• November 15, 2005
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

Google's Free Web Analytics--A Stalking Horse?

Google is making its Web analytics tools available free of charge. The hosted service, formerly known as Urchin from Google, replaces and updates the tracking tool previously available with Google AdWords and is now called Google Analytics. Google Analytics provides users with insight into keyword popularity, email campaign success, and page clicks, delivering data in dashboards optimized for executives, marketers, and Webmasters. It automatically tags keyword destination URLs, and can track a variety of marketing campaign results, including referral links, newsletters, banner ads, and paid or organic search. The service is available in U.S. English and 16 other languages (including U.K. English). The company's stated goal with this offering is to enable marketers and publishers to better understand what Web customers want, helping drive more accurate advertising and better Web site design. "By making this powerful service free, we aim to give all Web sites--large and small--the tools they need to better serve their customers, make more money, and improve the Web experience for everybody," said Paul Muret, Urchin cofounder and Google engineering director, in a written statement. He also assured the public that Google would not take advantage of any information gathered on behalf of its clients: "We have very strict controls on the data. It is only used to provide reporting to customers and people using the analytics." Web-analytic vendors were quick to downplay it all. "[Google Analytics] offers simple, self-service style capabilities to small businesses," Greg Drew, CEO and president of WebTrends, said in a written statement. He characterized Google Analytics as a low-end reporting tool, more suitable to SMBs than large entities. "Our customers know that enterprise organizations require more than just a set of reports to measure a campaign or understand site traffic. Marketing analytics are mission-critical and enterprise customers need a consultative organization that helps them turn insight into action to improve their business results, which requires industry expertise and services, solution flexibility and organizational trust." Gail Ennis, vice president of worldwide marketing for Omniture, took Google's announcement in stride. "We're not really surprised; we've been tracking Urchin's acquisition by Google, watching them try to gain traction by reducing the price," Ennis says. "We thought that $199 a month was practically free already, so this isn't hard for them." John Mellor, vice president of business development, agrees that the news is positive for search engine marketing and Web analytics, but dismisses Google as "a point solution for a single channel." The move validates the Web-analytics market, and potentially stimulates it, which will be good for Omniture on the principle that a rising tide floats all boats. "Web analytics is no longer just a standalone function--it's becoming the backbone, a platform for online marketing," Ennis says. Responding to assertions that Google Analytics is a basic, unsophisticated tool, Eric Peterson, Jupiter Research senior analyst, writes in his blog, "While I suspect that many companies will say this in defense of their own products and services, I personally don't equate 'free' and 'low end.'" In a follow-up conversation, Peterson explains, "Calling [Google Analytics] low-end suggests that your own users are all taking full advantage of your high-end features. But research indicates that the majority of users are not leveraging the technology." Google may be low-end, Peterson concludes, but it's also appropriate for the space. "If most users are using only the most common features and reporting available in competing products, a company may as well use Google's free tools instead of paying a premium for ones that aren't being used." Peterson believes the impact of the Google Analytics announcement will play out over the next six to 12 months. "Competitors like WebSideStory, Omniture, and WebTrends will have to revisit their marketing message and business plan," Peterson says. "They were operating in a slowly evolving market and now they have a huge competitor gunning for them," he says. "Given the substantial resources that Google has and the expertise the Urchin guys brought to the table, I think that we're just beginning to see what Google Analytics can do." Related articles: Office Depot Sues Staples Over Google Ads
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