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November 15, 2005

Google gives web analytics away for free

Google Inc has done what it hinted it might do when it bought Urchin Software Inc earlier this year - give web analytics away free of charge. The move, according to some analysts, will shake up the market and impact established pure-play vendors in the space.

By CBR Staff Writer

The Californian internet search vendor has taken the lid off a free hosted web analytics service called Google Analytics that’s built on Urchin’s software and helps online businesses gauge their web presence.

Google Analytics is aimed at online advertisers, website owners and web publishers analyze their online transactional data to guide online marketing campaigns (banner ads, referral links, newsletters and search) and sharpen up their web site designs.

For example, online businesses can get a handle on which email campaigns are creating most revenue, what keywords are attracting web site visitors and so on, according to Richard Holden, director of product management at Mountain View-based Google.

The service had been offered for $200 per month since last May. Before that it cost $495 per month.

Because Google Analytics is built on the same infrastructure as its core search engine its can easily scale upwards to handle heavy web site traffic. The company says the software, which is available in 16 international language versions, is already being used in large global firms like the Financial Times and National Semiconductor.

In truth, Google Analytics is primarily designed to be used as an online marketing aid for advertisers. Holden said Google had tweaked the original Urchin web analytics engine to integrate more closely with and add value to Google’s AdWords advertisers. He added that it also works with other online ad networks as well.

AdWords now has a dedicated analytics tag, he said.

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He also said that Google had introduced auto-tagging capabilities for destination URLs in order to correctly set-up pages and track the right data. AdWords costing data can also be automatically imported into Google Analytics to add a richer financial dimension to ROI analysis as well.

The analysis can be surfaced to business users via reporting dashboards.

We’ve developed dashboards tailored for executives, marketers and web masters that pull up data and roll it into custom graphical views, Holden said.

Businesses also can pay for more advanced integration and customization of the service.

While Google Analytics is free to all, the company does drawn a subtle distinction between advertisers and web publishers.

Advertisers get unlimited page views track while non-AdWords customers however have a limit of 5 million page views per month, which Holden said would be sufficient for most publishers.

Analytics can be a powerful tool not just for advertisers but all web publishers. That’s why we’re offering it free to all web sites, large and small.

Google has certainly thrown down the gauntlet to other hosted Web analytics software providers like WebSideStory Inc, Coremetrics Inc and WebTrends Inc, who also offer similar, but paid for, services.

Holden said Google Analytics was comparable in functionality and competitive to any of the other web analytics offerings in the market today.

Sure there will be repercussions, but that’s not our motivating reason. Our motivation is to make search and ad models more effective in the long run, Holden said.

He said the overall objective is in line with Google’s overall philosophy – to improve the consumer experience online by helping them get to the right information faster.

On the flip side of the coin Holden said that analytics is also important factor in improving direct response ad networks as well. More informed advertisers and publishers become better customers of ours in the future, he said.

Competitors gave a mixed response to Google Analytics, saying that many enterprise-class users are really looking for more than just tools.

Enterprise organizations require more than just a set of reports to measure a campaign or understand site traffic, said Greg Drew, CEO of Portland, Oregon-based WebTrends.

They need a consultative organization [behind them] that helps them turn insight into action to improve their business results. And that requires industry expertise and services, and solution flexibility.

Drew likened the free web analytics service to Google’s Gmail webmail offering saying that if offered simple, self-service style capabilities to small businesses.

Meanwhile San Mateo-based Coremetrics, though encouraged by the validation that Google gives to web analytics software and services, believes that companies focused on high-volume B2C commerce will continue to turn to industry-specific and client tailored solutions.

Coremetrics delivers more than just metrics, said Coremetrics officials in response to the launch of Google Analytics.

We focus on the needs of the world’s largest eCommerce sites and provide dedicated, best practice analysts who help clients interpret web data, and provide actionable recommendations for web site improvement.

Google bought privately-held Urchin in March this year in a deal estimated to be worth around $30m. At the time it promised to make the analytic and on-demand tools available to Web site owners and online marketers.

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