Keeping track with Fathom

· geekery · blogging ·

For much of the time that I’ve had a blog, I’ve kept a vague eye on its visitor numbers in one way or another. I’ve used a variety of different tracking methods from the no-longer-supported Mint, to Matomo (formerly Piwik), and the usual Google Analytics that everyone uses. I’ve always favoured simpler web analytics, as my needs are very simple, but those have been increasingly difficult to find. Since it opened to beta testers, I have been using Fathom Analytics, and I have been really happy with how it works.

All I want from web analytics is to see how many people visit which pages, roughly how long they spend on a page (that is, does it look like they have actually read the post, or did they obviously land there by accident), and whether they were sent to my site from a link on another site. That’s it. I don’t want to know about individual visitors (unless they themselves choose to write a comment or email me), or where in the world they live. I certainly don’t want to monetise anything. I don’t want to know these things, and don’t want to be responsible for holding this data (especially in the era of GDPR), but all that unnecessary and unwanted information also obscures the simple facts that would actually be useful to me.

I don’t watch the numbers like a hawk, but dip in to check them every now and again. After all these years blogging, I don’t worry about precise numbers: it’s just nice to know that it’s more than zero, to reassure myself that someone, somewhere is possibly reading what I’ve written. I’ve mentioned before that knowing about referrers (which sites have linked to mine and sent visitors my way) is often useful. I’ve found all sorts of interesting sites, software and bloggers that way, and regard it a bit like a personal recommendation engine: if someone is interested in my stuff, there’s reasonably strong chance that we share interests or tastes, and I might be interested in their site too.

You would think that such simple needs would be easily met, but most web analytic tools are intended for commercial sites, or at least much larger and more professional ones than my own. That was why I was really happy to find Fathom. They do exactly what I need, and they have a very careful, ethical approach to the data they collect. You add a javascript snippet to your pages, but Fathom collects only minimal, non-personally identifiable information about visitors, which I feel much more comfortable about. The presentation of the data is clear and easy to navigate, and it is a pleasure to use.

Fathom does cost money if you use their hosted service 1, but I’m happy to support this small company which is trying to do the right thing ethically and provide a service for small internet publishers. This site (and my photoblog Wings Open Wide) now uses Fathom tracking. My next task is to try to find an alternative to Disqus for commenting, because that also makes me uneasy. However, that’s a much tougher nut to crack.

  1. As I signed up while they were in beta, I pay a reduced rate for the lowest tier of their service. You can, however, self-host the tool for free if you want. ↩︎