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Cloudflare Analytics review

Disclaimer 1: I’m working on Plausible Analytics, a simple, lightweight, open-source and privacy-friendly alternative to Google Analytics.

Disclaimer 2: Cloudflare reached out in July saying they’d “love to chat”. It all started with this tweet by Matthew Prince. We were upfront that we’re not looking to sell or get funded and answered their questions about our experience building and growing Plausible.

This review is about Cloudflare Analytics itself. I could talk about free never being free or the venture-funded model that allows them to lose hundreds of millions of dollars every year centralizing a big part of the internet but all that is a different conversation.

Like I told them on the call, as long as they don’t go evil as the other giant did, it’s how the business world is. This post is focused purely on their web analytics product.

Cloudflare entering the privacy-first analytics market is great

I believe that when a large corporation enters an emerging space such as privacy-first web analytics, it is good for everyone involved. This is unavoidable really if you’re doing well and growing. They’ll come sooner or later.

A large company such as Cloudflare makes the market more legit, it gives the market credibility and makes it more acceptable to say no to Google Analytics which is the default and safe choice for site owners.

The press they got immediately after the announcement is proof of this point. Media sites that never covered this topic suddenly had headlines talking about “privacy-first alternative to Google Analytics”.

This is great for everyone in this space as it opens up the market to more people who’ve now heard that Google Analytics alternatives exist or that privacy-focused web analytics are a thing. So I’m happy with this move and wish Cloudflare Analytics the best. But there are also some dangers with this approach.

Cloudflare Analytics dashboard and stats

They announced “free” web analytics but the free offering is not available yet. Right now, anyone on their premium plans can get access to the brand new Cloudflare Analytics. Premium plans start at $20/month. This is the plan I signed up for to test Cloudflare Analytics.

And here’s my Cloudflare Analytics dashboard after the first week:

And for comparison purposes, here’s my Plausible Analytics dashboard for the same site and the same period:

Cloudflare Analytics shows 18x more visitors and pageviews

In my Cloudflare Analytics versus Plausible Analytics comparison, Cloudflare Analytics is inaccurate to the point that the data is pretty much useless as web analytics. Here’s the comparison of the main stats:

Plausible AnalyticsCloudflare Analytics
Unique visitors / visits1.6k24.7k
Pageviews2.3k38.7k
Top referral sourceGoogle 1kNone/direct 13.5k
Top page/blog-or-vlog/ 237“/” 14.7k
Top countryUS 617US 15.7k
Top deviceMobile 671Desktop 22k
Top browserChrome 934Unknown 18k
Top OSWindows 472Unknown 18k

Why are Cloudflare Analytics numbers dramatically different from my normal stats?

This is what Cloudflare says about their accuracy:

“Google Analytics and other web-based analytics programs use JavaScript on the web browser to track visitors. As a result, Google Analytics doesn’t record threats, bots, and automated crawlers because those requests typically do not trigger JavaScript. Also, these services do not track visitors who disable JavaScript on their browser or who leave a page before it fully loads.”

This bot issue is very evident in the stats Cloudflare Analytics provides. Top OS is unknown, the top browser is unknown and even the second most visited page is wp-login.php which is not a visitor facing page.

They also have a bit of an unorthodox definition of a visit which is one of the key metrics in web analytics. In Cloudflare Analytics, “a visit is a successful page view that has an HTTP referer that doesn’t match the hostname of the request”.

This seems like a very inaccurate approach that would inflate the numbers a lot on its own even without considering the bot issue.

Seems for now that the brand new Cloudflare Analytics is simply a server log tool with server log accuracy. Server logs are very inaccurate as they include all the bot traffic in the stats. And there are a lot of bots online. Way more than people.

Other issues with Cloudflare Analytics

In general, the look is a look of a company that is not specialized in web analytics and a company that doesn’t really care about this.

My conclusion is that this is simply a marketing move for their birthday to get some buzz with the anti-Google and pro-privacy stance.

So you get something that feels unnatural and weird if you’re experienced with web analytics. It’s also very cumbersome and slow to work with. A view like this is typical:

Here are some of the other issues I see with the product as it is at this time:

All stats are “based on a 1%-10% sample of requests”

Cloudflare Analytics doesn’t show your actual stats. They’re taking a subset of all data, analyzing it and everything they display is an assumption based on the pattern seen in the sample.

This sample in Cloudflare Analytics ranges from 10% (for the last 24 hours) down to 1% for any longer period than that. I assume they’re doing that to reduce costs but this method leads to inaccurate data.

Other analytics tools such as Plausible Analytics don’t use data sampling at all so all the stats displayed are 100% accurate. After all, Cloudflare Analytics is charging $20/month for this product so they at least should provide 100% accurate data.

Maximum 7 days of data, everything older is deleted

The maximum viewable range for your Cloudflare Analytics dashboard is 7 days. They are “working on extending the queryable time range to 30 days for Business plan users”. Note that the business plan starts at $200/month.

At this moment, you lose access to everything that happened more than a week ago. It seems to be deleted as there’s no way to retrieve it.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know any analytics product that’s useful with 7 days of data. I don’t know an analytics product that’s useful with 30 days of data either.

People that use analytics compare larger data sets ranging from a month on month comparison, quarter on quarter or even year on year. 7 or 30 days of data is just not useful.

Max 15 items on any list (pages, sources, countries etc)

You can only see the top 15 of your pages, referral sources, countries and so on. Full lists are not available. You could use the filter to manually input a specific page or specific referral source to try and dig those stats up but there’s no way to discover them.

The filtering process is slow and inconvenient and goes something like this. To see stats for one of your pages outside of the top 15, you need to:

  • Click on “Add filter”
  • Select “Path” as the filter
  • Then type in the page URL if you can remember what it is
  • Click on “Apply”

Difficult to view data for today

It’s not easy to view the stats for today which is one of the main reports for web analytics.

To view the stats for today, you need to go into “Custom range” and manually select today’s date. The problem is that the dashboard is not updated live so you want to refresh it occasionally but that’s not possible as the custom range is based on the time of the day you last selected it.

So you need to clear your custom range and select today’s date again to get up to the minute time and you need to do this every time you’d like to see the latest stats for today.

Missing metrics

Cloudflare Analytics is too basic even for the simple analytics tools such as Plausible Analytics. Here are some of the metrics missing:

  • No live view / live dashboard so you can easily see what’s happening on your site right now
  • No visit duration so you can figure out how long people stay on your site or judge the quality of a referral source
  • No bounce rate so you can analyze the quality of different pages or referral sources
  • No UTM campaign stats so you can track your campaigns and minimize the dark traffic
  • No goal and event tracking so you can figure out whether people are taking action you’re focused on

Cannot exclude your visits from stats

I haven’t found a way to exclude my visits from Cloudflare Analytics. There’s no setting where I can enable this and there’s no script that I can block.

Practice what you preach

If you check out the blog post in which they announced Cloudflare Analytics, they’re talking about privacy. They state things such as “you’re giving up the privacy of your users in order to understand how what you’ve put online is performing”.

And “we don’t want to know what you do on the Internet — it’s not our business”. The problem with this approach is that you better practice what you preach. People that care about privacy can easily see which ad tech tools you’re making calls to and sending data to.

Cloudflare not only uses Google Analytics with retargeting enabled on that blog post but they also send the data to Facebook and several other surveillance capitalism giants.

Even the landing page where you have to sign up for the Cloudflare Analytics uses Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Optimize and many more. To be credible in this market, you need to practice what you preach.

Cloudflare score using the Blacklight tool

At Plausible Analytics we’re very clear that we also try to grow our business without funding the Google and Facebook advertising duopoly and without using any of the strategies we consider unethical. We say no to the majority of best marketing practices for this exact reason.

And the only analytics tool we do use on our own SaaS is Plausible Analytics itself. There are no other third-party analytics providers. We’re building a tool that’s useful, so useful in fact that we don’t need any other tools.

Cloudflare cannot say the same. I hope Cloudflare puts their money where their mouth is and stops supporting Google with their visitor data and improves Cloudflare Analytics so they get all the stats they need from it.

Benefits with Cloudflare Analytics

It’s not all that bad. There are some benefits to a server log like tool such as Cloudflare Analytics:

Server log like additional metrics

You get access to metrics such as “Requests”, “Status Code” and “Data transfer”. These metrics are normally part of any server log tool but not a part of web analytics.

No need for JavaScript

Cloudflare Analytics did announce a JavaScript version of its analytics platform for sites that are not paid subscribers. But if you do get on a premium subscription plan, you get Cloudflare Analytics without a need to embed their JavaScript file onto your site. There are some benefits to that.

Faster website

Without needing to make a call to another script, your site should load faster. For instance, the recommended integration for Google Analytics is using Google Tag Manager and this adds 45.7 KB of JavaScript to your page weight.

Lightweight analytics tools such as Plausible Analytics have dealt with this problem by having a tiny script (0.7 KB in our case) which goes a long way and with Cloudflare Analytics Pro you don’t even need that 0.7 KB.

Difficult for adblocking extensions to block

Not having any third-party connections and not using JavaScript for analytics makes it difficult for browsers such as Firefox and adblocking extensions to block it. Google Analytics has a big issue with adblockers and on this site alone more than 25% of visitors block it.

Cloudflare Analytics avoids that problem as it’s not using JavaScript while other Google Analytics alternatives such as Plausible avoid it by not collecting any personal data in the first place.

Cloudflare should be serious about this or they’ll only help Google Analytics in its dominance

The main danger I see after paying for and trying Cloudflare Analytics is that they may not believe in this at all.

Cloudflare seems to have a marketing approach that says they must release tons of new products every year to drive buzz, media attention, brand awareness, retain customers and grow. Seems like a very shortsighted marketing strategy that cannot go on for too long.

After exploring Cloudflare Analytics for more than a week, I feel it’s just a marketing move. Something along the lines of “our birthday week is coming up, what kind of product can we release now?”.

Somehow they either came up with a privacy focused Google Analytics alternative and then did market research or it went something like this:

“This startup Plausible Analytics is gaining a momentum creating a privacy-first Google Analytics alternative. We don’t like Google either and we already collect lots of data so web analytics will be a quick thing to build and announce”.

From the way they talk about their analytics product and metrics they feature, I assume Plausible Analytics was a part of their inspiration but only they can confirm that.

The danger about this “we don’t have our heart in it” approach is that they’ll build such a bad product that people that try it thinking that it is an actual Google Analytics competitor, may be so disappointed with their offering that they’ll never even consider any of the other tools in this market.

And this will play well for Google and its dominance on the web analytics market.

Cloudflare team kept asking us “how can we help you?”. We said you can help spread the word about us to more people but obviously that wouldn’t work as they’re also pushing their own analytics.

I hope that with this review we can help the Cloudflare team build a better product. As things stand, every Google Analytics user who tries Cloudflare Analytics believing that it is a Google Analytics alternative is in a for a disappointing and frustrating experience and they’ll go running back.

And if you’re looking for a Google Analytics alternative, do take a look at Plausible Analytics. Open source, simple to use, modern dashboard, accurate stats, lightweight and no cookies used or personal data collected.

We’re bootstrapped and self-funded so need to charge a subscription fee to be sustainable. But there’s a 30 day free trial without any usage restrictions and no credit card required either.