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Google's Killer App

Death by Google
Google has killed the web analytics software industry with the release of the new version of Google Analytics. The new version was released just under two months ago and is simply a quantum leap above any other analytics product on the planet.

In my opinion, Google Analytics does for the web metrics industry what the Google search engine did for online search: it kills everyone else off.

Google Analytics version 2 is not revolutionary. It does not extend web analytics software by providing new forms of analysis. Neither does it extend our understanding of websites by offering new approaches. What Google has done is simply take every feature in every product on the market and put them all into one system, and then make it available for free.

I am surprised by the range of features Google has added. I would have assumed some had been patented by the companies that created them. I can only conclude this is not the case. The range of features Google has borrowed from other products suggests the web analytics software industry managed to do 10 years of research and development without registering even one patent. This must be unique in the history of computing. If Google has stolen patented ideas, then I can only conclude they simply don't care and will rely on their massive cash reserves to sort it out later.

I say this as someone who, until this month, ran a company that produced web analytics software and directly competed with Google Analytics. No more. There is simply no way my organization can produce the range of features Google offers and make them available for nothing. We will keep the consulting arm going but use Google Analytics as the reporting system. Our techies don't want to see the product die completely, so they plan to convert it into Open Source. While Google Analytics is world class, we can see the need for there to be at least one Open Source page-based tracking product, and currently there are none. If you’d like to help, please email me and I’ll put you in contact with the team.

Under these circumstances, it should be obvious that I am not an automatic fan of Google Analytics. As a professional web analyst, I thought the previous version was strictly amateur. If you've read some of my previous articles, it's pretty clear I'm not a fan of Google either.

I have been converted to Google Analytics version 2 purely by the strength of the product. It is not just the range of features that is impressive, it is the integration and flexibility.


The way in which the system has been put together demonstrates an extremely sharp understanding of how to analyze websites. Web analytics systems can, and do, produce hundreds of metrics. This can completely overwhelm anyone. Experience teaches us that the secret is to focus on what really matters. We have learned that a limited number of measurements are critical key performance indicators of visitor behavior. In the industry, these are jokingly referred to as the "key key" performance indicators (or KKPIs). These KKPIs enable you to successfully see if a site is appealing to a particular audience. These are average pages per visit, the average time on the site, and (most importantly) bounce rate.

The importance of these numbers is determined by what percentage of the total readership any given group constitutes. A bad number for a tiny subset is rarely worth the money or time it would cost to improve. It is also useful to know what percentage of this group are repeat vs. new visitors. This is because most sites get their income primarily from one type or the other. In addition, well-designed sites have different layers of content for each type.

What Google has done is make these five numbers consistently available for almost every report. Next, they have taken every measurement that is technically possible to get with today's technology and allowed you to cross-reference these critical measurements against them.

For example, I can compare bounce rate by screen resolution to determine how my site design works on different screens. This is an important issue at present as designers push people to drop support for 800x600 so they can do more visually exciting work. I was able to look at this issue for a client recently with Google Analytics and show them that failing to support this resolution was costing them $100,000 a year in lost sales. Small percentages add up to big numbers on busy sites.

Coming from another angle, I can review bounce rate by country or city. This will tell me how my site appeals to different regions. In fact, I can compare bounce rate by keyword, by search engine, by affiliate site, by ad campaign and probably by eye color for all I know.

Throughout all this, Google Analytics shows me how the numbers for the group I am looking at vary from the overall averages for the site. This type of reporting enables me to identify which visitors are in need of attention. All the tables are clickable so that I can instantly drill down on the elements that stand out. For example, I recently analyzed the performance of a tourist site's listings in travel directories. I was able to drill down on specific directories and see which pages and descriptions were working and which were not. Within the same directory, I could see some listings that had a bounce rate of 9 percent and others with a bounce rate of 70 percent.


It is clear that Google Analytics supports the process of exploration extremely well. It is rare to enter into a site analysis with a complete picture of what you need to know. You may have specific activities or groups that you are keeping watch on, but exploration – jumping from group to group, drilling down, comparing – is the only way to discover the unexpected.

The other key elements of web analysis are present in Google Analytics 2.0 at the same level of depth and usability. A dedicated ecommerce section allows you to track conversion goals and display the conversion funnels pioneered by WebTrends. Simple code is provided for your shopping carts to enable financial analysis of sales if you wish.

Site design can be assessed via overlays that appear over your website and show which links were clicked and how they contributed to conversions. This system does deceive a little, however. It is not really analyzing each individual link. If multiple links or images go to the same page, they will appear individually analyzed, but in fact they are all treated as one and the same.

Management reporting is also catered for extremely well. Most people use web analytics not to manage and improve their site, but merely to create reports they never look at for their managers, who also never look at them. Google makes this pointless process very easy. You can create mailing lists so reports can be emailed, create user-access accounts so people can see the reports online and schedule regular report runs.

Thus in a few minutes, you can generate a complex reporting schedule and information flow that will fool the organization into thinking it has a handle on its websites.


While Google Analytics is a truly remarkable creation, combining all the analysis used in the industry today, there is room for improvement. There is absolutely no recognition of the existence of any form of pay-per-click advertising, except, of course, Google Adwords.

All traffic coming from Yahoo! PPC ads will be reported as coming from organic (search engine) listings in Yahoo. Yet there is an entire section devoted to Google AdWords analysis. Many of the more obvious (and useful) drill-downs are not present. I cannot, for example, drill down on my landing (or entrance) pages to see where people came from. This is a major gap. If I want to improve performance, I need to know where traffic came from and what keywords they used if they came from a search engine.

But despite its failings, the overall range and flexibility of Google Analytics, combined with the price (free), leads me to expect the new version to totally dominate the market and drive most competitors out of business. You need an extremely good reason, or three, to continue staying with any other product.

If there is to be any future in web analytics software for any competitor, that company will need to rapidly expand the scope of reporting available and seriously enhance flexibility and drill-down capabilities.

Industry consolidation is sure to follow, and I expect WebTrends to be one of the few companies with the pockets to pursue such a strategy. It is surprising that Microsoft has not produced a product to compete. They have a five-year strategy to produce a search engine to compete with Google, and they understand the importance of analysis and related tools to promote the appeal of their products. In addition, they have a complete range of web server products, yet no web analysis tool. If Microsoft is not actively talking to web analytics software vendors now, they should start soon (and Bill, if you read this, I just happen to have one I'm not using).

The shape of the web analytics software industry has greatly changed with the new version of Google Analytics. In my view, everyone else is dead, they just haven't stopped moving yet. If you haven't installed Google Analytics on a site and devoted some serious time to it, you're already part of the previous generation.

Brandt Dainow is an independent web analytics consultant and the CEO of ThinkMetrics. Read full bio.

Brandt is an independent web analyst, researcher and academic.  As a web analyst, he specialises in building bespoke (or customised) web analytic reporting systems.  This can range from building a customised report format to creating an...

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to leave comments.

Commenter: Rob Saker

2007, August 17

We've been running a comparison of Google Analytics with WebTrends (using script-based collection) and traditional log file analysis. Let's forget functionality for a second, GA fails at recording the raw traffic accurately. I've been discussing this with many colleagues across the industry and they all see the same issue. GA is underreporting traffic by nearly 50% in some instances. We have our thoughts on why this is, but without accurate inputs, a pretty interface is meaningless. As to the functionality, I'd agree with many of the posters here. This probably works for entry level sites where they're interested in page counts/directional data. I haven't seen anything that would make me want to switch, and there are many features that GA doesn't offer. We're using WebTrends to run our business, not a hobby site. GA just isn't ready for primetime.

Commenter: Joel Kingsley

2007, August 06

dh wall - To be fair, Brandt does not work for iMedia Connection. And "The website you write for appears to be using a log file based solution" is wrong. A very quick look and it is obvious that iMedia is using HBX from WebSideStory (Visual Sciences)

Commenter: dh wall

2007, August 03

If GA is so great, why isn't iMediaConnection using it? I don't see anything in the source code. The website you write for appears to be using a log file based solution. You see, the cost for an enterprise web analytics solution really isn't that expensive for a multi-million dollar company that relies on the Internet. The prices for enterprise solutions range from $10K to over $100K. In my case, I paid only around $20K for an enterprise solution that has more than met my needs. This was pocket change.

Commenter: Joel Kingsley

2007, August 03

This is a joke, right? While Google Analytics is a good service for smaller businesses and personal websites, it is virtually useless for organizations that want to do true analytics and not just some pretty reports (kudos to Jeffrey Veen and team). You stated "What Google has done is simply take every feature in every product on the market and put them all into one system, and then make it available for free" I'm sorry, but does Google Analytics offer custom reporting, or data warehousing just for starters? And tell that to the 1000s of organizations using Omniture, ClickTracks, WebTrends and Visual Sciences and all the other web analytics providers. The number of features and functionality in Google Analytics are a good primer for those getting their feet wet in the space, but there are so many features and functionality that are not part of Google Analytics, it would never make it past the first round of a vendor selection process. Additionally, no organization that is serious about privacy related matters will use Google Analytics. As part of their TOS, the data collected and analyzed by Google is their data not the site property owners. Brandt, with all due respect, you sound like a paid salesman for Google doing an infomercial "But wait there's more!"

Commenter: Elxiabeth schachin

2007, August 02

oh please..... it is lousy -- we are now going to move to Omniture because of all the deficiencies in 2.0 -- this kind of post must be paid by Google because people who use it for major adspends (Over 1m for us) know what a lousy move this was for us.. hey but I know the bloggers are excited.. while it has a few nice additions the removal of so many key features and the inability to see metrics together that previously were easy to compares are serious detriments.. plus it is not nearly as sophisticated as it once was.. stop drinking the kool-aid ..

Commenter: Steve Wind-Mozley

2007, August 02

So many bodies, so little time! I've been told on various occasions over the last 15 years that email is dead, along with banners, forums, landlines, forms, html, SEM, SEO, affiliates, aggregators, Flash, UGC and now web analytics. It should be getting pretty whiffy in here with all the rotting corpses, but surprisingly it's not. GA is a great introduction tool; it gets people thinking about what they want their online presence to achieve and how they can measure it. Where dedicated WA providers add value is in enabling site owners to ask more relevant questions of their online performance in a way that is tailored to their needs. Those needs tend to be based on an understanding that 'digital' is much more than just adword integration, and that as customers interact in more varied ways (blogs, social networks, streaming media consumption, mobile etc), site and brand owners need to have the ability to view this activity in a coherent and timely manner. A leading WA service will be able to provide marketers with a 360-degree view of the consumer, enabling this information to be converted into insight which can then be seamlessly integrated with other mission critical data (be that MI, CRM, CustSat etc). I'm not convinced that free tools can offer this. So I think that there is life in the old WA dog yet, GA and the soon to arrive Gatineau will simply make that life even more interesting for all us.

Commenter: Dan Robbins

2007, August 01

Wasn't it Mark Twain who was quoted as saying something along the lines of, "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated”? That applies in spades for the Web analytics industry, in the wake of Google's recent moves. While we at ClickTracks admittedly have a vested interest in the subject, there's no denying that it's one we know quite a bit about. So trust us when we say that Google hasn't killed an industry—in fact, it's helped it grow. The web metrics business has been moving away from standalone analytics for some time, because marketers have been demanding that we do so. Google certainly has made a play for the lion's share of the low end, but in doing so, has been bearing the cost of educating the market and actually increasing demand for more sophisticated analytics tools, like the ones we happen to offer. So watch this space—not for signs of life, but for signs of change and growth. We think there'll be a fair amount to see. Dan Robbins, Director of Marketing, ClickTracks

Commenter: Ross Nichols

2007, August 01

We use GA over in the UK for a number of our smaller sites and it while it appears to be doing an excellent job at absolutely no cost to us, we've disovered that for auditing purposes GA is not recognised by our industry body, the ABCe. As a result we've had to start looking at other analytics providers. Once this hurdle has been overcome, which i'm sure it will, I can't see why anyone wouldn't use GA. The only thing lacking is the service element which has Brandt states, will come in time from GA's current competitors.

Commenter: Daniel Katz

2007, August 01

I have to disagree with your statement that 'the competition is dead'. GA is a great tool comparing to other free (and some paid) web analytics software, fitting the expectations of small/medium businesses with simple requirements, what i call "good to know"; however for professional analysis there are a bunch of powerful web analytics tools that offer much deeper research abilities than GA,and they are way too far from being killed. Daniel

Commenter: Keith Gregory

2007, July 31

Google analytics is ok- I use it for some of my personal sites. They use it at work (because its free!), but there is a lack of real time tracking that at times, is wanting. I would prefer to tell an ad agency that I have some other web tracking software (webtrends, omniture), because, to me, free and open source somehow imply 'cheap' and 'low value'.

Commenter: Seth Richardson

2007, July 31

Google has certainly shaken things up but the market is certainly not dead. As the internet matures and evolves there is a requirement to look at user behaviour and campaign performance in different ways. Integration of this data with 3rd party systems whether they are ad servers or CRM systems or internal apps is going to become more important and GA can't offer this level of service or integration. Google have certainly made web analytics companies wake up, and those out there who aren't innovative and up for a fight are going to struggle. At DC Storm we finding our clients need more than what GA has to offer particularly when you actually want to use the data for more than just reporting!

Commenter: Geoff Michaels

2007, July 31

I believe the competition might be dead, based on current product offerings. the GA 2.0 tool set has a nice feature set compared to other web analytics tools. I use GA 2.0 for all of our small sites. But as soon as a website grows and becomes active in the adsense/ppc market, we move it to a GA competitor. We decided it was an unacceptable business risk to allow one company to have that much data about our businesses. There will be a market for competitive products, but will probably be sold on the fear factor versus the product capabilities.

Commenter: Sal Paradise

2007, July 31

How in the world can you say "the competition is dead"? The Big 4 analytics companies are adding a combined 500 to 600 new customers a quarter and have been for a long time. Read OMTR's or VSCN's quarterly earnings statements if you don't believe me. GA may work fine for the hundreds of thousands of small websites out there but when you are talking about enterprise-level companies, or even companies with sales above $5M annually, GA is not going to cut it for a host of reasons.

Commenter: Ralph Demmler

2007, July 31

Brandt, A good part of the total cost of Web metrics software is the implementation, especiaslly the coding required through out the site. While Google is "free" might not it be worth considering and sharing your opinion on TOTAL cost of ownership. Does your company, like Omniture, provide professional services and support that figure in to the equation. Ralph