With search proving to be one of the most effective marketing tools available, the demand for analytics products to track the performance of search campaigns is heating up.
Last week, Google announced it would offer Google Analytics, its hosted Web analytics service, free to businesses. Google Analytics helps businesses use performance data to improve their online marketing campaigns and Web sites. The service provides information such as which keywords attract the most visitors, which e-mail campaigns generate the most customers and how to design Web pages that hold users’ attention.
Formerly known as Urchin from Google, the service is based on technology from Web analytics company Urchin Software Corp., which Google acquired in March. Google previously charged $199 for the service.
Demand was so high for the free service that Google had to stop taking orders, according to a statement on the sign-up page (http://www.google.com/analytics/sign_up.html).
“Google Analytics has experienced extremely strong demand,” the page states, “and as a result, we have temporarily limited the number of new signups as we increase capacity.”
Google isn’t the only search company boosting analytics capabilities. Earlier this month, software company Omniture announced the upcoming release of SearchCenter 2.0, which integrates Omniture SiteCatalyst, a Web analytics platform, with SearchCenter’s bid management platform.
SearchCenter 2.0, which will be available in December, allows marketers to optimize keyword campaigns based on visitor behavior and results in real time. It works with all major search networks.
Barbara Coll, CEO of Webmama.com, a Palo Alto, Calif., search marketing agency, said analytics is critical to search marketing.
“Analytics for search is driving measurability into all other channels for marketing,” Coll said. “You can measure down to actual profitability from a clickthrough.”
However, she added, “Many analytics systems are not set up to do that kind of tracking.”
Coll said her clients use analytics systems by Omniture, WebTrends and Visual Sciences to track search campaigns.
Regarding Google’s Urchin technology, Coll said it is reliable and is based on about 10 years worth of testing. Google has made it more usable with the addition of color and graphics, she said.
Eric Peterson, senior analyst at Jupiter Research, said, “We think it means some level of threat to the analytics vendors’ businesses.”
He said that while Google Analytics doesn’t have all the functionality and customer support of leading analytics products, including those offered by WebTrends and WebSideStory, it has a competitive advantage because it’s free.
“I’m starting to see companies that are paying for one vendor’s services who have installed Google code on their pages,” Peterson said.
“If companies are spending between $5,000 and $15,000 annually for analytics services, and if they are finding that Google Analytics provides most of the functionality and is free, it does pose a threat,” he added.
But Coll had at least one reservation regarding the security of the service. “If you’re going to use this product, you need to make sure you don’t put financial information about your company up there, since it is an open, Web-based system,” she said. Search analytic systems from Omniture, WebTrends and Visual Science are more secure because the software is housed at the marketer’s location, she said.
Another concern, voiced in many multiple discussion threads last week, was that Google planned to monitor Google Analytics data, trends and details, which would give it access to raw data on the needs of advertisers—specifically, giving them an understanding of how much advertisers might pay for keywords and ads.
“Google said that’s definitely not done, nor are there any plans to do that. Nor are there any plans to tap into the data as a means of improving regular search results or to identify ‘bad” sites,’ ” wrote Danny Sullivan, Internet consultant and editor of SearchEngineWatch.com, in his SearchEngineWatch post last week.
Google Analytics users without a Google AdWords account are limited to 5 million page views per month. Google said it planned to roll out dashboards aimed at different types of users, such as Webmasters and advertisers.