In the red corner: Mixpanel. In the blue corner: Google Analytics. Who will emerge victorious? It’s the analytical fight of the century, it’s Mixpanel vs Google Analytics!
Dramatics aside, one of the most important things you should be doing is tracking how users engage with your site and your product.
There are a lot of different tools out there, each offering different features. Two of the biggest names are Mixpanel and Google Analytics, and they are what we’re going to focus on.
In this article, we’re going to get to the bottom of Mixpanel vs Google Analytics. We’ll look at the pros and cons of each product. Then, we’re going to figure out which is the best tool for you to be using.
But before that, let’s talk about why tracking how your users interact with your site and app is so important…
Why you MUST track user engagement and interaction
1: To boost conversion
Napoleon, one of the most famous and feared military generals in history, once said:“War is ninety percent information.”
Now, Napoleon didn’t even know what the internet was, mainly because it didn’t exist. But he still knew the value that information could bring.
Of course, SaaS is hardly war. It might feel like it sometimes, but it’s generally a little less deadly.
But that doesn’t mean Napoleon’s quote isn’t important. Let’s just change it slightly:
“Conversion is ninety percent information.”
That’s right, ‘conversion’ is far more relevant to SaaS companies. It’s probably one of the most important things you can achieve. A high conversion rate can go a long way to the success of your SaaS business.
If you don’t have the right information, then you’re going to struggle to convert your site visitors.
That’s where analytics come in.
You hopefully have hundreds, no thousands, of people visiting your site every month. If you aren’t measuring where they’re coming from, or what they’re doing, then how do you know where to improve?
If your site isn’t converting many visitors, then it’s broken. Let’s face it, that’s the only reason your site exists. So it needs fixing.
By measuring how people use your site, you can identify cracks that they slip through. Perhaps people go to your “Features” page and then leave. That suggests that page isn’t doing its job, and needs improving.
Analytics provides you with the information you need. And, as Napoleon said all those years ago, that’s ninety percent of the work.
2: To focus your marketing
Marketing tends to go in two directions.
Firstly, you have the shotgunners. These companies fire a broad shot that spreads out, hitting as many different platforms and demographics as possible.
Secondly, you have the snipers. These companies scout out the different options, and then fire a targeted shot at a specific platform and segment.
Which do you think is more effective? Which is more deadly? That’s right, it’s the snipers.
So, how do you become a marketing sniper? Well, the first step is to know your target. A big part of this comes from identifying and doubling down on your ideal customers. If you know that your main users are product managers for SaaS startups, then that’s a great way of focusing your marketing efforts.
The other part comes from your data. You can look at how people end up on your site. Do they come directly? Do they come from social media? Do they come from your paid ads?
This information is crucial, as it helps you figure out where you should put more of your marketing budget.
The Pareto principle says that around 80% of the outcome comes from 20% of the effort. It’s worth keeping this in mind.
Why? Well, if you look at your analytics and find that the majority of your site visitors comes from LinkedIn, and hardly any come from Twitter, then it’s probably worth ignoring Twitter and doubling down on your LinkedIn marketing. That’s already getting results, so improving it will be easier.
Analytics can tell you where your visitors are coming from, enabling you to focus your marketing efforts accordingly.
3: To improve your product
SaaS is a little different to other industries, as I’m sure you know. One of the biggest quirks is that your job isn’t over when a prospect converts. You need to make sure that new customer sticks around.
That’s why customer lifetime value (CLV) is one of the most important metrics. Retention is the lifeblood of any SaaS company.
Your product needs to be geared towards keeping your customers and reducing churn.
But to reduce churn, you need a certain something. As you’ve probably guessed, that certain something is information. You need to know why your customers are churning in order to stop it happening in future.
That might seem like a daunting task. How can you possibly get inside the head of a churned customer? Most of the time they don’t want to talk to you or provide any feedback.
Well, the answer lies in analytics. Product analytics are a little different to web analytics. Instead of page views, they focus on actual actions a user takes, such as clicking a button or adding a team member or uploading a photo.
One of the key things product analytics can do is segment all of your churned users. You can then look at that group and retrace their footsteps. You can see how they interacted with your product.
Generally, there’ll be some important actions that your churned users never took. As a result, they may have missed your product’s Aha! moment completely.
Armed with this information, you can improve your product’s onboarding flows to direct new users to those crucial actions. You can use tools like Userpilot to do this in a matter of hours, if not minutes.
Product analytics can help you understand why users churn, so that you can improve your product and prevent it happening again.
What is it?
Google Analytics is one of the most popular analytics tools. In fact, one in every two websites uses it.
Google Analytics enables you to track how visitors arrive at your site, where they navigate and how long they stay on each page. Ultimately, you’re able to follow the route they take.
You can also set up basic conversion tracking. You tell Google about your conversion points (email sign-up form, phone call, product purchase, etc.) and then it will show you where each conversion originally came from.
It’s also useful for learning about which keywords people are using to find your website. You can use this information to improve and refine your SEO strategy.
It’s an essential tool for any company that wants to understand where their site is working, and where it can be improved.
The pros of Google Analytics
1 — Find out where users are coming from
A key part of any SaaS marketing strategy is acquisition. Without it, you don’t have any users. Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for figuring out where users are reaching your site from.
It shows you a breakdown of all your traffic, splitting it into social platforms, paid ads, organic, direct, and so on. Essentially, you can see which channels are performing best when it comes to driving traffic to your site.
Not only that, but you can figure out which of these traffic sources is converting best as well. You might be getting more traffic from paid ads, but if social media is converting more, then maybe you should direct your attention there.
2 — It’s basically free
For early-stage SaaS companies, the cost of all your different tools can soon add up. With Google Analytics, you don’t need to worry about extra costs.
The standard version of Google Analytics is completely free to use. You get all the different features and functionality, providing everything smaller companies will need, absolutely free of charge.
Bear in mind that if you scale to the point where you need more advanced features, such as more detailed real-time data, then it’ll cost you a massive $150,000 per year. (But chances are, you won’t need to worry about that.)
3 — Easy to get up and running
You can set up a Google Analytics account in a few clicks, especially if you already have a G Suite account set up.
Integrating with your website is as simple as adding a verification tag to your site’s HTML. We’re talking a five minute job for your web developer. You can even do it yourself if you have a slight bit of technical know-how.
This means you can start measuring your site’s analytics within minutes.
The cons of Google Analytics
1 — The site/product divide
Most SaaS companies have a website and a product that are two different things. The website is used for marketing and isn’t the product that people use.
Google Analytics is built for websites, not for standalone apps or products. As a result, you’ll need another tool to measure product analytics.
This can then cause a gap in your data. You won’t be able to link a user’s actions on your site to a user’s actions in your product. For that reason, a comprehensive tool like Mixpanel may be the way forward.
2 — No event tracking
Google Analytics mostly tracks where a user goes, and how long they stay there. This means you may miss out on how visitors actually use your site.
While you can set up custom events to fire, it’s fiddly, and extremely limited. As a result, you won’t be able to collect the detailed data you need.
If you want to track actual events, such as button clicks or scrolling distance, then you’ll need another tool like Mixpanel.
3 — Less detailed funnels
The funnels you can set up inside Google Analytics are fairly limited in terms of the detail you can provide. It’s also unintuitive to use and get set up.
There are three types of attribution: first-touch, ongoing, and last-touch. Google Analytics focuses on first-touch attribution. It will tell you how a visitor first reached your website. To a certain extent, it will show you the last-touch attribution that drove the conversion, but only if you set it up correctly. But Google Analytics is very fuzzy when it comes to ongoing attribution, and you never really get a full sense of the journey.
Mixpanel differs in that you can customize your funnels to the most granular of details, and also segment users. You can also apply funnels retroactively to your data in Mixpanel, whereas you have to start fresh with Google Analytics.
While Google Analytics does offer funnel visualization, it’s unlikely to give you the detail you need to make data-driven decisions.
What is it?
Mixpanel offers advanced analytics functionality. Unlike Google Analytics, which is based on page views, Mixpanel is based on event tracking. It’s used by 30% of Fortune 100 SaaS companies, who use it to boost product engagement and customer retention.
You can use Mixpanel to understand how users interact with your website or product. It keeps track of button clicks, scrolling, and navigation. Of course, that’s only half the story
Mixpanel gives you clear insights into the health of each account. You can monitor product usage, and see which accounts are at greater risk of churn. From a product design point of view, you’re able to learn which features keep users engaged and coming back for more.
But Mixpanel isn’t just about analyzing data. You’re also able to make tweaks to your product’s in-app messaging via Mixpanel. You can run experiments, testing different messages to see which improves product adoption the most. This custom messaging also enables you to reach out to churn-risks and try to get them back on track.
Finally, Mixpanel lets you see which accounts are ready for upselling. As we’re sure you know, upselling can be 5 to 10 times cheaper than selling to a new customer. Mixpanel identifies the accounts you should be upselling to, so you can maximize your MRR.
Mixpanel offers a wide range of features that can help SaaS companies to drive product engagement and increase customer retention.
The pros of Mixpanel
1 — Tying your website to your product
Mixpanel can track user behavior for both your site and your product. This gives you a holistic view of each user’s journey. No data is lost in the gap because there isn’t a gap in the first place.
It means you can see how users who found you through social media act differently compared to users who found you via paid ads. This is a vast improvement on Google Analytics, which can only tell you about your site.
For SaaS companies who want a complete view of their users’ journeys, from prospect to power user, Mixpanel is a great tool.
2 — Easy funnel visualization
One of the easiest ways to visualize user journeys is in the form of a funnel. While both Google Analytics and Mixpanel offer funnel visualization, Mixpanel’s approach is far more intuitive.
Mixpanel’s funnels can be set up by setting steps in the user journey. These can be actions a user takes, pages they visit, or any other relevant data point.
It’s also worth noting that it’s really easy to set these funnels up on the fly. Especially compared to Google Analytics, which requires you to painstakingly set up your funnels before you can visualize your data.
3 — Take action
All of this data and analytics is pointless if you aren’t acting on it. Mixpanel offers you the ability to test hypotheses based on the data you collect.
You can create product experiments, tweak messaging, and personalize your product to different user segments.
Sure, you can take your Google Analytics data and use another tool to test different messaging, but Mixpanel’s all-in-one approach makes life a lot easier.
The cons of Mixpanel
1 — It’ll cost you
Mixpanel offers a free starter plan which gives you up to 1,000 monthly tracked users. This is great for early-stage startups. However, as soon as you start to scale, Mixpanel starts to become a little more expensive.
You’re looking at a minimum of $779 a year. If you keep adding on users to track as you scale, this pricing will grow. If you want to use Mixpanel’s messaging and experimenting feature, you’ll have to pay extra for that as well.
This is in stark contrast to Google Analytics which is completely free unless you’re a massive Enterprise company.
2 — Less effective traffic attribution
Mixpanel does measure attribution channels, but it’s severely lacking compared to Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is able to pull in all of its data from Google Ads, offering a seamless and comprehensive integration. Mixpanel simply can’t compete with that.
If you’re more interested in measuring where people are coming from, rather than what they do, then Google Analytics is a better tool.
3 — Steep learning curve
A lot of Mixpanel users acknowledge that it can take a bit of time to get used to how it works.
Google Analytics, on the other hand, may look a little complicated but once you start using it is relatively easy to use.
If you’re looking to get up and running as quick as you can, then Google Analytics may well be a better choice.
Mixpanel vs Google Analytics: Which should you choose?
While both Mixpanel and Google Analytics occupy the same product area, both have slightly different use cases.
Google Analytics’ use case
For SaaS products that are purely web-based, Google Analytics may well provide enough information for your needs.
The best use case for Google Analytics is to monitor where your site’s traffic is coming from. Google Analytics will show you whether the traffic was organic, direct, through social or paid ads. You can then drill down and figure out your best sources of traffic. This will have an impact on your overall marketing strategy.
Not only that, but once you set your conversion tracking up, you’ll be able to see where those conversions came from.
The real limitation of this use case is that you can’t track product usage or engagement. Google Analytics is more of a traffic attribution tool than a product analytics tool.
For SaaS companies, that may mean you need another tool. Having said that, Google Analytics is free, and so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be using it.
Mixpanel’s use case
Mixpanel might work as a traffic attribution tool, in much the same way as Google Analytics. However, using it for that purpose is wasting its true potential. Mixpanel really shines when used as a product analytics tool. That’s the key use case.
Mixpanel will track everything a user does inside your app. That includes every button press, every scroll, every single action a user takes. This is really useful information for product managers and customer success teams.
It means you can track product usage and feature activation. You can see why churned users stopped using your product. Perhaps they didn’t activate an important feature? Or maybe they were overwhelmed by having too many features to choose from?
Armed with the information Mixpanel provides, you can then adjust your product as necessary. You can test out different in-app messaging from within Mixpanel, or you can export the data and use it to guide future product updates. Your CS team can reach out to churn-risks and provide extra support if needed.
Essentially, Mixpanel enables SaaS companies to be more proactive when it comes to improving product engagement and reducing churn.
So… Google Analytics is a fantastic tool for traffic attribution. Mixpanel is an incredible tool for product analytics. Mixpanel vs Google Analytics, which is better? Well, maybe it doesn’t matter.
There may well be a simpler solution: You could just use both.
Google Analytics, after all, is completely free. It’s easy to get set up, and you can start tracking data right away. It’s a great starting point for people who are new to analytics.
If you decide you need Mixpanel’s event tracking and product analytics, then there’s no real reason you can’t use it alongside Google Analytics.
Using Google Analytics for your site, and Mixpanel for your product, will provide you with all the data you need. You’ll have a comprehensive view. You’ll know how to improve both your site and your product.
Vlad Calus, co-founder of Planable, agrees. He says:
Our team has been heavily investing in our analytics resources over the past few years. Being a SaaS it’s very hard to track all the events, funnels, and everything you need. We tried implementing Mixpanel with multiple analytics consultants, and after a few tries we managed to combine the following into one single epicenter.
Segment + Inner Trends + Mixpanel + Google Analytics. All these are helping us track and cover our users and customers events to understand their behaviour. We’re using Mixpanel for their funnels as it helps us understand where the bucket is leaking.
If you’re interested in combining different analytics tools together to get a complete overview, then there’s a great guide here. It takes a bit of time and technical know-how, but once you’re up and running you’ll be glad you did it.
When it comes to Mixpanel vs Google Analytics, it might just be possible to get the best of both worlds…
- The Best User Engagement Tools for SaaS in 2020
- How Product Usage Analytics can Boost Engagement
- How to Increase and Measure Product Engagement
About the Author
Joe is a UX and content writer, with several years of experience working with SaaS startups. He’s been working with SaaS startups that are focused towards product management, product marketing and customer success for the past couple of years.