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After several years of vendor consolidation the web analytics market has a new enterprise-level vendor. Following a summer of innovation and product announcements, Google finally launched Google Analytics Premium in September.
Premium aims to address the needs of large corporations that cannot rely on the free standard version Google Analytics (GA, with all inclusive package, a powerful analytics tool, migration and implementation consultancy, training, account management and 24/7 support.
However, switching web analytics tools is rarely an easy decision or a straight forward process.
If you are thinking of upgrading from GA or a switching from another analytics vendor, here are the pros and cons...
What is GA Premium?
GA Premium includes some key corporate governance, financial and analytical benefits.
Contracts and ownership of data
First, you get a signed contract rather than the generic Google Terms of Service. Google is assuming the legal accountability corporations expect from their vendors. The contract includes strong service level agreements regarding data processing, interface availability and uptime levels. It is a guarantee that companies will have access to their data whenever they need it.
Google is also providing dedicated account management and consultancy services. It wants to ensure Premium is implemented to a high standard and used by clients to avoid underutilisation and disillusionment.
Google has also defused a key corporate objection by assuring clients that ‘you own your customer data and control how that data is shared’. Legal and risk departments can now be appeased.
Costs are fixed at $150,000 per annum, irrespective of traffic volumes. It is a very attractive proposition especially if your websites generate over a billion page impressions per annum. You no longer need to estimate your annual traffic volumes upfront or reserve any budget for server call overconsumption.
$150,000 will be prohibitive for many companies. However, it does create some exclusivity and an implicit assurance that the quality of service would not be diluted on the altar of additional sales.
The price point isn’t arbitrary. I believe Google has priced Premium to cover the projected human resource cost required to support Premium clients. Having dominated the analytics market for small to medium (with some large) companies it is now going for the really big fish.
I expect Google to modify the price (my guess is down) once it has had time to assess its success attracting new Premium clients and evaluate the costs associated with running the service.
Finally, analysts will have 50 custom variables available to them (up from five); greater processing power; more data export flexibility and advanced attribution modelling tools. The list of additional features is only bound to grow in coming months.
For a full features list have a look at the GA Premium fact sheet.
Who should consider switching or upgrading to GA Premium?
Companies that already use the free standard version will obviously find it relatively painless to upgrade. You would not need to make any modifications to your implementation.
That being said, I strongly recommend using the extra 45 custom variables as much as possible. Custom variables allow you to capture data dimensions unique to your websites, industry and business requirements.
You would be able to further segment your customer base by data captured on the site (e.g. type, preferences, age, gender etc.); classify pages by type/function; and cluster user groups by interaction with the website (e.g. Signed up for newsletter, reviewed a product, used an online tool such as a loan/mortgage/saving calculator etc).
Premium has plugged a major shortcoming of the standard edition with the additional custom variables. It gives a web analyst the freedom to explore customer behaviour in new ways and discover the necessary insight for optimising both the customer journey and your ROI from the online channel.
Investment in staff and resources
This brings us to the next point, having a dedicated web analyst. Whilst you do not need to be a web analyst to use Premium, you would be wise to spend $60,000 to $90,000 on a dedicated and experienced analyst to extract the added value Premium offers.
You should also consider devoting some technical development resource to support your analyst. Web analytics implementations, like websites, are live organisms. Modifications and enhancements are essential. And with GA’s aggressive development roadmap it is almost inevitable that new features would require more implementation.
In most cases this development resource does not need to be dedicated to web analytics and can also be used for other projects.
Premium includes several features currently unavailable, not easily configurable or cost extra (tick as appropriate) with other vendors.
The most significant is the advanced attribution modelling tool. The tool not only allows marketers to assign conversion values to all channels in the conversion path but also custom-weigh those values.
Models include First Click, Last Click, Linear (aka equal weight), time decay (where more recent channels in the path get higher value) or U-Shape (where first and last click have higher values). So if you engage in multiple marketing activities and struggle to determine the value of those activities, Premium could be your solution.
Premium will also include greater integration with other Google products such as DoubleClick (expected to include auto-tagging for display ads similar to the AdWords integration).
These integrations, which will always be unique to Google, save significant time and cost by eliminating the need to set up campaign tracking and reduce the chance of tracking errors caused by human intervention.
Another feature that is currently available in the free GA version but is unique to Google (as far as I’m aware of) is Analytics Intelligence. Intelligence is a simple statistical analysis algorithm that automatically identifies significant data pattern change and alerts you to that change.
It is one of my favourite analytics features. I would like to see this feature enhanced as I believe it is the future of web analytics – where machine provides human with threads leading to the needles in the haystack.
Why shouldn’t you switch or upgrade?
Whilst removing some key barriers to corporate adoption of GA Premium, there are still some strong arguments against a switch to Premium.
No customer-level data
GA is not really designed to capture and process customer-level data. Yes, custom variables can be configured to visitor-level but overall the tool is not very accommodating for such analysis.
That is not a tool drawback per se but a conscious decision by Google. Therefore, it is unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.
If you are looking to engage in customer-level analytics for customer targeting and personalisation or if you wish to tie web analytics with CRM and other offline data then GA is probably not ideal.
Google does provide a little more leeway under the new Terms of Service for GA Premium with respect to the collection of Personally Identifiable Information (PII) - it is okay to do so as long as Google cannot identify the data as PII).
However, it is unlikely to allow the required level of data granularity for full customer analytics.
It is the biggest drawback of GA. I strongly believe that, as it grows in significance, web analytics will merge into traditional business analytics. This is a vision currently pursued by companies like IBM which purchased Coremetrics and Unica in 2010.
GA Premium needs resources
As I mentioned above, companies without dedicated analytical and technical development resources would struggle to take full advantage of GA Premium. But that is likely to apply for all enterprise-level web analytics tools. No dedicated resource then stick to the free standard version.
The pain of switching
On the other scale, If you have already integrated your web analytics tool with other systems such as multivariate testing, content management, personalisation platforms, marketing or CRM databases etc. you might find a switch to GA Premium (or any other tool for that matter) not very straight forward, protracted and even painful.
Will GA Premium stifle development on the free GA version?
I actually expect the free version to benefit from Premium features gradually trickling down into the standard version. It is also important to note that no existing features were removed from GA and made exclusive to Premium (Google should slap a ‘no features were harmed making GA Premium’ tagline on the standard version).
There are no hard and fast rules for selecting a web analytics tool. It is a matter of corporate appetite for change, the availability of qualified resource to drive a migration process, the skill to execute the migration process successfully and the ability to utilise the tool for analysis and optimisation.
If you are already using GA and finding yourself constraints then Premium should be your next move. However, if you are using another corporate-level tool then you should start with a very thorough gap analysis that would include:
- How current requirements are met by incumbent vendor vs. Premium.
- How foreseeable future requirements are met by incumbent vs. Premium.
- Annual running cost differences and cost of migration.
- Which internal resources would participate in the migration process and their availability.
- Will a new tool such as GA Premium actually deliver the added value to justify a migration project.
The last question is probably the most important one to explore. Often companies lack the understanding and skill to drive real value out of their web analytics tool. They get frustrated and assume the problem is with the tool rather than an internal issue.
They seek to resolve the issue by purchasing a new tool only to be disappointed again when the same internal deficiencies emerge.