The debate whether Google Analytics is enterprise ready is more or less dead. People have finally figured out that they should use a tool that fits their needs regardless if they have 5 employees or 50,000. If that’s a paid solution fine. If it’s a free solution fine.
With that said, I’ve seen the number of inquiries from larger organizations dramatically increase in the past two years (ever since Google released the API, Custom Reporting and Advanced segmentation in 2008).
That brings me to the point of this post. With more and more inquiries, more executives are asking some interesting questions about Google Analytics. Here is my humble attempt to answer some of the most common questions I’ve heard about Google Analytics.
In reality GA is far from free. While you don’t have to pay for the tool you do need to invest in people. First and foremost you’ll need people to use the tool. This can be an analytics team or a marketing team. It depends on your organization and how you choose to tackle analysis.
In addition to people to use the tool you’ll also need IT resources to maintain the tool. You need someone that will be able to maintain and modify the implementation and configuration. Obviously this can be a huge investment depending on the size of your organization.
This is where most organizations fail. They do not commit to maintaining their data collection infrastructure, resulting in bad data and a loss of confidence in the resulting analysis.
But remember, spending less on the tool frees up more money to spend on resources to use and maintain the tool.
So I get that the GA is free (from a product perspective). But how good can it really be? Free stuff usually has some limitations.
This is a classic question. I’m going to be bold here: Google Analytics will fill at least 85% of your analytics needs. Probably 90%. Yes, I know that’s a bold statement, but I believe it’s true.
Now some of these features may not be very elegant (I still think Campaign Tracking sucks in certain ways) but GA does a hell of a lot. Here are some of the standard features in GA:
- Campaign tracking (ppc, email, display, social, seo)
- Conversion tracking
- Ecommerce tracking
- Event Tracking
- Custom variables
- Mobile site tracking
- App Tracking (Android and iPhone)
- Automated data monitoring and alerts
- Automated analysis via Intelligence
- Advanced analysis using Motion Charts
- A formal data export API
- Custom reporting
- On-the-fly segmentation
- Integrated AdWords reporting with pre-click / cost data
- Automated report distribution
Not too bad, huh? That’s not to say it does everything (more on this later), but that’s a pretty impressive list of features that cover a majority of analysis tasks.
I heard there is no support for Google Analytics. Is that true?
This one really gets me fired up! In case you’ve been living under a rock for the last 5 years there is a fairly substantial network of Google Analytics Certified partners (GACPs). I’m partial to the company I work for, WebShare. We’re located on almost every continent (anyone want to send me to Antartica :) ) and we work with some of the biggest companies in the world.
While Google does not directly support GA they lean heavily on the partner network and, if I may say so, I think we do a pretty good job of helping people out. We’ve seen almost every implementation possible and have compiled a slew of solutions to almost any implementation issue.
We also offer flexible ways to engage us. You can talk to us for an hour or engage us for a year. It’s up to you.
And, with the data API, we provide a huge assortment of add-ons and tools that can be used to extend Google Analytics.
So, to say that there is no support for GA, in my opinion, is just plain nuts.
That’s nice, Google has partners. But I need to call someone in case my people can’t get access to GA or the data collection isn’t working. Google needs to put some skin in the game and guarantee this thing will work.
Ah yes, the SLA question. This one comes up quite a bit. There is no SLA for Google Analytics. But let’s look at GA’s performance over the last 5 years:
- The UI has almost never gone down. It has been down for maintenance before, but those service interruptions are announced. On occasion, and this happens VERY rarely, the reporting interface is unavailable. But this has hardly been widespread or lasted more than an hour.
- The data collection process has had less than 5 issues over the last 5 years. And those outages have been very obscure. For example, there was a recent issue with GA collecting data from sites displayed in Google Chrome that use an iFrame. And there was an issue with ecommerce data collection on an extremely old version of IE 3.5 years ago. But the data collection system has never experienced a catastrophic collection issue. And let’s be realistic, how many companies in the world can put together a global data-center infrastructure like Google?
What about the data ownership? What is Google going to do with all that data and specifically mine?
Privacy. This is a big issue for Google, and not just the their analytics product. Your analytics data is your data and Google will not use it for anything unless you give them permission. There is a setting in the admin interface that explains how Google will use your data if you give them permission.
If you do let Google use your data, it will be used in aggregate, for things like benchmarking industry trends or providing unique visitor counts (i.e. a cookie count) for other tools like DoubleClick Ad planner.
If you ever want to take your data and permanently delete your GA account you can. Ultimately, you have control over your data.
I heard Google Analytics uses third party cookies and this guy Avinash told me third party cookies suck.
Yes, I’ve Seriously gotten this question from Director level people. Google Analytics uses first party cookies. End of story.
We’ve got a BI team, what can they do with Google Analytics?
Great question. There’s lots of debate re: web analytics and its relationship to business intelligence. It’s taken some time but web analytics is moving in a BI direction.
Right now, Google Analytics has an official data export API. That means you can programmatically suck the data out and add it to a data warehouse and do more advanced analysis.
However, and this is a pretty big caveat, it’s difficult to find a primary key in your analytics data that can link GA data to other data sources, which is usually customer level data. Basically there is no individual visitor tracking inside Google Analytics, and this means no individual customer profiling or analysis. Section 7 of the Google Analytics Terms of Service states that you can not track any personally identifiable information with Google Analytics, which means you can’t go and push someone’s email address into the GA data set. If you choose to use an identifier that is not personally identifiable, however, whatever you choose to do with that in your own systems is up to you.
For those that need to work with individual user profiling within their analytics tool, I know, this is a fairly big drawback. But there are workarounds that can link Google Analytics data to other data sets once it has been extracted from GA.
If all this is true, then how come I never see Google Analytics metrics quoted in the Wall Street Journal or other publications?
Good observation. Honestly, no one wants to be the first to step up and say, “We use Google Analytics to measure our site and here is our data.” It’s going to take someone who has a kick-ass implementation of GA to step up and say that they have complete confidence in it. Then they’ll be confident enough to quote their metrics.
So there you have it. That’s what people have been asking me. What’s ironic is a large number of these organizations already have a “rogue” implementation of Google Analytics. It’s not unusual for small teams to install GA to track a specific campaign. It’s also very common to see GA installed along side of other paid solutions as a backup or a test.
From a features perspective there is very little reason for any executive to be scared of Google Analytics. If you still have questions, install it and start using it. The product itself won’t cost you anything. But please take the time to educate your team on how to configure the tool and how to use it correctly. Work with a Google Analytics Certified Partner to resolve any issues you have and answer any lingering questions.
Now it’s your turn. What kinds of questions do you get about Google Analytics?