A complete overview of the two analytics tools: MixPanel and Heap Analytics. We’ll compare them by features, abilities, complexity and pricing to help you understand which tool is the right one for you, if at all.
Choosing the right analytics tool is a critical decision. Each tool offers different abilities, features, scale, and price ranges. Making the right decision means choosing the analytics tool that holds the abilities and features that are relevant to you, along with the right pricing for your business and traffic scale.
MixPanel and Heap are events based analytics tools and they are both a good fit for tracking events (not focusing mainly on traffic as Google Analytics), but unfortunately, they also require a lot of effort to set up properly, and a lot of maintenance while you go on and make changes in your website or product.
In this post we will cover:
- Why using an events based tool is an absolute must.
- How to get started and set up each of the tools.
- How to create events and track the relevant data.
- Which event types are available.
- Pricing methods.
- A summary to decide which tool is right for you.
Why Google Analytics is not enough?
Using a website analytics tool is absolutely necessary in order to understand how your website or product is performing, whether your marketing efforts are paying off, and what helps or prevents you from reaching your goals.
While Google Analytics focus is analyzing different pages within your site, tools like MixPanel and Heap Analytics focus on events (such as signups, upgrades or payments). For example, Google Analytics will help you understand where users are coming to your homepage from, and how long they stay there, while events analytics tools will help you understand the behavior of users who signed-up to your website.
Over the last couple of years, the ways different companies and brands are using analytics are changing. It used to be very common to simply count page views and analyze traffic and time on site. Today, it’s almost rare to see traffic as the main KPI. Most companies measure the most significant conversions and follow and optimize the sales funnel. It doesn’t really matter how many visitors there are, what really matters is how many of them converted and took actions.
Why pay for an analytics tool when Google Analytics is free?
Google Analytics is a great website analytics tool, and yes it is free (the basic version of it), but unfortunately, it’s just not enough, especially for marketers and product managers with challenging goals.
Google Analytics focuses mainly on site traffic, but when you need to analyze your marketing efforts, track events, and analyze your sales funnel, Google Analytics is just not simple enough to understand and use, and usually does not deliver actionable data for marketers. While it does support events and goals, many users find it too complicated to set up and analyze, and it eventually becomes unused, even though it’s installed.
4 important things you can’t do with Google Analytics
1. Track individual users – Google Analytics only allows users to use a unique user ID and prohibits sending personal information user name or IP address. So you can’t really see and understand how specific users behave on your site, or how you acquired them.
2. Analyze multiple dimensions at once – Unfortunately, Google Analytics supports viewing only 2 dimensions at once, which limits your ability to understand your users and your conversions better. For example, it’s impossible to see how many people landed on a certain page, through a certain channel, and on which platform. So you can’t know how many users converted on your home page and got there through a Facebook ad while using a mobile device.
3. Completely focus on events – Google Analytics makes it very hard to understand your website events, who’s using them and why they are being used or not. Using tools like MixPanel or Heap Analytics makes it much easier to focus on events and optimize your site and marketing efforts.
4. Get support – Trying to understand your way around Google Analytics can be complicated, especially if you wish to really dig into your data, and it’s completely up to you. The only way you can get full support from the Google Analytics team is to pay about $100K per year for the premium version of Google Analytics, which will grant you access to more features and a full personal support.
Now, that we understand the importance of events based website analytics, let’s start comparing between MixPanel and Heap Analytics.
The beginning – a bit about the history of both companies
MixPanel and Heap Analytics represent the new generation of analytics tools. ‘Older’ analytics tools like Tableau and Adobe Marketing cloud are based on integrations with different data sources and tools that focus on BI and visualization.
MixPanel and Heap don’t compete with BI tools like the ones mentioned above, but rather create a new discipline. Their main value is providing a platform for tracking all events performed by users and analyze them according to different metrics, such as user behavior, trends, and funnels. Other tools under the same category are KissMetrics, Amplitude, and Oribi. You can see it as a replacement to saving all events to a database and then connecting it to a visualization tool.
MixPanel was founded in 2009 and raised almost $80M. Its initial focus was tracking events for mobile apps. At first, MixPanel was very developers-oriented and required code integration for adding every new event or modifying one. Over the years it became less techy and more friendly to Product and Marketing people (but, like Heap, still requires developers support, of course). The main positioning of MixPanel today is a tool for Product managers.
Heap Analytics is a much younger company but showed an impressive growth during the last year. The company was founded in 2013 and raised $13M. The initial ‘claim to fame’ of Heap Analytics was tracking all events and the ability to view data retroactively, while MixPanel didn’t have this capability at that time. Over the last few years, the tools became much more similar and most of the major features, which are launched by one of the companies, appear on the other’s product a few weeks or months later.
Main use cases for both tools:
- For Product managers – Track and analyze the usage of different features, funnels, and individual user behavior.
- For Marketers – Analyze Marketing and user acquisition channels by the main KPIs (for example, which content/ campaign/ landing page leads to the best sign ups), and optimize funnels.
- For support/ customer success – Track individual user’s paths and understand their behavior better.
- On the company level – Track the main KPIs (sign ups, paying users engagement) and their trends.
Setting up and getting started
The main downside of integrating a new analytics tool is its initial setup. You’d need to put in some effort in order to start exploring events and track data. While traditional BI tools require a heavy integration in order to get started, MixPanel and Heap try to simplify it by collecting events automatically and enabling users to define some events in a visual way. However, it will still take a few days and some investment in order to start getting meaningful data.
Both tools require setting up an account, installing their code, and creating events in order to get started.
Installing the code
Mixpanel – Create an account by a simple signup process, which will direct you straight to the Mixpanel script installation page. Mixpanel will grant you access to your data dashboard even if there were no events defined yet (events definition will be explained ahead). The dashboard will be empty from any data until you install the code on your site and define the events you wish to track.
Heap Analytics – As in MixPanel, you will have to create an account and implement the Heap Analytics code on your website. Heap Analytics enables you to email the code, along with installations instructions, to your developers directly from your Heap account.
Events are the actions people take on your website, which you can choose to track and follow. Events can be clicks, conversions, page views, downloads, or any action on your site.
Creating events enables you to track, analyze, and optimize the actions you wish users will take on your site, and understand how to get more of those actions. Of course, it can also be used to understand what’s not working and what you might need to change.
Both tools will automatically collect any event on your site once the script is installed, Unfortunately, it is required to manually set-up each event you wish to track and see its data on your dashboard.
Mixpanel – All your website events data will be collected from the moment the Mixpanel script is installed on your website. In order to see your events data in your dashboard, you will be required to manually set the events you wish to track. Once the events are defined, all their data will appear on the dashboard.
Data for events that are created later on will contain data retroactively since the script was actually installed on the site.
In case you are performing A/B testing on your site, and making site changes, you will be required to have your developers make changes in your website code with each change. This can be a huge issue, since it can actually prevent you from optimizing your website at a fast pace, and get stuck with underperforming features.
Defining events with MixPanel
The main way to create events with MixPanel is a point and click site overlay. In addition to that, for a finer-grain control, there’s an option to manually customize the CSS selectors. It won’t always answer your needs, which unfortunately means you will have to resolve it by adjusting your website code.
Available event types on MixPanel
There are a few event types which you can track and follow with MixPanel:
- Page view – When a page is loaded. Page view can only be manually defined in the dashboard, and it is impossible to do so with the site overlay tool.
- Click – When a page element is being clicked on, i.e. a click on a link, image, etc. Click events can easily be created with the site overlay tool.
- Change – When a form is being filled in by a user, i.e. user typed their email address in a registration form.
- Submit – When a form is submitted.
MixPanel event grouping abilities
Event grouping means crowding a few events into one group, which will be counted as one event. For example, any click on a “sign-up” button across your site (on your homepage, pricing page, about us etc.), will have to be defined as a separate event, and its data will be displayed separately.
With grouping, all those multiple signs up events can be grouped into one event called “sign-up” (or whatever you decide to name it), which will aggregate all the data of the events in it. So in this case, all the data for sign-ups across your site will be aggregated into one group and will be displayed as one event.
Grouping events make it much easier to understand your overall performance, funnels, and marketing efforts.
Heap Analytics – Once the Heap Analytics script is installed on your site, all your events data will be automatically collected. In order to actually see the data, you will be required to manually define which events you wish to follow, and display on your dashboard. Once your selected events are defined, their data will be retroactively available from the day the script was installed and will be presented in your dashboard.
Heap Analytics dynamic event tracking helps to cope with frequently changing websites. Since events are automatically tracked, it makes it easier to keep track of changes on your site, which also means changes in your events setup. By doing so, heap Analytics spares the sometimes impossible need to constantly change your website code.
As oppose to MixPanel, Heap Analytics track both “first touch” and “last touch” simultaneously. “First touch” means the first page a user landed on, which will be allocated to any event. “Last touch” means the last page he conducted the event on. For example, if a user landed on your homepage, and then browsed through to the pricing page, and signed up there “ the first touch” will attribute the sign up to the home page, while “last touch” will attribute it to the pricing page. Keeping both can really help in understanding and optimizing the funnel users going through on your website in order to take your desired actions.
Defining events with Heap Analytics
There are two ways to define the events you wish to track:
- The “Event Visualiser” – A simple point-and-click tool that allows you to create events without changing your website code. The event visualizer is a similar tool to the MixPanel site overlay tool. The Event Visualizer allows you to browse through your website and mark and name the events you wish to track and see on your dashboard.
- Manual events – Any event type can also be added manually, without the event visualizer. Defining page views events is only possible when done manually.
Heap’s Event grouping abilities
Heap Analytics also allows creating groups of multiple events using the “Combo” event type. An event group is a combination of a few selected events, which aggregated into one group as one event.
Mixpanel also provides an API for pulling data out of MixPanel, either in raw (JSON based) or formatted form. Data export is also available through a couple of official libraries (Python, PHP, Ruby) and through direct HTTP endpoints.
Heap – There are two documented libraries – web and iOS (no support for Android at the time of writing). There’s also support for server-side tracking (Heap does suggest using their web/iOS code whenever possible instead) through Node.js and Ruby libraries or through a documented HTTP spec.
Heap also provides a feature called Heap SQL, which allows you to use SQL queries to query your data. To use Heap SQL, provisioning of a Redshift cluster (a database hosted on Amazon Web Services) is required, either one you provision yourself and provide Heap’s team with the details or Heap will provision one for you.
Bottom line – Overall, MixPanel provides a wider range of libraries to interact and report events with than Heap does. Most notable is the support for Android as well, which can be a game changer for certain potential clients. Depending on your needs, both seem to provide flexible ways to query your data where more complex queries are needed.
As for ‘raw’ data output, we personally like working with DB/SQL, so Heap’s SQL feature appears to be more friendly and flexible to use than MixPanels JSON data export.
MixPanel – It is possible to run A/B tests on mobile apps (remember, MixPanel was originally a mobile app tracking tool). MixPanel allows you to create different variations of your mobile app screens and see how each variation performed. Unfortunately, A/B testing with MixPanel is currently available for mobile apps only, and it is impossible to run tests on a desktop product or a website.
Heap – Unfortunately, Heap does not offer any A/B testing abilities. It is possible to integrate Heap Analytics with Optimizely or VWO (Both are very popular A/B testing tools) through the API, and there are explanations on how to do that in Heap’s documentation.
The question of how much you will have to pay for each of the tools is complex. Each tool has different pricing models, which can be a game changer in your decision on which one to use. Both companies have a pricing model that doesn’t always make sense since they are both based on sessions and events count.
For example – a fashion blog with 1M visitors a month will pay much more than a security company with 1,000 visitors a month, which earns X100 less than the blog. Event based pricing also encourages users to collect fewer events instead of doing the opposite.
So if your website has many visitors, or you are tracking a large number of events, you may find yourself paying a higher price than you intended, which will nullify the cost effectiveness of your chosen tool. If you can’t pay a few hundred dollars a month, neither tool is likely a good fit for you, and you should probably invest more time and effort in making Google Analytics your best fit.
MixPanel – There are several tiers of pricing, segmented by the number of events and features The problem with MixPanel’s pricing method is that you may find yourself paying a large amount, even if you have a low number of site visitors.
For example, if your site has many events you need to track, but you don’t have many users, you will probably end up paying MixPanel a large amount, even though you don’t produce much revenue.
Another problem with pricing by events is that it also encourages users to collect fewer events and miss out on data that can help them significantly improve their results. From our experience, as the user base grows, in order to keep the same price, you had to give up on important metrics from month to month, since you will have to stop tracking some of the events.
The price can also vary by choosing between a monthly or annual payment. Choosing the annual payment will reduce the actual monthly price.
MixPanel offers a $0 monthly plan for 20 million events per month. Please note, overages are automatically billed without notification.
Heap Analytics – Heap offers a free plan for up to 5,000 sessions per month, or 50,000 sessions if you install their badge on your site (the badge is an image with a link to Heap’s site). The problem with this pricing method is that websites with lots of visits, but not many events and revenues may find themselves paying Heap Analytics a lot while generating very little revenue.
Bottom line – While neither company fully discloses their pricing, it will usually start around $200 for a small site, around $1,000 for a medium size site, and can go up to $10K – $30K for large sites. If you don’t have many users but your users perform lots of actions in every session, Heap will probably be the cost-effective solution for you. If you have a lot of sessions but a small number of events in each one, MixPanel will probably be the better option for you.
Bottom line: Which one is a better fit for your needs – MixPanel or Heap?
Both Heap and MixPanel capture all the data (once their code is installed) and support funnels, retention, and real-time data. Both tools identify users across devices- Heap does it by user’s identities, and MixPanel by user’s profiles.
MixPanel offers some extra features, like A/B testing, push notifications, and is generally a better fit for mobile apps, especially since Heap doesn’t support Android apps. MixPanel also offers a better way to track and analyze revenues and has better export APIs.
Heap is a more dynamic tool. Its automatic event tracking is a good fit for constantly changing websites, and enables retroactive analysis. Heap also automatically collects “first touch” and “last touch” data, without any required code changes.
We hope reading this post helped you with your decision on which analytics tool is better for you.