April 2, 2014, 1:05 PM

Web analytics for small e-retailers

Google Analytics is the most popular provider of web analytics to smaller e-retailers, but a quarter of Second 500 users find Google doesn’t meet all their needs.

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Google Inc.'s Google Analytics tool is by far the No. 1 web analytics tool used by the largest web retailers in North America, with 534 of the 1,000 retailers ranked in Internet Retailer's 2013 Top 500 and Second 500 Guides using it to track performance statistics like time on site, clicks and referral traffic sources.

Retailers say the key selling points for adding Google Analytics tracking codes to their sites is that its basic edition is free, and that it helps make buying and managing ads on Google properties easier. That's because e-retailers can make Google Analytics data, such as keywords and top-clicked products, easily feed into systems like Google AdWords for managing paid search ads on Google.com and display ads on Google's DoubleClick ad network.

But while e-retailers use Google Analytics more than any other analytics service overall among the Top 1000, it's with smaller retailers—those ranked in the 2013 Second 500 Guide, where 2012 revenue ranged from $75,000 to $18.7 million—that Google Analytics dominates. 340, or 68% of retailers in this range use it, whereas 39% of retailers in the 2013 Top 500 Guide say they use Google Analytics. (The No. 1 analytics system used by North America's Top 500 web retailers is Adobe Systems Inc.'s Omniture, with 41% saying they use it, although some in this group use more than one service, according to Internet Retailer's Top500Guide.com.)

But a closer look shows that 25% of Second 500 e-retailers that use Google Analytics also employ at least one other service to deliver site analytics data. That suggests Google Analytics doesn't provide all the data smaller e-retailers need.

Some of the analytics services Second 500 e-retailers say they use are tied to the vendors that they use to run their web sites. For example, many Second 500 retailers that run their sites on the Yahoo Stores platform use Yahoo analytics along with Google Analytics. That makes sense, as Yahoo Inc.'s analytics come built in with their service. But a lot of Second 500 retailers say they use services, most of which they pay for, that measure the same activities Google Analytics can track, or perform the same or similar functions that Google Analytics is capable of doing, too, for free.

Why pay for these supplemental services? Retailers cite a multitude of reasons. The most common one is that these other tools, which include Mixpanel, Optimizely, CrazyEgg, KissMetrics and others, are easier to use than Google Analytics and point retailers more directly to the actions they should take next. Smaller retailers say that's important because few of them have hard-core data analysts on staff able to tease out salient data from Google Analytics and interpret it in a way that drives results.

Google says it is hearing that message "loud and clear" from small business and web site owners. In response it is developing training programs aimed at non-technical people to teach them how to get the most out of Google Analytics. That's in Google's interest because as retailers learn Google Analytics better they will also learn how to use that data to feed into Google AdWords campaigns, and that could lead them to spend more advertising with Google. It's a message Google is particularly hearing from larger Second 500 merchants who are particularly likely to be supplementing Google Analytics with other software to get the information they need to grow.

In addition to Google Analytics, office supplies e-retailer Honest Office Inc., which with $1.6 million in 2012 sales ranks No. 973 in the 2013 Second 500 Guide, uses a handful of other analytics services to measure web activity. Those services include Roxr Software Ltd.'s Clicky, which Honest Office pays $10 a month to show on a dashboard key metrics including daily visitors, where visitors came from, time on site and bounce rate.

The e-retailer also uses Mixpanel, whose pricing varies based on the number of so-called "events" Honest Office asks it to track. An event is an action taken on the site, for example a consumer adding a product to the shopping cart. Mixpanel's analytics then let Honest Office see subsequent actions, say how many people then went to the checkout page, and to segment that data in other ways, such as by what country they came from. It provides visibility down to the individual user level, and retailers can track up to 500,000 events monthly for $150, according to Mixpanel, although Honest Office president Jeremy Biron says he pays less.

Biron says he knows he can get the same data he gets from Clicky through Google Analytics, and can track events to some extent through a tool added to Google Analytics last year as part of its Universal Analytics update Google began rolling out last year. But he likes the ease of the other systems and hasn't yet updated HonestOffice.com to Universal Analytics. Biron says he checks his Clicky dashboard daily, Mixpanel a little less frequently and Google Analytics only when he really wants to poke around in the data. "In terms of the number of data points, no one can say they offer more than Google Analytics, it offers anything you can want," he says. "But it can be overwhelming. It's just not that easy to break down."

Honest Office, with fewer than 10 employees, doesn't have an analytics expert on its team that can dig through data all day long, Biron says. "These other tools make it easier to see what really matters," he says. "I can make quick insights and take actions based on those." He adds that the Clicky and Mixpanel interfaces were simple to set up and their reporting dashboards are easy to interpret. Honest Office uses an analytics integration tool called Segment.io to channel its site data to Google Analytics, Mixpanel and other services, such as web site testing tool Optimizely. He does that through a single API, which Biron says saves him time and money.

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