Web Analytics is crucial for every website. Even for a small blog, it can open up a whole new world, once the blogger understands how visitors behave on the site. It’s not just about how many visitors does a website get, but to really understand where do they come from, what do they do there, and what visitors bring value to the website, and so on. An analytics program can reveal the answers to these and much much more. Most importantly analytics can help to save costs in the areas where money is being spent, but little or nothing is coming back in return, and more money can be allocated to the channel that yields the most.
Today there are many analytics software solutions available, such as Google Analytics, KISSmetrics and Clicky, to name few. Some of them cost money, some of them are free. There are pros and cons with both. This article digs into one of the free ones: Google Analytics. Google has done a good job in marketing their analytics, since it is probably the most well-known.
Google Analytics Pros
Google Analytics is one of my favorite tools, and I have spent hundreds if not thousands of hours with it. I have learned a lot during that time and that probably has save ten times the time I would have spent correcting the mistakes we would have made without understanding the power of analytics. I listed some pros that I have encountered working with Google Analytics in various website projects.
- It’s free
- It’s easy to install
- Can be applied to website, mobile and other digital environment
- Allows importing data from other sources
- Allows cross platform linkage between other Google products
- Allows customized data collection
- Allows custom report creation
- Allows ecommerce and goal tracking
- It’s been developed constantly
- Google provides free training online
Google Analytics is one of my recommended tools for most of the website projects I have worked with. Being a free tool it offers low entry barrier for any start up or just simple blog. It’s very easy to install, the tracking code is provided automatically in the interface with a unique ID.
It’s capable to track data not only in web and mobile environment, but also any digital environment where data is collected, such as digital cash register. If you are tracking parts of the data in your own database for example, you can import that data to Google Analytics and further analyze it there (as long as you can link the data with same headers in excel).
One really valuable feature to Google Analytics is the ability to link data between other Google products. For example, if you are advertising using Google AdWords or displaying ads on your website using Adsense, you can analyze the results more efficiently within Analytics and really digging into what works, what doesn’t.
The standard interface and reports give good overall idea of most things, but sometimes that’s not enough. Google Analytics allows you to customize the tracking code to collect more data through .js queries. You can also create event calls for better on page tracking; for example button clicks.
The interface allows you to create custom reports, which can be a time saver compared to digging the same data in standard reports through filters. Or sometimes the filtering doesn’t allow displaying certain sets of data on the same page.
If you have an ecommerce website, you can track transactions in Google Analytics, which gives you a tool to really understand where your converting users come from, or what advertising channel yields the most profits and where are you losing money. Different products can be assigned with different prices.
Even if your website isn’t ecommerce based, there might be certain goals, such as email signup, banner click or pageviews per visitor etc. that you eventually make money with. These are possible to track in Google Analytics, and they also can be given a monetary value. This again, makes it easy to see what actions that you take yield the best at the end.
Google Analytics is one of the products that Google seem to cherish in many ways. One being constant development for the better. I had the pleasure to meet few of the Analytics gurus at Google, when I was still working with Agoda years ago. Some brilliant minds working in this field. I am waiting for Universal Analytics to roll out soon.
Google lately launched online courses to educate the Analytics users on the latest features. The courses are free, and available at Google Analytics Academy website. Even if you are familiar with most of the Google Analytics features, I warmly recommend even a browse through.
Google Analytics Cons
As with most things in life, nothing is perfect. Same goes to Google Analytics. Even though being a great tool, there are some downsides that every now and then reveal themselves. Some of these cons might not be cons for everyone, but I have run into them more than once.
- It’s free (wait, wasn’t this a ‘pro’?)
- Limited number of Goals
- Creating custom reports is somewhat limited
- Upgrading Analytics Premium is insanely expensive
- Requires constant training
Google Analytics being free does mean that you don’t have to pay any money to Google for using it. The caveat is though that Google gets your website data. Unless you are working with some top-secret level stuff (which they probably have access anyway), you’re quite safe. They won’t give your data to your competitors. But if you find a new gold mine, and think you’re alone, guess again :)
One of the most annoying things with Google Analytics is the limit of how many goals you can create within it. The goals are limited to 20, which for most work just fine. But, if your website has multiple features that you would like to track as goals, then this could be a rock in your shoe. I have recently worked with a project, which requires multiple event tracking goals due to the design of the website. The problem isn’t really that there are only 20 goals, but that once a goal has been created, it can’t be deleted. So it really requires a great deal of planning to overcome this. In a fast moving environment this can cause real headache time to time. Luckily there usually are ways to utilize the existing and create filters or other way pull the data.
Custom reports is one of my favorite features in Google Analytics, but at the same time it’s the one that mostly gives me headache. Especially in projects where the reports needed are very rigid and comes down to customized data. Google Analytics uses metrics and dimensions somewhat rigidly, so the problem is that instead of creating one report at the end we have 5 different reports covering the same topic. The drilldowns can be very tricky time to time.
To overcome many of the limitations you can always upgrade to Google Analytics Premium, which is a pretty cool tool, with lots more accuracy, proper support and so on. The only downside is that it isn’t really for small players with the price of $150,000 annually! There could be a layer of options between the free and premium, but perhaps Google doesn’t see that as an opportunity.
The last one on the list is perhaps a good thing for most, but for those who would like to have an analytics tool that stays the same, there might be more suitable solutions than Google Analytics. Constantly updating the UI can sometimes be a little confusing, especially if you don’t spend often time with the Analytics. The changes are sometimes quite big as new features are being brought in and old ones combined or complete discarded. I’m not saying it’s for the worse, just saying it takes time to keep up with it.
Agree or disagree? I am open for conversation.