Why Marketing Agencies are Debating Google Analytics vs Matomo

Matomo vs. Google Analytics for Marketing Agencies

As digital marketing professionals, we are all too familiar with Google Analytics–or, at least, we used to be. GA has been the go-to web analytics tool for dissecting traffic, user behavior, and various other metrics for years. However, the forced migration to Google Analytics 4 (GA-4) has turned what was once a friendly neighborhood into a bewildering labyrinth. 

Enter Matomo (or, should I say, re-enter Matomo), a web analytics tool capitalizing on this user dissatisfaction, offering an alternative that could well outmaneuver the industry giant.

Although Matomo isn’t new to the analytics scene, it does appear to be stepping into the limelight at just the right moment. There's a change in the wind, and Matomo may just be that gust of fresh air in a room that's been stale for too long.  

Google Analytics 4 GA4 Cat Meme

Today, we stand at a crossroads of web analytics that nobody saw coming a few years ago. On one hand, you have Google Analytics 4, an evolved but complex platform that seems intent on changing the rules of the game. On the other, you have Matomo, the scrappy contender that's ready to throw down by offering what GA-4 seems to have left behind: simplicity, data control, and user-centric features.

As the saying goes, "The first step to solving a problem is recognizing there is one." And if you're wrestling with GA-4's complexity, you’ve probably recognized the problem. The question is, is Matomo the solution you've been waiting for?

The Rise (And Fall?) of Google Analytics

Google Analytics has been the cornerstone of web analytics for a long time, making it nearly synonymous with the practice itself. However, the platform has seen a series of transformations that have not been “universally” well-received.

GA became the dominant force in web analytics shortly after its launch in 2005. Offering a free, robust tool, Google essentially democratized access to web analytics data. The result was widespread adoption across industries, as businesses of all sizes could measure website performance, understand user behavior, and align digital strategies accordingly. Over time, the platform introduced new features and capabilities, solidifying its market leadership.

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Fast forward to 2020, when Google announced the launch of Google Analytics 4. Pitched as the future of web analytics, GA-4 was introduced as a more modern, privacy-centric alternative to its predecessor, Universal Analytics. 

However, Google's approach to pushing users towards GA-4 raised eyebrows. The "forced migration" strategy didn't just encourage users to make the switch; it made it increasingly difficult to opt for anything else. 

New accounts automatically defaulted to GA-4, and hints began to drop that Universal Analytics would eventually be phased out. This strategic push caught many off guard and led to a wave of apprehension among long-time users.

One particularly grating issue users faced during the transition to GA-4 was the presence of confusing–and sometimes intrusive–reminder notes. These pop-ups would frequently take over the screen, creating a jarring user experience. Their persistence made these reminders even more perplexing; they would appear whether or not you had completed the migration process, often making users worry that their setup was not complete.  

These reminders also served as an unwelcome disruption rather than a helpful nudge for users trying to manage daily tasks or analyze client data. The end result was added friction during a time when people were already grappling with the complexities of a new system, further eroding the goodwill some users had towards Google Analytics.

Google Analytics 4 meme image showcasing funny emojis

Matomo's Timely Rise

Established in 2007 as an open-source analytics project called Piwik, the platform underwent a series of improvements and growth before reaching a milestone of 1 million downloads in 2012. In 2018 Piwik Analytics became Matomo Analytics, around the same time it hit another milestone of 100,000 active users. 

The tool has garnered a loyal following throughout its existence due to its focus on user privacy and data ownership. However, in the backdrop of GA-4's rollout, Matomo suddenly found itself in the spotlight. While it wasn't new, it had something that users were craving: an alternative approach to web analytics that prioritized the user.

Matomo Analytics dashboard example image.

With digital marketing and web analytics, timing is everything. As Google Analytics underwent transformative shifts that left users frustrated, Matomo seized the opportunity to shine. With its timely rise, Matomo positioned itself as a viable contender in the web analytics landscape.

It's not often that an ad campaign captures a cultural moment, but Matomo's Googleheimer Countdown managed to do just that. Capitalizing on the widespread frustrations with GA-4, Matomo launched a tongue-in-cheek video that struck a chord, serving as both a critique of Google's forced migration and a rallying cry for those considering other web analytics platforms.

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Matomo’s Solutions to GA-4 Pain Points

While Google Analytics 4 was pitched as the next evolution in web analytics, its reception tells a different story. Increasingly, users are finding themselves at odds with the new platform, citing numerous issues. 

Making Sense of GA-4 Data Meme

This discontent is precisely what Matomo Analytics has capitalized on, offering a user-friendly alternative that addresses many of GA-4's pain points. Let's break down users' specific frustrations with GA-4 and see how they're indirectly fanning Matomo's flames.

Complexity

The complexities of GA-4 extend beyond the initial installation process. While installing Google Analytics used to be straightforward, GA-4 has elevated it into an ordeal, prompting users to question if they need a continuous integration server to get it running correctly. 

This high level of complexity contrasts sharply with Matomo Analytics, where installing Matomo offers a user-friendly interface that eases the onboarding process.

While one benefit of GA4 is that it has more built-in conversions, for any custom conversions, they will need to be re-programmed. This takes some adjusting as they must first be created as "events" in Tag Manager or GA4 and then marked as conversions.

Molly Lopez, Founder and CEO, Sparo Marketing

Data Control

Data control has become a battleground in the world of web analytics, and GA-4's approach has left users wanting. While you can collect a wealth of data, GA-4 puts significant limitations on what can be done with that raw data. 

This bottleneck is especially problematic for those who require custom solutions or want to move their data to other platforms. On the flip side, Matomo Analytics gives users more control over the data collected, making it more flexible for various use cases.

Lack of Certain Features

GA-4 made the bold choice to remove or modify some features that had become second nature to long-time Google Analytics users. Whether it's the depth of audience segmentation or the types of reports available, these omissions have not gone unnoticed. 

It was like throwing a wrench into well-oiled machinery; suddenly, digital marketers had to rethink strategies they'd honed over many years. This situation created a window of opportunity for Matomo, which retains many of the features left by the wayside in GA-4.

Even though it's really not an accurate metric from a real-world perspective, I will miss bounce rate. Call me sentimental.

Rick Hogan, CEO and Co-Founder, Bleevit

Confusing Reports

One of the recurring criticisms of GA-4 has been its reporting interface. In an attempt to offer more advanced analytics capabilities, GA-4 introduced new types of reports that clients may find confusing or less intuitive compared to previous versions. 

This has led to increased time spent on training and adaptation, slowing down processes that used to be straightforward. Matomo, on the other hand, retains a reporting structure that is easily comprehensible, allowing users to hit the ground running without sifting through a maze of convoluted data displays.

Google Analytics 4 (GA4) dashboard

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Data Thresholding

Another sore point with GA-4 is the issue of data thresholding. Many users have noticed that when their web traffic reaches a certain level, GA-4 begins to limit the granularity of the data available to them. This is a serious concern for larger sites, content marketing initiatives, or rapidly growing campaigns that need detailed data for accurate analysis. 

The last thing any marketer wants is to be lacking data just when things are taking off. Matomo sidesteps this issue by not imposing arbitrary data limits, providing users with the detailed information they need when they need it.

The list goes on, but suffice it to say that GA-4 has given users plenty of reasons to seek alternatives, and Matomo is happy to oblige. 

Having to Rely on GA-4 Thresholded Data Meme

The Great Web Analytics Showdown: Matomo vs Google Analytics

Decisions, decisions. In the world of web analytics tools, these two platforms are currently vying for attention. While both have unique advantages, they also have (or lack) features that could be potential deal-breakers depending on your agency’s specific needs. To help you make an informed choice, let's delve into a side-by-side comparison of GA-4 vs Matomo.

Feature/Capability

Google Analytics 4

Matomo

Feature/Capability

Tag Management

Google Analytics 4

Google Tag Manager

Matomo

Matomo Tag Manager

Feature/Capability

Form Analytics

Google Analytics 4

Available

Matomo

Available

Feature/Capability

Server Log Analytics

Google Analytics 4

Not Available

Matomo

Available

Feature/Capability

User-Friendly Interface

Google Analytics 4

Moderate

Matomo

Highly User-Friendly

Feature/Capability

Database Support

Google Analytics 4

Proprietary

Matomo

MySQL Database

Feature/Capability

Data Control

Google Analytics 4

Limited

Matomo

Full Control

Feature/Capability

Historical Data

Google Analytics 4

Limited

Matomo

Available

Feature/Capability

JavaScript Tracking

Google Analytics 4

Available

Matomo

Available

Feature/Capability

Google Ads Integration

Google Analytics 4

Seamless

Matomo

Requires Configuration

Feature/Capability

Free Tool

Google Analytics 4

Limited Free Version

Matomo

Limited Free Version

Feature/Capability

Hosting

Google Analytics 4

Cloud Only

Matomo

Matomo Cloud or On-Premise

Feature/Capability

Security Features

Google Analytics 4

Standard

Matomo

Security Bug Bounty Program

Feature/Capability

Event Tracking

Google Analytics 4

Available

Matomo

Available

Feature/Capability

Custom Dimensions

Google Analytics 4

Available

Matomo

Available

Feature/Capability

Data Limits

Google Analytics 4

Thresholding

Matomo

No Limits

Feature/Capability

Automated Tests

Google Analytics 4

Not Available

Matomo

Automated Integration Tests

Feature/Capability

WordPress Compatibility

Google Analytics 4

Available via Plugin

Matomo

Available via Plugin

While GA-4 integrates well with other Google services like Google Ads, its complex interface and data limitations may be stumbling blocks. Matomo, on the other hand, shines in areas like data control, offering agencies full control over all the data and no data limits. 

Matomo’s MySQL database and user-friendly interface make it an excellent alternative to Google Analytics, particularly for those who need server log analytics or plan to host Matomo on their own servers.

Matomo's Security Bug Bounty program also provides an additional layer of trust, making it a secure option for those who are conscious about data safety. Whether you're building advanced reports for marketing campaigns, tracking your client’s WordPress site visitor data, or collecting raw data for software quality assurance, your choice of web analytics platform will make a significant difference. 

If the previous table left you wanting more, here are some additional key considerations worth diving into, including the installation process and pricing. 

Criteria

Google Analytics 4

Matomo

Criteria

Installation Process

Google Analytics 4

Requires Javascript tracking code; can be complicated with tag management system

Matomo

Easier process using tracking code; Matomo lets you install the software yourself, no Javascript needed

Criteria

Tracking Features

Google Analytics 4

Event-based tracking and session recordings; not as comprehensive for specific pages

Matomo

Event-based tracking, session recordings, and exit pages; Matomo offers a broader spectrum of page-specific data

Criteria

Ease of Creating and Viewing Reports

Google Analytics 4

Moderate complexity; requires deeper understanding to build advanced reports

Matomo

Easier with user-friendly dashboard; quickly build advanced reports without a steep learning curve

Criteria

Customizability and Flexibility

Google Analytics 4

Offers advanced features but with limitations, particularly in data limits and server consumption

Matomo

Highly customizable; allows unlimited users and a greater range of advanced features without many limitations

Criteria

User Interface and Ease of Use

Google Analytics 4

More complex UI; may require more time to navigate

Matomo

Known for its user-friendly interface; easier and quicker to navigate even for newcomers

Criteria

Functionality and Capabilities

Google Analytics 4

Includes features like roll-up reporting and ability to run manual queries; generally more advanced but less intuitive

Matomo

Similar features like roll-up reporting and running manual queries; intuitive and easier to execute

Criteria

Data Ownership and Privacy

Google Analytics 4

Data owned by Google; users have limited control over data collected

Matomo

Full control over data collected; offers the option to collect data on premise for added security

Criteria

Support

Google Analytics 4

Community forums and paid premium support available; may take time for issue resolution

Matomo

Open-source software with strong community support; quicker issue resolutions typically reported

Criteria

Pricing

Google Analytics 4

Free tier available with limitations; paid plans for accessing advanced features

Matomo

Free version available; paid plans offer no data limits and additional advanced features

The millions of websites using these platforms can't be wrong; both tools offer valuable insights into website traffic and campaign tracking. But the one that's right for your agency will align closely with your clients’ specific needs and goals.

Matomo and Google Analytics 4 both pack a punch when it comes to web analytics tools, but they differ where it counts. Matomo stands out for its user-friendly interface and greater control over data, even allowing you to collect data on-premise with Self-hosted Matomo Analytics. Plus, it's an open-source software with strong community backing, so you're not alone if you run into issues.

On the other hand, while Google Analytics 4 offers some advanced features, it tends to be more complex to navigate and puts limitations on data control. 

Your choice will ultimately depend on what you–and your clients–prioritize: whether it's ease of use, data ownership, or advanced capabilities like roll-up reporting and manual queries. 

GA-4 is not as user-friendly out of the box, but with some work understanding its features, it is a far more powerful and adaptable tool than Analytics.

Matthew Pavli, Managing Director, Content Drive

Should You Use at Least One Google Analytics Alternative?

While it may be tempting to stick with what you know, GA-4 made that concept practically impossible. Google Analytics has been the go-to web analytics tool for years, but if you’ve been putting all your eggs in that particular basket, GA-4 just scrambled them. 

That’s just one of the reasons agencies should consider adding at least one alternative to Google Analytics in an overall analytics strategy. After all, web analytics is not a one-size-fits-all affair. Each client's marketing campaigns have specific needs and goals, and different web analytics tools offer unique perspectives and insights. 

For instance, while Google Analytics may excel at event tracking, Matomo’s user-friendly interface makes certain tasks easier and provides a different angle on visitor data.

Plus, there is a case to be made for backups and redundancy. Whether it's due to server issues, a bug, or some other mysterious tech gremlin, your client's analytics could face downtime. Having an alternative running in parallel provides a crucial backup, so you're not left panicking if Google Analytics hits a snag.

Finally, running two systems gives you a reliable way to validate your data. If both platforms show a similar trend, you can be more confident in the data's accuracy. On the flip side, if there’s a significant discrepancy between the two, it's a red flag that warrants investigation. 

AgencyAnalytics has helped us seamlessly incorporate GA-4 reporting for our clients. We are excited to see how we can expand our GA-4 reporting by identifying and reporting on a slew of new KPIs.

Rick Hogan, CEO and Co-Founder, Bleevit

Summary and Key Takeaways

It's a fascinating time in the world of web analytics. With Google Analytics grappling with user frustrations over GA-4 and Matomo steadily gaining traction, the landscape is anything but static. Matomo isn't just riding the wave of discontent with Google Analytics; it's also offering a compelling package that many find more user-friendly.

The choice between Matomo and Google Analytics ultimately comes down to your specific needs and what you're looking to get out of your web analytics tool. Both platforms have their merits, and there's also a strong argument for using them in tandem for data validation and as a backup.

In the end, the choice between Google Analytics and Matomo may not be a simple one, but it's a necessary decision to make. The stakes? Your agency’s ease of work, control over data, and potentially, your sanity. 

Whichever path you choose, tie it into a comprehensive client reporting platform that brings all of your client’s analytics and campaign performance data together into one easy-to-use interface.

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Paul Stainton

Written by

Paul Stainton

Paul Stainton is a digital marketing leader with extensive experience creating brand value through digital transformation, eCommerce strategies, brand strategy, and go-to-market execution.

Read more posts by Paul Stainton ›

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