In this web stats service review I’ll be looking at Google Analytics. Having the Google name alone will be a significant draw, but knowing Google’s bias towards tools for advertising how appropriate is the package for bloggers?
Google Analytics used to be called Urchin. When Google bought Urchin many predicted the move to offer the system under the Google brand, some even predicted it would be free to Adwords users. Quite a few pundits (and stats software vendors!) were shocked when it was announced to be free to all.
Despite being free there is a lot of depth to this software. Before the buy out, Urchin was moving up the food chain towards the medium-large-huge company market and had attempted to be perceived as an “enterprise” option. Now Google is pitching this software to the lowest end, the individual blogger and webmaster. It will be interesting to see how well the feature set sits with the more modest and specific needs of the sub-million page view a day crowd!
For most people part of the signup process will already have been done. To use Google Analytics you need a Google Account, the ubiquitous central login for Google services (can anyone say “Microsoft Passport”?). Unfortunately many will be disappointed as right now they are restricting signups.
Luckily for me (and this review) I managed to get in early!
Unlike the others so far you also have the ability to track custom events called “goals”. While this is geared at Ecommerce sites or those with conversion aims other than advertising clicks, with a bit of tweaking these goals can be used to use Google Analytics to track your Adsense clicks! It is a bit fiddly, you might want to rope in some help if the instructions look too geeky, but even so how good is that?
While looking serious and corporate, it does look good. The design works and the colour palette is good for repeat viewing and squinting at figures. Out of the reviews so far GA is the best designed I would say.
Where GA falls down is on making things easy for the beginner in terms of terminology and usability. Using phrases like “marketing optimization” is not helpful for people who might well be having their first experience of web stats. Also I would have said the obvious way to navigate to the various sub reports would have been through clicking the big-assed graphics on the “executive overview” (stats homepage/dashboard to you and I). Instead of the obvious “mash the keypad” approach you have to click the fiddly little menu items on the far left of your screen.
Fees and Service Levels
If you are attracting under 5 million page views a month or are an adwords customer you get the service free. That’s most of us then. If you do get more than the page view limit open up an adwords account and spend a few pennies on some ads. It will still be cheaper than the competition!
So far customer service and uptime has been pretty darned appalling. From the squeals of the blogosphere I reckon they should have delayed the launch somewhat. Hopefully though things will improve on the infrastructure front, if anyone can afford decent technology it ought to be Google. On customer service don’t hold your breath, if they can’t look after adwords customers paying thousands do you think they will look after bloggers using freebies?
Reports are as you would expect, comprehensive. This used to be a profitable product remember so it couldn’t really have been otherwise. The depth of reporting is up there with some pretty serious corporate tracking solutions. This can actually make it look daunting though. None of the others in the reviews can match this feature set.
There is everything here from visitors, page views, session length and return visitors all the way down to your visitors bandwidth and screen resolutions.
A poor point for users with unfriendly “querystring” type URLs (eg. myblog.com?post=1) is the URLs are the predominant way of organising the content reports. You have to drill down to “Content by titles” to get a meaningful idea of most popular posts. This would not be a problem for those using Apache-based blogs with friendly URL schemes though.
You can also add user access if you want someone else to be able to view your stats – neat. The user access feature paired with the ability to track multiple blogs from one account could be interesting to blog network “overlords”.
I am sad for SiteMeter and StatCounter. This product in many peoples eyes will make them obsolete. The big advantage the others have over this product is ease of use, they are not overburdened with lots of stuff a blogger does not need right away. Some bloggers will not want the “Evil Google” to have their data either.
If you are willing to put up with the unfriendly cluttered market-ese menus then this is a top product and the one to beat.