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ECommerceTimes.com

Comparing Web Analytics Tools: Which Is Right for You?

By Jennifer LeClaire
Mar 28, 2006 5:00 AM PT

You know that half the money you are spending on Internet advertising is wasted -- you just aren't sure which half.

Comparing Web Analytics Tools: Which Is Right for You?

You've read about Web analytics and have played with the free tools that come from your Web hosting solution, but you realize you need more. The only problem is, there are more than 60 vendors on the market. Which one do you select? The answer is, it depends.

It depends on your specific needs. It depends on the size of your company. It depends on how much traffic you are getting to your site. It depends on how much you want to spend.

What is certain is this: You need the tools.

"Web analytics programs are most useful in terms of monitoring conversion rates, learning how user groups interact with your Web site, and discovering where visitors are coming from and what they're looking for," Pedro Sostre, principal of Sostre & Associates, a Web development, marketing and consulting firm, told the E-Commerce Times. "Web analytics can give you insights into new markets based on keywords used, or visits from blogs or social networks."

The Biggest Bang

At the entry level, you get quite a bit of mileage out of your analytics dollar. Free Google Analytics is a massive temptation for marketers who see the possibility of putting budgets currently assigned to tool sets into the advertising market.

"Inexpensive or free solutions like Google and VisiStats provide a great bang for the buck. They provide a basic level of Web analytics that is useful for low traffic sites and small businesses, but when a site grows to become a high volume site those solutions are not effective," Matt Sarrel, a former technical director at PC Magazine Labs, told the E-Commerce Times.

Google Analytics essentially presents a more friendly and simplified version of Urchin for mass consumption. Google states on its site that it believes "Web analytics should be simple and sophisticated at the same time."

"We think a more apt goal might be that analytics should be more relevant, actionable and truly provide the data needed to make key business decisions," Karen Breen Vogel, CEO and president of interactive marketing firm ClearGauge and past chairwoman of the American Business Media Internet Council, told the E-Commerce Times.

Of course, it should be noted that Google has channel partners that provide high-end analysis if users decide they need them. Google attempts to avoid the "one price fits all" model of analytics by providing the tools for free and the analysis for a fee through third-party vendors.

Kicking It Up a Notch

Beyond free tools, inexpensive tools like NetTracker and ClickTracks offer some valuable capabilities at lower price points. These programs, for example, allow the user to download raw statistics and review them based on metrics like who came to the site via a particular keyword, how long the page views were and other important conversion considerations.

"With ClickTracks, I can create tags for users based on any criteria I want. This is the only software I have used that doesn't cost thousands of dollars and allows me to define particular market segments based on how many people viewed a particular page and where they came from," Sostre noted.

Still, the adage that "you get what you pay for," may apply here too; lower-end versions of enterprise analytics software can sometimes be a be a better choice.

The Big Boys

Then again, the more expensive solutions might not offer value, especially if yours is a small to mid-sized business. Omniture and HitBox Pro provide much more information and more sophisticated methods of data analysis that may be too much for some SMBs. Enterprise-level products like these are critical in developing custom reports, however.

"While VisiStats and Google provide the information that a small business is most likely to need, they can't really be compared to Omniture or HitBox Pro; but then again a company would have to need the functionality of Omniture or HitBox Pro to benefit from their solutions," Sarrel said.

Indeed, Omniture and HitBox Pro can be too pricey for smaller Web properties, but for larger players, their services can be vital. Vogel likes the fact that WebTrends allows her to get details on unique users at a deeper level, which is particularly important in higher price-point sales or higher lifetime value situations.

Entry-level solutions often lack the ability to provide real, actionable data that e-business or marketing firms can use to create value. For example, lower product versions often have little to no ability to create custom reports that show business value, sales pipelines, segmentation or cross tabbing.

"WebTrends' custom report engine is pretty flexible and advanced, allowing us to measure users across a buy cycle, and deduce and update their status accurately," Vogel noted. "HitBox has a nice ability to hook into their API and integrate external cost data. Core Metrics has a strong focus on merchandising as well as lifetime profiling."

The Final Call

Finally, as the Web analytics space gets more competitive, that trend translates into better deals for Web site operators. One key factor to look at is vendors' pricing models.

Do they make their money on page view volume, maintenance and upgrade fees, or add-ons? Judge that against your business needs today and what you are likely to need in the future. Sometimes the upfront cost may look great, but getting what you really need over time could become very costly if you don't choose wisely from the outset.


This is Part Three of a three-part series on Web analytics by E-Commerce Times reporter Jennifer LeClaire. Part One ran on Tuesday, March 14. Part Two ran on Tuesday, March 21.


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