It’s been just over a year since Google redesigned and relaunched Google Analytics. In that time GA has become an innovative product that seems to improve every day.
But I believe that many of us, myself included, are really missing the point when it comes to Google Analytics. I don’t think that we fully embrace the paradigm shift that Google is pushing with GA. Let me explain…
By releasing Google Analytics for free, Google has thrust web analytics into the mainstream. This is great for our industry, but it places a heavy burden on Google. They must provide a product that makes analytics easy.
But is web analytics easy? That’s debatable, but the simple truth is that there are millions of people out there getting into web analytics via GA and Google needs to help them understand their data.
Paradigm Shift #1: use GA to do more analysis.
Google Analytics is designed to facilitate the understanding of click stream data. How? By providing an interface that helps people explore their data by providing lots of context. All of the time spent redesigning GA was for one reason: to create a product that makes analysis easy for everyone. That’s a rather lofty goal but it is analysis most critical part of being a web analyst. If GA can help us understand what’s happening with our website then we can take action.
Have people embraced this idea? To some extent, yes. Many users I talk to like the features in GA and feel that it is an effective tool for analysis. But there is a huge number of users that still do not understand or know about many of the features in GA. Believe it or not, people still don’t know that you can track different types of online advertising, not just AdWords. A large segment of people use GA to track “hits” to their site.
Let me caveat this by saying that there are some analysis tasks that are just not possible in GA. However, these tasks are usually more advanced analysis techniques, like applying a control limit or doing a long tail analysis. Perhaps the GA team will ad advanced features as the product matures with the market.
Paradigm shift #2: less formal reporting, more pestering!
Just as important as understanding the data is the distribution and access to the data. Google has tried to facilitate this need in two ways.
First, access to Google Analytics is pretty easy. Anyone with a Google Account can get access to a GA account. Three fields and two clicks and you can add someone to your analytics account. It’s that easy. And, to the best of my knowledge, there is no limit to the number of users. Now Joe in IT can access the data along with Kathy in marketing.
Second, the new GA redesign included email reports. While this does not seem like a revolutionary feature, the ability to distribute actionable data, to anyone, at any time, helps drive change. Why export data, create a report and then email it when you can email it right from GA? You can pester your co-workers and contractors (who are the ones that usually need to take action on the data) with the information they need to make change.
I don’t think that many people have really embraced GA’s email reports feature. Multiple people a week ask me how to get data out of GA so they can create elaborate dashboards or other reports. They try to force GA into their current reporting framework rather than trying to change. I’m not saying this is wrong, but I think we need to give GA’s features a chance.
While Google Analytics is not the end-all be-all web analytics application, it is a solid foundation that will continue to evolve and meet the needs of a growing and maturing user base. The big question is, will we embrace the change that many of GA’s features support, or will we continue with analytics as usual?
Think I’m off the mark? Have I consumed too much of the Google Analytics Kool-Aid? Leave a comment below!
Zvika Jerbi says
Right on the spot!
but i do know that even with the best UI (and i love GA interface) the job of doing actionable analysis takes time and concentration. Once you put in the time and start “getting” it, it’s an amazing tool. Oh and careful…it’s addictive!
“Google Analytics is designed to facilitate the understanding of click stream data.”
I think this is the key point Justin. And if you gave such a line to *most* web site owners they’d suspect you of talking techno gibberish at them. They’d be right. :-)
GA is a tool for Web Analysts. It is NOT a tool for site owners.
So this is where I would depart from your premise. GA is free, sure. But in and of itself that alone won’t help people make better web sites – which is IMHO the true goal of any WA tool.
GA can be and is so much more. But to most people, as you point out, it’s just a prettier way of counting hits. Sadly, that’s how GA presents itself too.
I agree it’s a great tool and helps define web analysis, but when was the last time they made a real change or improvement? Has there been anything since the recent facelift back in December?
Google’s advertising strength depends on people having easy access to constantly improving tools – it’d be great if they put more resources into GA.
Justin Cutroni says
Steve: Thanks for the comment (and great to hear from you)!
I may have techn-nor-ized my key point! What I was trying to say, was that Google is trying to facilitate analysis for everyone, including site owners. GA is no good to the world if no one can make change based on the data and that’s Google’s ultimate goal: make every site owner embrace data driven site improvement. Then it’s just a short jump to world domination…. analysts that
Jonathan: While it seems like a while since Google has added any features to GA, there has been a relatively steady stream of small enhancements. Things like multi-line graphing, audio reports, TV reports, benchmark reports and event tracking have all been added since Oct 2007. OK, so event tracking is still in beta. But not bad.
More importantly, Google has upgraded the JS tracking code and much of the back end. GA now has a solid foundation for growth.
Zvika: I couldn’t agree more. The more time I spend looking at data the more I want to dig down and find actionable nuggets.
Thanks for reading everyone.
Tim Leighton-Boyce says
GA sometimes seem stuck in the middle to me. On one side there are the people, including sometimes vendors and analysts, who suggest that in some way it’s not quite adequate. They’ll trot out lines like “only 4 goals” and in general be rather economical with the truth.
On the other side is the implication made in much of the basic information even on Google’s own sites that “all you have to do is paste this code in your footer template and you’re done.”
On many dynamic sites a raw profile like that will produce reports which cannot even be read, let alone used as the basis of analysis.
That’s where sites like this and books like yours come in of course. And of course there are the consultants and experts of various types.
But I think something is missing. There’s a huge amount of support material available in text and video form from Google themselves and sites like these. Somehow or other I think Google need to incorporate some form of guidance towards that within the system itself.
I noticed at the London Emetrics how someone from Google consciously did not use the word ‘free’, but referred to there being no charge for use. In the same way, I think people need to stop pretending that it’s ‘easy’. It’s much, much more friendly than most rivals, but none of these things are easy at first.
HI Justin –
I am interested in your comments: “They try to force GA into their current reporting framework rather than trying to change.” And I think this is where I am frustrated.
I am looking for a method to compile summaries from relevant data instead of just handing over individual key reports. What would you recommend?
Thanks – oh and Boot Camp was a great experience!
Justin Cutroni says
Tim: You make an excellent point, and I’m not talking about the value of this blog or my book. ;) I do think that the next step Google needs to take is to educate users. Even though they have made the data easier to understand, there is going to be an education gap that needs to be bridged.
I like your idea of integrating educational materials into the application. Or, even better, would be to build actionability logic into GA.
Beverly: Glad you had a good time at Boot Camp. It’s always fun to interact with other folks that are interested analytics and marketing.
I really am trying to embrace GA as a reporting tool. You can create a scheduled email in GA that contains multiple PDF reports. Then you can add some analysis to an email and attach the PDFs.
This is a break from more traditional reporting, but hopefully the recipients see the value in the analysis and recomendations and not seeing lots of tables of data.
Thanks to both of you for taking the time to share your thoughts.