Report: Free Analytics Tools Come with Risks

Companies using free Web analytics products like Google Analytics are in danger of missing the value of analytics due to a lack of in-house expertise, according to a new report from Web Analytics Demystified.

The report, “The Problem with Free Analytics,” found businesses opting for free Web analytics tools are significantly more likely to treat the whole practice of Web analytics “as an ad hoc endeavor,” instead of as a “series of processes that are well defined” and most valuable when they are managed and maintained by specialists with knowledge and experience.

The research showed few companies opting to use Google Analytics or other free applications are employing talented people, or otherwise devoting sufficient resources, to take advantage of the insights the tools can offer. While companies that use free tools might dedicate some workers to Web analytics, report authors Eric Peterson and Zori Bayriamova found that those employees “are far more likely to work in situations lacking sufficient resources to be successful” than their counterparts at companies that pay for the tools.

The report says companies using free tools are “dramatically understaffed for Web analytics,” noting that 42 percent of them reported having no dedicated resources. Of companies using paid, licensed Web analytics tools, only 18 percent lacked dedicated analytics experts, says the report.

Even if the companies using the free tools do have staffers dedicated to using the solutions, they are most likely relatively inexperienced, according to Web Analytics Demystified. It said 64 percent of the those using the free tools reported having less than two years of experience, double the number of inexperienced analysts found to be working for companies that pay for the tools.

“The recommendation is to have both the technology and the people,” said Peterson. But what if a company can’t afford both licensed technology and a team of expert Web analytics veterans capable of deciphering the data? Peterson said those companies probably should resist the tempting lure of the freebie. They should bite the bullet and pay for a licensed Web analytics solution.

“Companies that are not able to invest in staff, and to spend the time and energy necessary, may be better off with a paid solution… the reason being that the paid vendors offer fairly robust customer support,” said Peterson.

Those support teams at Omniture, WebTrends, Coremetrics and Visual Sciences can be a proxy for in-house spending on analytics for companies without the money needed to hire adequate staff, the report said. They can also help a company “define goals for Web analytics projects, ensure quality deployments and drive the production of analysis, rather than simply settling for `pretty reports that nobody really ever looks at.’”

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