Free is a magical word. It sprinkles fairy dust everywhere it goes. It can open the mind of even the stoniest corporate curmudgeon. It can spark a flicker of hope in even the most cost-averse marketing department that maybe, just maybe, they can get real, actionable web analytics without having to pay for it.
Perhaps most importantly, it brings Google Analytics into the conversation at large enterprises where only a short time ago—pre-recession—it would have been considered an interesting toy chiefly for beginners, mom and pops, and clever marketing geeks who only needed an occasional dip-stick to measure some basics.
As time goes on (and as the current recession lingers), I hear more about “sticker shock” for services like SiteCatalyst and more about “being forced to try out Google.” And this is with Google’s current tool. While Google Analytics does offer some clever interfacing and is easier to integrate with other Google tools, it currently doesn’t have the depth or flexibility of the paid services from companies like WebTrends, Omniture or Unica.
So what happens when Google—as eventually it must—announces an expanded, enterprise-level tool that still costs zero dollars to use?
Which vendors, service providers and end-users will most likely be impacted? And what are the larger impacts of an online world where everyone—even in business-to-business relationships—begins to believe that every service can be—and perhaps ought to be—free? Will it matter so much that Google will probably not provide much “technical help” to make sure the tool is integrated, or will a new, self-serve paradigm arise, subsidized in part by the tool itself being free?
Finally, what will be the reaction to the notion of “free” at enterprises where data is sensitive? Recently in the New Yorker, there was a cartoon where two adults were sipping lemonade they had received from a small neighborhood stand run by local kids. One adult said to the other: “It’s free, but they own your information.”
I will try to answer some of the questions I’ve posed, though I am the first to admit they are larger than may be covered in a single article (at some point, the Google phenomenon is probably worth a book, but that is another matter)—so consider this a primer of sorts.
First: Will Google ever really launch an enterprise-level analytics tool?
Yes. Google will be launching an enterprise-level tool at some point.
They have been talking about it for more than a year. There have been private betas, some of which have become public betas. At the recent eMetrics confab at San Jose, they announced additional enhancements to the tool. Bottom line: it is coming. But no one yet has said exactly when.
Second: What will happen when they release it?
The analytics end-user world will rapidly sort into the following categories:
Those who already spend lots of money on Google advertising and already use Google analytics to some degree. These companies will rapidly switch to all-Google, because they will enjoy both free analytics and a service representative (on the paid-ad side) whose neck they can choke when things go haywire on the analytics side.
Those who don’t care about the privacy of their data, and who will dump their paid tool as soon as they can and switch to Google.
Those who will stick with their current tool because of either habit, cost of switching or because they insist on having a service component to their analytics. However, they will continue to be vulnerable to switching at the right juncture.
Those who will continue to feel that Google still doesn’t quite measure up to their enterprise’s most sophisticated requirements, but who will keep an eye open for when it might.
Those who cannot allow someone else to own their data, and cannot use Google for this reason
Those who cannot allow their data outside their own firewall. Enough said.
Those who can’t seem to tag their pages no matter how hard they try, and must rely on log files for analysis (and therefore cannot use Google).
Third: Which vendors will be most affected when Google Analytics finally matures?
On the vendor side, everyone will be affected.
But I might be willing to place a bet that Omniture will be the most impacted because they have a SaaS-only offering and a more marketing-focused constituency. Of all the vendor, theirs is probably the smallest group that is deeply concerned about privacy of data. This may be offset (partly) by their European operations, where privacy is much more sacrosanct than it is in the “free”-wheeling USA.
Webtrends’ OnDemand service will be affected significantly as well, and to a lesser extent, its software product. However, WebTrends has a significant customer base that is probably safe from Google for the foreseeable future: many of those using WebTrends software are big IT shops where control of data is more than a passing concern and is in fact part of the corporate bedrock. They are not going to switch to even a secure SaaS offering—never mind some cockamamie free service where their customer data goes flying up into the ether and lands goodness knows where.
Fourth: What will happen to analytics services companies and individual consultants?
As they’ve always had to be, they’ll need to be nimble and learn new tricks. Becoming part of Google’s beta programs will be important for them. Becoming “Google consultants” will also be key.
More importantly, they will be faced with a new landscape where their customers are spending fewer dollars on tools. Does this mean the customer now feels they can free up dollars to concentrate on expertise? The more astute customers will see this, as it has always been true that nothing hurts analytics more than under-investment in implementation.
But some customers may start to wonder why they need to pay for any help at all. The world of Google enthusiasts already harbors lots of marketers inside companies who have an “I can do it myself” attitude and sometimes the fact they can zero-out a consulting charge (at least until it turns out they can’t do it themselves) represents a powerful challenge to any analytics expert accustomed to being paid for their expertise.
Google on the Move
But the biggest factor of all is the impact of a company like Google, moving slowly into so many areas of business—analytics being just one of many. Google is slowly owning or gaining unfettered access to enormous chunks of the world’s intellectual property and what had heretofore been considered public domain information. They are creating an exceedingly profitable, powerful, information-monopolizing enterprise.
The counter-argument of course, is that the public has so far (ostensibly) benefited enormously from such free services as Google Search, Gmail, Google Maps and now Google Analytics.
But being a regular reader of New Yorker cartoons, I keep thinking of another cartoon I saw a while back, where a cat is carrying a mouse in a playful-looking little wagon filled with treats. Another mouse calls from the sidelines: “Can’t you see why he’s being so nice to you?”
It isn’t too early, in my opinion, to take Google Analytics for what it is: a free service that may enhance value for end-users; and contrast it with the possibility of a monopoly of data that Google may be in the process of creating.
All that aside, I think it would be folly for a company, as long as it is not one of the “can’t share data” crowd, not to consider Google Analytics for at least some of it’s analytics needs, even if their more complex needs continue to be met by the more powerful tools they currently pay for.
The biggest concerns: data security and service—will be solved partly by the self-sorting I mentioned above. And if Google gets too powerful and starts to be scarier to some than it already its—then the government gets involved (both here and overseas); and the landscape will change yet again.
Stay tuned. Google is on the move in analytics—and everywhere else.