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Google Analytics For WordPress: Best Plugin Recommendations And The Hype Of Paid Pro Versions

Last Updated on March 24, 2020  

Google Analytics is something every site owner should have set up on their WordPress site. And, until recently, I was using a plugin called Google Analytics Dashboard For WP (GADWP) to do the job.

But, then I woke up one morning to this...

A new version 6.0! Snazzy!

But, it was a good thing I checked the details of the update before hitting that update button.

What I saw was annoying. And made me go searching for an alternative and, ultimately, to writing this very blog post. ExactMetrics ruined this plugin. But, more on point... are these expensive Pro Google Analytics plugins worth it? What if we just want a good free option without the constant upsells?

Let's dive in...

First, The Basics Of Google Analytics

In case you're unaware, Google Analytics is a free service by Google for measuring and tracking the stats of your website. It is pretty much the industry standard, I would say.

Analytics is quite robust. You can use it just to track the basic stuff like visitor counts, page views, popular pages, etc. But, you can also get quite deep and nerdy with it. It really just depends on how far you want to go and what you want to track.

Whether you are a newbie or an advanced content marketer, however, your site should be integrated with Google Analytics.

At the basic level, all you need to do is insert a tracking tag onto your site one time and you're done. You don't need a plugin at all to do this. Just copy/paste the tag Google gives you into the header of your theme and you're good to go.

Now, Google Analytics is kind of notorious for having an interface from hell. 🙂 So, let me help you figure out how to do this:

  1. First off, if you don't have an Analytics account, go create one. It is free and all you need is a Google account (which you most likely already have).
  2. Set up your property (aka your website). Google's instructions for this are relatively easy.
  3. Now, in the Admin settings for the account, open up that property. Then, go to Tracking Code (see image below)
  4. Grab the Global Site Tag code. Just copy it to your clipboard.
  5. Next, you want to paste this code into the header of your theme.

Now, if you have the coding chops to paste that code into your theme directly, you can open up your header.php file of your theme and drop it in there right before the BODY tag.

Some themes have built-in input fields for dropping tracking scripts into the header or footer. If your theme has that option (and many of them do), use that. Much easier.

Lastly, you could use one of the many plugins out there specifically for this purpose. For instance, the Insert Headers And Footers plugin is simple and does the job well.

Now, when you set up Analytics on your site in this way, it will work. It will track the data you want. And you just go into your Analytics reports directly to check your stats.

So, What's Up With The Paid Analytics Plugins?

When you go into the plugin repository and search for Google Analytics, 2 of the top results are:

Both of these plugins have a ton of active installations and so they have a lot of social proof behind them.

And until recently, I was using GADWP. It was a free plugin. However, version 6.0 changed everything.

In fact, these 2 plugins are owned by the same company. GADWP was an independent plugin. Then, ExactMetrics took it over. The parent company behind ExactMetrics is Awesome Motive - the same company behind MonsterInsights. It is all the same company.

Now, I used MonsterInsights for awhile. I paid $199 to use it for a year. But, then I decided to cancel it and I switched over to GADWP. Why?

My main intention was simply to bring some of the basic Analytics stats into the WordPress dashboard. Merely as a convenience. The data I wanted could be found (for free) inside of Analytics, but I wanted to have the basics right there in the WP Admin just to make my life easier. However, I determined that paying $199 just to avoid logging into Analytics made little sense. So, I cancelled and switched.

Then, they followed me. 😉 Because, as of version 6.0 of the ExactMetrics plugin (formerly GADWP), this thing is pretty close to a clone of MonsterInsights.

Here's the rub...

The "Free" Versions of MonsterInsights And ExactMetrics

Both plugins have free versions. However, both free versions are very obviously lead generators for their paid versions.

That's not bad. I don't blame them. But, I think they are particularly aggressive about it to the point of annoyance.

For instance, with the new version of ExactMetrics, the moment you activate the plugin you essentially get a sales page right inside of WordPress admin trying to upsell me to the $199/year upgrade for the Pro plan. You can easily skip it to go through the setup wizard, however.

Ironically, step 2 of the wizard is essentially another freakin' upsell to Pro. But, from there I can connect the plugin to my Google Analytics account very easily.

Step 4 is another upsell to Pro.

Step 5 is a cross-sell to WPForms (from the same company).

Then, step 6 says we're finished.

When I access my new reports, they're really pretty. Very nice. But, another massive upsell to Pro.

Essentially, the free version of ExactMetrics does NOTHING except give you graphs for sessions and pageviews. Every other piece of information requires a $199 upgrade to Pro. They completely ruined the GADWP plugin.

MonsterInsights is very similar to this when you're using the free version. The interface is pretty, but much of the data is locked down until you pay.

I will also point out that MonsterInsights has this "deal". There's a nice countdown timer right at the top of their page offering a 50% discount to upgrade MonsterInsights. Better act fast, right?

Nah,  you're in no hurry. Because that countdown bar has been there for a VERY long time. It was there when I bought MonsterInsights over a year ago. The countdown just starts over again.

It's fake.

ExactMetrics doesn't have the countdown (yet), but the pricing is the same. Showing "normal" prices that are double what you pay, but those prices are ALWAYS that way. The same company runs WPForms and they do the exact same thing. Also OptinMonster and they do the same thing there, too.

Look, Awesome Motive is a great company. Syed is an old acquaintance of mine and I have tremendous respect for what he has pulled off. But, fake urgency is fake urgency. I gotta call a spade a spade. I'm sure it increases conversion rate, but it's still a fake countdown. And it seems to be something they're comfortable doing across their major brands.

Why Pay For An Analytics Plugin? Is It Worth It?

I was annoyed with MonsterInsights over this. And, yes, I did pay for it for a year. It worked fine. It is a nicely done plugin. I just didn't think I got $199 worth of value out of it.

I must admit, my annoyance level was high when I saw they took over another plugin and did the same thing to it. Essentially taking what is a FREE analytics service and wrapping it in a $199 price tag.

I suspect they did this in order to alleviate a major (free) competitor. 

But, what are you getting for that money? Why would anybody pay for this? Is it as simple as merely the convenience of having pretty graphs inside of WordPress?

Well, no. There is indeed more to it. You just need to decide if you really need it.

See, Analytics is incredibly powerful software. However, in order to use it to fully track things, you need a deeper integration than simply pasting your tracking tag into your header. For instance:

  • Analytics can track ecommerce transactions, conversion rates, and more. But, some special tracking has to be installed in certain places on your site in order to feed the necessary data into Analytics.
  • Analytics can track outbound link clicks. For instance, you can track click-throughs on your affiliate links or download links to PDF files. But, again, you need special tracking setup for that.
  • Analytics has very granular reporting capability known as "dimensions". And, in terms of WordPress, this would allow things such as the ability to independently track certain categories, tags, authors, custom post types, etc. But, again, specialized tracking has to be set up to feed that data into Analytics.

Both MonsterInsights and ExactMetrics make it much easier to set up all that nitty-gritty tracking. That kind of thing would often require a web developer to set up correctly and it can get nerdy. The global tracking tag cannot do it by itself. The global tag will track your overall site just fine, but some of that more specific data needs specialized tracking on certain parts of your site.

Now, the question is... do you actually need all that stuff?

Let's be real...

MOST WordPress users only really track the basics. Stuff like page views, visitor counts. Maybe the top URLs on the site. MOST WordPress users don't get very deep into the numbers.

Not only that, deep-diving into the numbers can be useful. However, it can also be a very deep rabbit hole. One that doesn't always lead to something actionable. I know more advanced marketers might wince at me for saying that, but I think it is true. Knowing your numbers is very important, however it is all too easy to spend a lot of time tracking numbers just because you feel like you should. It isn't always incredibly actionable.

So, I personally think that paid plugins and "PRO" upgrades like this are best... for the PROS. The people who know what all that tracking is for and how they will use it.

For MOST blog owners? I think you can get the numbers you need just fine for free or in simpler ways using other tools.

And in that case, I think MonsterInsights and ExactMetrics are poor choices for most bloggers. The free versions are simply too limited and the upsells are too aggressive. Most bloggers simply will not get enough value out of the paid versions to justify the cost. 

While the free versions make setting up the Analytics more fully much simpler, it comes with the annoyance of being subjected to aggressive upsell marketing right inside your own WordPress site.

So, I went looking around for alternatives...

So, Let's Look At The Other Options For Analytics WordPress Plugins

The main thing I was looking for was some basic presentation of the basic stats inside of the WordPress admin panel. Let's see if we can find a simple, lightweight way to do this.

And I'm going to try to find one that is free. It isn't that I'm a cheap-ass. Hell, I run a business here and I'm perfectly willing (and do) pay for things. But, paying $199 for something this simple doesn't sit right with me. 

First option comes directly from Google itself. It is the Site Kit by Google plugin.

This plug-in is free and does the basic job for you. You can bring basic Analytics data and Search Console data right into WordPress. A few things didn't quite scratch my itch, tho:

  • The WP Dashboard widget doesn't show a trend graph, just numbers.
  • There's no shortcut on the post/page list to view traffic to individual pieces of content.
  • For most data, it simply links you right back into the Analytics site.

So, Sitekit works. It makes it as easy as any other to hook your site up to Google Analytics. Being direct from Google, you know it will adapt if Google ever changes anything. Plus, bringing in Search Console data is actually a nice feature. But, I wanted to see if I could find more.

Next, I checked an option called Analytify.

This plugin has a free and pro version. The free version does the job pretty well. It has a free add-on to show basic stats on the WP dashboard. It shows stats on the post/page edit screens so you can easily view traffic to single pieces of content. And the main Analytify dashboard gives far more data.

There are no graphs in the free version. There are upsells to the Pro version, but they are not nearly as annoying as MonsterInsights or ExactMetrics. The one big upsell on the report screen can be easily dismissed to make it go away. Also, the Pro version actually seems like a pretty good deal at only $39/year for one site.

Analytify looks like it might be a winner. But, let's also see what else is out there...

Google Analytics plugin is a freebie put out by ShareThis. It gives some nice reports inside the WP Admin, including a graphical dashboard widget. It does not appear to provide post/page stats. Being that it is totally free, there are no upsells.

One thing to be aware of with this plugin, however, is that it might be a case where "free" comes with baggage. Many of the reviews on this plugin say it is including some tracking scripts from ShareThis. This can also slow down site load time and there are some concerns about potential data mining. Either way, there's really no legit reason to be including ShareThis javascript files, so I'd skip this plugin.

As I look through the plugin repository, there are a whole lot of plugins that will integrate with Google Analytics. I mean, take your pick of the litter, really. Most of them, however, are simply for including the tracking tags. Most of them have the ability to do a few extra things, such as exempting admins (like yourself) from tracking so you're  not skewing your own stats.

But, aside from that, not many of these plugins will bring Analytics stats into the WP admin area. Since that was something I was looking for, I stopped looking.

So, Here Are My Recommendations For Analytics Plugins

Stay away from MonsterInsights and ExactMetrics unless you want to pony up a fairly hefty price tag. This isn't to say they're not nice plugins. They certainly are and they both have gorgeous interfaces. However, for the overwhelming majority of bloggers, I think moving to a paid version of these plugins is overkill. And unless you upgrade, the upsells will annoy you to no end.

The best free offer I have found is from Analytify. The free version is actually quite capable. If you want to upgrade to their Pro version, it is far more affordable than MonsterInsights/ExactMetrics. $39 for Analytify... $99 (minimum) for MonsterInsights/ExactMetrics.

And if you just want to keep it simple and don't need/want any reporting inside of the WordPress admin, then use one of the many plugins to simply insert the code and be done with it. Analytics Cat is a nice, lean option. There are a lot of  them.

Or... just do it manually by dropping the code into your theme header. It works just fine that way. All the reports you'll want will be right there inside your Analytics account - for free.

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  • Excellent post, David.

    I’m going to mix the two, but in 2020 is there a plugin that will:

    Track pageviews
    Track revenue
    Track referral traffic

    And then, spit that out in an easy to read dashboard.

    We’re in the 2020’s trying to find 2005 features.

    Reply

    • David Risley says:

      Well, I think you’re getting into one of the major selling propositions of the paid Pro plugins when you start looking for a combo like that. Analytics is perfectly capable of tracking that stuff for you if the right tracking is in place.

      Other than that, you’d typically be looking at grabbing data from multiple locations at once. And rather than try to pull that into WordPress, might be better to look at a 3rd party stat dashboard like Cyfe.com.

      Reply

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