Generally in business, things that are free have some alternate
revenue stream or strategy driving them. On the internet, people have
become accustomed to using free products and services where the
revenue stream is driven by advertising on the site and most do not
think twice about taking them onboard. In the case of Google Analytics
there is no direct advertising revenue – no ads or pop ups etc. – so
there must be some other strategy at work – and as business savvy
marketers, it makes sense to understand the underlying motive behind
the free offering in case it colours the outcome of the results.
(It’s like the old adage: If you are in a meeting and you can’t work
out who is being screwed over, then it is probably you.)

Most
people don’t read online click-through licences these days – especially
for a free service – perhaps we should pay more attention to them.
The Google Analytics Terms of Service states: Google and its
wholly owned subsidiaries may retain and use… information collected in your use of the Service. This is an interesting position, and
obviously could be open to legal interpretation and challenge (at your
cost), but on the surface it may be that the company you pay for
AdWords also has access to all the resulting information of you web
site strategies and tactics? Are you cool with this?

This is not
a conspiracy theory – it is basic business sense: no business would
knowingly allow unfettered access to such important business
intelligence to a third party – even (or especially) a vendor of
related services.

Basically, you get what you pay for. The
Google Analytics Term of Service explains that there is no quality of
service of guarantee nor is there an availability or data accuracy
guarantee. In fact, the terms of service specifically call out the service levels: Google does not guarantee the service will be operable
at all times or during any down time… complete accuracy in all
aspects of your statistics at all times also is not guaranteed.

This
was reflected recently when Google admitted to having data processing
issues: Google Analytics experienced a data processing error from
April 30th to May 5th. Almost all of the data has been recovered and is
currently being reprocessed. The recovered data will be reflected in
your reports within a few days. Please note that a small percentage of
data, particularly in the area of e-commerce reporting, was not
recoverable from those dates.

As a free service, this lack of
commitment to service quality is to be expected – why would they expose
their company to such a risk without direct revenue? However, as
professional marketers coming to rely more and more on this information
to help meet our KPIs and business goals, it is worth at least
understanding the risks involved and taking action to mitigate the risk
if appropriate.

Google provide a comprehensive online technical
support FAQ but you cannot call them directly for technical support
or advice. Rather, this level of service is provided through a range of
third party Google Analytics Authorised Consultants. These
consultants, who do charge for their services, can help with installation, consulting and training. The level of support you can
expect will depend on the relationship and skills of the particular
consultant.

In may cases, web marketers rely on the unskilled,
self-learned knowledge of trusted web developers or marketing agencies
– unfortunately this can often times lead to less than optimum outcomes
for the marketer. (In fact, some advertising agencies are reported to
have implemented Google Analytics on client’s web sites and then charge
the client to run a report for the free service!)

Web savvy
marketers are embracing the dynamic reporting and statistics that are
intrinsically available in the digital world. Businesses are fast
moving beyond basic statistics (how many hits did we get on the site
last month?) to building a much deeper understanding of client
behaviour on the website (which segments from our email campaign used
a keyword search and converted in the past four months and what are they
most likely to do next?). This depth of understanding leads a marketer
to gaining a real insight into to website and client interactions – a
much more sustainable and sensible position for the business and also a
much more rewarding role for the marketer.

As businesses come to
understand more about the value and potential of information from
customer interactions on the web, they will be more likely to place a
real value on the information and less likely to make do with so
called free tools like Google Analytics and the others.

As the
perceived value of the information raises, the potential risks and
potential for loss of business knowledge will mean that data integrity,
ownership, training and support will rise to become critical factors
for all web marketers.

This is my personal blog.  The views expressed here are my own and do not represent those of my employer, Coremetrics.