Today we have dozens Web Analytics tools to choose from, some of them are completely free and some others are free if you use less than a limited quantity of pageviews (I’m sure that most of you don’t reach that quantity). The broad range of Web Analytics tools represents a complication in decision making for most of people so they come to me normally with the same question “What is the best tool for X amount of money” or when the question cames from a Corporation they go “What is the best Web Analytics tool in the world, I don’t care the cost, I want it now”. If I follow Jim Sterne’s answers I should answer “Yes”.
Now serious, any of you have a very particular need or set of needs so the best tool depend in the one that satisfies your requirements best.
On the other hand if you are using a Page Tagging tool (and not a solution based on Log file analyzers, Hybrid, Packet sniffing, etc) and the information (history) is being saved on a third party server let me recommend you to implement a second Web Analytics Tool as a Backup.
This is even more important if you are an Agency and use a Free Web Analytics Tool (like GA or Y!WA). Why? Because you have a compromise with your client but those tools since are free (and you are not their client) have no compromise with you, which means that they can stop retrieving information for a certain period of time or forever without any responsibility.
So here I leave you some tips when choosing a Web Analytics Tools:
1- Look for a Solid Company: Web both know that any company in the world could be acquire or can just stop working. In Web Analytics that mean that you will loose all your information history. So the most important thing is looking for a Solid Company.
2- Look for a another Solid company for Backup: All what you can know from the future is based in something from the past, so if you don’t have any past (as if your history goes to trash) you wont be able to make decisions (I mean, not with a acceptable confidence level). So once you select your main Web Analytics tool find a second one (it could be free, you have some very interesting ones) with similar characteristics.
3- How important is real time for you? Not all the web analytics tools are real time, even some page tagging are not real time. However real time could not be necessary for you. How do you know that? Answer the following question “Are you making decisions based on real time information?”. This is a very important answer, having more information every minute will not be a solution for you unless you use it for decision making. If you make decisions once a day then real time could not be an important variable for you.
4- Flexibility or Simplicity: There is a rule in almost all the Web Analytics Tools, as much flexible they are much complex they became. Again, having more information than required is not a benefit, is a problem. If you wont have a Web Analytics Professional in house running behind your information probably you should go for Simplicity which means a less flexible but simpler to use Web Analytics tool.
5- Integration: Remember that Web Analytics tools track Website Behavior (and inbound logistics ) information so the rest of the information will be tracked with other tools. First define how important is for you the other information (Attitudinal?, Demographics?). Second, define if you will integrate the information inside the Web Analytics Tool or outside. If you will integrate the Website Behavior information outside the Web Analytics tool then you will need a one with an API (Application Programming Interface). If you need to insert your other information into the Web Analytics Tool then you need a more complex one with a Symmetric API (Import and Export) and a custom variables structure.
6- Paid Search tracking: If Paid search is very important for you then be careful when selecting a Web Analytics Tool, a few ones allow you to track that information in a simple a fast manner.
7- Information Sharing: When using a Web Analytics Tool based on a Page Tagging technology your information will be saved in a third party server. If your company security policy doesn’t allow saving information in third party server, no matter how secure the server is you won’t be able to do it.
8- Implementation Complexity: If your project / Website has a complex structure (several domains, subdomains, languages, regions, etc) you will need a Web Analytics tool that support it. Remember that Web Analytics metrics are based on technical definitions which means custom implementation. If you don’t do so your information could has serious problems, like duplicated Unique Visitors, uncounted visits or even weird behavior on your site navigation.