Beware of the costs of free web analytics software

While many web site operators are using free web analytics tools like Google Analytics to monitor visitor behavior, many sites lack the resources to get sufficient value out of the tools, research and consulting firm Web Analytics Demystified says in a new report issued this week.

?Web analytics is hard, and when companies aren?t fully invested in understanding what analytics data mean, they?re likely to make wrong decisions based on it,? says Eric Peterson, founder and CEO of Web Analytics Demystified. Peterson co-authored the report, ?The Problem with Free Analytics,? with Zori Bayriamova, a former research analyst at JupiterResearch who is now research manager for Time magazine. ?One person?s interpretation of data can give a thumb?s up or down to an entire project, but that person may not be getting the big picture and making decisions only on what he thinks is important,? Peterson adds.

Peterson contends that use of free web analytics tools often coincides with a failure to compensate for the lack of support services routinely offered with licensed tools to help interpret analytics data, leaving the users of free tools with less useful information. ?Site operators need to realize that nothing is really free, so if they save on the technology, they need to reinvest it in people to manage the free technology and data analysis process,? he says.

The study found that among users of free web analytics tools, 35% deploy them on only an ad hoc basis, compared to 19% for users of licensed tools, and that 25% use them for tactical and strategic decisions, compared to 39% for licensed users.

34% of study respondents using free web analytics tools, compared to 55% for users of licensed tools, said their analytics tools answer 50% to 89% of their questions, the study found.

Peterson notes, however, that Google Analytics is a valuable tool with an easy-to-use interface for users who can properly interpret its analytics data. ?Google Analytics is good at data visualizations and it has an especially good interface,? he says.

Google reported recently that it had added improvements to the Google Analytics interface, including a new ?Segment? menu that lets users organize data pages by attributes including referral source, keyword and visitor type.

Although the report does not mention other brands of free web analytics tools, Peterson notes that others are available from vendors of licensed software, and that Microsoft Corp. is expected to release soon a beta version of a free analytics tool called Gatineau.