Will 2013 be the year you dump Google? A lot of people will, and a good many already have. Of course, I’m not talking here about dumping the whole of Google – that would be a marketing move not just bordering on suicidal, but fully committed to it. What I am talking about though is Google Analytics.
Google Analytics is something most of us have used, and for a good many years. It’s a set of tools that many of us have become almost reliant on, something we turn to on a regular basis. It’s something many of us use as a starting point for creating our future marketing plans, and analysing how effective previous ones have been.
It all sounds good – so why have so many people ‘in the know’ already moved away from this set of tools? Why are so many online marketing professionals planning to do so during the course of 2013? And what alternatives are there to Google Analytics, and how do they compare?
I wrote a blog post recently about the way in which Google ‘clipped the wings’ of a well known provider of statistical data, Raven. Raven Tools was another set of very handy and informative data analysis tools which, coupled with Google Analytics, gave a very incisive view as to what might be going on with our site.
I said ‘clipped the wings’, but that sounded a little too gentle. Ripped them off and then threatened to shove them somewhere was a little closer to the mark. I think we were all a bit shocked at just how heavy Google became all of a sudden. It was something of a wakeup call, and a reminder that Google isn’t really a tool or a service – it’s a business. It wants to make money, and it wants to make more money. And it does that with your data.
No, scratch that, it does it with your customers’ data and your visitors’ data. And this is one of the problems a growing number of people have with Google.
Increasingly it is becoming apparent that whilst Google will only reveal a minute fraction of the data it has collected from your visitors, it will in turn be collecting everything about them for its own use. In other words, the more effort you put in to doing things right, the more time and money you commit to creating a worthwhile resource that appeals to search engines and real people alike, the more data Google will claw from you, monetising it in a variety of ways, whilst in return revealing just a small slice of data which you may find informative.
There are other concerns too. Remember, that data that Google is hauling in from your marketing efforts isn’t being used to exclusively help you. It’s being used to help improve the effectiveness of its advertising campaigns. You know, those adverts your competitors are running?
Then of course there are the limitations. Plenty of them. There’s no easy way for example to tie in website rankings to your Google Analytics, or even backlink data. You’re also limited (obviously) to data relating to Google – but wouldn’t it be handier to see the same sort of data across more search engines? And whilst we’re at it, it may be very interesting to see what is happening as far as hits, bounces, misses, links and page views are concerned, but wouldn’t it be handy to be able to have at least some idea of who is doing all that?
So whether motivated by a sense of disgust at the way Google is clamping down on the use of its data whilst greedily hoovering up all of the data your customers are unwittingly providing, or simply because there are too many limitations, a growing number of people are saying farewell to Google Analytics, and finding alternative solutions.
But what are the alternatives to Google Analytics?
Clearly there’s little point ditching Google’s suite of analytical tools and then abandoning analytics altogether. Data analysis is the lifeblood of online marketing. But it is important to have a close look at some of the alternatives currently available, comparing their various merits and limitations, before completely committing to one platform. Here’s a quick rundown of a few possible analysis tools you might consider.
One of the interesting things about Piwik, apart from the fact that it’s free, is that it is also open source. Nothing hidden, constantly being developed and improved by people who have a genuine interest in producing something that’s worthwhile, useful, and able to adapt to changing circumstances and opportunities.
Currently Piwik has been downloaded 1.2 million times, and it’s one of the most popular alternatives to Google Analytics. There are a number of optional plugins you can add to the basic platform so that you can customize what you see, and how you see it. Custom features can even be added by hiring a consultant. Piwik offers an assurance that your customers’ data is secure and private, as it’s not sold or used for anything other than your own data analysis.
As with Google Analytics, data is also available in real time, showing you a much more immediate impression of how certain campaigns are working.
This project is certainly an attractive one, with a strong plan for future developments, and regular updates and new features being introduced each month.
Another alternative to Google Analytics is Clicky. This is another platform which offers real time statistics, and for those who want an easy to understand interface Clicky offers similar data to Google but in a way which makes a bit more sense.
There is already a good range of plugins available for Clicky, as well as apps for smartphones and tablets. Currently just over half a million websites are using Clicky, able to see at a glance and in real time who is visiting the site, how they got there, and what they did once they arrived. For complete techie geeks there’s also a rather cool looking full screen interface mode which you can have displaying real time data on a spare monitor!
A feature which, as far as I can see, is unique to Clicky is the option to set up real time alerts. So the moment an event or statistic is triggered you can have a popup message appear above the system tray to tell you.
StatCounter looks less at the search engine side of things and more at the real visitors, which is almost the opposite way of looking at things from Google Analytics, but it does make sense. This is very easy to set up, and immediately provides you with an extremely easy to navigate set of data which enables you to analyse exactly what your visitors are up to.
Once you install the code on your site you’ll be able to start seeing the data immediately, and the data is updated in real time. This makes it easy to identify where visitors are coming from, keywords being used to reach your site and individual pages, popular pages, entry pages, exit pages, visitor paths and much more. It’s also entirely free.
Offering a clean interface, and a single site licence for $30, Mint simplifies the data analysis work greatly. In fact for some real data enthusiasts it may be too simple, but for anyone who wants to save time and still get a clear picture of what’s working and what isn’t, Mint does fit the bill.
Using Mint you can analyse visits by timeframe, unique visits or by pages. You can see at a glance which referrers are performing well, filtering these by the newest, unique, repeat and by domain, and identify referrals from search engines. This last tool allows you to filter both web and image referrals separately.
Although a free version is available, the monthly costs for Mixpanel rise all the way up to $2,000 a month, although thankfully that’s only for businesses with over 400,000 visitors a month. For companies with 10,000 users a month the cost is $150, so it’s not cheap – but is it worth it?
If you love data, and need to know exactly what is going on at every stage, and often find yourself coming up with really precise questions you can’t seem to find an answer for, then yes. Imagine being able to generate a search with just a couple of mouse clicks which tells you the exact answer to the question: “Show me the age breakdown of people who are male, from the United Kingdom, and who viewed the pricing page.”
You can take any of the statistical data and immediately view it as a graph, and all searches, queries and filters can be saved for easy reference in future.
A really great feature available with Mixpanel though is the ability to create and analyse funnels. We all know how important the development and nurturing of inbound marketing funnels are, but with Mixpanel the process becomes much easier. Simply pick a few events that users should do, and then immediately see a full report which reveals strong points and weaker areas.
Track conversions over time, compare sales funnels and analyse user retention in a much more dynamic way. It’s the most expensive alternative listed here, but if you like your data, and you’re less satisfied with Google Analytics than you once were, it’s well worth taking a look.
So are you sticking with Google Analytics? Toying with the idea of switching? How do you feel about Google’s policy of taking all and revealing very little? Do you feel any one of these alternatives could be enough? Are you using an alternative data analysis tool we haven’t listed here? Please share your thoughts either using the comments box below.