Pretty much everyone loves to get something for nothing, especially when it's something you're used to paying for. That's probably why Google Analytics has gotten so popular with both SEOs and small business owners. After all, why pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for analytics programs when Google Analytic seems to give you everything you need. There are a few reasons, actually. Eric Lander explains why he thinks you should avoid Google Analytics over at Search Engine Journal.
I've never been a big fan of Google Analytics myself. It's not that I don't think they offer some valuable tools, especially for the price. It's more about an aversion to sharing anything as sensitive as my web site analytics and conversion data with the company I'm buying advertising from. It just never seemed like a good idea to me for Google to know exactly how much money my site is earning from the traffic they send me.
Eric's reasons go beyond paranoia. In fact, he outlines three problems with relying on Google Analytics for your traffic analysis.
#1 - Limitations of Technology
#2 -- No Support for Log Files
Tools that rely on log files are using hard coded server logs to mine all information. Every request for a file on your site is recorded, along with an IP address, user agent, and in most cases -- the referral string. While it can be a bit more work to use these applications -- the data you get back makes it a necessary evil.
#3 -- You're at Google's Mercy!
When you need to check reports, you access them online via the Google Analytics interface. The reports cannot easily be taken with you, and you have no way of archiving your data efficiently.
Those last two reasons are big ones on my own list as well. The inability to keep and control your log files means that if something ever happens to the data on Google's end, you are out of luck. It also means that if and when you decide to upgrade to a paid solution, you'll have to do so without the benefit of being able to access past traffic data.
Granted, this is a problem you'll face if you use the hosted solutions offered by other analytics companies as well, but at least in those instances your ROI data isn't available to the company you buy advertising from.
I firmly believe that Google Analytics is a valuable tool. For new companies just getting started in online marketing, a free analytics program can be worth enough to offset the downside of Google Analytics. However, I strongly encourage companies to use Google Analytics only until they can afford to invest in an paid analytics solution. At an absolute minimum, companies using Google Analytics now should make sure their hosting company is also creating and archiving log files that can be accessed and used down the road with a log file based analytics solution.
Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.
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