Freemium or Premium? Are the no cost Web Analytics Packages dangerous?

I had a great time at E-Metrics yesterday, I finally met Clint Ivy, (older blog here), Rene and his lovely wife Aurelie, Craig Danuloff of Commerce 360, Bryan Eisenberg, Gary Angel of Semphonic, and a ton of other great folks.

I recently posted a video interview I had with Google Analytics’ evangelist Avinash Kaushik. He suggested that the first step for any analytics program was to use a free one. As we know, Google Analytics is free, so the correlation makes sense. Update: I just saw this after publishing this post, It’s pretty interesting how Google just announced a new version with improved UI and Andy B the Pilgram is already discussing that free is good enough for 90% of all companies. More discussion on Techmeme.

Yesterday at Eric Peterson (web analytics guru) keynote speech at E-Metrics, (run my Jim Sterne) he said that “you get what you pay for”, and somewhat challenged the idea of no resources (labor and maybe money) for analytics programs. Eric, if I misquoted you, please let me know in the comments.

In my comment section Marcos Richardson from WebtraffIQ left the following comment:

“Jeremiah

Regarding Avinash Kaushik free analytics, I wonder if his love of free analytics is at all spurred on by his position as a consultant for the Google Analytics team.

Free is dangerous in sooo many ways!

1.) There is no contract or service level agreement (SLA)
2.) You need to be a good technician to implant the code properly
3.) You will need several good technicians if you want integration and bespoke reporting/analysis
4.) You need to be a good technician to get the most out of the system
5.) Consultancy for optimisation is something you would have to outsource or buy in
6.) You may use HTTPS but this does not prevent Google from keeping your information

Therefore, free might be good for SME’s that are just dabbling in analytics BUT any company taking their internet presence seriously will use a dedicated service from the likes of Omniture, WebtraffIQ, Webside Story etc.

Regards

Marcos Richardson
Director
www.webtraffiq.com”

SCL has some analysis, a good compare and contrast. Do you feel strongly about this? Leave a thoughtful comment and reasoning in addition to Marcos, practical experience is always a bonus. Maybe you should come to PodTech studios in Palo Alto and we can talk about it on video!

Update: It looks like Avinash is not the only Google Analytics Evangelist out there, I got my buddy Matt Dunlap of Realivent to start using it (hopefully it’s not dangerous for him). Thanks for the wine decanter BTW Matt, it’s really really nice.

  • http://allforyou.wordpress.com Brian Keith

    Jeremiah, I have been looking around the new analytics package and reporting today. My take on Marcos’ points:

    1. Big deal- if it works, I am happy.
    2. Not true. I can implant the code, and I am only half geek. I would say you need to have a very basic understanding of HTML to implant code. You need a medium level of code skill for Google Website Optimizer, but not much more.
    3. Ehhh…. depends on what Marcos means by integration. If you want your reports and analytics in a custom way, yes, you need a custom package. But the point of Google Analytics is that most people don’t need all the extras. Most of my clients use about 5 of the hundreds of stats the current analytics tool provides.
    4. True. I am not getting all I could get out of Google Analytics.
    5. This is true, but then again, we are an internet marketing agency, so we have that talent in house. What Google Analytics (and especially the new reporting tool) lets us do is deliver better consulting for our clients.
    6. This is a valid concern. When you couple Google Analytics Ecommerce tracking, you are telling google exactly how much you are selling. If they chose to keep your info, you would have no way of knowing or stopping it.

    I agree with Andy B on the free analytics being good enough for 90%, and add this- our agency serves a number of clients, and for most of them (maybe 90%?), Google Analytics is enough.

    At the end of the day, analytics and reporting are not the same thing. The free tools help us and our clients make better decisions, and we rarely need more powerful reporting tools.

  • Jeff

    This is a great post Jeremiah. Free is good, but to what extent before you need more? I’ve found Google-analytics to be good enough with clients from a consulting perspective but obviously there’s much more work involved without the ability to segment and tie various nuances that result in subsequent events. Something you would get from a paid service, IE SurfAid, Omniture, ClickTracks, Etc.

  • http://500hats.typepad.com dave mcclure

    let’s get one thing straight: free is great.

    there is absolutely nothing wrong with free, but it does beg the question: “where’s the catch?”

    in google’s case, the “catch” is that overall better user experience & conversion rates result in more successful search, browse, and purchasing experiences on the web. which in turn, also contribute to Google’s bottom line (currently mostly CPC-driven, but in the future also CPA-driven).

    so altho Google is “giving” it away, the product helps them achieve a higher-level goal — “free” analytics tools (& a/b testing, and checkout) help drive more advertising revenue, and the bottom line.

    where “free” isn’t always so great is if the product is inferior to other paid tools, or the functionality is overly complicated.

    on the former point, GA competes very well against more expensive tools from larger vendors… those other tools are still valuable, and will still have market share with mid- and large-size companies. but GA brings web analytics to the small biz / common man… which also happens to be a target customer for the GOOG.

    on the latter point, GA 2.0 is now a LOT easier to understand and use than GA 1.0 / Urchin (thanks to Jeff Veen & MeasureMap folks)… altho there’s still more to be done.

    in summary: nothing wrong with free, but the real challenge is still adoption & user education… which is now going to be a big mission for Google. evangelizing and marketing GA 2.0 to the unwashed masses of clueless website owners is a big task.

    welcome to the new platform evangelism challenge: website analytics for the common man.

    - dave mcclure
    http://500hats.typepad.com/

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Dave good point. Google Analytics helps Ad Sense (it has nice hooks into it) which is 85% of Google’s revenue.

  • http://www.conversationmarketing.com ian

    I have to say that Google is the exception here. ‘Free’ for Google means ‘We are luring you in so we remain the top dog online’. If they screw up, they’re going to get hurt, badly, across all of their business ventures.

    Google Analytics is a winner. It’s silly to start with anything else, no matter how large the enterprise.

    One note: ‘Free’ is NOT good when it comes to genuine analytics. That is, the practice of analyzing the data that Google or other reporting tools provide. You need to have someone in your organization dedicated to that job. But your interview with Avinash covered that very effectively.

  • http://blog.immeria.net S,Hamel

    There is no such thing as a free lunch!

    Whenever we use Google Analytics, even for free, we sacrifice something else. They are not doing it for the sake of humanity’s joy & happiness. The privacy policy of Google is pretty clear: you are sacrificing some of your own company privacy, and that of your visitors. You have to decide if it’s a bad thing or not, and act accordingly.

    One thing that starts to worries me is at some point, Microsoft had to remove MSIE from their OS because of unfair competition. Google has become so pervasive that I wouldn’t be surprised to see a backlash because of unfair advantages.

    I’m not saying Google Analytics is not good! Or Google is evil or anything like that. What they are doing is great, they innovate or take existing innovations and make them easier to use, and they have plenty of money to spend…

    Now I’m going to log on to Google Analytics and check my own blog stats :)

  • Ryan Wiseman

    6. Yeah. But so will most other subscription based services. It’s more a matter of who do you trust more?? :) You’re weblogs are also in reach of your hosting company if you’r not hosting on your own servers and who knows what they do with those?

  • http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/ jeremiah_owyang

    Ryan Wiseman.

    Don’t forget your ISP who has all your data too. Browsers may also as well.

  • http://www.firstranked.com Marshall Clark

    One issue I didn’t see discussed significantly here is that of technical support. I have a number of clients that were paid Urchin customers prior to their acquisition by Google. Although their analytics services converted to free accounts, every one of them would prefer to return to the paid service due to the poor service they’ve received from GA.

  • http://allforyou.wordpress.com/ Brian Keith

    Jeremiah, I have been looking around the new analytics package and reporting today. My take on Marcos' points:

    1. Big deal- if it works, I am happy.
    2. Not true. I can implant the code, and I am only half geek. I would say you need to have a very basic understanding of HTML to implant code. You need a medium level of code skill for Google Website Optimizer, but not much more.
    3. Ehhh…. depends on what Marcos means by integration. If you want your reports and analytics in a custom way, yes, you need a custom package. But the point of Google Analytics is that most people don't need all the extras. Most of my clients use about 5 of the hundreds of stats the current analytics tool provides.
    4. True. I am not getting all I could get out of Google Analytics.
    5. This is true, but then again, we are an internet marketing agency, so we have that talent in house. What Google Analytics (and especially the new reporting tool) lets us do is deliver better consulting for our clients.
    6. This is a valid concern. When you couple Google Analytics Ecommerce tracking, you are telling google exactly how much you are selling. If they chose to keep your info, you would have no way of knowing or stopping it.

    I agree with Andy B on the free analytics being good enough for 90%, and add this- our agency serves a number of clients, and for most of them (maybe 90%?), Google Analytics is enough.

    At the end of the day, analytics and reporting are not the same thing. The free tools help us and our clients make better decisions, and we rarely need more powerful reporting tools.