(Article originally posted at InfoWorld Magazine)
Have you checked out Google’s Analytics package yet? No? Why not? It’s a strong web analytics package and is offered for free from Google.
Let’s first address the definition of “web analytics.” Wikipedia offers the following explanation which fits the parameters of this article quite well:
Google Analytics is not a web log file analyzer – which is a good thing. Log file analyzers are dependent upon the web server to execute the analyzer scripts on a regular basis and can get a little resource intensive for a busy site. Plus, what happens if you lose those log files due to a disk error or filesystem corruption before they are analyzed and put into the web statistics database? And what good is your log file analyzer data when you’re moving to a new server platform? You would most likely have to start from scratch with your data collection.
Enter Google Analytics. It works based on small snippets of code embedded in your web pages which cause the user’s browser to call a script on Google’s servers which culls the pertinent information from the user’s browser. So web analytics doesn’t take place on your servers or use your bandwidth! There is nothing for the IT staff to monitor or maintain.
Just in case anyone is entertaining thoughts of massive Google conspiracy theories, don’t fret! The data which is being noted by Google Analytics is the same data that your web browser freely and happily gives up every time it hits any web site. This includes things like what type of web browser you’re using, which operating system your computer uses, etc. It’s pretty innocuous stuff, and every other web site that you visit gets the exact same information from your browser, so Google’s not doing anything nasty.
Don’t think that a free analytics package doesn’t come with serious features. In addition to the standard statistics you would expect from a good web log file analyzer, Google Analytics provides you with the ability to view trends over time with user-definable date ranges. For your marketing department, Google Analytics has user-defined goals which are reported separately. You can also define the “funnel” or chain of URLs that the user is expected to follow to reach the goal URL. This enables you to track the effectiveness of your marketing campaigns individually and see which ones are really paying off.
And if that feature sounds attractive, then you will like the fact that Google has integrated its AdWordsadvertising program with the Analytics program. Your AdWords keywords are automatically imported into your Analytics account. And from within the AdWords interface, you can see ROI and other metrics for each keyword you bought on AdWords. Google Analytics plays nice with the competition too. The keyword campaign comparison reports show all your keywords from all the search engines.
Like any good analytics package, Google Analytics will track a user’s navigation through your web site. However, Google’s package has an additional feature that I expect many people will like. You can view an overlay of your site. For each clickable link on your web page, you will see a small bar graph representation of how many clicks that particular link gets. The longer the bar, the more clicks that particular link got during the time period for which you are viewing results. Sure, it’s kind of eye candy, but some people work better with visual representations, and here they have it. Speaking of eye candy, I’m partial to the Geo Targeting feature which shows a world map and places colored dots based on where your web traffic is coming from. The dots get bigger for a region which has more traffic coming to your site.
Google Analytics has a lot to offer. It’s packed with useful features, and it’s free. Well… kind of free. You get up to 5 million page views per month. That’s a lot of page views though, and if your site will go over the 5 million views per month, then all you have to do is open an AdWords account to get unlimited page views for your Google Analytics. It’s still a darned cheap option. And if your site gets that much traffic, you could pay for the AdWords account by putting up Google’s AdSense advertisements on your busy site, but that’s another article…