you know it’s GDPR compliant!) Matomo has over a million users across 190 countries. It’s an open-source tool that can be installed on-site, so there’s no need to share data with third parties. Relatively easy to set up (although the self-hosting requires some technical expertise) Matomo’s web analytics are high quality – offering comprehensive insights into site traffic, user behaviour and conversion tracking. It’s more complex than the likes of Fathom and Plausible, offering more options to customise. All of this is reflected in the higher cost. 
 
Prices begin at $29/month for up to four users on unlimited websites. 

Pirsch 

Pirsch is affordable, privacy-friendly and cookie free – with public dashboards, ideal for sharing with teams. It’s a lightweight open-source option that’s easy to integrate into your existing setup. You can also customize metrics. 
 
Prices begin at $6/month for unlimited members across 50 websites. 

Simple Analytics 

European Simple Analytics has no cookies and no personal data storage, making it GDPR-, CCPA-, and PECR-compliant. It has a user-friendly dashboard and you can email essential data.  
 
Prices begin at £9/month for 100,000 datapoints/month. 

SEAL Metrics 

Designed for ecommerce and SaaS businesses, SEAL Metrics tracks over 300 million page views per month. Its clients include Decathlon and Intersport. It takes five minutes to install and tracks 100% of conversions and sources without cookies, meaning it’s GDPR-, CCPA-, and PECR-compliant. It doesn’t store personal data and is audited every six months. 
 
Prices begin at €9/ month, for 50,000 page views. 

How to Switch to Your Ethical Website Analytics 

STEP ONE: Sign up to your new program. 
 
STEP TWO: Copy and paste its Javascript into the header or footer of your website’s code. (If you’ve outsourced your website like I have, just send your web provider the Javascript and they can do this for you.) 
 
STEP THREE: Run both of them at once to compare data for a week. 
 
STEP FOUR: Once you're happy with your new analytics program, it’s time to switch off Google Analytics' tracking. It's been emotional... 

Needs Some Advice on How to Build an Ethical SEO Strategy that Works? 

I'm an experienced SEO copywriter, specialising in ethical marketing strategy. I also work with a technical SEO specialist for an added layer of expertise and we're currently putting together a range of packages and price options in this field. 
 
Book your free call today to find out how I can help! 
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