Web analytics is badly broken 

In the face of privacy regulators, unilateral moves from Big Tech, and a shift away from third-party cookies, the future of web analytics is far from certain. 

Years ago, I was working with an ecommerce team that would hire and fire based on what they saw in their Google Analytics dashboard. It’s hard to see anything like that happening in today’s world, where marketers are increasingly doubting the accuracy and veracity of their analytics data. 

The reason for this is one word: privacy. And it’s causing a big rethink on the viability of web-based analytics — a category caught in the crossfire between government regulators, Big Tech and our own moral dilemma about how much we should be tracking people. 

The tide is turning for web analytics

We’ve enjoyed a very lucrative industry over the past 25 years where you could literally drop a tag, a tracking code or pixel on your website, collect and send that data to wherever you wanted, watch session recordings and set up heatmaps and triggers when people interact online — all the while collecting huge amounts of online behavioral data for downstream adtech platforms.

Now, it seems as though every massive tech company on the internet is restricting the flow of consumer data on their own devices, operating systems and platforms.

For example, In 2017, Apple introduced Intelligent Tracking Prevention, one of the company’s first forays into privacy-enhancing technologies, which limits the effectiveness of third-party trackers in Safari. In 2021, it introduced Mail Privacy Protection on iPhone; Apple Tracking Transparencydata privacy labels in the iOS App Store; restricted using Apple’s IDFA (Identifier for Advertisers) for cross-app and website tracking and brought in iCloud Private Relay, a way to mask your identity online. 

Apple’s most recent initiative, Private Click Measurement on iOS 17, is a step in the direction of controlling tracking parameters that marketers have relied on for years. While the changes don’t impact things like source, medium, or campaign, and are currently only available with Safari Private Browsing mode, they do modify tracking appendages from ad platforms to ensure that users cannot be identified at an individual level. 

But it’s not only Big Tech changing the game. The EU’s attempts to reign in online tracking with the GDPR brought us cookie banners – the most annoying and abused permission system we’ve ever seen on the internet – making it even more difficult to collect consumer data and creating confusion for many on what the rules even are when ensuring customers are consenting to online tracking. 

A 2021 study from YouGov suggests that most countries are registering a maximum 60-70% cookie banner acceptance rate. This chart really tells the story of the problems facing web analytics — privacy policies cutting brands off from a complete view of their own visitors’ and customers’ web analytics. 

Web analytics is badly broken 

By all accounts, it seems as though marketers in the future will have an incomplete view of what their customers are doing online, with what little they can glean being mired in doubt as to whether online analytics can even represent what customers are doing properly. 

But there is opportunity amidst the chaos. Financial analysts are upbeat about the future prospects of web analytics, saying that the web analytics market reached close to a $ 5 billion valuation in 2022, and is set to balloon into a $ 13.2 billion category. It’s not all doom and gloom.

Innovation is happening

Despite the looming regulation, platform shifts and diminishing available data challenges, there are companies innovating on the premise of privacy. 

Google is building a consent mode to perform data modeling that fills in data that can’t be collected from opt-out users. GA4 is also increasingly asking marketers to rely on its own proprietary AI model for data analysis. The reason for this is that if your consent program is working as it should, Google Analytics will under-report all website data. 

But in the wake of the dramatic shift to GA4, there are plenty of established analytics platforms making money, as customers finally have an excuse to off-ramp from the free, usable and widely understood platform that was Google’s Universal Analytics.

Plausible, PostHog, Fathom and Matomo are among the vendors building “privacy-focused” web analytics packages that don’t use cookies, are GDPR compliant and can get around consent banners and Apple’s privacy-masking tech. 

But as analysts and practitioners have pointed out, while many of these tools will give you access to a lot more of your web visitors compared to Google Analytics, functionality and depth of analysis can be lacking. So if you’re managing web analytics for your company, which are you going to choose? Less data or less depth? 

The other edge of innovation is the rise of first-party data-focused analytics platforms. Companies like Factors.ai and Ruler Analytics are taking the approach that relying on web-based data for any marketing-critical decision is close to pointless in the face of privacy change, seeing performance across all platforms and channels as the bigger opportunity. 


Less tech, more trust

The driver for privacy regulations and unilateral moves by Big Tech itself to restrict data collection is that consumer trust has been shattered by the long-standing freedom to collect, share and use whatever data we wanted in the past 20 years of web analytics. 

Apple’s App Tracking Transparency opt in are showing an acceptance rate as low as 5% when apps ask users if they can track them, reflecting a breach of trust, and a recent UK study of consumer trust in professions says that social media influencers and advertising executives are the least trusted people in society. Both are groups that benefit richly from our data-sharing economy. 

And when it comes to the looming reduction in data we can collect, not to mention the black boxes we’re supposed to rely on to give us insights into our customers, there’s a long way to go to repair what is now a badly broken web analytics industry. If the industry needs one thing, it’s not more technology. It’s reworking our ability to trust our analytics.  

The post Web analytics is badly broken  appeared first on MarTech.


About the author

Juan Mendoza


Juan Mendoza is a leading marketing technology researcher and media company founder. He is an expert in researching digital media, marketing, data, and technology trends from a global perspective. Juan is the CEO of The Martech Weekly (TMW), a media company that’s read by leading marketing and technology executives in more than 65 countries. TMW hosts the TMW 100, an industry-first awards program recognizing the most innovative marketing tech companies from 1st to 100th place globally. Juan also hosts the Martech World Forum, an international gathering of world leaders in marketing technology.