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Nov 04
2009

I find it interesting how misinformation can widely spread and at times remain uncontested. You might have seen a recent webinar and a guide by Omniture about “The Cost of Free” and the analogy of “Free analytics tools are much like free puppies” and that “free can turn into a lot of responsibility!” Well, while the analogy is cute, the premise and the details are misleading.

The problems with Omniture’s argument are that they are irrelevant and out-of-sync with the challenges that exist in the web analytics industry. When was the last time technology/features were the main issue in analytics? Also, the argument of cost is extremely misleading. So what if a Google Analytics solution isn’t free? That plain and simple ignores the fact that Omniture’s solution is priced well above what a Google Analytics “total package” would cost. When you criticize your competitor for a point that you’re not particularly strong at yourself, the argument loses all credibility and respect.

The biggest challenge facing all of us in the web analytics industry has little to do with the tool; the real challenge is creating an analytics culture. Getting the right people with the right processes to think “measure, analyze, take action” is way more meaningful. Google Analytics is more capable of facilitating this because:

  • Google Analytics allows you to stretch your marketing dollars. According to Forrester: “Enterprise companies must ask themselves if they are paying too much for capabilities that they simply do not need. In some cases, gaining fewer seldom-used capabilities is a worthwhile trade-off if funds can be reallocated to hire more resources necessary for analysis”
  • Google Analytics ease of use (GA has set the User Interface standard really high)
  • Google Analytics support eco-system (see details below)

There have been many articles, posts, comparisons, etc. between GA and other solutions, so I won’t bore you here with repeating the details. I’ll just shed some light on two areas of misinformation:

  • Over-emphasis on Technology
  • Customer Support & Consulting

Over-emphasis on technology

You don’t have to be a CMO or a CFO at a Fortune 100 to realize that tools and software alone don’t get you the intended results. This applies to project management, accounting, Sales Force Automation and other aspects of running a business, and not just web analytics. For example, if you are looking for a sales force automation or a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, you can invest all the dollars you want in a solution like SalesForce.com but until you train your sales personnel and build the in-house processes for lead management and client communication, you can’t claim that you have a CRM system in place. So whether you use SalesForce.com or use an open source CRM, the investment you should be prepared to make is NOT just in the software, it is in people and process. It’d be gullible to think otherwise.

  • The often repeated messages we keep hearing from fee-based analytics vendors is the over-emphasis on technology and feature-set.
    • Features are indeed important and Google Analytics is definitely feature-rich. Yet what matters is not the long list of features, but what’s important to the customer. Who cares if your solution offers a gazillion features but your customer’s business only needs 7 metrics/features and your solution doesn’t give them what they need!
    • Analytics industry experts across the spectrum have said it over and over, it’s not just about technology. Consider: people (in-house staff, consultants, professional services organizations), process, the organizational analytics maturity, among other factors. We are aware of Avinash’s 10/90 rule, and Eric Peterson reminds us of the staffing and process chasms.

Customer Support & Consulting – Investment in People & Resources

  • If one listens to some of the fee-based vendor claims, they’d think that Google Analytics has no support or at max very limited support. This is far from the truth. Google is a unique company and does things in a unique way. Instead of establishing a professional services organization, Google Analytics opted to create an open, global and collaborative eco-system, which as a model, is more superior than a traditional, centralized, and closed professional services organization.
  • As an enterprise manager/business owner, you have many options to establish and nurture your in-house team’s expertise and/or leverage the Google Analytics eco-system resources. Education, Training, Customer support & professional services are available through the following channels:
    • Professional Services & Paid SLAs: Google’s worldwide network of authorized consultants, known as GAACs offering:
      • Technical Implementation
      • Validation & Configuration
      • Consulting & Best Practices
      • Ongoing Optimization
      • Testing
    • Training
      • In-person through the Google Analytics seminars
      • Regional Summits, Conferences & Webinars
      • Industry Conferences (workshops at eMetrics, SES, etc.)
      • Certified Training Programs (GAIQ)
    • The GAAC partners go through a rigorous vetting process, have direct access to Google Analytics technical team members and are required to maintain up to date product know-how, including training at the Googleplex. The GAAC global network is 100+ strong and provides professional, local (and personable :) ) services in these regions:
      • North America: USA, Canada, Mexico
      • South America: Argentina, Brazil
      • Europe: Austria, Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Netherlands,
      • Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, UK
      • Middle East & Africa: Israel, South Africa
      • Asia Pacific: Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, Sri Lanka
  • In addition, fee-based solutions providers do have “professional services” organizations and they do sell these services (last I checked, these services weren’t free either!). Here’s a quote from Omniture’s services: “Omniture Engineering Services provides both standard packages as well as custom solutions. Specialized solutions are priced hourly on a per-project basis. Please coordinate with your assigned Omniture Account Manager to discuss your needs. The Engineering Services team will then engage with you and your Omniture Account Manager to scope the project, provide timelines, and deliver your specialized solutions.”

One final thought on technology/features. While there is always room for improvement and the product can benefit from additional capabilities, Google Analytics’ commitment to innovation is evident by the on-going enhancements including:

  • Last year’s features: advancement segmentation, custom reporting, on-the-fly analysis capabilities, etc.
  • Data Export API (and it’s network of developers and innovations), and
  • The recent announcement at the D.C. eMetrics , including: “intelligence”, custom alerts, mobile tracking, and multiple custom variables.

So here you have it. Don’t get distracted by the misleading information, and stay focused on building your expertise in analytics and nurture a team (in-house and/or outsourced) that will utilize all the “free” resources to save you money and improve your returns!!!

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7 Responses to “The Cost of Misinformation”

  1. Chris says:

    Couldn’t agree more. You don’t need alot of features. The ability to track how well online marketing is serving your site should be the main focus of most sites. This is handled well in both Analytics and Omniture. One of them is free and integrates like a dream with one of the most important marketing channels on the net, google adwords. Guess which one…

  2. I have recently come across a lot of posting on this usage of Free and Paid Web analytics. Many users tend to argue the same in every post i.e., Free tools doesn’t provide you that much value and customization in comparison with Paid tools. I have used many Free tools till now and my knowledge on Paid ones is nil (though i have some exposure to them) So, cant really comment much in this perspective.

    However many experts try to explain that GA is an excellent product. In your post itself you have made a lot of comments on GA. So my Q’n here would be if GA is an reliable product why cant people shift to it (as it is free) instead of going with paid versions. May be a dumb Q’n though !

  3. Thanks Feras, Well thought out post.

    ‘Analytics industry experts across the spectrum have said it over and over, it’s not just about technology’

    Exactly and Avinash’s 10/90 rule is also spot on. Invest in people whether internal or external to make sense of the data puke (another of Avinash’s terminology that I like). Though Google analytics is free to use, budget needs to be set aside for recruiting, training or outsourcing to take full advantage of it.

    Organisations just need to understand what’s working, what isn’t and what are the opportunities. Technology plays a lesser role imho than the quality of the analysis, the interpretation of the important data and, critically, what to do with the intelligence and insight derived from that raw data.

    That brings me to another key point: Your reference to ‘take action’. This implies a process to implement change and a williness to take it. Sometimes neither is in place! The most successful organisations I work with have both.

    Finally, about 18 months ago I spoke to Omniture and Webtrends about Google Analytics and their positioning against it. Both gave me the near identical sales blurb: you’ll hit a glass ceiling with Google Analytics. Interestingly, when pushed, neither could tell me what that was…and I’ve not hit it yet even on some big ecomm sites. Sure it does have its annoying points (eg only two levels of access permission) but what (free) app doesn’t.

  4. Tim says:

    Not to be nitpicky, but I can’t seem to access the Google Analytics Support without logging in with just my GA account, I need to use my Adwords account, which pretty much negates the argument that the free service comes with that level of Google Support. There’s much to be said for having access to a real live person on the phone and it doesn’t seem like I can get that without paying Google.

    Other than that little detail, I think you’re right on. Well said. There needs to be a much bigger emphasis placed on what you actually need and what you are actually ready to use. There are reasons most reasonable parents don’t buy a kid a brand new BMW for his/her first car.

  5. Feras Alhlou says:

    Chris:
    I am glad we agree :) , thank you for your comment.

    Search Analytics:
    Your question about why aren’t people switching to the free tools is a very valid one. Some of it is because of the misinformation about what the free tools offer. Some of it (more legitimate) is due to the investment in people/process/infrastructure that organizations have made using one solution, it might be too cost prohibitive to switch vendors, and the savings on the license cost might not be sufficient to justify a vendor swap. In other cases, an organization might need certain features that a fee-based software offers and a free software doesn’t. But given the right circumstances, many organizations will switch their resources (and $$) to where it’ll make more sense on the long run.

    Andy:
    Right on! Being committed to measurement is key, which requires, as you mentioned, people to interpret the data/analyze and willingness to take action. As far as the “annoying points” :) , I suggest you submit your ideas/requests here.

    Tim:
    Thank you for your comment. The Google Analytics eco-system provides a number of free support resources (as listed in the post). If you prefer/need phone support, many of the Google Analytics Authorized Consultants (GAACs) offer phone support (often in your time zone) to a real live person, based on an SLAs that will meet your needs. As far as cost, well, fee-based solutions do charge for support, either part of a support plan that you have to buy, or support fees are bundled in the license cost when you bought the product, so you are paying for it either way :) .

  6. Feras,

    Great post, but I’d encourage you to do some follow up posts on this as well and I’d appreciate it if you would do me the courtesy of allowing this post in your comments. ;)

    I recently found http://www.analyticsresults.com/2009/11/how-much-is-google-analytics-costing.html and through his review, discovered your “read worthy” blog. Good material.

    There are several things I’m seeing the “opinionated communities” gloss over.

    As I heard recently from someone that attended an web conference. The question was asked of the audience, “how many of you use google analytics?” 85-90% raised their hands. “How many use Omniture?” The remainder raised their hands. 2 dominant tools with 2 very different business models and goals.

    1) Google Analytics is a great tool and serves a great niche. If you use it right, your business will be impacted by it. There are a ton of users and a strong community.

    2) Omniture is a great “tool”…no make that “tools” because they have more than just analytics. You have a suite of marketing tools if you need them. If you use it right, your business will be impacted by it. Smaller user community than google, but possibly more serious about analytics.

    I believe each one does the job the user asks of it. In general, I believe Omniture users ask more of the tools.

    Look at the business models of both Google and Omniture.

    1) Google is an advertising business model. Over 60% of their revenue comes from their search with most of the remainder coming from Ad Sense. Their primary business goal is not being the best at analytics or even helping you optimize your site to the max. It’s selling advertising. Analytics is an afterthought service for their customers.

    2) Omniture’s sole purpose for existing is to be the absolute best at not only online analytics, but also helping make your website be successful. As long as Omniture maintains their company culture, you will always see innovation from them driving the industry forward. Visit cmo.com and developer.omniture.com as examples. We opted to go with the focused innovator.

    Don’t get me wrong. Google is a good tool and cost effective. We just opted to put it as our tool of choice to continue our march up the Alexa rankings. Its working for us so far. ;)

    These blog comments and even the cost of free piece were good for stirring the discussion.

    Thanks. Take care!

    Tony

  7. Feras Alhlou says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thank you for your comment and for sharing your thoughts.

    One of the main points why I wrote this post initially is that organizations that are serious about analytics have many costs associated with staffing, process and consultants that they must invest in to reach the level of analytics/optimization needed. This investment is, more or less, independent of the tool they chose, whether it’s Google Analytics or a fee-based tool. Claims to suggest otherwise is, imho, misinformation.

    In the last six months or so, we have completed a number of Google Analytics consulting projects for some Fortune 1000 companies. In these engagements, we worked with a number of very bright individuals who are web savvy and “get” analytics. If I were to look back and do a quick assessment on their use of analytics, I would say they are using less than 50% of what Google Analytics offers (in terms of features) yet they are still getting to monitor/track what’s important to them. What made these projects successful (asides from the fact that these clients chose E-Nor to work with :) ), is that they were committed to analytics. They scoped the project properly (with the help of our consultants), they committed development and marketing resources to the project (during the planning phase and during the implementation phase), and continue to invest in staffing and process for on-going analysis and optimization.

    I think these are key points that those of us in the analytics industry need to highlight to educate organizations on how to be successful in analytics.

    You mentioned that Google is not in the analytics business, but their commitment to GA is evident by the on-going innovation and the feature-rich releases that are rolled out frequently by Google, as well as the innovations introduced by the GA eco-system. (Also similarly, one can say that Google is not in the email business yet they have a very powerful and “free” :) email product that only continues to get better).

    Thanks again!
    Feras

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