Articles written in December, 2008

December 19 2008

The difference between Google Analytics and Urchin Software from Google

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Recently, I’ve fielded a lot of questions regarding Urchin Software from Google, and how it compares to Google Analytics. Both Google Analytics and Urchin Software from Google are web analytics programs that can help you understand the traffic patterns and the visitor behavior of your site, along with any of the marketing efforts associated with your online business.

However, while they are both Google products that serve the same ultimate purpose, they are quite different from one another in many ways. There are things that Urchin can do that GA can’t, and vice-versa. Depending on your needs, you may find that one platform is a better fit for you versus the other platform. Below, I have created an image based on this page that will hopefully be able to show you what Urchin Software has to offer in comparison to some of the things that Google Analytics offers (an image that I hope is good enough for the folks at Junk Charts):

Urchin Software vs. Google Analytics

Let’s briefly cover each of these points:

Server Installation – You install Urchin Software on your server of choice
Firewall Protection – Perfect for a corporate or a school intranet protected by a firewall
Historical Data – With Urchin, you can always reprocess historical logfile data
Log-File Processing – You control how / how often your logfiles are processed
Collect Data via Tags – Urchin does not collect data via JavaScript tags; GA does
Robot Activity – Urchin can report on search engine robot / spider activity
Status Codes – Reports on server status / error codes w/ Urchin
AdWords Integration – This is something currently exclusive to Google Analytics
Paid Search Reporting – Both platforms can easily accomplish this
Ecommerce Reporting – Both can also track Revenue, Product, and Transaction data
Geo-Targeting – Both are also equipped with a Map Overlay report and Geo-specific data
Free (No Cost) – Google Analytics is FREE; Urchin costs $2,995.00
Visitor Path Analysis – Urchin allows for a much deeper level of visitor segmentation than GA
Raw Data Availability – Because Urchin is installed on your server, you have the freedom to download Raw Data and basically do whatever you’d like with it

I love Google Analytics, but Urchin Software allows for a lot of things that GA doesn’t do. Can I use both platforms simultaneously?

Yes, you can. With a touch of customization to the Google Analytics Tracking Code, you can run Urchin Software on your server, and have your website(s) coded for GA. Keep in mind that both platforms collect data differently (Urchin uses logfiles; Google Analytics uses JavaScript), which means that you will see different numbers when comparing the same report with the same date-range between one platform versus the other.

December 11 2008

The Three Evils of Analytics Tracking: Images, Javascript, and Cookies

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Tag-Based (or script-based) Web Analytics programs have excellent, business-friendly advantages that help organizations make intelligent, insightful decisions about their website. This applies to websites from businesses across every imaginable industry and size, from the local flower shop to the U.S. Government. These benefits include (but are definitely not limited to):

– Full suites of reporting options
– Colorful, easy-to-use graphics and reporting interfaces
– Data that is “good enough” for any marketer or decision-maker to use
– Fast and almost always reliable data

But with script-based web analytics – and like anything in life, really – there are pros and cons, or, the good and the bad. Unfortunately, not every visitor can be tracked with script-based web analytics programs. Some individuals purposely configure their browser settings to block web analytics tools from tracking and collecting data; others have no idea that their browser settings are configured in a fashion that would block or interfere with the data collection process. Most website visitors using mobile phones simply do not have the technical capabilities to be tracked by web analytics programs.

What this means is that tag-based web analytics solutions can only track visitors that allow themselves to be tracked. There are three separate elements that users can restrict on their browser of choice, rendering script-based analytics programs completely helpless. Users can block or restrict images, JavaScript, and cookies from loading or processing – blocking or restricting any one of these means “No Soup For You!” I call these elements the “Three Evils of Analytics Tracking” (Sounds scary, doesn’t it?).

Images
A part of how web analytics programs (like Google Analytics) operate is by requesting a 1×1 invisible GIF image to the Google Analytics servers for storing and processing the data it has just collected. If a browser does not have images enabled for whatever reason, this request cannot be satisfied, and data – although collected – cannot be sent to Google Analytics for processing, hence, no data in reports.

This doesn’t affect too many folks, as almost everyone has their browsers set to load images, and only a very small percentage of the population even knows how to do this in the first place. However, this is a major problem when tracking things like Email Open Rates, which in most (if not all) cases are handled by a request for a 1×1 clear pixel GIF image to the necessary server. If a person does not click on “Download Images”, that person is not able to be tracked.

JavaScript
The main logic behind all tag-based web analytics programs is JavaScript. JavaScript is easy and fast to implement, and it’s the type of web analytics tracking solution that makes the most overall sense across the board. It is with a few lines of JavaScript code that a website can set cookies on a person’s computer, collect data, and send that data to the appropriate processing server, be it an in-house server or a data warehouse of some kind. However, not all that glitters is gold. If users have JavaScript disabled, they cannot be tracked – it is that simple.

Luckily, not many folks disable JavaScript, as it is such a commonly used language, present on almost every website out there. However, a very small percentage of folks do block JavaScript, which is unfortunate for anyone involved with Web Analytics. This really affects mobile phone users in a big way – since the browsers on a lot of mobile phone platforms cannot execute or understand JavaScript, they cannot be tracked by default. The only thing that anyone can do about this is to hope that soon enough, all mobile phones will be equipped with a JavaScript-executing browser.

Cookies
Cookies are very small files that get set by websites on a person’s computer. These small files collect information pertaining to their activity on a website: when they entered the site, when they left the site, where they came from, what source of traffic brought the person there, how many times a person has visited the site, and so on. Cookies come in many different shapes and sizes, life spans, and security levels, but if any of them are blocked or disabled by users on their favorite browser, web analytics programs cannot store or collect data about these individuals.

Unlike Images and JavaScript, Cookie “management” is a very big concern, and it’s the biggest evil of the three. Some people block only specific cookies from specific sites. Some people block all cookies, regardless of where they originate from. Others have daily, weekly, or every first of the month cookie deletion parties on their personal computers, where they wipe off every cookie imaginable. All of these actions hurt tag-based web analytics programs, un-purifying data and distorting figures. This affects a very sizeable portion of the population – some independent reports have this figure at 3 or 4% of all internet users, while other reports have this figure in the high teens / low 20’s.

So how do I know that my data is “good”? Should I be worried about this?

This shouldn’t be something that you lose sleep over, but you definitely need to be aware. If data quality is something that your organization simply cannot live without, tag-based web analytics solutions are going to give you a lot of headaches – you want to consider using log-file parsing programs or packet-sniffing programs, although there aren’t too many of those programs available anymore. You may also want to consider using raw server log information to help.

If tracking every single person that visits your website is not the most important thing – that is, you can live with being a few percentage points “off”, and a little margin of error, then you really have nothing to worry about. Web analytics programs weren’t designed to collect the exact number of hits or queries like your server is configured for – web analytics programs were designed to give you valuable insights about your website’s performance, which can effectively be accomplished with the percentage of data that they can collect for most companies.

December 5 2008

My Predictions for Google Analytics in 2009

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Traffic Sources Section - New Reports?Everyone loves to prognosticate, don’t they? From the guys on NBC’s Football Night in America to your buddies at work, everyone likes to predict, forecast, and make guesses as to who will win the Super Bowl / become the next president / be the next American Idol. Usually, most folks turn out to be wrong – even some of the top experts on TV – but, hey, it’s a heck of a lot of fun.

When it comes to blogging, I am not a big fan of prediction posts. However, today, I’m making an exception. I have come up with 5 predictions for Google Analytics in 2009. These are five elements that I am predicting will happen with Google Analytics before the 2009 year is over. This is completely separate from my Google Analytics Wish List that I created a while ago.

My Predictions for Google Analytics in 2009:

1. urchin.js will be eliminated from the system, forcing everyone to officially migrate to ga.js
Ok, so now that I have your attention. 🙂 This has been a long time coming, folks. urchin.js is the Legacy Tracking Code, and they are eventually going to do away with it entirely. I suspect that this will happen toward the end of 2009, so that everyone has more than enough time to migrate over to ga.js.

2. Google Website Optimizer will be integrated into the Google Analytics interface
This is a matter of convenience. Somehow, Google Website Optimizer will be available via your Google Analytics Account settings, to set-up an A/B or Multivariate Experiment. There will also be reports within the GA Interface from Google Website Optimizer as well.

3. New “Blogs”, “Mobile”, and “Social Media” report sections will be added
I predict that this will happen sooner rather than later so that you can analyze these three sources of traffic individually from each other. This also means, from a technical standpoint, that Google Analytics will introduce new default medium dimensions, like “social-media” and “mobile”, breaking them off from the “referral” medium, as they appear by default at this time.

4. New Path Analysis reports will be added
Google Analytics will either upgrade the Navigation Summary / Entrance Paths reports, or they will replace them with brand new Path Analysis style reports. The current reports are very tough to understand, much less usable and insightful. That will not be the case any longer in 2009.

5. The Reporting Section will receive a big facelift; new bells and whistles will be added.
The reporting section in Google Analytics at this time is quite limited. You can only schedule an automatic report to be run on a Daily, Weekly, Monthly, or Quarterly basis, and you can only do so much with the Subject and Description lines. Expect some improvements here, with some ability to schedule a report from a custom date range, other file formats (.xls would be nice), and some other neat things.

Will any or all of my predictions come through? We’ll know the answer in a little over 1 year from now.

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