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Mixpanel vs. Google Analytics: Which is best for your product team?

10 min read

Mixpanel vs. Google Analytics: Which is best for your product team?

Mixpanel and Google Analytics are both analytics tools that can help you better understand your users. While Google Analytics’ strengths lie heavily in tracking acquisition-related activity, Mixpanel is geared more toward product teams that need to understand how people engage with their website, mobile app, and SaaS products.

While the two products have plenty of overlap, it’s important to understand which is best for your team before investing in either. Both have free versions, of course, but those plans have major limitations—not to mention the time and energy you’ll need to put into setup and administration.

In this article we’ll compare Mixpanel with Google Analytics and GA 360 (the paid version of GA). You may decide to invest in both, just one, or find a Mixpanel alternative for product analytics that pairs well with GA’s free version. Keep reading to learn more about Mixpanel and Google Analytics, including what each tool is all about, the features they include, the pros and cons of each, and an alternative to both you should consider.

Mixpanel

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Mixpanel is an analytics platform designed to help organizations understand more about how their users interact with their website, mobile app, and products.

The platform can provide granular data on user activity as long as your team is willing to invest engineering resources to fully implement it. It’s especially good for companies that want to examine the results of large campaigns with many small events or microtransactions.

While Mixpanel can help you determine things like which features are most popular or where the user experience might be suffering, it falls short in its implementation. Setting up Mixpanel still requires manual event tracking, and tracking user behavior in detail requires substantial engineering efforts. However, for teams that need decent product analytics and integrations with popular tools, Mixpanel is an affordable option.

For enterprises concerned with security and compliance standards—and need more advanced access and data policy configurations—you’ll have to move up to the custom enterprise pricing tier.

Mixpanel: Feature overview

Now that you have a high-level understanding of Mixpanel, let’s take a peek under the hood to see what we find.

Product analytics reporting

Mixpanel lets you produce interactive reports about how users are engaging with your products. The platform gives you insights into user segments and allows you to build cohorts to see how each of those segments engage with your products. Overall, Mixpanel offers decent reporting options—it lacks a good way to get a complete view of all customer behaviors, but goes much more in depth than GA on funnel analysis, behavioral segmentation, user path analysis, and product impact reporting.

Segmentation

Mixpanel has unlimited segmentation capabilities, which can come in handy if you want to create many cohorts and segments to determine how different characteristics impact behaviors and relate to engagement, conversion, and churn. However, given that Mixpanel can’t collect all behavioral events from your site, those segments may be missing key pieces of data.

Learn about Behavioral Segmentation in our complete guide!

Group analytics

In addition to enabling you to track users and cohorts, Mixpanel also enables you to track users in groups, e.g., on a company-by-company basis. This information can help you identify the best upselling opportunities, as well as when an account is most likely to churn. However, it’s hard to know if you’ve set up the correct events—you’d need to decide which are most likely to indicate churn, then track them from the beginning.

See how to use cohort analysis to reduce churn in our full guide.

Data governance

When it comes to any analytics platform, outputs are only as good as the data being ingested. Mixpanel has some features that can help improve data quality and regulate access if you’re willing to upgrade to enterprise pricing. They also offer an add-on data governance tool that enables teams to merge duplicate data into the same record, get rid of inaccurate and irrelevant data, define data terms to make sure everyone’s on the same page, enrich incomplete records, and implement controls to make sure only authorized individuals can access data.

Mixpanel: The downsides

The biggest limitations of Mixpanel lie in its lack of automation and its inability to fully integrate data from every segment, event, and time period. Let’s take a deeper look at why Mixpanel might not be the best tool for tracking product analytics and user behavior.

High cost for the full feature set

While the platform offers a free tier that can be useful for small teams and startups, you’ll have to reach into your wallet for enterprise-grade features. Because Mixpanel is less scalable than platforms like Heap that automatically capture all behavioral data, you may end up paying for multiple analytics solutions to get what you need as you grow.

Features that come and go

Over the past few years Mixpanel has launched multiple snazzy-looking features that it’s then deprecated. These include A/B testing and in-app engagement capabilities. This fluctuating product strategy can leave users concerned, since it’s not often clear if the Mixpanel you’re paying for now will be the one you’ll be able to use a year from now.

Hard to configure

Unfortunately, Mixpanel isn’t a plug-and-play solution. You’ll have to spend a lot of time thinking about which user events are most important (e.g., clicks, sign ups, and transactions), and then your engineering team will have to configure the tool and set things up.

Fingers crossed you make the right choices here. Otherwise, you’ll have to go back to the drawing board and reconfigure your instance. If that happens, your historical data will be siloed from whatever data your new configuration collects.

Governance features not built for scale

While Mixpanel’s listed features include data governance, the company still relies on schema planning as the single source of truth. This can create challenges as an org scales. For that reason, Mixpanel is best for smaller companies who aren’t don’t plan to grow.

Learning curve and suboptimal user experience

As one of the older solutions on the market, Mixpanel isn’t necessarily known for delivering the best user experiences—particularly at scale. Users often struggle to figure out how to use the platform effectively and report having a hard time figuring out what features Mixpanel has.

Mixpanel: Pros and cons

Pros

  • Feature-rich platform, with powerful segmentation capabilities
  • Robust visualizations for accelerated decision-making
  • Customizability, enabling you to build the “right tool for the job”

Cons

  • Can get expensive depending on how many users you want to track
  • Customizability takes time and resources and also opens the door to human error
  • May take teams longer to get fully productive on the platform

Google Analytics

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In case the name didn’t give it away, Google Analytics is Google’s analytics platform that’s most commonly used to measure and improve website performance. Since it’s a Google product that has a fairly generous free tier, it comes as no surprise that Google Analytics is one of the most popular analytics tools on the market.

But while Google Analytics is very helpful at helping you determine where users are coming from and how they found your website, it falls short when it comes to analyzing user behavior beyond that. In this light, it’s sort of complementary to Mixpanel.

Google Analytics traces its roots all the way back to 1998, making Mixpanel seem like a newcomer of sorts. If you can even remember what the web looked like back then—think static pages built with HTML and CSS—then you might begin realizing why this tool falls short when it comes to measuring user behavior and engagement in the 2020s.

Google Analytics: Feature overview

Let’s take a brief look at some of the main features you’ll find when you start using Google Analytics.

Detailed web acquisition metrics

At a high level, Google Analytics helps you learn more about where your audience is coming from and how they found your website and other digital properties (e.g., which keywords they were searching). You’ll also learn things like how much time users spend on pages, how quickly users leave your website upon arrival (i.e., your bounce rate), and the number of sessions your website or app generates during a specific time period.

Dashboards and reporting

Inside Google Analytics, you’ll see myriad reporting functions that can help you get a deeper understanding of how your website ticks. Some of these include audience reports, which help you determine things like active users and user lifetime value; advertising reports, which give you a better understanding of how your Google Ads campaigns are performing; and acquisition reports, which let you know how your campaigns are impacting website performance.

However, GA’s limited dashboarding capabilities are poor direct replacement to tools like Mixpanel. If you want to examine traffic over a longer time frame, the GA interface can’t pull the data together. For high traffic sites, if you aren't using GA 360, you have to pull your data one day at a time and then munge it back together to achieve the view you need.

Data visualizations

Just like Mixpanel, Google Analytics provides several options for data visualization. You can create dashboards with widgets to study and visualize the metrics that are most important to you. And you can use these visualizations to measure things like traffic growth and which channels are mostly responsible for sending users your way.

These visualizations aren’t as flexible as Mixpanel’s, however, who can visualize conversion, funnels, cohorts, product impact, segment trends, and more.

Real-time user data

Google Analytics also enables you to create real-time reports to learn about how your users are interacting with your site in the current moment. While this can help you determine macro trends and see the bigger picture, the platform lacks the specificity needed to really drill down into your data to understand what individual users are doing.

For example: you might be thrilled to learn there are 127 users on your site right now. But what are you really going to do about it? In this case, it may be better to rely on metrics more relevant to your product and conversion goals.

Anomaly detection

One interesting Google Analytics feature is relatively new: anomaly detection.

This feature automatically notifies you when unexpected things happen—like a click-through rate falls through the floor or massive spikes in traffic to a random page, which could be a sign of a botnet attack. Simply put, anomaly detection helps you understand strange behaviors on your site right away, which can help you respond to broken pages and bad actors before it’s too late.

It’s a newer feature, so reaction is unclear, but early feedback from customers suggests that it’s hard to get “baseline” calibrated to a point where it’s useful for reducing issue resolution time.

Google Analytics: The downsides

Google Analytics is a solid tool for teams that are in the process of becoming analytics-driven. While the tool is good for measuring web traffic and sources, once people are on your site it's much harder to measure activity or optimize the site experience based on real user behavior. This means it’s not the best option for companies that have mature analytics programs—or even those that hope to one day.

Here are some of the places where Google’s solution leaves much to be desired.

Manual, tedious setup

Setting up GA beyond the limited default settings requires extensive knowledge and lots of manual customization. Aside from a few predefined conversion goals that are based on URL visits and time on your site, you’ll have to use Google Tag Manager to track behaviors like clicks, form submissions, or video plays.

Plus, if you set up your tracking incorrectly or want to change an event’s name later, you’ll need to track new data for that event. This new data won’t be consistent with your historical data.

Vanity metrics

Understanding how much time users spend on pages, your bounce rate, and the number of sessions can help you figure out, very generally, how your marketing efforts are working over time. But when it really boils down to it, these are vanity metrics that might give you bragging rights but don’t really help you improve tangible business outcomes.

Mixpanel provides data that’s more tailored to your conversion and engagement goals than GA can, as long as you’re willing to put in the time to set up custom event tracking. However, in terms of acquisition metrics, GA can be sufficient.

Difficulty measuring individual behavior

As a tool originally developed in the 1990s, Google Analytics is simply incapable of tracking individual users—particularly as they move between devices. If a user consumes content on your website using their laptop and then hops over to their smartphone to continue their journey, Google counts this as two sessions.

Because its terms of service prohibit customers from storing personally identifiable information (PII), it takes a ton of work to get GA to combine user identities across platform, channel, and device. This major limitation makes it hard to understand the impact of different devices and platforms on your site traffic.

GA has a feature called User ID to help with this, but it only works when you can assign a unique ID in your system for each user. If your users don’t have to log in to use your site or product, you’re out of options.

Limited segmentation capabilities

Where Mixpanel offers unlimited segmentation capabilities, Google’s product is more rigid. You can only compare four segments at a time, and have a limited number of predefined segments to choose from. Anything additional must be set up manually, another time-consuming process.

Of course, you can upgrade to GA 360, an enterprise offering, to take advantage of things like sub-four-hour SLAs and advanced reporting and visualization capabilities. But it will cost substantially more.

Zero support

In case you’ve never used a Google product before, let’s hope you don’t run into any problems using this platform (and let’s hope it never gets deprecated, either!).

Google is notorious for its lackluster support. In the event you get stuck somewhere, you’ll have to scour forums to figure out your own solution. Once again, an upgrade to GA360 solves this problem, but because Google’s limitations on product analytics, you’ll likely be stuck paying enterprise pricing for at least one other product to obtain the data you need.

Google Analytics: Pros and cons

Pros

  • Good at measuring where traffic comes from
  • Identifies trends that occur over time
  • Helps you determine the best channels to invest in

Cons

  • Bad at measuring behavior on websites and apps
  • Doesn’t give detailed insights about individual users.
  • No customer support if you need help

Learn more about alternatives to GA in our complete guide.

Heap: A Better Alternative to Mixpanel and Google Analytics

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While Mixpanel and Google Analytics can be helpful, both leave much to be desired when it comes to becoming a truly data-driven product team. This is why more and more companies are relying on Heap as their product analytics platform. (Or Digital Insights Platform, as Heap calls it.)

Automatically capture all user data

Unlike Mixpanel, Heap automatically captures all data on user activity from the outset, preventing your engineering team from having to spend lots of time configuring your instance. Even other product analytics solutions that boast advanced behavioral data require you manually choosing events to track, even if you’re not yet sure which correlate with better engagement and retention.

Get robust governance built in

Heap ensures your data stays trustworthy, organized, and always protected. The platform includes full access control and a host of tools for monitoring your dataset, like event previews, version control, and standardization across every source.

Learn more about how Heap governs huge datasets at scale in our Medium article!*

Easily analyze all user behavior

Heap enables you to focus on individual user and segment behavior, making it easy understand the customer journey on the deepest level. Event Visualizer lets anyone find, name, and manage a complete set of user events, without touching your codebase. Use Heap’s powerful product analytics to track meaningful KPIs over time and get real-time answers when you need them.

To learn more about why product teams prefer Heap, join our weekly live demo, which takes place every Thursday. Better yet, sign up for a free trial of Heap and take it for a spin today.

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