Former Urchin Web Analytics Reporting Service now free as Google Analytics

Google has made its on line web analytics reporting service, Google Analytics, available free of charge to website owners. The service, bought several months ago from Urchin, previously cost a minimum of $2400 / year.

The service uses small snippets of code embedded in each page of a website. When the page is requested by an Internet navigator, a call is made to Google’s servers which track basic information such as the page, the time, the browser, the user’s host IP address and referring URL if any.

There are some strings attached. Sites will be limited to tracking 5 million pages a month unless they also participate in Google’s AdWords. Thus, the free, no-strings attached offer is effectively limited to smaller sites filling niche markets and needs.

Gainers and losers

The Internet

The overall Internet could be a big winner with this move by Google. To date, Web Analytics use by both small and large organizations has been limited by the costs involved in software licensing and the training required. For small to medium size organizations, Google has removed one barrier. The visibility given by Google’s policy will undoubtedly increase the overall interest in Web Analytics perhaps prodding larger companies to revisit the power of knowing what is happing within and around their web site. Even when capped at 5 million page views, larger organizations can begin to get a handle on the fundamentals of Web Analytics before making a commitment to Google’s unlimited options or another vendor’s solution.


Google will gain by increasing loyalty to their AdWords program. Google will also have direct access to what was previously hidden Internet data. One assumes that it will be put to use to improve search engine results relevancy and will be a useful input into the products and services percolating from Google Labs.

Web Analytics Solution Vendors

While at first reading one might imagine solution vendors to be hurt, there are some reasons to think that larger companies, reacquainted with Web Analytics, may turn to other solutions besides Google Analytics:

  • Many of the target customers of commercial solutions have more than 5 million page views per month. Are they willing to commit indefinitely to the AdWords program to have free web analytics?
  • Google’s service comes without training, support and service levels
    • Practical use of Web Analytics requires extensive knowledge both in tool customization and report interpretation. Google’s good self-service help system isn’t sufficient for larger organizations. Companies that do use Google Analytics will need to turn to outside experts.
    • Once a company begins to use a Web Analytics system, „system not available” is not an option. Companies expect, and are willing to pay for, a SLA. Google’s initial service difficulties with „free” Web Analytics only helps other vendors justify service costs.
  • Embedded tag solutions are not for everyone.
    • Every site page must be modified to include the tracking code. Forget to modify a page = no tracking
    • Data normally captured in traditional web log analysis systems such as downloaded objects or page errors is more difficult if not impossible to track. To capture downloaded objects, additional code must be placed on every link to that object.
    • Page loading time can be delayed as calls are made to Google’s severs.
    • The actual raw data cannot be integrated in other data mining tools – Google has it, not the site owner. Processed data can be manually exported in variety of formats.
    • Customization, such as filters, usually cannot be retroactively applied.
    • Many solutions, including Google’s, won’t track data if a user has disabled JavaScript.
  • Some companies may not want to share data on their web site activity with Google. Will Google use your site’s data in computing search engine results ranking? From Google’s Matt Cutts’ diary entry, this is a safe bet. But then, they already have access to a subset of your site data through people who using their toolbar. If Google maintains the „do no evil” corporate culture, this is probably a non-issue.

Search Engine Optimization and Web Analytics Practitioners and Consultants

…are big winners. Use of standard Web Analytics reports usually requires training. Additional consulting is needed to unlock the full potential custom configuration offers. In some cases, web site changes are suggested to unlock greater reporting capability.

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About Sean Carlos

Sean Carlos is a digital marketing consultant & teacher, assisting companies with their Search (SEO + SEA = SEM), Social Media & Digital Media Analytics strategies. Sean first worked with text indexing in 1990 in a project for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Since then he worked for Hewlett-Packard Consulting and later as IT Manager of a real estate website before founding Antezeta in 2006. Sean is an official instructor of the Digital Analytics Association and collaborates with the Bocconi University. He is Chairman of the SMX Search and Social Media Conference, 12 & 13 November in Milan. He is also a co-author of the Treccani encyclopedic dictionary of computer science, ICT & digital media. Born in Providence, RI, USA, Sean received Honors in Physics from Bates College, Maine. He speaks English, Italian and German.