The Problem with Free Analytics
Yesterday, while I was in Los Angeles at Jim Sterne’s “Guru’s of Marketing Optimization” event, Analytics Demystified released the second set of research based on our March 2007 web analytics survey. This time we looked at the difference in usage patterns reported by respondents primarily using “free” tools (for example, Google Analytics or Analog) and those using “for-fee” solutions like SiteCatalyst, HBX, WebTrends, etc.
If you haven’t already, you can download the research from this link:
The three key insights in the data, in my opinion, were:
- Those deploying free web analytics solutions are more likely to treat web analytics as a casual endeavor, with 35 percent of survey respondents using free solutions reporting only an ad hoc use of their measurement tools, compared to less than 20 percent of those using licensed solutions.
- Companies using free tools are dramatically understaffed for web analytics, with 42 percent of respondents using free tools reporting having no dedicated resources, compared to only 18 percent of those using licensed solutions.
- Individuals using free tools have less experience with web analytics in general, with 64 percent of respondents using free tools reporting less than two years of experience, compared to 32 percent of those using licensed solutions.
While some may incorrectly interpret this report as some kind of damnation of free tools nothing could be further from the truth. And while I comment in the report on page 3 that “there appears to be a very strong correlation between a lack of investment in web analytics technology and a sub-optimal use of this technology” anyone paying much attention should hardly be surprised by this statement.
It is my firm belief, and I emphasize this on page 4, that any company using any application regardless of price can be tremendously successful in their use of web analytics. I say this because I know that success means different things to different companies. I also say this because I firmly believe that being successful with web analytics has very little to do with technology, at least for the majority of companies doing web analytics today.
This was my position in 2004 when I published Web Analytics: Staffing, Spending, and Vendor Selection while at JupiterResearch–that people are as-or-more important to your ability to “do” web analytics than the technology you select. My position today is slightly revised, given my views on the importance of process to web analytics, but until you’re doing moderately complicated things with your web analytics package, based on clearly defined business objectives, the technology you deploy is not the limiting factor: you are.
The recommendations I make in the report are pretty straightforward:
- Companies who have decided to standardize on free solutions need to work overtime to be successful in their endeavors. Ian Thomas over at Lies Damned Lies thinks I have this backwards, commenting that companies are not deciding necessarily to standardize on free solutions as much as they lack the ability or desire to invest in web analytics and so pick a free solution by default. Fair enough, but given the industrial-grade love fest surrounding Google Analytics, one that appears to be about to be duplicated with the release of Thomas’s “Gatineau” product later this summer, the guidance stands: If you’ve decided to use GA (or Analog, or Gatineau) in lieu of a paid solution, don’t fool yourself into thinking that your choice in any way, shape, or form makes web analytics any easier.
- Companies who have decided to standardize on free solutions must spend the money they’ve saved on technology to hire smart people. On this point I must agree with the spirit of guidance given by the wonderful and well-loved Mr. Avinash Kaushik in his $90/$10 rule for web analytics spending. Again, assuming that you’re not just “messing about” with web analytics but have decided to standardize on a free solution and intend to use that solution to create valuable business insights and to optimize the relationship between your site, your visitors, and your marketing endeavors, take Avinash’s advice and hire (or allocate) someone really smart to learn the technology and what it can tell you about your business.
- Companies serious about improving their web site but unable to commit the necessary resources should consider licensed web analytics solutions. I was not surprised that this statement more than any in the report got people’s hackles up but in most cases the response appears to me more emotional than logical. All I’m saying is “if you aren’t going to help yourself, select a technology vendor that is motivated to help you!” The for-fee vendors have near universally spent a great deal of time and money on their account management and professional services teams, and these people are ostensibly there to help their customers achieve “magnificent web analytics success” when they’re not able to commit to web analytics and hire dedicated resources.
There is a ton of great information in the report and I would very much encourage everyone interested in the great subject of web analytics to spend the time to read these 19 pages. You can download the complete report here:
As is always the case, I welcome your comments, your feedback, and your honest opinion about my research. Do you think I’m picking on free solutions? Or perhaps I’m picking on for-fee solutions? I’d love to hear what you’re thinking …