Google’s free Web analytics tool is “not yet enterprise-ready,” because it lacks a formal support model and can’t perform the deep analyses the market’s fee-based products can handle, analyst firm CMS Watch says in a report released this week.
Google Analytics provides a striking user interface that is forcing other vendors to focus more on usability, but lacks several of the features required for many enterprise scenarios, says Phil Kemelor, lead analyst for the report, which evaluates 13 major Web analytics products.
CMS Watch’s criticisms — most of which were called inaccurate by a Google executive — include the following:
Google Analytics has no API to export or import data into or out of third-party products and data warehouses, limiting integration of Web site data with other sources of financial and customer data.
Google Analytics lacks the ability to query against raw data, limiting deeper analysis into site visits.
Support comes only from Google consultants, who are unable to modify the Google Analytics system.
The tool has some history of performance problems and lacks automated report distribution.
On the plus side, CMS Watch notes that Google Analytics is free, simple to set up, integrates with the keyword-based advertising system known as Google AdWords, and holds the long-term possibility of integration with Google’s enterprise Search Appliance.
In a separate report, CMS Watch also recently criticized Microsoft Office SharePoint Server, saying it falls short in Web content management. The analyst firm says it maintains a vendor-neutral stance by refusing to take money from vendors.
Google Analytics, which became available about 18 months ago, is best suited for enterprises with a high reliance on AdWords campaigns, CMS Watch says. The product may also be good for small and midsize businesses that have never used Web analytics before, or for large companies that want to use it as a secondary analytics program, Kemelor says. But it should not be the sole analytics tool for a large enterprise, he argues.
Because the product lacks an API for exporting data, Google Analytics customers cannot “integrate the Web analytics data with another tool or a database,” Kemelor says. “That’s the shortcoming of the tool.”
Brett Crosby, senior manager of Google Analytics, denies that Google Analytics data can’t be integrated with other products and databases. “We have many ways of pulling data out of Google Analytics,” he says in a phone interview. “You can pull it out when you’re in the product, you can have it e-mailed to you on a daily basis.”
CMS Watch also says Google Analytics lacks the ability to query against raw data, so queries can be made only against reports generated by the tool. In response, Crosby says “if you want access to raw data, everyone can still have access to their server log files.”
A new version of Google Analytics announced this month is helping to bring Web site analysis to a broader range of users, Crosby says. “What we’re hearing is the new version really helps push the data out to people who weren’t using [analytics before] and who wanted to,” he says.
Crosby acknowledges that Google Analytics isn’t the best product for all types of analyses. “If you have really niche needs, like maybe your entire Web site is in Flash, there might be another tool out there that’s more appropriate for that,” he says. But he denies CMS Watch’s claim that other vendors provide significantly more complex analysis.
“If you talked to most analysts these days, they will say there’s pretty much feature parity among products,” Crosby says. “We have features other products don’t have, other products have some features we don’t have.”
Crosby also defended Google’s support model. The third-party consultants who provide support can access the application through a Web browser, just like anyone else, he says. Even without more extensive access, consultants have done quite a bit of development, integrating Google Analytics with shopping carts, data sources and e-mail marketing systems, he says.
“Google isn’t a professional services company, which is why when we looked at this we decided to flip the model and it’s worked out extremely well,” Crosby says.
While CMS Watch doesn’t believe the new version of Google Analytics improves back-end services, Kemelor praised the enhanced user interface. “What they’ve done is create a dashboard that’s very easy to configure. You can get pretty much all of the reports you need without having to leave your screen,” he says. “The work they’ve done on the interface is significant, and I think that’s going to be an important factor in influencing where the other vendors go in their interface development.”
The other vendors reviewed by CMS Watch include ClickTracks, Coremetrics, Omniture and WebTrends. Each one has its strengths and weaknesses, Kemelor says. Omniture, for example, provides multiple data export and import options, but is complicated to implement and maintain. Coremetrics provides out-of-the-box capabilities for such specific industries as retail, but the tool’s reports don’t provide enough analytic firepower for sophisticated users, the analyst firm says.
Omniture starts at $1,000 a month, and Coremetrics costs $70,000 to $110,000 per year.