One of the interesting parts of running your own blog is seeing how it’s used. The only way to do that is with analytics. For a long time, I used Google Analytics and I’ve occasionally supplemented or supplanted it with Matomo (f/k/a Piwik). The recent Matomo Analytics for WordPress plugin and Google’s Site Kit plugin allow you to embed your analytics in your WordPress dashboard. If you are in a small law firm or law library, these provide some nice new options for watching how your visitors interact with your content. This is my experience with these plugins as well as Automattic’s Jetpack.

There are many apps available for integrating analytics packages with WordPress. I’m only focusing on these because they are from the analytics provider (Matomo, Google, Automattic). I’m not really their target audience, because I don’t spend a lot of time on my WordPress dashboard. Ideally, this would be a way to see more information at once. But worst case, I’ll continue to fall back on the analytics tools outside of WordPress.

Start with Jetpack

If you are not already doing so, the easiest place to start with WordPress analytics is Jetpack. It is free and lives inside WordPress. Unlike Matomo and Google Analytics, there’s no real outside view into Jetpack data. You can access it through your WordPress account but the view and interface is pretty much the same as your dashboard.

The dashboard widget is just a quick snapshot.

WordPress dashboard widget for Jetpack analytics

As you can see, there’s not much there. If you have a high traffic site, this may be more useful. But I generally find Jetpack’s data not very useful on a day-to-day basis. You can see slightly more through a login but it’s still a flat report. What you see is what you get. Jetpack analytics gives you a bit more variety of data and a layer to click in, but none of it is relational. A page view isn’t tied to a referrer, or to the country they originated from.

You can click one layer down in some cases, but the data isn’t very useful. Jetpack is for when you either have no other analytics available or you just want to have something to keep your site’s pulse.

Google Site Kit

I won’t get into the full Google Analytics product. I think it’s excellent and it provides far more data and features than I could use. However, it’s intrusive and I’m reluctant to have Google harvest content from my visitors.

Google Analytics for Publishers is the harvester known as Doubleclick, and I personally block all Doubleclick domains when I access the internet. I don’t see why I should get a benefit from Google’s analytics when I am able to opt myself out of that mess.

It’s an easy way to get started with a more powerful analytics toolset, though. You create an account with Google, customize your tracking code, and embed it in your web site. There are loads of WordPress plugins that will help you manage your tracking code for your web site, as well as if you support Accelerated Mobile Pages.

Site Kit sits on your dashboard and serves a similar function to Jetpack. I consider them competitors, but Site Kit is for the slightly more technical WordPress administrator. However, it also integrates some additional Google Webmaster tools and so is probably worth the extra effort if you are only going to do one or the other.

WordPress dashboard with both Jetpack and Site Kit widgets in place.

As you can see, there are not only different metrics displayed but also different emphasis on layout. Unfortunately, the Site Kit dashboard widget includes some of the same metrics that I find pointless in Google Analytic’s main product. Since I’m not an audience-focused site, fluctuations up or down are less interesting to me than they might be for an e-commerce site or a legal information resource trying to grow regular usage.

Google’s Site Kit plugin has its own dashboard, naturally. This allows you to get a bit more detail and also incorporates some of the information you’d find on a Google Analytics interface report.

Google Site Kit Plugin dashboard inside WordPress

It’s useful, so far as it goes. In a way it’s too much if you only need something that gives you your site’s pulse. In that case, you’d just need Jetpack. And since it’s a canned report, it’s great if it includes what you are interested in. But if not, you’ll still need to go to your Google Analytics account to see more detailed reports.

Site Kit offers a toolbar function as well. When you are logged into your WordPress site and looking at a blog post or page, you can see that page’s statistics. But they are, again, very high level and not very interesting.

Site Kit toolbar expanded to show analytics data points for a specific WordPress page

All in all, Site Kit is nice but not enough to get me to stay on the WordPress dashboard. Everything I want to know about the analytics I’ll still need to get from the Google Analytics site itself. I’m still concerned about privacy for my visitors, which counts against Google Analytics full stop. And when I installed the plugin, it suggested that it doesn’t work well with multi-site WordPress, which is what I run. It seems to run fine on the site level, though, so I think it just means it’s not a true multi-site plugin.

Matomo Analytics for WordPress

I’ve used Piwik, now known as Matomo, for a number of years but on and off. You can get it hosted now, but I’ve always used it as a self-hosted analytics package. Your web host probably offers something like Softaculous, an app installer, and it will likely have Matomo as a package you can install. There is no technical skill required to get it installed; it’s point and click.

Once it’s installed, you’re in the same position you would be with a new Google Analytics account. You need to get your tracking code and paste it into your web site. So far, so much the same.

Matomo’s WordPress plugin is a great approach for non-technical people who want a richer analytics experience than Jetpack, but without using Google. The plugin now takes care of the installation of the primary Matomo package. When you have finished installing the WordPress plugin, you will also have a Matomo installation outside WordPress.

I liked the plugin but it had a couple of elements that I didn’t care for:

  • by mixing the interface between WordPress dashboard and Matomo dashboard outside WordPress, you were losing some of the benefit of having a WordPress plugin
  • the Matomo installation appears to be less full featured than a normal full Matomo installation. I like the Geolocation feature, which requires a bit of customization. I couldn’t find this customization option in the plugin’s environment

It’s slightly richer than the Jetpack dashboard widget but I found most of my use took me outside WordPress. For me, the advantages are outweighed by the disadvantages. But if you are interested in running your own Matomo site and don’t feel very technical, it’s a great way to get Matomo analytics up and running.

The Upshot

I’m going to play with Site Kit a bit more but I will probably drop it. I’ve already deleted Matomo’s plugin and reinstalled the full Matomo app. Jetpack is plenty of top level, eyeball satisfying metrics on a day-to-day basis. The Matomo data (and their recent explanation of how to bring over your legacy Google Analytics data to fill out your Matomo view) is fine for year-end analysis and other deep dives. And it provides a bit more privacy for your visitors.