Piwik – Rich Open-Source Analytics Software

by 3 04/09/2014

As a stats junkie, I can never get enough of analytics, so I was excited to take Piwik for a spin.

The open source analytics software first came to my attention when doing a roundup of alternatives to Google Analytics, and it’s been on my must-try list ever since. Would this free software lack some of the features that other analytics packages have? Here’s what happened when I put it to the test.

piwik - placeitSource: Placeit.net

Introducing Piwik

Piwik isn’t new. It’s been around since 2008 and is installed on 460,000+ sites—but it got a complete overhaul at the end of 2013 and this new version is worth a look.

According to its website, the open-source analytics tools is used by individuals, businesses and governments worldwide. It can be used to provide analytics for the Web, for ecommerce sites, for intranets and can also be used to analyze server logs.

While the main Piwik service is free, there’s also an enterprise level Pro service with different paid packages. Piwik includes many of the features you expect in most analytics packages, but unlike some, there’s no limit to the amount of data you can store for free. It also has a mobile app, which wasn’t tested for this review.

Installing Piwik

Piwik has multiple installation options. If you don’t want to be bothered with setup, then use one of their recommended partners (paying $4 a month is probably a small price to pay). Another option is to download it for free and install it on your own server, which may be way too technical for some (including me!).

That’s why I was happy to take the third option of a free installation, available to those whose hosts have Installatron, SimpleScripts, Softaculous or Mojo Marketplace in their web hosting control panel. I used Mojo Marketplace, which sidestepped many of the common installation processes.

Piwik 2

Adding Piwik to WordPress

The next step was to install the JavaScript tracking tag used by most analytics software. Though you can take the manual option and install the code on each page, if you’re using a CMS, there’s an easier way.

Developers have created plugins to add the code to sites running on WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, TextPattern, Moveable Type and many other CMS packages. There are also integrations for ecommerce platforms, photogalleries, forums, webmail providers and other programming languages.

I used WP-Piwik, which adds tracking code to the footer of your site, as well as providing access to Piwik stats via the WordPress dashboard. I’ve found this a useful feature and it enables me to compare the stats with the other analytics packages I use.

One thing to note with the Piwik installation is that the site where you put your first installation becomes the base URL in your Piwik account. Since I’d originally installed Piwik on one of my smaller sites, I needed to use this URL when I shifted testing to my writing blog.

That aside, I went with the default plugin settings (ignoring the many advanced tweaks possible) and left the software to run for a while.

piwik15-wp

One of the reasons for shifting my Piwik trial from the smaller site is that it seemed to take a long time initially for data to show in the web interface. At the time of writing, stats were available via the web, but WP-Piwik did not show any data in the WordPress dashboard.

It’s likely that the failure may have nothing to do with the Piwik service and may be the result of a WordPress plugin conflict. However, I didn’t experience any such issues with the bigger site.

piwik16-wp

The Piwik Dashboard

For the purpose of this review, I used an 11-day period comprising the start of March 2014. On my first visit to the Piwik Web dashboard, I got an update notification and wondered whether that meant reinstalling the software via the Mojo Marketplace.

It didn’t. All I had to do was click once to update the software and click a second time when prompted to update the database, and it was done in less than a minute. Best of all, nothing changed in my WordPress dashboard.

The Piwik site provides is a widget-based Web interface to highlight your data. The main landing page is the dashboard, which by default includes information on visitors, keywords and referrers.

But you don’t have to stick with the default. You can add and remove widgets, move them around via drag-and-drop, change the default date display, rename the dashboard and even create a new dashboard. Here’s what the dashboard looked like originally:

Piwik original dashboard

And here’s a snapshot of the dashboard after I’d customized it:

piwik revised dashboard

In this case, I wanted to find out about the number of mobile visitors, where visitors came from and how long they stayed on the site, in case I needed to do some more work on mobile optimization.

Piwik Analytics – Exploring the Tabs

Customization done, it was time to explore the individual tabs for visitors, actions and referrers. Hovering over each main heading brought up a menu of subsidiary options. Buttons at the bottom of each page provided options for increasing the amount of data shown or exporting reports in CSV, TSV. XML, Json or PHP format.

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Visitors

The visitor overview gives a handy chart showing how visitor numbers have changed over a couple of years (not relevant in this case, given the duration of the trial) as well as written stats on duration, actions, page views, page speed, searches, keywords, links and visitor actions.

Click on any of the data shown below to change the top chart and get more info, as well as show a comparison to the previous period (in this case, February 2014).

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It was interesting to note that the number of visitors recorded by Piwik differed from those reported in other analytics programs for the same period.

Piwik showed 693 visits for the period. Clicky showed 743. And Google Analytics showed 753. While the difference may be cause for concern, this happens with analytics programs. And since even Google shows differences between reporting via its old analytics tool and Universal Analytics, it might not be worth worrying about the discrepancy as long as the overall trend is correct, which it was in this case.

Another part of this section was the visitor log, which featured a table giving data on date of visit, IP address, country, browser, plugins, referring URL, keywords and actions.

This was a neat way of presenting the data, making easy to identify what was keeping visitors engaged. I liked the fact that you could easily see the number of visits and the time spent on each page. Hovering over the content of the actions column brought up a link to individual visitor profiles, which provided even richer information.

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Settings gave access to browser and OS information, including screen resolution and language, while location gave more detail on the visitor map. Piwik provides guidelines for setting up more accurate geolocation data for those who need that data.

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Engagement gave more depth on visitors, including percentages of visitors making multiple visits and weighted tag clouds to see the duration and number of pages viewed. Hovering over a row brought up a little analytics icon to show what Piwik calls “row evolution” or how visits changed over time. This is available for a number of tables and reports.

The times section shows the visit breakdown by local and server time and there is a real time visitor map to round out this section of the dashboard.

Actions

The actions tab includes a lot of data that’s similar to other analytics reports. The sub-menus cover entry and exit pages, page titles, site search, outbound links and downloads.

By default, all tables show 100 rows of data, sortable by column heading. Each table has multiple columns, so for example in the pages section, you can track page views, unique page views, time on page, bounce rate, exit rate and page generation time all from the same interface.

piwik12

This makes it easy to identify your most and least sticky pages, as well as which pages need to be optimized for faster page load speed. In this test, the site search report was empty for the period under review, but that could be because I’m using Google custom search on my site instead of the regular built-in WordPress search.

Referrers

It’s always important to know who’s sending traffic your way, and Piwik’s data on this does not disappoint.

The main referrers page has an overview graph and then provides more detail on referrer type (direct, from websites, search engines and campaigns). There are many ways to access the data and, like other Piwik reports, you can choose whether to display certain reports as bar graphs, pie charts or tag clouds rather than simple tables.

piwik13

Digging deeper, the search engines and keywords section provides exactly what it promises, so you can see which search engines are sending traffic your way.

In addition to listing referring sites in a table, the websites and social section includes a useful pie chart that just looks at social networks, enabling you to quickly view the ones that are most effective for you.

I was surprised to see data in the campaigns sub-section, as I had not set up any, but Piwik automatically recognized links shared from my site via Twitterfeed and CoSchedule.

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Goals

No goals were set for this test, though they appear to work similarly to other analytics software. The goals tab allows for automatic or manual triggering for URL or page title visits, downloads or link clicks. Users can also specify whether goals can be triggered multiple times per visit and can set a value for goals.

Unlike some analytics packages, the goals and conversions interface is easy to understand, though you can probably get more fine grained customization options with other packages. Piwik also allows you to set up campaigns by amending your tracking URLs.

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Other Piwik Features

This review only scratches the surface of what Piwik can offer. Other features include:

  • scheduling email reports for different sets of data
  • embedding Piwik reporting widgets on your site
  • improving geolocation
  • web management features
  • tracking and privacy controls

Detailed help on additional features is available from the main Piwik site.

The Verdict

So is Piwik worth a look? I think it is. I’m not planning to stop using Google Analytics, but the way some of the analytics data is presented in Piwik (especially the compact, but rich tables) works well for me. The ease of changing the report display is another big plus, so I think I’ll be keeping Piwik around for a while.

What about you? Have you given Piwik a try? What are your impressions?

Read other Crazy Egg articles by Sharon Hurley Hall.

About 

Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional writer and blogger. Her career has spanned more than 20 years, including stints as a journalist, academic writer and ghost writer. Connect with Sharon on her website.

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3 COMMENTS

Arun Sivashankaran

Thanks for in depth review Sharon. I’ve been wondering about Piwik for a while, and the version that I took a look at a while back didn’t quite seem compelling enough to dig deeper. Maybe it warrants another look.

April 10, 2014 Reply

    Sharon Hurley Hall

    I certainly think it’s got some interesting new ways of presenting analytics data, Arun. I particularly like the location of the page load speed data and the automatic social campaign identification.

    April 10, 2014 Reply


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