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Beyond Google Analytics: What are the alternatives?

17th Aug 2009
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Google’s web analytics solution may seem like the default free-to-use analytics tool, but what alternatives (both free and subscription-based) are there? Technology correspondent Jon Wilcox goes in search of its contemporaries.

For any brand with a website, having access to accurate web traffic data and analysis is essential for gathering all sorts of marketing and customer data. And by utilising analytical solutions, you can answer some of the most important questions such as: how much traffic is arriving on your website? Which areas of the site are they visiting? Where in the world are they accessing the web from? How much time are they spending on the website?  All of these questions can help identify where changes to the website are needed and for tracking raw statistical data.

Web analytics comes in two different ‘flavours’, log file analysis and page tagging, which have their respective advantages and disadvantages. The main difference between the two is that whereas log file analysis requires the scrutiny of a server’s log file (the log file is a record of all server data), page tagging requires the addition of some JavaScript onto each page a webmaster wants to track - it gives you the information you need to know and is far more customisable. Google Analytics (GA), for instance, uses page tagging and supplies the relevant piece of JavaScript for administrators to add.

Google acquired the Urchin analytical tool back in April 2005, deriving the free analytical solution within months and launching Google Analytics that November. In the three years since it launched, the application has quickly gained significant traction, accruing over 52% market share up to June 2009. Google still operates the beefier Urchin, now in its sixth version, with a licence fee of $2995. So if Google’s analytical solution is so dominant in the market - and free - why use an alternative?

Does Google reign supreme?

For starters, you’re not restricted to using a single analytics tool. In fact, many of the largest websites in the world harness the power of more than one solution. Just because you’re using Google Analytics, it doesn’t mean you can’t add, for instance, Quantcast too. Google Analytics isn’t the silver bullet of web analytics; its lack of in-depth data segmentation, lack of business intelligence integration and, more importantly, the lack of data ownership stand out as the solution’s three major drawbacks. 

Whilst dedicated data miners and analysts aren’t enamoured with the lack of segmentation on offer from Google, certain areas of the workforce would get all the information they need from the solution. So, in conjunction with Google Analytics, a website might also implement alternatives such as log file analysis systems like AWstats, or licensed page tagging solutions like Fireclick.

So where can webmasters turn to for complimentary/competitive analytics solutions?

The rivals

Pitching themselves as the open-source rival to Google’s service, Piwik is a page-tagging solution and, therefore, requires the addition of some JavaScript into the web pages. Unlike its more famous adversary, however, Piwik is downloaded onto a local server rather than The Cloud.  It therefore represents a more positive alternative so far as data ownership is concerned. 

Elsewhere, one of Google’s main competitors in the online search space, Yahoo!, also has its own analytics solution. Imaginatively called ‘Yahoo! Analytics’, the service was found to provide a more relevant toolset for enterprise than Google’s offering, according to a report published by CMS Watch earlier in 2009. Other heavyweights in the world analytics market include Omniture’s portfolio of tools, and subscription-based Lyris HQ Web Analytics (formerly ClickTracks). 

The analytics world is full of products and services - free, licensed and subscription based - which can be utilised in tandem with Google Analytics or as alternatives. Each user has its own needs, helping to drive them towards an appropriate solution. In fairness, Google provides a solid rudimentary set of tools and does have a significant user base. It just depends on whether there’s a requirement for comprehensive analysis and data ownership – there are certainly plenty of alternatives out there.


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By wecandobiz
17th Aug 2009 08:38

I can very much recommend Clicky. Apart from looking great and being easy to understand, it can combines with your registered user database and also has an addictive "Spy" option so you can see whois doing what on your site in real time. This has proved great in getting a feel for the way people navigate round our site.

Ian Hendry

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