Google Analytics: Thoughts on the Future

I am continuously amazed at how fast our industry changes. In the two years since Google Analytics was launched we’ve seen Web Analytics grow in popularity and web analysts become highly prized in the marketplace. Many people attribute the change to Google Analytics which got me thinking about GA and how it may evolve in the future.

I’d like to mention that this post is purely opinion and speculation. I have no idea what Google’s master plan is for Google Analytics, but I do think that my ideas are possible.

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Let’s start by looking at where Google is going as a business. Google’s long term strategy is to become the dominant advertising network on the planet. It’s something that CEO Eric Schmidt has talked about in the past and it make total sense. The more advertising options that Google can offer it’s current customers the bigger the opportunity for growth.

Google’s success relies on the adoption of said advertising tools. Look at AdWords and the insane revenue it generates. Now image if Google could create 3 or 4 more advertising products that are as successful as AdWords. We’ll be looking at Berkshire Hathaway stock prices in no time.

The expansion of Google’s advertising platform began with audio ads and print ads and I’m sure they’re not going to stop there. These new products are simple, thus making them accessible to businesses that may not normally branch out into a new advertising medium. I’ll talk about specific Google advertising products and my thoughts on each in a moment, but what does all this mean to Google Analytics?

No matter what advertising tools Google creates, there needs to be a centralized reporting and analysis component. GA is that piece of the puzzle. It’s no secret that Google wants to create the Google Marketing Dashboard, why not base it on Google Analytics? It makes complete sense, right? GA is a data analysis tool so why not use it to analyze all marketing data? At the very least GA should be the analysis piece of the puzzle.


That’s the long term vision, but what type of integration opportunities exist right now?

The most basic integration is the inclusion of advertising cost data into Google Analytics. Audio cost data, print cost data… it’s natural to think that these will be pulled into GA soon.

The next integration step should be the automatic identification of online traffic that originated with an offline ad. Image if you could automatically create vanity URLs for your audio or print campaigns and have GA automatically track them. We’re already doing this manually, but it could, and should, be automated by Google. This type of integration will further remove IT from the configuration of GA making it easier for all types of organizations to track offline marketing efforts.

Let’s get even more specific.

Google AdWords

picture-1.pngNo need to talk much about this one. Google is the 800 pound gorilla in the paid search world. AdWords campaigns are automatically tracking in Google Analytics and cost data is automatically imported to compute ROI. Pretty slick. It would be nice if Google could pull in cost data from other paid search vendors, but there are probably too many political hurdles for this to happen.

Google Audio Ads

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I mentioned this one above and wrote a post about tracking audio ads with Google Analytics it in the past. I think audio integration is pretty logical. Beyond the cost data, I would like to see some type of map overlay report correlating geographic web traffic and the distribution of audio ads. The addition of automatically created vanity URLs for audio ads would provide a slick way to connect online conversions to the originating audio ad.

Google Print Ads

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Print is very similar to audio and I think it’s something we could see soon. Many of the same integration points exist for print ads including cost data, a map overlay of ad distribution and web visits and an automatically created vanity URL for print ads.

Graphic (Banner) Ads

This is another one that could be very close. Once the purchase of DoubleClick is finalized I bet we’re gong to see DoubleClick’s pre-click data rolled into GA quickly. Maybe they’ll add a DoubleClick item to the Traffic Sources menu below the AdWords menu item.

I think we’ll also see an auto-tagging feature for ads displayed on DoubleClick’s network. No more tagging destination URLs. Woo hoo!

Mobile

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Everyone loves to talk about mobile tracking. But the fact is that mobile tracking right now is miserable. The inconsistent implementation of JavaScript on mobile devices makes it very hard to track visitors on mobile devices.

Google has taken a big step to improve mobile tracking with the announcement of Android. This isn’t just a mobile browser, it’s a complete platform for mobile devices. It’s also a way that Google can insure that they’re very involved in the future of the mobile web. I’m sure that Google will include some type of mechanism in Android to track visitors.

Video (Google Video & YouTube) Ads

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Google is poised to provide some amazing data about how people interact with video. The new Google Analytics Event tracking feature is a logical, structured way to measure visitor engagement with video and video ads. I really hope that event tracking is added to all YouTube videos so we can all measure the performance of video content. Once we know how visitors are engaging video we can choose optimal placement of video ads.

I also expect Google to facilitate the creation of video ads in the same manner they did with audio ads and print ads. Maybe they’ll create a video ad marketplace.

Email Marketing

Google does not have an email marketing solution, but why couldn’t they leverage Gmail and create one? Just add a basic interface where users can upload a recipient list and some type of interface where they can style the email and you have a very effective email marketing tool.

But what about all of those people that don’t use Google advertising tools? What if someone just wants to use GA to measure website traffic? What cool features can they expect from Google?

I think Google’s commitment to GA goes well beyond the integration of advertising data. Google has a vested interest in providing tools that help EVERYONE make the web a better place. Part of Google’s philosophy is to, “Focus on the user and all else will follow.”

Analytics is one of the tools (and the most mature, I might ad) that Google provides so we can all make the web better (Website Optimizer and Google Trends are two others). The more analysis features that Google can pack into GA the more effective we’ll all be at making our sites better.

picture-5.pngCase in point, GA version 2. It was a major improvement in analytics UI design that facilitates analysis. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But it really makes analysis easier for everyone. I expect that Google will continue to refine the reporting interface by giving us more data visualization tools and more context for our data.

So what does this mean to other analytics vendors?

I don’t think that any other analytics vendor will be able to track Google based advertising (AdWords, Audio ads, etc.) as well as Google. I know that seems obvious, but it is a big deal, especially when Google becomes the major advertising network on the planet. Google can provide a view of offline ad activity and the resulting online behavior because they will have all the data. Could other providers create similar reporting? Maybe, but it won’t be as easy.

I also believe that we’ll continue to see consolidation. Google has, in my opinion, made web analytics tools (and testing tools) a commodity. Is there still a need for $250,000 web analytics application? Maybe, but I guarantee you people are taking a closer look at GA and evaluating the features that they really need before dropping hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Think I’m nuts? Think OmniSciences will take over the world? Leave a comment and let me know.

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    Comments

    1. says

      Google Analytics has revolutionized the way that I can monitor my client’s websites, but more importantly it has created the only palatable platform for them to analyze web stats themselves. It is helping the average business/site owner really focus on the needs of the customer. The search terms real people use and the traffic patterns they create are no longer just suppositions- they instead are measurable things that you can watch from day-to-day. Sure, this was always available, but the genius is the package that Google created. For me, it means that I can talk about real, measurable results- I have a lot more responsibility for the sites I create, but in the end it allows me to concretely and realistically demonstrate my value.

    2. says

      Hi Brian,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I couldn’t agree more, Google has created a product that brings data to life and makes it easy to understand. I don’t think there is another tool out there that facilitates analysis.

      Thanks again for sharing your experience.

      Justin

    3. bonder says

      Until GA can offer real-time stats tracking, other analytics suites like SiteCatalyst will be more attractive. Many marketers feel they can’t work with stale (24 hour old) data.

    4. says

      Over the next year I wouldn’t be surprised one little bit to see Google Analytics purchase one of the big ‘paid’ players like WebTrends or Omniture. I think soon they are going to realize that google analytics is lacking for more sophisticated tracking needs… and the fact you can’t even pay for support. Buying one of the key players seems like an obvious choice to fill this void.

      Rich Page
      http://www.rich-page.com

    5. says

      Hi, Justin,

      I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your shortcut for Google Analytics. We tried using the Visual Sciences analytics/PPC package but did not see the expected increase in ROI, not to mention their bid system does not work as advertised. The free Google Analytics tool is great, and with the release of Web Optimizer, you can really increase your ROI and conversion rate by making slight modifications to your landing pages.

      It seems like every week, Google is announcing a new tool to rival third-party analytic packages. Something that I have been asking for years is the ability to pre-define campaigns and share them with new accounts. I have not tried the new feature in the MCC, but I am excited to give it a whirl. It should help us quickly and smoothly launch high-ROI campaigns that have been proven to work.

      I agree with you that Google’s tool works best for Google, but the biggest selling point for Omniture and other third-party tools is the promise of managing all outlets in one location. Until Google can make that next leap, there is always going to be room for a third-party tool.

      It will be interesting to see how Microsoft’s Gatineau package expands its features and matures out of Beta. It has substantial segmentation capability to help PPC campaign managers target their high-value clients. One thing that both Google and Microsoft are missing is the JavaScript drop-off tracking. That was one feature that could substantially help Google/Microsoft, but it is definitely not worth paying $25,000 per year from a third-party vendor.

    6. says

      Hi Bonder,

      Thanks for your comment. I don’t believe that real time reporting is necessary. I’m not sure that any marketer can adjust and change strategy on an intra-day basis, it’s just too much work. In my experience, GA data us usually about 6 hours old, which is more than adequate for analysis.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Justin

    7. says

      Hi Rich,

      Interesting observation, but I don’t think Google will buy another analytics company. What value will one of those other tools add to GA? Sure, there may be 5% of GA users that would want the features of an Omniture, but I don’t think that’s enough to prompt Google to run out and acquire someone else.

      Now, if there was a company that did something really innovative with analytics, then I think we might see an acquisition.

      I think we’ll see GA mature with the analytics market. Folks like us, who are immersed in the analytics world always want bigger and better tools. But a majority of the people out there are just getting started and GA is more than adequate for them.

      As for support, there are a lot of great options for GA support. Google has a partner network with some really talented folks willing to help out. Full disclosure here, I’m one of those folks!

      Thanks for reading and thanks for sharing your thoughts.

      Justin

    8. says

      Hi Darren,

      Thanks for your well-written response. I agree that there will probably always be room for a third party tool, especially one that integrates well with existing advertising platforms. I do hope that someday the various PPC vendors open their applications a bit more so analytics vendors can do a more seamless integration. I’m not going to hold my breath though, too many big egos involved in that discussion. :)

      I agree that the JavaScript drop-off tracking would be nice, but it’s not a necessity.

      Thanks again for reading,

      Justin

    9. says

      Hi Justin.

      Happy New Year! I keep reading about how great (accurate) Analytics is, but there is a problem. How can it ever overcome the privacy issue that is cookies? A lot of people have their browsers set to delete all cookies automatically when the browser is shut. Browsers even have this setting by default sometimes. This issue seems to be ever more important as people become aware of the issues with permanent cookies and their tracking abilities. This seems to work against Analytics ever getting truly accurate if a significant percentage of users are wrongly identified as new visitors repeatedly…

    10. says

      Hi Paul,

      You raise an excellent point. Every analytics package that uses cookies is plagued by this issue. I know that Eric Peterson has done extensive research on this issue and the numbers range from 5% deletion rate to 40% deletion rate.

      My opinion? Get over it. Look at the trends in your data to understand what is challenging. If your data is off by 10% today, chances are it was off by 10% last week. As long as your vital metrics have increased you’re doing ok.

      Justin

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