Originally answered on Quora: What does Mixpanel do that Google Analytics is incapable of doing?
I’m answering this question from the perspective of a long time Mixpanel and Google Analytics customer. I use both of them concurrently in the development of a social game and have a fairly good understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of each tool. I’d summarize it this way: Google Analytics is the swiss army knife that can do almost anything (with some effort and a few regular expressions) while Mixpanel is a tool focused on visitor-level event engagement. As with many things in life, however, it’s not that simple. While I’ve used the API from both tools, I’m sharing an opinion based on experience with each of their web-based reporting interfaces. This is my take on what Mixpanel does that Google Analytics can’t.
- Events: Mixpanel provides a better event tracking model. Their events are easier to understand, more flexible, and simpler to report on. Extending Google Analytics events to match the flexibility provided by Mixpanel’s event properties, for example, requires silly hacks (which I dutifully implement since GA’s segmentation and analysis are so strong).
- Real-time tracking: Only Mixpanel offers real-time data collection and reporting. Google Analytics reporting tends to lag by about an hour – it used to be much more. GA has a new real-time visitor report but this provides little more than the current number of people on your site. (Surprisingly, this is a metric which Mixpanel does not display).
- Funnels: Mixpanel includes funnel analysis that Google Analytics can’t touch. Recent changes in Mixpanel’s funnels have made them incredibly handy. They allow you to analyze visitor (not visit) flows retroactively, specify the details of each step and then segment the report, complete with trends and the time between each step. Even with some limitations, which I won’t get into, these reports are insanely valuable to us. Google Analytics funnels can’t do any of this, though, to be fair, their new Visitor and Event Flow screens are a big improvement.
- Retention: Mixpanel offers built-in retention analysis. They provide a readily accessible, easy to understand retention tracking screen with several options. To get this information from Google Analytics requires more work but rewards you with significantly more segmentation and analysis flexibility. I explain how to track retention in Google Analytics in another post.
- Segmentation and reporting: Mixpanel makes it easy to do basic segmentation analysis. In Mixpanel you can click an event, select an associated property or condition and instantly graph the results. It’s fast, rewarding, and I do this a lot. Google Analytics reports can get you the same results but require more steps to create. Ironically, however, I’m often forced to use GA due to limitations in the Mixpanel interface. This is going to sound odd, especially with Mixpanel’s focus on user engagement analysis, but if you need fine-grained segmentation analysis and aren’t using their respective APIs then Google Analytics reporting is the better choice.
I use Mixpanel regularly because it’s so convenient. It’s fast, focused and provides instant insight into your data. By comparison, Google Analytics is large and slow but it’s also more readily shaped to your requirements, if you can invest the time. Mixpanel also uniquely provides genuine funnels, real-time tracking and simple event segmentation that’s a pleasure to use. (Having two tools also helps to validate new instrumentation and cross-check results). My advice: start with Google Analytics. Depending on your application requirements, how much time you’re willing to invest, and if you can afford it, supplement with Mixpanel.
Support for regular expressions greatly increases the power and flexibility of Google Analytics. Sadly, using regex is about as exciting as a trip to the bathroom with a wet blanket to watch paint dry. http://xkcd.com/208/