Google Analytics – is it competitive enough from end users’ perspective

Google Analytics arguably came into being when Google acquired Urchin Software Corp back in 2005, developing it into Google branded tool before refining it into asynchronous model to increase page load times.

Over the last 5 years Google Analytics functionality has improved in leaps and bounds and it continues to gain market share from paid-for web analytics vendors. Today, it’s the single biggest provider of web analytics of internet visitors[1].

From an implementation point of view, Google has made it child’s play to implement the code on a website of any size, and has provided easy to use debug tools for staging platforms as well as a production platform via Chrome add-on.

The front end feature set of Google Analytics improved along with its ability to capture more accurate stats at a faster rate than ever, costing web pages less and less time, but there remained room for improvement. To bridge that void, Google has released two core APIs for its analytics tool: Data Export API allows you to interact directly with the raw data otherwise hidden below Google Analytics front end – it mainly deals with Analytics account & profile data and Analytics report data from a single profile. Management API on the other hand interacts with Google Analytics account and configuration data and provides flexibility and increases performance.

These APIs go under the skin of Google Analytics, dig deeper and manipulate the raw data. APIs are a step in the right direction, delegate work outside Google and provide more control over how raw data gets processed. Overall, this allows developers to look beyond the limited Google Analytics interface and take web analytics to a new level and encourage innovation within the Google Analytics tool set to offer developers a chance to resell their services based on these APIs.

Despite all the good vibes, is Google Analytics broad enough to compete with big players in multi-national organisations? Overall Google Analytics controls a larger share than any other analytics vendor although this share deflates considerably when taking large organisations into account with deeper site hierarchies. In comparison with larger players Google Analytics appears to have some limitations: conflict of interest on your search engine marketing (SEM) activities, less customisable implementation, somewhat limited level of details, no built-in protection from browsers with no or disabled Javascript or disabled cookies, to name a few.

Today, Google Analytics is in a very favourable position to go commercial but that will require Google Analytics to further improve not only its technical ability to compete but also more importantly in terms of its competency to be transparent with any conflicts of interests. Despite the challenges, Google Analytics needs comparatively a modest amount of work to secure a better overall position in web analytics. But is Google planning on a more competitive, robust and comprehensive Google Analytics? Will that force Google to switch to a ‘paid-for’ model? Or is the free service serving Google better than expected and hence no need to change?

I believe Google Analytics could do with a publically available development roadmap or a strategy heading, against Google’s usual veil of secrecy!

[1] ‘Online Measurement and Strategy Report 2010’ report published on http://econsultancy.com

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