Can Google Analytics Be Evil?

In this column, I’m supposed to be the expert. I know I’m not supposed to ask you, the audience, questions; I’m supposed to provide the answers. However, there is something I just can’t figure out, and I’d like to ask for your help.

Ever since Google bought Urchin and turned it into Google Analytics in 2005, search pundits have been murmuring about transparency and privacy concerns, steering their clients and others who will listen away from the product. Personally, I have recommended that clients stay away from Google Analytics because of my concerns about data privacy and the way I’ve seen Google use AdWords data in the past.

Is Client Privacy at Risk?

I’ve been in several meetings when a Google rep has pulled out AdWords spending data from “anonymous” competitors to show my client what they could be spending. Then, I’ve watched my client’s eyes light up as they realize who some of the “anonymous” competitors are, gaining immediate insight into the competitors’ Web strategy. I’ve also watched the client’s eyes change when he or she realizes that Google is most likely doing the same thing for their competitors.

When it came to Google Analytics, I’ve always followed the search insider party line and kept my tin foil hat on – let’s avoid the privacy concerns and use a third party analytics provider for our analytics needs.

Of course, I’ve kept up with Google Analytics. We even run it on our agency site. It’s important to keep up with this type of technology even if you don’t recommend it.

Problems With Analytics Tools

But last week, I found out the tin foil hat doesn’t fit so well anymore. Last week, I had two new clients come in with analytics systems from two different large analytics providers.

Of course, anytime a new client comes in, there is always a bit of stress getting everything set up and gaining access to all of the necessary tools that we use daily as search marketers. Since my agency is a platform agnostic shop, meaning we don’t push “proprietary” tools on our clients, many times we end up having to learn and deal with different systems, namely bid management and analytics tools.

Both of these new clients proved to have some difficulties with their analytics tools. One didn’t have it set up right. The other had the analytics behind the most impervious firewall I’ve ever seen. For the first client, the calls went out to the analytics provider to get answers on how to fix the problems at hand. For the other, we practically had to find a NASA engineer to get the VPN that would allow us remote access to the server. In both cases, hours and hours were spent fixing what should be simple problems with simple solutions.

Enter Google Analytics

In the meantime, I had another client come in without analytics and without the proclivity to pay for an analytics package. This client opted for Google’s free option. The setup was so easy a monkey with a keyboard and a working knowledge of HTML could do it. It worked immediately. There was no need to append the AdWords campaign with tracking URLs because it was done automatically. Actions were tracked without adding extra code to the site. Basically, it was one of the most positive experiences I’ve ever had with setting up an analytics account – and believe me, I’ve done a few.

So now that my tin foil hat is off, my question to you, dear reader, is: What are your concerns with Google Analytics? From what I can tell from a marketer’s standpoint, the tool provides all the information most organizations need.

Pros and Cons of Google Analytics

The cons I see with using Google analytics are few but of serious concern for some. Some of the custom reports available from the “big boys” of analytics aren’t available with Google Analytics, but then again, I have only seen a couple of clients ever use those reports. Also, there is very little support for most analytics products unless you are a big spender, so you’re pretty much relegated to online manuals and user forums. The same can be said for some of the “customer service” I’ve seen from major analytics providers.

On the other hand, the ease of use and quality of product make Google Analytics a viable alternative for most organizations. I’m even talking about some larger organizations I work for.

So let me know. Tell me what I’m missing. What are the evils of using Google Analytics? I’m interested in knowing what you think. Please share your thoughts in the SEW Forums.

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