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Hosted vs self-hosted website analytics

technical  Jack Ellis · Oct 2, 2020

When deciding which analytics software to use for your website, one of the questions to be considered is whether you want to use a managed service or self-host something yourself.

Before we get into this, let me address the elephant in the room. I am the co-founder of the website you’re visiting (Fathom Analytics). We provide both hosted website analytics and Fathom Lite. I am biased towards our hosted option because it ensures longevity of our company, however, I will never push people to the hosted option unless it’s suitable for them. This blog post exists because I want to share the pros & cons of both, as objectively as possible, and then you can make an informed decision.

For those who aren’t familiar on the difference between the two options, but have seen the buzzwords flying about, it would be my pleasure to give you a brief explanation:

Self-hosted website analytics

This means that the software is open-source (the code is public) and that you put the code on your own web servers

Hosted website analytics

This means you pay a company to host your analytics for you. The company you pay handles everything for you and all you need to do is add a code snippet to your website

Which website analytics should I use?

It depends. If the following apply to you, I would recommend going with a self-hosted solution:

  1. You have spare time or have a skilled team who have time
  2. Your website has a low amount of traffic
  3. You know how to harden web servers & keep them updated against hackers
  4. You know how to configure automatic backups
  5. You can tolerate server downtime or know how to build high-availability set-ups

And that’s pretty much the list I give. Self-hosted website analytics are great for people who are comfortable with servers or have a team with spare time.

Additionally, data ownership/control can be a huge thing with a lot of self-hosted considerations. However, we created the privacy-first analytics space back in 2018, and there are now managed, privacy-first analytics services that will meet all of your needs without selling your visitors data.

Is it cheaper to self-host my analytics?

This is an area that I’ve spoken about hundreds of times, so I’m excited to finally put it down in a blog post. There is a misconception that self-hosted website analytics are going to be cheaper than managed/hosted website analytics. But the problem here is that you’re comparing apples with oranges, and you miss the hidden costs. Is it cheaper to self-host your analytics if you do it in a cheap way, obviously, but once you set things up properly, the costs are higher than a hosted solution. We'll dive into more details in the next section.

Comparing the options

Let's dive into the details of each solution. Both have their pros and cons but, whichever path you choose, you're still doing a great thing for the internet by choosing an alternative to Google Analytics. Especially one that's privacy-focused, like Fathom Analytics. So let's compare self-hosting Fathom Lite vs using our hosted service.

Option 1: $6/month (self-hosted - cheap)

  • Entry level server from DigitalOcean (weekly backups)
  • You are responsible for set-up, management, security updates, etc.
  • Single point of failure. If this server goes offline, your analytics do too
  • In the event of a disaster, you are responsible for fixing things
  • No support

Option 2: $59/month (self-hosted - responsible)

  • $10/month for 2 servers from DigitalOcean
  • $39/month for backups every 3 hours, performed by SnapShooter
  • $10/month for a load balancer (when one server crashes, you have a standby)
  • Easier disaster recovery
  • No support

Option 3: $14/month (hosted)

  • $14/month for 100,000 pageviews (we have additional plans that grow with you)
  • Continuous backups
  • Set-up time is less than 5 minutes, just add our code snippet to your website
  • Highly-available (we have thousands of servers powering Fathom Analytics)
  • Blazingly fast, global CDN
  • World-class email support

Where can I find managed, privacy-first hosted website analytics?

Look no further! Fathom Analytics is the leading privacy-first analytics provider. We actually created the space back in 2018, when we got tired of the analytics landscape. You can sign up for a 30-day free trial and start protecting your website visitors' privacy right away. We take care of everything for you, so that you don't have to spend any time managing your analytics and can focus on your website.

If I self-host, are my analytics illegal?

If you do self-host your analytics, you must ensure your servers aren't in the US and do not use US owned companies - as that has been ruled as a violation of GDPR.

So you could use a company like Hetzner to host your analytics, but that only works if all your traffic is in the EU. Otherwise, it wouldn't be fast for folks in other parts of the world. Meaning, you'd have to also setup geolocation-based routing that distributes your traffic between EU servers and other servers.

Where can I find self-hosted, privacy-first website analytics

We have an open-source, self-hosted, privacy-first analytics platform available. We call it Fathom Lite. Before Fathom Analytics (the business) even existed, this was the first software we built. That was back in 2018 and it was received well by millions of people. Everyone has a unique situation, with different needs, so we're proud to offer both self-hosted and hosted solutions.

What’s the best option for website analytics for me?

As I mentioned above, it depends. Self-hosted can be fun if you like to fiddle around with servers (hey, some nerds do!). But if you are using analytics to make business decisions, I feel like it’s well worth the price for our hosted analytics, so you have the knowledge that your analytics will always be fast, always be online and there’ll always be someone available to help.

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Jack Ellis

Jack Ellis, CTO + teacher

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