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Free is not a 4-letter F word.

Omniture Site Catalyst, WebTrends, CoreMetrics, XiTi, Google’s Urchin! et al. with Google Analytics?

The argument in favor of “throwing” basic Google Analytics Tracking Code (GATC) in as part of a comprehensive tracking implementation is a strong one.

Free does not mean cheap. “Free” is just a different business model. In spite of their beguiling simplicity and missing price tag, free solutions are not short on utility and strengths which may, in some areas, extend beyond their competitors’.

Why not just do it?

We’re not suggesting that it’s a flippant decision but it certainly requires no more than a fraction of the time devoted to all the other decision making required in complex implementations.
It does not compromise other solutions nor noticeably impact page-load times (in fact, beyond the first call for GATC, there may be no load time required at all)

Why do it?

  • It provides validation of trends, provided one knows to avoid attempts to reconcile two different tools. (Is one who has 2 watches more certain or less certain of the time?)
  • Widen the gene pool. Regardless of how comprehensive or costly vendors’ solutions might be, all have their strenghts and weaknesses. Because of their different approaches and philosophies, many disadvantages are not common to both tools.
  • Free solutions still compete with their counterparts and need to provide functionality to achieve success in their target markets. The result is costly and advanced features are freely available but which might come at additional cost in paid solutions.
    GA is actively pursuing the Enterprise Market with enterprise features such as Advanced Segments, Custom Reports, Motion Charts and Pivoting.
  • Achieving certain functionality in paid solutions may require additional cost and/or considerable effort not be required in free solutions. In some cases, paid solution are more complex in order to provide greater functionality. That, in turn, requires greater implementation effort of the design and implementation teams.
  • Redundancy is cited as a reason for more than one solution. It has the following facets:
    • Data Redundancy from a security perspective. Jackie O would have said, one can’t have enough data security. However, since all vendors, Google included, already have data redundancy in place – additional data security is redundant. The stability of vendors is more the issue than that of your data.
    • Data availability is another, multi-faceted, matter. Suffice to say, the more solutions one uses, the more tools one has to access and download data. There are 2 types of Analytics Vendors – those that provide a data access API and those that will.
      Other aspects of availability include cost, ease and functionality and there is no direct correlation between cost and the other aspects. There is no question that, but for diminishing returns, the more solutions you have, the more available will be your data.
    • An unusual but valuable facet of redundancy is that your free solution may be made more freely usable and available to your users because the consequences of loss is reduced. This opens up opportunity for experimental investigation (once again I paraphrase Jim Novo’s relevant words that being a good analyst involves being a detective).

      Similarly the cost of such experimentation with paid solutions may be prohibitive.

  • Availability of skills
    This is self explanatory but there’s a less obvious aspect: Learning analytics solutions is not a trivial endeavour. Staff will be more inclined to learn more universally applicable skills. “Free” is almost synonymous with “universal”.

In part 2 we look at specific features in GA that provide additional weight in favour of the small additional effort required for parallel implementation.