10 Reasons Not to Use Google Analytics

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At the Google Analytics sessions at the PAII conference in Little Rock this year, as well as in some online discussions on the PAII Forum (and elsewhere), innkeepers have occasionally commented that they feel they “have to” use Google Analytics, but they really don’t want to use it. This post reviews some of the complaints and gives (sometimes tongue-in-cheek) thoughts about them. Throughout the post, we’ll be looking only at the “New” Google Analytics interface (the one with the orange bar running across the top of the page, below the Google Analtyics logo.

Here, in no particular order, are some reasons not to use Google Analytics (GA):

1. The older, simpler tools, give me all I need

The question I have to ask is “Why wouldn’t you want more reliable information?”

I know I’m dating myself here, but when the web was young(er), people wondered how many visitors their site was getting, so they put “hit counters” – little graphics, usually at the bottom of the page, that recorded every time the page loaded (a “hit”), and displayed a running total. Of course these could be easily gamed, by just reloading a page many times.

The inherent inaccuracy of hit counters led to widespread use of statistics programs such as Webalyzer and Awestats, getting their information from the web server’s log files, instead of counting each page load. These provided a good deal more information on where people had come to the site from (the referer – spelled incorrectly with only one “r” in the center for historical reasons), the number of visitors from a particular source, etc.

While these programs provided much more information, and more useful information, than a hit counter, they were notoriously inaccurate (if you ever tried comparing the results from one such program to another, you’ll know what I mean). Some folks just wanted more reliable information, others wanted more details and flexibility, as well. From a desire to fulfill these requirements, today’s analytics programs were born, using more sophisticated techniques to capture the actions of visitors on a site. They’re not perfectly accurate, either, but they are much more accurate than the log-based programs, and are far more powerful and flexible, as well.

So, while you may feel that you get all you need from log-based stats programs, you should know that your information can be more accurate and more complete. In other words, you can get more reliable information than that. Why wouldn’t you want more reliable information? Of course, there are other analytics programs in addition to Google Analytics, but since GA is free, readily available, and gets data directly from Google, it is a pretty reasonable choice.

A statistics or analytics tool is only valuable if it helps us measure the effectiveness of our website in accomplishing its objectives.

Along the same line, some innkeepers seem to feel that all they need to know is that the number of visits to their website is increasing. While increasing is usually better than the alternatives, most inns are in the business of getting bookings, not getting visits to their website. The website is an advertising tool, and, as such, we need it to attract visitors, but the visits are irrelevant unless they lead to something of value for our business – a booking, a signup for our email list, or something else that is helpful. Consequently, any statistics or analytics tool is only valuable if it helps us measure the effectiveness of our website in accomplishing those objectives.

2. Google Analytics is difficult to set up

Since there is no setup (for you – though there is setup for your web hosting company) for log-based stats programs, there is a little more for Google Analytics (GA), but not much more. Here are the steps from the Google Analytics Help documents:

  1. Sign up for an Analytics Account (if you already have an account, you’re one step ahead)
  2. Add your web property to the account
  3. Set up at least one profile for the web property
  4. Optionally, add additional users to the profile
  5. Add the Analytics tracking code to the pages that make up your web property

The only step that should take more than just a couple of minutes is the last one. If you have access to your web pages, you can just cut-and-paste the code GA provides into every page you want to track. If you don’t have access to your pages, whoever does host or design your pages can cut-and-paste for you.

Of course, if you want to take advantage of some features, like ecommerce tracking, or tracking a user through to your booking engine, you may need to tweak the GA code a bit. The GA Help pages make it fairly easy, but some may need a bit of help with that part.

3. The GA interface is confusing

OK, you’ve got me there. By making GA extremely powerful, Google has also made it less intuitive than a simpler program would be. But why give up, just because the interface is a bit intimidating? We’ve all encountered new software at some point, and surely some of it wasn’t easy to use, at first.

Here’s a simple primer. Once you select the Profile and website for which you’d like to see the information, across the orange bar you’ll see Home, Standard Reporting, and Custom Reports. Home tends to give “overview” types of information. Standard Reporting, as its name indicates, gives standard reports that Google thinks will be helpful to you (though you can now customize the Standard reports if you like). Custom Reports are, as you would guess, not standard, and they are either reports you create, or reports you have imported from someone else (for example, the custom report we supplied with the earlier post, Google Analytics – Beyond the Basics.

In each of the three sections (Home, Standard Reports and, Custom Reports), you can navigate further using the links on the left side. In the Home section, you can see Real Time (currently a beta feature) where you can see people actually on your web site, the pages they are looking at, where they came from (both geographically and by referer), etc., Intelligence Events, where GA identifies events that are outside the norm for your site – higher or lower numbers of pages or visitors, time on site, etc., and Dashboards. More about Dashboards below.

In the Standard Reports section, think of the navigation along the left side as dealing, in a general way, with three concepts: Acquisition (how the visitor came to your site), Behavior (what they did while visiting your site) and Conclusions (this could be conversions, if you have Goals or Ecommerce set up, but could also be social shares, or other events). In a general sense, the Advertising (if you use advertising) and Traffic Sources show you the Acquisition information, the Content section shows Behavior, and the Conversions section shows Conclusions. Still, every report has features you can use that will make that report show information from each concept (Acquisition, Behavior, Conclusions), but that just makes GA more powerful.

In the Custom Reports section, the left navigation simply lets you select a custom report to view.

4. I don’t understand the GA terminology

There is no question that not understanding terminology can be a real barrier to using software. On the other hand, since GA is such a powerful tool, a good number of its users are industry professionals, who expect it to use the proper terminology.

The easiest way to learn the terminology is the play with your GA reports – explore them! When you find a term you’re uncertain about, go to the bottom of the left column where you’ll find a link to the Help Center, and below it a search box. Enter the term in that search box, and the area will be filled with links to articles dealing with that term. A glance through them will help you understand the terms. For example, if you’re uncertain about the meaning of the column in many reports called “Bounce Rate” enter “Bounce Rate” in the search box. The first item is a link to “Bounce Rate”. Clicking it brings up a new window with a definition and explanation of Bounce Rate.

5. GA is too complicated

The appearance of being complicated comes from the high number of “moving parts” in GA – the number of drop-down menus, unfamiliar terminology (see above), and ways to make small, but often important, changes to reports to get different results.

The best way to learn about something that is complicated is to break it into smaller pieces.

Take it slowly. Just choose a report (the All Traffic report – found at Standard Reports -> Sources -> All Traffic – is a good starting point), and work your way through it (looking up terminology as needed). Notice that the All Traffic report shows both Search and Referral traffic (that is, visits from any search engine, whether a result of pay-per-click or not, and visits from any other source, as well). These are presented with the source of the most Visits first, but clicking on a column heading will sort by that column, and clicking again reverses the sort from descending to ascending. If you click on a particular source, you get info just for that source. Then you can add a “Secondary Dimension” – you’re already looking at the source, so if your source is a search engine, maybe you want to look at the keywords used, or the landing page, or whatever.

6. It’s hard to know which GA report(s) to look at

Resolving this issue is just like the one above – the easiest way to approach it is the work through the Standard Reports, and see what they can do. As you become familiar with them, especially if you think of them as providing information about Acquisition, Behavior and Conclusions, you’ll begin to know where to look for something specific that you’re interested in finding. If you are looking for some specific measurements that are generic (that is, things like average time on a page) rather than industry-specific (like visits from a particular directory), you can also enter it in the search box at the bottom left to try to locate specific information on it.

7. GA shows too much information

The complaint of too much information is an interesting one – this is, after all, one of the reasons analytics programs were developed – the previous types of statistics programs didn’t provide enough information.

In any event, you can filter the volume of information in several different ways. First, once you identify the reports that are of interest to you, you can simply go to those and ignore the others until you need them. Second, you can create a Custom Report that has only what you need, and simply rely on it. Third, you can set up your own Dashboard to reflect summaries of information in widgets with graphs, pie charts, and data, so you get an “at-a-glance” view of the information.

8. It takes too long to read through all the GA reports

Of course, you’ll recognize that this is simply a variation of items 6 and 7, above. Once you become familiar with the reports, you can focus on the ones you really care about, or you can simplify it in a Dashboard (you can even have multiple Dashboards for different information sets) so you can quickly see what you need.

9. All I care about is which directories send me traffic

Things your old-fashioned stats counter can’t tell you

Really? Really?

You do know that getting traffic from a directory doesn’t always mean you are getting bookings from them, right?

What you want is “qualified” traffic from a directory – that is, visitors who book, and when they don’t book, at least they are spending significant time on your site, and viewing both a reasonable number of pages, and the right pages (you want them looking over your rooms, your breakfast, etc., rather than glancing at your “things to do in the area” page and going on to somewhere else).

Your old fashioned stats program can’t tell you those things.

10. I don’t want to know if something on my website isn’t working

Truth be told, no one has actually said that, but not using an analytics program like GA is tantamount to making that choice.

Here’s an example – a couple of years ago, just before our busy season when there are usually a lot of visitors on our website, our GA Traffic Sources stats showed a big drop in traffic. What was going on? GA to the rescue! By digging through the reports we realized that our traffic from Google Local had dropped to nothing. We checked our Local listing and found that Google had removed it (erroneously thinking there was a problem with it). We contacted Google Local and advised them of the problem. It took a couple of weeks, but the problem was fixed, and the traffic returned to normal.

If we hadn’t had an analytics program, we would almost certainly have noticed the decline in bookings, but would have had no idea why it was happening. We would not have been able to get a good idea of which source which had declined for weeks, or even months. The damage would have been far greater than it actually was.

In a similar way, the Keywords and Landing Pages reports can show how effective your SEO efforts are being. You can not only get before-and-after snapshots of traffic, but the Landing Pages, Search and Content Drilldown reports can help you see where visitors go on your site. Another fascinating report showing this information a bit more graphically is the new Visitors Flow report in the Audience area. Note that you can also use Advanced Segments or other metrics to change the results.

11. Bonus reason: I don’t want to know why my online visitors aren’t booking

Once again, not a real comment, but the result of not using a good, modern analytics program is that you will not be able to determine with any real confidence why you get visitors but few make reservations.

Your analytics program allows you to set up Goals (such as completed bookings), then to specify the steps in the “funnel” (the path a visitor must take to complete a booking). If you see that a large number of visitors enter the “funnel” but only a few book, you need to determine the step at which they are abandoning the funnel, and see if you can find out what there is about that step that causes them to leave. You can test different strategies and see what is most effective.

Any other reasons you wouldn’t want to use Google Analytics (or pay for something similar)?

Comments

  • Good post Scott, but wouldn’t you agree that having Google Analytics data, at least having set up, can be useful in the hands of those that truly know it inside and out?

    My perspective is that it is a valuable analytics toolset in that it is comprehensive while being free, and complements other analytic systems.

    For example, I often use a combination of HubSpot *and* Google Analytics, to cross reference campaign analytics to verify one to another etc.

  • Thanks Mark.

    Yes, I think GA is very valuable, and the better you know it, the more useful it becomes.

    My purpose was to address some of the “complaints” and “reasons” I have heard that provide some an excuse not to use it at all, and to point out that, even if you only care about a small subset of its information, there is a way to get that information in a relatively painless way.

  • I work with quite a few small business owners (not any innkeepers at the moment though) who would be completely lost in GA. They pay me (my company) to make sense of the data and present it to them in a meaningful format. In the right hands GA is a powerful tool that will give you exactly what you need to know. In the wrong hands it’s confusing & not actionable.

    For any “hands on” type clients, I set them up with a clicky account, and it’s proven to be a great tool that’s pretty easy to grasp. I run clicky alongside GA anway.

  • Thanks for a good post, Scott. In my opinion, take it or leave it is not an option. GA provides useful info you can delve into deeper or not, but to not use it at all is a mistake.

  • Thanks for your comments Sarah. I agree – I think my “tongue in cheek” title threw some folks who didn’t read the full article, but there is so much power there, of which you choose how much you want to use, your choice isn’t “use it or not” but use this for free, or pay big bucks to use something else.

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