One of the greatest benefits of the digital revolution is the ability to gather copious amounts of data. Unlike other forms of traditional media (i.e. newspaper, television and radio), digital media, which encompasses everything from websites to search engine marketing to online advertising, is easy to measure.
However, with this ease comes a flood of analytics tools, and choosing the right one for you and your business can be daunting. Here are a few things to consider when looking for an analytics service:
1. What do you need to know?
Many analytics companies will talk about their features, stating a laundry list of things you can discover with their programs. That’s fine, but often the analytics they tout are not the ones you need. And with each type of business, needs change. Take a minute to consider this question: What data would help me sell more? That’s the data you want to gather.
2. Are my online efforts worth measuring?
How much time and effort have you spent on your website? How do you drive traffic there? For some small businesses, websites are an afterthought, something they need to have but don’t know how to correctly manage or use. Before you spend any time or money on tracking analytics surrounding your website, make sure you’ve already set up your website for success and that the information you collect will help make it even better.
3. Are you ready to take action?
Monitoring your online stats is the just the first step in the process. As you begin to gather historical data, trends will emerge, and opportunities will be revealed. When this happens, are you committed to taking action to meet these opportunities or follow these trends? Do you have the funds to make the necessary changes on your website and the time to test different options until you get it right? Remember, the data is only worthwhile if you do something with it.
Once you’ve spent time thinking about the above, you’re ready to choose your solution. Below is a list of some of the more popular online analytics tools, along with a quick summary of their pros and cons as well as costs.
Free Online Analytics Solutions
Regarded as the king of the jungle in most analytics circles, Google Analytics is perhaps the most well-known analytics tool amongst website owners. Google Analytics is a great resource for small businesses, especially those that know they need more data but aren’t sure what they want or what’s even available.
Some of Google Analytics’ more prominent features include:
- Traffic Analytics: These are standard measures, such as page views and site visitors.
- Digital Advertising Tracking: You can easily track any online digital campaigns and gather stats such as click-through rates, ad performance and engagement. Google Analytics also offers these measures for mobile campaigns too.
- Sales and Conversions Measurement: This includes everything from e-commerce reporting to attribution models.
Google Analytics also offers some audience demographic data, such as location and social media measurement.
Why Google Analytics? In most instances, Google Analytics offers more than enough facts and figures for small businesses. Setup is fairly easy, and its easy-to-read dashboards take the guesswork out of analytics reporting.
Why Not Google Analytics? While it is a free tool, the accuracy of its measurements is sometimes questioned. Additionally, some people find the amount of data available through Google Analytics overwhelming. Google’s efforts to expand the data have added layers of complexity to the measures, making it harder to find what you need.
Bottom Line: Google Analytics is definitely one of the biggest free digital analytics tools available. In the end, many business owners find that the pros outweigh the cons.
To learn more about setting up Google Analytics, see this free course. If you’re not convinced that Google Analytics is the tool for you, keep reading for some other free and paid services that might work instead.
This real-time analytics tool offers standard website measures you’ve come to expect: Unique Visitors, Page Views, Visitor Location and more.
Some of GoingUp!’s unique features include:
- Heat Maps: This relatively new technology can track mouse/cursor movement and/or eye movement to determine what sections of a specific page get the most attention. A heat map can be an invaluable tool when looking to add a feature to your website or complete a redesign, as it illustrates exactly where a viewer’s attention is paid; that way you know to focus your most important content in that zone.
- Page Rankings: An important measure in the world of Search Engine Optimization (SEO), GoingUp! displays your Google and Alexa page ranks so you can easily monitor how your site fares with search engines and against competitors.
Open Web Analytics (OWA)
This open-source solution is a great way to get a set of simple, web analysis features.
Some of Open Web Analytics’ unique features are:
- E-commerce Transactions Reporting: On one screen you can easily get a snapshot of how your customers are spending money on your website, including breakdowns of revenue per transaction, revenue per visit and average transaction value.
- Downloadable Code: OWA works by placing its code on your web server and provides a built-in installation wizard to guide you through the process of setting up and tagging your website. This is especially important if you are website-design challenged.
Another open-source tool that runs on MySQL and PHP.
Some of Piwik’s unique features are:
- Blocking Capabilities: Piwik allows you to block certain IP addresses and URLs, which helps protect your site from hackers and malicious code.
- Internal Search Tracking: Keep track of what people are searching for on your site with their internal search tracking. This will allow you to see what precise information people are interested in and can aid you in determining what is and what is not important to your customers.
Paid Analytics Solutions
These analytics tools require a monthly subscription or contract.
Omniture Site Catalyst
Owned by Adobe, Omniture Site Catalyst has an easy-to-use online dashboard interface that highlights everything from unique visitors to time spent per visitor. Omniture is another robust tool, and like Google Analytics, the sheer amount of data may prove overwhelming. Additionally, it is a bit more expensive than some of the other paid alternatives.
Additional Omniture features include:
- Granular Location Reporting: You can analyze your site visitors’ locations down to the city level with Omniture’s geographic reporting. This is especially important if your business has a strong presence in multiple areas/states.
- Report Generation and Customization: You can run just about any report on any data and then format it the way you want. There are some standard reports built in, but you have the option to customize as necessary and really manipulate the data that applies to your particular situation.
A real-time analytics tool that also offers a free version, Clicky prides itself on its amount of functionality for a relatively low price point.
Other Clicky features include:
- Social Media Tracking: This feature monitors and summarizes relevant conversations that are being had on Twitter; it also analyzes the type of traffic you receive.
- Mobile Enabled: As a Flash-free interface, you don’t need to take any necessary steps to make Clicky iPhone and iPad friendly. Clicky does have dedicated mobile apps to the iPhone and other mobile devices for ease of use away from the office.
This is just a handful of the online analytics tools available. Whether free or paid, leveraging analytics takes time and patience. Be sure to revisit the questions at the top of this post when starting to examine your options:
- What do I need know to make a positive impact on my business?
- Are my online efforts worth tracking?
- Am I ready to take action?