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Common myths about Google Analytics

Tuesday 2 June 2009 | 15:07

Our colleagues in the US recently posted  an article clearing up a few myths that exist about Google Analytics.  They have shared some really interesting insights into Google Analytics in this post so we thought we'd share it with our Conversion Room readers too.

Myth 1: "You get what you pay for." Google Analytics is free, which means the system is down a lot. 

Google Analytics makes use of the same network of secure and reliable data centres used to power, making downtime an extremely rare occurrence. We have a large team focused exclusively on keeping your data safe and accessible, and benefit from multiple redundancies in our infrastructure around the globe (this makes us fast as well).

We even rely on Google Analytics for our own mission-critical products such as AdWords, which see huge volumes of traffic every day. If you're still having doubts, we'd encourage you to talk to some users and ask them how their experience has been with uptime.

Myth 2: Google Analytics is basic and doesn't have any "advanced" features or metrics 

This one is a tough one to swallow! A more frequent complaint is actually that Google Analytics has 
too much data. The product includes over 90 standard reports with more than 125 metrics and dimensions covering everything from visits to internal site search queries.

Custom reports and user-defined variables allow you to create your own metrics and reports where the standard ones don't meet your needs. 

With PivotingAdvanced SegmentationSecondary DimensionsEvent Tracking and the ability to share customisations, Google Analytics reports are more powerful than ever. Google Analytics may look "basic," on the surface, but it can do a lot more than you think!

Myth 3: Google Analytics only supports third-party cookies
False! Google Analytics has always used first-party, not third-party cookies. First-party cookies are important because they allow Google Analytics to track repeat visitors, so you can see which keywor
d, referring site, etc. is responsible for bringing buyers even when it takes multiple visits for them to convert.

Myth 4: Google Analytics is not really accurate

If you've spent time doing web analytics work, you'll know the sinking feeling that 
comes when two sets of numbers don't match. If you're experiencing a data discrepancy, don't panic. There are many others in the same boat.

Google Analytic
s uses JavaScript tags to collect data. This industry-standard method yields reliable trends and a high degree of precision, but it's not perfect. Most of the time, if you are noticing data discrepancies greater than 10%, it's due to an installation issue. Common problems include JavaScript errors, redirects, untagged pages and slow client-side load times.

For tips on how to sensibly approach data reconciliation, check out
this post by Avinash Kaushik, Google's Analytics Evangelist, or this whitepaper on accuracy in Google Analytics.

All web analytics tools face the same technical limitations posed by JavaScript tags, so if another vendor claims their tool is more accurate, ask for some evidence.

Myth 5: It's not possible to export your data from Google Analytics

Not true! You have two options for exporting data. Use the "export" button at the top of each report to export the current view in PDF or XML (up to 500 rows). Or, use the new Analytics Export API to extract large amounts of data in any format you like. Also, if you want to share data with a colleague, you can schedule reports to be delivered directly to their email inbox, or even send regular updates to your own email address.

Myth 6: With Google Analytics you can't control your data

You have three options for data sharing in Google Analytics. You can 
change these options at any time from inside your Analytics not share your data
  • share your data with Google to improve its products
  • share your data anonymously for benchmarking

No matter which option you choose, your data is protected by several layers of defense:
  1. Dedicated security and infrastructure teams
  2. Multiple redundancies to prevent data loss
  3. Network redundancies to keep data accessible
  4. Advanced security, firewalling and routing to keep data secure
  5. Restricted access and principle of least privilege for personnel

If you opt-out of data sharing, your data will remain within Google Analytics and will not be shared with other products or services. If you decide to share your data with Google, it will be used to improve those products and services. Lastly, if you decide to share your data anonymously with others, it will be blended with other data to support the Google Analytics benchmarking feature. For more information on these options and what they mean, refer to the Google Analytics data sharing FAQ.

If you're still concerned, Google also offers a software product called Urchin ( that you can run locally.

More Info (Data Sharing FAQGoogle Privacy Policy)

Myth 7: Google Analytics does not support A/B or multivariate testing and isn't well-integrated with other tools

Google offers a full range of marketing products including a free testing tool called Google Website Optimiser. You can use it to test different page elements and find out which ones yield the highest conversion rate and ROI. You can also use Google Analytics in conjunction with Website Optimiser to create an optimisation plan for your site.

Google Analytics is also integrated with many of Google's other business products including 
AdWordsAdSense, and AdPlanner. It is also widely supported by third party tools ranging from content management systems, to email suites, to call center applications. In addition, you'll find many products that are complementary to Google Analytics including DoubleClickTVAdsWebmaster ToolsGooglwTrendsInsights for SearchFeedburner, and more.

More Info (Google Website OptimiserGWO Blog)

Myth 8: You can't segment data in Google Analytics

In October 2008, Google Analytics released three new Enterprise Features:
Advanced SegmentationCustom Reports and Motion Charts. Advanced Segmentation lets you segment visits by dozens of metrics and dimensions such as geographic location, time on site, referral site and much much more. You can create segments on the fly and apply them to virtually all the standard reports in Google Analytics as well as custom reports.

Myth 9: You have to spend a lot of money to get "real" web analytics

Getting a return from your Analytics data does take an investment. The most important investment to start with is making sure you or someone at your organisation has the expertise and time to put your data to use. If at that point you still feel you need to pay more for a more complicated tool, that's OK, but remember that every dollar you spend on a tool takes away from money you could be spending on actually getting results, i.e. hiring or contracting a talented analyst (see the
90/10 Rule).

The question sometimes comes up, "if Google Analytics is free, what's in it for Google?" Google benefits from Google Analytics in two ways. First, if webmasters build better sites, it helps us connect searchers with the information they need faster. Second, if advertisers use Google Analytics, they are able to see their advertising ROI, which helps us demonstrate the value of Google AdWords. Both aspects have helped create a strong business case for Google Analytics over the years.

Google Analytics is getting more powerful with each new update, and you may be surprised by what it can do! You can find out more by signing up for Google Analytics webinar's

More info 
(90/10 Rule)

Our next post will cover part 3 of our series focusing on Google Analytics features and we'll look at Motion Charts.