According to a recent Econsultancy report, the proportion of companies exclusively using Google Analytics for their analytics needs has risen to 44%, compared to 38% last year and 23% in 2009. 

Our Online Measurement and Strategy Report 2011, produced in association with Lynchpin, looks at the extent to which companies are using Google Analytics, paid for analytics tools, and which tools they are using for which reporting requirements.

Below, we include some charts from the report and also some opinions on whether Google Analytics can meet all your needs. 

Who’s using Google Analytics (GA)?

Does your organisation use Google Analytics? 

What are companies using GA for? 

87% of companies exclusively using Google Analytics use it for understanding traffic and conversion KPIs, 68% for campaign tracking, and 60% management reporting.    

Just 17% of client-side respondents use GA for product and cross sell analysis, and 9% for rich media, Flash and video tracking. 

Do you use Google Analytics for any of the following types of reporting or insight? 

The report has further charts about which tools (i.e. Google or a paid-for tool) are being used for different types of reporting or insight.

For example, those companies using both GA and a paid analytics tool are more likely to use Google for PPC optimisation, site search usage and campaign tracking.

Why do companies use paid analytics tools along with GA? 

The main reason given here (by 28% of respondents) is that Google Analytics is not sophisticated enough for their requirements. 

Brian Clifton, former Head of Web Analytics at Google EMEA and author of Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics, is sceptical about the perceived limitations of GA:

‘You don’t know what you don’t know’ is a phrase I use when describing this situation. The issue with Google Analytics, and it’s a nice issue to have, is that it is so easy to set up. It really is a matter of minutes before you can be collecting visitor data.

But that’s also the problem – it creates the expectation that’s all there is to it. The sophisticated stuff of tracking social media engagement, file downloads, rich media/Flash usage, visitor labelling, transactions, KPIs etc., requires additional thought and configuration. Often this goes unnoticed and hence a perception of “GA cannot do x, y or z” grows.

I have yet to come across a customer who has exhausted the possibilities of GA. Often they say “there is too much to do…”

According to Lovehoney e-commerce manager Matthew Curry, GA has enough features for many companies:

The hard part is justifying why you would spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on a paid tool. The argument needs to be completely compelling and the paid vendors aren’t stepping up to the plate – they’re pushing the “add on” services like MVT, mobile and social, rather than differentiating the core.

What is the main reason you continue to use a paid-­for tool as well as Google Analytics? (Companies not exclusively using Google Analytics)

The ‘other’ reasons given included the fact that Google only promises to keep data for up to a year, as well as security and reliability issues. According to Matt Curry: 

You’ve of course got the issue of handing everything over to Google, how reliable that it is, and how much data they keep. The issues in April with lost data bring a reminder of how vulnerable you are.

There is of course, the option of going down the Urchin route [another Google product], to get a reasonably comparable feature set. I don’t know why this isn’t more popular? Maybe I don’t understand it properly yet.

Lynchpin MD Andrew Hood also acknowledges the issue with data ownership:

Data ownership, retention and integration are common tipping points for firms looking beyond GA to paid-for vendors.

Although Google has been generous to date in keeping historical data available and proven reliable in delivering the service, IT departments wince at the lack of formal commitments to uptime and access to data.

While marketing departments love the intuitiveness of GA reporting, traditional analysts quickly become frustrated with the inability to get to the underlying data. The scope to integrate data with other sources (e.g. offline) is extremely limited by the lack of visitor level data.

Depesh Mandalia, Senior Marketing Manager at Tesco, suggests that verifying a paid-for package’s numbers is one reason, along with paid search reporting:

For me it seems GA’s deep integration with AdWords is one of the key drivers to dual running with a paid-for package, which can take a little more effort to fully integrate. Another interesting take on this is in verifying a paid-for package’s numbers.

Whilst the majority of analytics packages differ in the way they track visits and visitors, I’ve used both GA and other free analytics packages to benchmark paid-for providers and verify, within a certain tolerance, that the numbers correlate. The worse thing to happen is to completely trust the numbers and find a glaring mistake which could add +/- 20% to your reporting (as we did!)

Reasons for not using Google Analytics

42% of companies say the main reason they do not use GA is because they’re happy with their existing web analytics supplier, while 19% aren’t happy about Google having access to their site data, and 15% say it isn’t sophisticated enough for their requirements. 

Adobe Product Marketing Manager Mike Quinn argues that paid analytics have a number of advantages: 

Are they happy with the often restricted and simple high level views of their data or do they want to dive deeper and analyse data further? Analysis is so much more than simple page views and click through, to get real value from your analysis tools you need to be able to gain insight across all your digital channels including mobile, social, video. 

Can you get a full view of your customers? Customers interact with you in so many ways and with so many touch points it’s critical to bring in your CRM, e-mail, content management and ad-serving applications. If these systems cannot easily integrate with your analysis tools then you will be missing out on some important customer insights.

What is the principal reason you don’t use Google Analytics? (Company respondents not using GA)

According to Matthew Curry, there some reasons to move to a paid vendor:

It’s become cripplingly slow. You’re no longer waiting seconds for a report to load, but minutes, and the Fast Access Mode has a degree of inaccuracy that isn’t very helpful, especially on statistics where a 5% change means something, like conversion rate or page load time.

If we were to move to a paid tool, speed would be the reason why. I’m much less productive if I’m waiting two minutes per click. 

Also, because of the GA terms of service, you can’t pass anything that could singularly identify a customer, so for example a customerID if you’re looking at lifetime value. You have to be creative here, and the actual terms of what you can and can’t do are still very grey.

According to Andrew Hood, there are other reasons why people may opt for paid analytics tools: 

GA has a natural strength for things like Adwords analysis – in reality it’s hard for any paid-for vendor to streamline this process quite like Google can. Set against that, GA has limited page flow and pathing options for content-heavy sites compared to the paid-for vendors.

There is also a flexibility/accuracy trade-off. GA’s advanced segmentation is on the face of it an extremely powerful tool (giving the enterprise vendors a run for their money) – but it often samples (approximates) data to the extent that the figures cannot be relied upon for decisions.