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I have a website where I have access to full server logs, which we download and analyze, and I've also set up a Google Webmaster Tools account, where I can check search results, referrals, site design issues... However, my boss asks me why I'm not using Google Analytics, since everybody else he knows is using them.

I've tried explaining that server logs, properly analyzed, can provide roughly similar data than Analytics (nº visits, segmented by countries, browsers...), and what the server logs don't convey (search results, inbound links) can be found in Webmaster Tools, but he won't listen.

Am I missing out on something by not using Google Analytics? I did use it on another site a couple of years ago, and my impression was that it gave us pretty much the same data than a good log analyzer could (more or less: I know that they use different technology (Javascript vs. non-Javascript), and there are going to be differences due to that).

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  • Read Avinash Kaushik's book on Web Analytics an Hour a Day, in which he talks about the evolution of web tracking systems where he discusses in great length the pros and cons of server logs and the pros and cons of a JS based tracking system such as Google Analytics. If you are relying on the Google ecosystem for traffic and promotions, then you are missing out a huge chunk of data (stuff such as demographic profiling, in market segments, ability to create remarketing lists) Aug 27 '15 at 11:56
  • Server logs can be read by tehnical person only. Google Analytics represents data and everything user do on your sites. There are more better and paid tools for this as well. If you're the only user and would like to go with log reading then it is fine. Dec 25 '20 at 21:36
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Yes, you are missing out on a lot. Even though you can get a lot from both server logs and Google Search Console, you can get a more detailed picutre when utilizing all of them. There are times where analytics may not be needed. They both have their benefits and shortfalls as you see below.

Log Analytics

  • Server logs captures a gigantic amount of data that most of the time even exceeds what you actually require. It captures every click a user makes on your web page. It records when your server returns a CSS file to the client.
  • It's a pain to clean up the raw data of even a small Server logs file. To make it worse, every day, every hour, and every minute, your log file's size adds up. So processing your Server logs files can be very painful (and take a very long time) if you are running a website that has billions of page views per day.

Javascript-Based Analytics

  • URL-based: This means when your website's URL is planned in a way that makes sense for users and search engines, your web analytics tool shouldn't have problems showing them back to you in the reports.
  • Cookies-based: Tracking each visitor's behavior is becoming more and more important for your web business's success, and a cookie more or less represents a single person (or visitor).
  • Easy installation with JavaScript tags: All you usually do is add the same piece of JavaScript tag onto every page of your website, and your web analytics setup is more than half-way done.
  • Allows customized setup to capture more user actions/events: JavaScript-based tag doesn't track when a user visits a page whether one of the CSS file actually fires up, but with some customization codes (e.g., Google Analytics allows some customization) you can track keywords of some specific Chinese search engines (that aren't already in the default list of Google Analytics).
  • No/minimal data storage issue: For example, your website's traffic data is actually hosted on some servers that belong to Google, if you are using Google Analytics. You will not be required to spend time and labor in maintaining the servers, handling the technical issues, and cleaning up the raw data.
  • No search engine spider or bot data is captured, e.g., Googlebot, baiduspide.
  • No page error data can be captured.
  • Some web pages that are already heavily loaded with JavaScript may cause your web analytics tools to lose track of data.
  • Some browsers in the world still don't support JavaScript, so it means no data being captured by your web analytics tools.
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    You can add the option for adding different events (with or without GTM), which could enrich Google Analytics reports even further
    – ePetkov
    Aug 5 '15 at 12:03
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    You can also capture a fair amount of error data, I track 404 errors, page load speed, and JS errors (as events), but it does require customizing what you track.
    – adam-asdf
    Aug 7 '15 at 6:55

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