March 27, 2008, 12:00 AM

Google Gets E-Retailers Rolling on Analytics

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“This is something that we use occasionally, and it gives us what we might not otherwise have,” Cavens says. “It’s not core, but there is an interesting secondary set of reports there.” And like, Blue Nile uses Google’s tool to validate some of the data that its internally developed system gathers.

Cavens has looked at several analytics packages from outside vendors over the years. “As we scale up in size there is probably some benefit in the outside packages, so I would not put it beyond the realm of possibility we would go after one of them,” he says.

Data fears

While these and many other retailers have found utility in Google Analytics, some don’t want it, even free., with sales estimated by Internet Retailer at $26.9 million in 2007, decided to move off Google’s analytics solution to Omniture’s last year. Part of the reason was that Bellacor was looking for advanced functionality that Google’s tool doesn’t provide. However, vice president of marketing Sharla Wagy also cited other reasons, including a concern about sharing company data with the search engine giant.

“As a privately held firm, we were uncomfortable with turning over all our information to Google. Our concerns were data confidentiality,” Wagy says. “Internally there was perceived to be perhaps some conflict of interest. Certainly we don’t know that for a fact, but there was enough of a concern that it was probably the impetus to us starting to look at other vendors.”

One concern expressed by some marketers is that information gleaned from Google Analytics could be fed into Google’s search algorithm and affect where a retailer’s listings rank in search results. Google’s Crosby says the decision to share any data given to Google Analytics with the Google system is under users’ control.

“Google Analytics recently introduced data-sharing settings so that customers could explicitly opt into or out of sharing data with other Google services,” he says. “We understand that company data can be extremely sensitive.”

Crosby adds that web site data shared by marketers with Google Analytics is not used to affect natural search results, ad quality score or placement of ads on Google. Any data shared by marketers is blinded and used in the aggregate for benchmarking purposes, he says.

For now, Google’s free analytics tool has found a place largely among online marketers of all sizes new to or less experienced with analytics, and those who use it for specific tasks alongside other analytics packages.

“It can take $200,000 to $300,000 in people and tools to do a web analytics program right,” says Gartner’s Gassman. “My advice to folks has been if you can’t justify spending that, use Google. It’s free, and within a week or six months, depending on your site, you are going to find out where its limits are. It’s a very good tool that solves about 20% of the problem.”

Seeking flexibility

With many types of online businesses using Google Analytics, Ken Baker, director of data management at search engine marketing firm Impaqt, offers a retail-specific perspective. “It depends on the complexity of what you are trying to track,” he says. “Google Analytics is a robust tool, but it does very fixed things. We have some retailer clients using it as an interim solution until they get a more advanced analytics package in place.”

Such an assessment is perhaps not too far from Google’s vision for the Google Analytics of today, which hasn’t set out so much to be a complete analytics solution for all as it has to bring basic analytics to the masses. But given Google’s massive access to data and its history of innovation, what Google Analytics might be in the future is anyone’s guess.

Blue Nile’s Cavens says the tool already has evolved from what it was two years ago at launch and that he expects that evolution will go on. “It’s a different product today than it was then,” he says. “As you look out over the next few years, I expect that will continue. The Google team is never sitting still.”

Google Analytics: Pros and Cons

For retailers considering their first foray into web analytics, Google Analytics is a good starting point, says Ken Baker, director of data management of Impaqt, a search engine marketing and optimization company. Baker helps clients decide whether to try out Google Analytics by offering the following analysis:

Pros (abilities)

  • Free.
  • Easy to implement and maintain. The same code exists on all pages on the web site and the functionality of the tool exists in the user interface.
  • Google Analytics integrates with Google AdWords so it enables users to link to their paid search campaigns and pull Google’s cost-per-click expenditures and click data.
  • Users have an unlimited number of page views with an active Google AdWords campaign (most ASP-based packages charge by views).
  • Tracking functionality
  • Track as many sites as you own.
  • Track multiple engines with minimal search engine marketing or campaign implications. Also tracks various forms of traffic-direct, organic, referral, as well as campaign tracking-paid, e-mail, banner and shopping feed traffic.
  • Control conversion tracking through user interface, not via code on the site.
  • Excellent reporting capabilities
  • Sitewide page view analysis
  • Advanced goal definition
  • Conversion funnel analysis
  • Various advanced conversion reports
  • Interface includes graphing and trending capabilities

Cons (limitations)

  • Limited number of goals per profile/request.
  • Limited customization.
  • Metrics are given as percentages, not actual values, meaning users have to perform calculations when incorporating into other systems.
  • Limited data integration capabilities.
  • Can’t incorporate offline sales or internal data into tool.
  • Can’t upload translation files to allow the user interface to be more detailed.
  • Limited tracking parameters (engine, campaign, ad group, keyword).
  • Limitations on report size – challenges with larger reports.

Click Here for the Guide to Web Analytics Products & Services

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