Web Analytics vs Mobile Analytics

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Web analytics tools and mobile (app) analytics tools are both analytics tools.

Web Analytics

  • Web analytics tools measure, collect, analyze, and report Internet data for the purposes of understanding and optimizing web usage (and digital marketing performance).
  • Web Analytics works on websites, uses JavaScript-based tracking codes to collect data, and identifies unique users with cookies.

Mobile Analytics

  • Mobile analytics tools measure, collect, analyze, and report Internet data for the objectives of understanding and optimizing mobile app usage (and digital marketing performance).
  • Mobile analytics works on apps (that run on mobile or tablet devices), uses SDKs to collect data, and identifies unique users with IDs i.e. IDFA for iOS (Apple-based) and/or AID for Android (Google-based).

Through web & mobile analytics, performance of digital marketing for websites/apps can be measured against targets (i.e. key performance indicators / KPIs). Insights on user behaviors and needs are collected and analyzed. Websites & apps can be evaluated/reviewed to determine if they are able to meet the needs.

Google Analytics – Free Analytics Tool

Google Analytics is both a web analytics tool and mobile (app) analytics tool that is available for free.

Of the websites that are using any web analytics tools, more than 86% of them have set up Google Analytics:


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Web Analytics Tools

The major objective of web analytics tools is to track data on websites.


Web pages (of websites) are coded mainly in HTML/CSS/JavaScript.

  • HTML defines the structure (or layout) of web pages.
  • CSS provides the look-and-feel of web pages.
  • JavaScript defines how users can interact with web pages.

JavaScript-based Tracking Code

Web analytics (such as Google Analytics) tracks data of a website through the use of JavaScript-based tracking codes that are inserted on to all web pages of the website. With Google Analytics, you may use Universal Analytics or GA4 as your site’s tracking code. Refer to:

Once the tracking code has been set up, Google Analytics can start tracking data of the website.

How Websites Identify Unique Users?

Websites identify unique users with cookies.

Cookies in Web Browsers

Cookies (on web browsers such as Google’s Chrome) have been used on websites for many years. Web browser cookies enables users to perform certain actions on websites.

For example, the first time a user visits an eCommerce website and places an item in the shopping cart, but hasn’t completed the entire transaction with payment. A cookie has been placed in this user’s web browser (e.g. Google Chrome) in order to remember him/her (and the item he/she places in the shopping cart).

The second time the same user comes back to the same eCommerce website and browses to his/her shopping cart. He/she sees his/her item in the shopping cart and can continue to complete the transaction. Without a cookie, the website would not have been able to remember the shopping cart item for the user.

For web analytics tools, cookies are placed on users’ web browsers. During subsequent visits of the same user to the website, the website will remember the user is the same person (using the cookie).

Below is an example of how the web browser cookie looks like.

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Set-Cookie: AHSID=AARONmxn67; Domain=example.com; Path=/; Expires=Wed, 13 Nov 2018 15:18:00 GMT; Secure; HttpOnly

The cookie’s name is AHSID, and its value is AARONmxn67.

Issues of Using Cookies to Identify Unique Users

The cookies which were previously stored on the web browsers won’t work for identifying unique users when:

  • A user switches to a different web browser (e.g. Firefox) from the web browser (e.g. Chrome) he/she was visiting your website last time.
  • A user switches to a new desktop computer, and from this new desktop computer he/she visits your website.
  • A user visited your website through his/her desktop computer, but this time he/she visits your website from his/her mobile phone’s web browser.
  • A user deletes all the cookies from his/her web browsers, and this also deletes all the previous visit histories/records to your website.

Mobile Analytics Tools

The major objective of mobile (app) analytics tools is to track data on mobile apps.

Mobile Apps

In mobile apps, the “pages” you can see aren’t actually web pages that are coded in HTML/CSS/JavaScript. The pages on a mobile app is known as screens.

For example, an iPhone operates on iOS operating system. Mobile apps running on iPhones (and/or iPads) are coded mainly in Objective-C and/or Swift.

For example, an Android phone operates on Android operating system. Mobile apps running on Androids are coded mainly in Java.


Depending on the mobile analytics tool of your choice, usually a SDK (software development kit) must be added to the source codes of your mobile app.

When the SDK has been implemented, the mobile analytics tool starts to track the data.

SDKs are operating system dependent.

  • An iOS SDK must be installed on your iOS app’s source codes. This will allow data tracking on your iOS app that is running on the iOS operating system.
  • An Android SDK must be installed on your Android app’s source codes. This will enable data tracking on your Android app which is running the on Android operating system.

How Mobile Apps Identify Unique Users?

Mobile apps identify unique users with unique device / operating system IDs.


iOS uses IDFAs (Identifier for Advertisers) to identify unique iPhone (and/or iPad) users. An IDFA is a 32-digit string in which the format is 8-4-4-4-12.

Example of an IDFA:



Android uses AIDs (Advertising IDs) to identity unique Android phone users. An AID is a 32-digit string in which the format is 8-4-4-4-12.

Example of an AID:


Issues of Using IDFAs and AIDs to Identify Unique Users

IDFAs and AIDs have some issues when they are used for identifying unique users on iPhones and Android phones.

  • IDFAs can be reset by iPhone (and/or iPad) users.
  • AIDs can be reset by Android phone users.
  • After re-installing the operating system on your phone, the IDFAs and/or AIDs are reset.

Web Analytics – Free, Paid, or Open Source?

Examples of Web Analytics

  • Google Analytics – https://analytics.google.com
  • Adobe Analytics
  • Matomo (formerly Piwik ) – https://matomo.org/
  • Open Web Analytics  – http://www.openwebanalytics.com/

Examples of Mobile Analytics

  • Google Analytics – https://analytics.google.com
  • App Annie
  • Appsflyer

I have created this Big List of 200+ Analytics Tools.

Free, Paid, Open Source Analytics Tools

Different analytics tools are different.

  • Analytics tools can be free, paid, or open source.
  • The scope of analytics tools can be global or local.

Free – Some analytics tools (e.g. Google Analytics) is free to use without any cost.

Paid – Some analytics tools (e.g. Adobe Analytics) must be paid to use. Some vendors have developed the paid analytics tools for commercial use, and provide services to businesses who use the paid analytics tools.

Open source – Some analytics tools (i.e. Matomo/Piwik) were developed by an online community of developers. They have made the analytics tools and the source codes available for free. However to use it, you will have to do it all by yourself: Install the web analytics, setup the web servers (or cloud solutions), and create and backup the database.

Local (e.g. China) – Some analytics tools (e.g. Baidu Tongji) were developed and are suitable for some specific markets / countries.

Global – Some analytics tools (e.g. Google Analytics) are universal and suit all the markets in the world.

What is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is the mostly used web analytics tool in the world.

  • Google Analytics provides both web analytics and mobile analytics for free.
  • Google Analytics Premium is the paid version of web analytics.
  • For web analytics, Google Analytics tracks websites’ data through using a JavaScript-based tracking code be added to each web page.
  • For mobile (app) analytics, Google Analytics tracks iOS apps (with the iOS SDK) and And the Android SDK). SDKs must be added to the mobile apps.
  • When you are using the free version of Google Analytics for your website, your data are sent to and store in Google’s servers. This means you are not required to manage the storage of your analytics data. Google Analytics processes your data and makes reports available to you in almost real-time (or in other cases within 24 hours).

When using Google Analytics free version, often you may get reports with sampled data (when you have a large data set in your reports) This mostly happens when you have high traffic website. Having a large amount of sampled data in your reports can hinder the ability of your detailed data analysis.

Other Web Analytics Tools (or Solutions)

Besides Google Analytics, you have other choices of web analytics tools.

Adobe Analytics

Adobe Analytics was originally Omniture Site Catalyst. Adobe Analytics is a very powerful web analytics tool which has been developed for commercial use.

Complicated tracking setup is available for your websites from Adobe Analytics. A professional setup will definitely require the expertise of Adobe’s implementation engineers to take you through the design and implementation of the entire tracking solution process.


Matomo (formerly Piwik) is an open source analytics platform and is a free software.

The main advantage of Matomo is that you will be able to store your website’s full data in web servers (or cloud solution) of your choice.

The main disadvantage of Matomo is that you will have to do-it-yourself (DIY). You install Matomo on your website’s web server, set up the Matomo analytics tool, and create backups of Matomo’s databases.

Open Web Analytics

Open Web Analytics (OWA) is another open source web analytics tool. How OWA works is similar to  that of Piwik/Matomo.

Web Analytics / Google Analytics

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