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Don't even think of comparing AWStats to Google Analytics!

compare apples to apples

We have a client whose IT department is stating that AWStats should be sufficient for their Web Analytics needs and questioning whether GA is really necessary

The problem arises, in part, out of the problem that the client has a large contingent in Germany and the IT department has questioned whether GA is in compliance with the "Bundesdatenschutzgesetz" (German Data Protection Law)?

The client is Widgets Inc.!

I am shocked that AWStats has even been compared with GA! AWStats itself does not make the comparison.

I responded along the following lines.

What is AWStats?

  1. AWStats is not a Web Analytics tool for use in marketing a promoting a company and its products via its web site.

  2. It is a Web Server traffic analysis tool for Network administrators.

  3. It does not compare itself to Google Analytics but only to other web traffic analyzers (AWStats Documentation - Log File analyzer comparison)

Can AWStats deliver?

The distinction is far more than an academic one. A practical problem, inherent in AWStats, appears from its own definition of a "visitor": (See AWStats Documentation - Glossary)

“Visits:Number of visits made by all visitors.

Think 'session' here, say a unique IP [address] accesses a page, and then requests three others without an hour between any of the requests, all of the 'pages' are included in the visit, therefore you should expect multiple pages per visit and multiple visits per unique visitor (assuming that some of the unique IPs are logged with more than an hour between requests).”

Most (all?) of Widgets Inc's customers are businesses. Even the smallest business will have an internal network with more than one computer. Even many (most ?) homes have a router-based network serving more than one computer. AWStats will see all users accessing a site from such networks as the same visitor. Over time, all visitors from the same network will be regarded as the same Unique Visitor.

For B2C sites serving mainly home-based visitors, most are assigned dynamic IP addresses. Visitors with changed IP addresses will be reported as different visitors. Unique Visitor counts will also be inflated.

This alone disqualifies AWStats from being relied upon for marketing and business decisions.

In short, AWStats is really focused on the Network Admin/IT staff, whereas Google Analytics/Urchin are focused on the business user and helps provide some business intelligence. AWStats will not help a company make more money or become more successful online in a meaningful way, Google Analytics/Urchin will by helping them measure and optimize their marketing efforts.

Google Analytics (and Urchin) is intended to be a measure of business (website) performance and provides you with statistics that you, as a business person, will want to see.

To use the website to increase revenue and grow the business, those responsible for such efforts need the following questions answered. Can the Webmaster promoting AWStats provide the following information:

  1. How many people (unique visitors) visit our site per day/week/month?

  2. Where are our visitors coming from and what are they doing on our site when they get there?

  3. Which sources or traffic result in the most on-line enquires/leads?

  4. What search terms are visitors using to find our site and which terms are resulting in on-line enquires/leads?

  5. What traffic are we getting for the money we spend on Google AdWords advertising? Do the visitors from AdWords

  6. submit on-line enquires/leads?

  7. How are visitors to our site engaging with our content?

  8. What other content is being accessed by visitors arriving at the "Special Widgets" site section?

  9. What are our visitors searching for (local site search) and are they finding it?

  10. Are we losing visitors and leads when 0 search results are found? How many submit on-line enquires/leads?

  11. How are different visitor segments (e.g. those that arrived from AdWords vs. "branded" visitors who typed in http://widgets-inc.de) using our site?

In technical terms, can AWStats:

  1. track Goals or eCommerce transactions

  2. track campaigns, both from AdWords and other sources (email, banners, etc)

  3. import AdWords or any other PPC data

  4. create segmented reports

  5. email reports to users on a scheduled basis

  6. track internal search

  7. tracking a single user across multiple domains

Ultimately AWStats is only a log analysis tool that has advanced to the point where it appears to provide Web Analytics data.

It would need to incorporate JavaScript and cookies to ever be able to provide the business/marketing users with the data they need to make their websites successful.

If website owners are concerned about where there analytics tracking data is going, the should take a good look at hosting an analytics solution on their own servers using Google's Urchin web analytics tool.

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Comments (Comment Moderation is enabled. Your comment will not appear until approved.)
Its nice and very good news
# Posted By campeden | 8/29/09 3:58 AM
AwStats has its uses but as indicated is not comparable to Google Analytics. As you mention the 2 packages measure things differently and have different needs.

Just this weekend I used AwStats to find that a large portion of bandwidth on 1 of my Australian sites was being sucked up by Russian IP addresses.

Upon further analysis I found that Yandex was responsible for a large portion of bandwidth being taken up. I looked in Google Analytics to discover only 4 visits came from yandex in the past month.

I decided (because in my case it made sense) to block yandex entirely as my site and its content was aimed at the Australian market and Yandex visitors more than likely bounce.

Also AwStats provides raw IP addresses which is PII, so I'm not sure how the German data protection act feels about that. I think the main issue in Germany is where the data is stored.
# Posted By Gavin Doolan | 8/31/09 2:03 AM
We use both tools and there are gives and takes to both of them. You have really nailed the target audience correctly for the two, but there are also some things AWStats will give you that you can't get out of Google Analytics. A main item being who is hitting all your images and non-webpage assets, you can't stick GA code in a gif file. Which if someone outside is inlining your content can be a huge suck and real world cost of resources.

I'm looking forward to giving Urchin a run because I think it might combine what I want out of the two for a reasonable price.
# Posted By Scott Kahler | 9/1/09 4:50 AM
Awstat is complete, Google Analytics is more "lite", but if you run a VPS or a small dedicated server and you turn on Awstat on your domains (you can do this also by Plesk), you'll show a significative increase of CPU working. Google Analytics runs out of your server, so it doesn't overloads your resources. But if you have tons of server resources, Awstat is better than Google Analytics!
# Posted By Roberto Salvatore | 9/8/09 5:28 PM
I'm curious why I never see any negative comments about site load time. Whenever I browse to a website that has GA installed, I see "connecting to GA" in the status bar and at least a two second delay, very annoying.
# Posted By mrw | 9/22/09 4:33 PM
Thanks for all the constructive comments.

Please note that I did not come to either praise or bury AWStats.

My point is that its not an Analytics tool, its a server resources tool.
It has <b>some</b> analytics capability but that does not make it an analytics tool any more than having and in-board motor makes a car a boat!

@Gavin Doolan and
@Scott Kahler
Your example shows an excellent example of using the strengths of each of the 2 tools together.

The issue with the German Data Protection law is whether the PII is being transmitted to a third party.
The only issue with where the data is stored (in or out of Germany) relates to data collected by governmental organizations.

@Roberto Salvatore
Ho letto il tuo post su AWStats vs Google Analytics - fate alcuni buoni punti supplementari.

I don't believe it's the common experience - I only find that I get that message when I'm already having slow internet response generally.
# Posted By Brian Katz | 9/25/09 3:15 PM
Hey Folks! Excelent article, congrats!
# Posted By Hernán Rodríguez | 10/16/09 11:00 AM
If you think google analytics is skewed, try comparing that to metrics from cloudflare, which is typically an order of magnitude higher...
# Posted By friedmansimon | 12/12/10 6:34 PM
Reading your post, all I hear is ranting against the product. You still don't compare the two in a way that someone is new to all of this can understand. I have 560 unique visitors on awstats, but I only have 230 on Google... how and why is that possible and what makes the two so much different.

I am not on your level so explaining it in layman's terms may be a really good idea.
# Posted By Janita Ras | 3/21/11 1:33 AM

Thanks very much for your comment. I'm sure you're not alone in your frustrations with the post so I value the chance to respond.

If there is any ranting, it's that people believe they can use AWStats for Web Analytics rather than anything against AWStats.

An excellent wrench does not a great hammer make.

It's not a comparison - as I said - don't even think of comparing them.

Even when they appear to report the same things, visitors, they do so differently and will not provide the same results.

They also function in very different ways. Google Analytics uses cookies and JavaScript in the visitor's browser while AWStats looks at requests coming in to the web server. E.g., GA will count fewer bots as visitors.

The whole message is that if you want a Web Analytics tool, don't use AWStats - it's great for many things but not WA.

Brian Katz - Analytics
# Posted By Brian Katz - Analytics - VKI | 3/21/11 10:09 AM