Posted July 24, 2007 9:00 am by with 5 comments

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Web Analytics Demystified released a study today entitled “The Problem with Free Analytics Tools” (e.g., Google Analytics). The report doesn’t look at the strengths or weaknesses of free analytics tools themselves, but at the support and investment of time or money users of free analytics tools made.

Their overall finding was that:

there appears to be a very strong correlation between a lack of investment [either of money or of time] in web analytics technology and a suboptimal use of this type of technology.

Specifically, they found several things lacking:

  • 35% of free tool users reported only “an ad hoc use” of their measurement tools (compared to <20% those using licensed solutions).
  • 42% of free tool users’ companies had no dedicated web analytics resources (versus 18% with licensed solutions).
  • 64% of free tool users had less than two years of experience (versus 32% of those using licensed solutions).

Obviously, the problem doesn’t lie in the tools themselves. I think it’s only natural that companies that don’t have the resources to fully use or even monitor their analytics data also don’t have the resources for a paid, licensed analytics service.

The report offers hope for those without licensed solutions:

There is ample evidence that given sufficient organizational commitment and attention to process that any company using any application regardless of price can be tremendously successful in their use of web analytics.

The study’s proposed solutions:

  1. Companies who have decided to standardize on free solutions need to work overtime to be successful in their endeavors.
  2. Companies who have decided to standardize on free solutions must spend the money they’ve saved on technology to hire smart people.
  3. Companies serious about improving their web sites but unable to commit the necessary resources should consider licensed web analytics solutions.

Other interesting findings of the study include:

  • Free tools users are less likely to use web analytics as part of their decision making process, with most either only using web analytics data for general guidance (41%). Another 8% is unsure how to integrate analytics into their decision making at all.
  • Free tools users are far more likely to work in situations lacking sufficient resources to be successful with web analytics, with 42 percent reporting zero dedicated resources for web analytics and an additional 39 percent reporting only a single dedicated resource, or 1.0 FTE equivalent.
  • Free tools users are less likely to have most of their web-related questions answered by their tools. 46% reported that web analytics tools answered less than half their questions. But that’s okay, since they aren’t sure what to do with the answers anyway. And I hate to ask this, but could it possibly be that they just don’t know where to look for these answers? We did just learn that there are no dedicated analytics resources in these organizations, so would it be safe to assume they’ve had little training?
  • And one good thing for free tool users: they’re more likely to work for organizations where web analytics is widely understood (34% say they believe that most people coming in contact with web analytics data actually understand the data, versus 18% at companies using for-fee solutions).

The full study is available from Web Analytics Demystified in PDF form.

  • But then an obvious question to ask is why are they using free analytics tools?
    Probably because they don’t have the interest, time, money, resources, or whatever to go for something more advanced.

    Analytics ends up not being a huge priority for them, and a free one can provide the general stats they are after.
    They might be happy with the level of their site/sites (regardless of what improvements a good analytics app could show them) and so $800 for ClickTracks, say, is not just a waste of money, but waste of time, as they wont see the benefit of it.

  • As a user of WebTrends at work, and Google Analytics for a medium volume personal “hobby site.” I think I can fairly say that Google Analytics answers key questions about traffic patterns and landing pages that WebTrends can’t handle.

    Sure…analog, webalizer, etc. may be weak products, but in my experience Google Analytics is a top tier commercial grade product, which happens to be free.

    I smell a little bias in this study.

  • Peter,

    I wonder, did you read the research before you commented that you “smell a little bias?” I only ask because I don’t make any judgment for or against free tools like Google Analytics.

    The take-away message in the report is that companies serious about web analytics need to avoid the knee-jerk reaction so many people have, essentially assigning great a value to free solutions like Google Analytics simply because they’re from Google or because they’re free.

    Don’t get me wrong, Google Analytics is nice, but it is far from a “top tier commercial grade product” (IMHO)

    But hey, what do I know …

    Eric T. Peterson
    Web Analytics Demystified, Inc.

  • If a company is serious about web analytics, I find it hard to believe they are going to be satisfied with something like GA for long.

    If they are new to it, then something like GA is a cheap, easy way to get into it, providing some good general stats to let you know where you are. But if they get into it, and see the value of it, it won’t be that long before they want more than GA can provide anyway.

    GA IS great value. What it does for free (some people might say that it’s not 100% free considering you’re giving all your data to Google, but that’s another matter…) is pretty good. It’s just that if you use the tools well, a more advanced analytics app will provide better ROI in the longer run.

  • We have recently put together a white paper ‘Why not google WA’ . I think you will find this interesting.

    The six key reasons why Enterprise firms said they would Not adopt Google Analytics as their core Web Analytics solution are:-

    1.) ABCe audited data capture and analysis systems
    2.) Bespoke KPI orientated technical implementation
    3.) Security
    4.) Legal Responsibility
    5.) Consultancy for Optimisation
    6.) Business Intelligence Integration

    Best Regards

    Marcos Richardson
    19 Garrick Street
    Covent Garden
    WC2E 9AX
    Tel: +44 (0)207 379 3300
    Fax: +44 (0)207 379 4400

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