A couple of weeks ago, we published our blog post on the four best privacy-friendly alternatives to Google Analytics. We did not include Cloudflare Web Analytics as one of those, as we believe it's short on a few criteria, and we'll show you why in this article.
Cloudflare already has an analytics product called Cloudflare Analytics. However, this is a premium product only available for Cloudflare users. The new Cloudflare Web Analytics is free and available for everyone.
Cloudflare Analytics relies on server-side tracking. Cloudflare Web Analytics relies on client-side tracking (like Simple Analytics & Google Analytics).
Server-side tracking involves sending data to a web server before transferring it to third parties. It makes sure that there is more control over the data transfer. In addition, you don't have to worry about ad-blockers or core web vitals because you don't need to add a script to your website. There are drawbacks to server-side tracking as well. Pageviews are highly inaccurate because it's difficult to filter out robots and other automated traffic to your website.
Cloudflare Web Analytics Dashboard
This comparison article will focus on Cloudflare Web Analytics. We'll compare it to Simple Analytics on the following criteria:
- Data insights
- Data interoperability
- Ease of use
The first and foremost difference between Cloudflare Web Analytics and Simple Analytics is the insights both tools provide. There is a stark difference in how both tools collect data and display features.
Sample size data
Cloudflare Web Analytics does not measure the total traffic to your website. But instead, a small subset of your data is analyzed and measured. This sample is then used to estimate the overall results.
More web analytics tools use data sampling at a certain point. Even Google Analytics uses data sampling whenever your website hits 500,000 monthly page views (in the free version).
The extent to how inaccurate the data is depends on the sample size. In Google Analytics, you can adjust the sample size based on your preferences. You can indicate 'faster results' or 'greater precision' to modify the results. Cloudflare only analyses 1-10% of the traffic coming to your website, which is a very small sample size. You can't adjust the sample size estimates of your real data.
The main reason for data sampling is that it's cheaper. Especially for supposedly 'free' products like Google Analytics and Cloudflare Web Analytics, it makes sense to start working with data samples after a certain point, as costs will outweigh the benefits.
At Simple Analytics, we never sample your data and always show you the actual traffic coming to your website. We believe in giving you the most accurate data while preserving the privacy of your users.
Cloudflare Web Analytics only collects and stores data for six months. Previously this was only seven days. We believe this also has to do with the costs of maintaining servers. Cloudflare Web Analytics is a free product, but servers and maintenance can become expensive. As this is not their core product, we expect that they want to keep the costs down.
However, this is a severe drawback. Most organizations want to measure their analytics over longer periods to see which direction their traffic is heading on specific pages.
At Simple Analytics, we store your data indefinitely (or for as long as you want). It is possible to measure your page views over yearly periods. There is no cap.
Cloudflare Web Analytics vs. Simple Analytics
Bot traffic is not excluded
The actual traffic in Cloudflare Web Analytics is inaccurate. This is because they don't exclude bot traffic in their website statistics. Bots are classified as 'Unknown' browser types and are a significant percentage in Cloudflare's website statistics. At Simple Analytics, we exclude bots in your statistics as they do not represent actual page views (we also don't account for bots pageviews in our pricing).
Differences in features
The number of websites is capped
There is also a maximum of 10 websites you can add to one account. Again we assume this has something to do with the costs associated with storing data. At Simple Analytics, there is no hard limit to how many websites you can add, but we have a fair use policy.
No visit duration
Cloudflare does not show us the average time-on-page metric. The time-on-page is an essential metric to track how long website visitors stay on your website. We've created our own time on page, different from our competitors but more accurate.
No UTM tags
Cloudflare does not support UTM tags. Their documentation states that they will likely add it in the future. With Simple Analytics, you can add UTM tags to segment referrers.
No Event Tracking
No live visitors
It's not possible to see live visitors on your dashboard. There is no live version of the product. Check out our live dashboard.
Well, we don't want to blame Cloudflare for not adding mini-websites. Simple Analytics is probably the only tool that transforms boring traffic-referrer links into a mini-website.
Mini websites in Simple Analytics
At Simple Analytics, your data is yours, and we want to ensure you can use it the way you want. Therefore we offer many APIs, including raw level data that can be connected to your dashboarding tools. If you have used Google Analytics before, we allow you to import that data.
Cloudflare provides limited data to be exported to your dashboarding tools. There is an API to export limited data, but importing your Google Analytics data is impossible. In addition, there is zero documentation on connections with dashboarding tools such as Power BI or Google Data Studio.
Ease of use
For Cloudflare users, it's easy to use Cloudflare Web Analytics because you don't need to add another script to your website. In addition, Cloudflare Web Analytics does not impact your page load speech as much. The script is 4,3kb, whereas Simple Analytics is at 3kb. Google Analytics and Matomo, however, are way bigger and have way more impact on your core web vitals.
One of the main pillars of Simple Analytics is to create a script that does not impact user experience. To see the impact of scripts on page load times, we conducted a test comparing page load times after installing Simple Analytics and Google Analytics. The outcome showed a difference of 10 basis points in favor of Simple Analytics.
"If you are not paying, you are the product" - Everyone
Just like Google Analytics, Cloudflare Web Analytics is free. We always get suspicious when a service we use is free. Everyone knows the mantra: If you're not paying for the product, you are the product. Everyone knows this because it's true 100% of the time.
Google Analytics is free because Google monetizes the data on your website. As a privacy-friendly web analytics tool, I highly doubt Cloudflare does this. However, it surely costs money to run the service, so what's the strategy here?
It might be a form of 'engineering marketing,' which means they've built a free service to attract users to their main offerings. We shouldn't forget that Cloudflare is a massive company with almost infinite resources. Making a web analytics service to attract more awareness to their other products could be a marketing strategy. If this strategy is not successful, will they keep continuing the product?
Another take is that Cloudflare wants more information concerning page-loading data. Cloudflare's primary offering focuses on deploying websites as soon as possible...
One can only guess what the actual strategy is, but if you are looking for a privacy-first web analytics tool built by a small but dedicated team that fully focuses on analytics, you might want to give us a try.