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A Plausible Choice: An Ethical Web Analytics Followup

Last week, a reader of this site kindly mentioned that I had neglected to publish a promised follow-up to my article “Ethical Web Analytics: Alternatives to Google.” In that article, I evaluated several lightweight, reasonably priced, privacy-focused web analytics solutions suitable for independent bloggers and small businesses.

That exercise proved useful and I ultimately selected Plausible as my Google Analytics replacement. What follows is the rationale behind that decision and some thoughts on why I believe Plausible is an excellent choice for privacy-first website analytics.

Disclosure: My only affiliation with Plausible is as a paying customer. I don’t run affiliate or referral links on this site nor do I monetize this website in any way as of the publication date of this article.

Evaluation: “You had me at hello.”

When evaluating a new service provider or product—barring word-of-mouth recommendations—I invariably look to several key signals that engender trust between me and the provider. If a company exhibits these positive signals, I’m more inclined to transact. A first visit to a website is one opportunity to establish this trust. Unfortunately, many sites take trust for granted and instead thwart it by opting to bombard first-time visitors with marketing gobbledygook, obnoxious registration pop-ups, and chatbot messages eager to initiate the sales pitch.

Fortunately, Plausible avoids these pitfalls and makes a great initial impression. Trials and demos are of paramount importance: I want to kick the tires and take your tool for a test drive. Try-before-you-buy is a simple concept, but so many companies also fail at this critical step in the customer experience. Plausible doesn't. They offer the best trial experience among their peers.

Among the things Plausible does right with respect to their free trial:

  1. They have a website that tells me the information I want to know (with none of the aforementioned b.s.).
  2. They offer a 30-day trial period: long enough to run a meaningful test with the tool and with no usage restrictions.
  3. They do not require a credit card on initial signup for the trial.
  4. They offer reasonable subscription rates for both the monthly and annual plans.
  5. They provide helpful and non-pushy human outreach during the trial rather than an impersonal auto-responder (at least when I signed up they did—I realize this isn’t scalable long-term). Founder Uku Täht responded promptly to all of my initial concerns.

Conversely, here are the more common patterns I see during subscription trials that are a huge turn-off:

  1. Making me hunt for critical information about the product and what it will cost me.
  2. Offering a trial period that is simply too short in duration or one in which product functionality is limited in some way.
  3. Requiring my credit card from the get-go AND automatically billing me as soon as my trial ends (which always feels sneaky and bad even if it’s a smart practice from a business monetization standpoint).
  4. Pricing the monthly payment so that I’m forced into the annual plan (blatant anchor pricing is annoying) OR only offering an annual plan (when I’m still not ready to commit long-term).
  5. Offering automated, pushy and salesy outreach during the trial.

It Does What I Need

Of course, the initial evaluation is just one part of the puzzle. In my “Ethical Web Analytics” article, I also noted the evaluation criteria for the actual product requirements:

  1. A basic analytics dashboard, nothing overly complicated: visits, popular content, referrers and device info (e.g. phone or desktop).
  2. A privacy-focused solution: no user tracking, no data-sharing or selling to 3rd parties, is GDPR compliant.
  3. Free to use or reasonably priced subscription fee (I’m not making money off this blog so I don’t want to pay anymore than I need to for this hobby). Anything over $10/month is a non-starter at this point for me.
  4. No-fuss setup and maintenance. This blog a hobby. I don’t want to fiddle with configuration and patches/updates, I already have to do that since I’m self-hosting Ghost. However, open source is a plus in the event I do elect to host at some point.
  5. Tool will be around for years to come. It doesn’t do me much good if the service goes down a few months from now.

I give Plausible high marks on the first 4 items. The dashboard is easy to use and provides the essential information I need: visits, time on site, referrer by site, geo-location info, device info and so on.

Plausible also meets my privacy needs. Specifically, they have all the acronym compliance I need: GDPR, CCPA, and PECR.

Plausible is reasonably priced and offers a subscription tier for sites just starting out don’t have high levels of traffic. I am currently on the 10k pageviews/month tier which is only $4/month if you commit to annual billing. Even if you opt for month-to-month pricing, the cost is a wallet-friendly $6/month. Compare this to Simple Analytics—another service that impressed me—whose least expensive service tier is $19/month for the monthly billing plan ($9/month with the annual plan).

Lastly, Plausible was easy to setup, just copy and paste some JavaScript into your page templates. To be fair to their competitors, any 3rd party hosted solution should be relatively easy to get up and running (this is one of the primary reasons I decided against self-hosting). However, I do give Plausible high marks for its documentation which is well-organized, clear and up-to-date (with ample screenshots and code examples).

It is also worth noting that since I published my initial article, Plausible has open sourced its code under the permissive MIT license (here’s the Github repository). While I currently have no interest in a self-hosted solution, I do appreciate their commitment to openness and transparency; it goes a long way towards building trust with customers and the community.

The Future Looks Bright

My biggest concern when signing up for Plausible was point #5 in my list of evaluation criteria. Specifically: Will the tool be around for years to come? Since Plausible is a young company, the answer is “I don’t know, but I sure hope so.”

Fortunately, Plausible gives me few reasons to doubt them; they’re clearly moving in the right direction. For one, I appreciate Plausible’s regular and detailed communications concerning the state of their business and their product roadmap. The company maintains an active blog (always a good sign) and similarly active Twitter presence. Moreover, the service quality has demonstrated consistent uptime and hasn’t been beset my an excessive number of service outages (see the company’s service status page). The addition of Mario Saric to the team has yielded smart content and marketing moves which should fuel steady, continued growth.

The product itself has seen a steady flow of feature enhancements and upgrades. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the new features released by the Plausible team (including the recent referral drill downs and time on page data).

In the absence of a long history of delivering products, the next best thing is a team that is responsive to customer inquiries, open and proactive about communication, and committed to ongoing product improvement.

Closing Thoughts

To be honest, the analytics piece of the equation—counting pageviews, unique users, referrers, etc.—is largely commoditized. You can get this data from Simple Analytics, Fathom, GoatCounter, Google Analytics, and any host of other 3rd party analytics packages. Plausible won my business by nailing some of the fuzzier parts of the customer experience—things that should be replicable but rarely are: trust, communication, perceived value and positive user-experience (note: positive user-experience extends far beyond the software interface of the dashboard application—for my money it encompasses all customer interactions with a business and its tools).

While my initial objective was to review the Plausible analytics solution, I realize that this post also outlines several solid business practices (e.g. first impressions, clear and open communication, etc.). Folks on sites like Indie Hackers and Product Hunt would do well to follow some of the tactics from the Plausible playbook. None of these practices are new, but it’s the overall combination of a lot of small things done right that often makes for a winning product.

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