Nothings Free. Except Web Analytics….right?

I’m not sure if you have noticed, but our economy is kind of in the crapper right now. The low value of our homes is beyond frustrating. The unemployment rate is borderline depressing. To top it all off, the record high gas prices have caused even the most image conscious citizens to weigh their options on trading in their vehicle for a Vespa.

No doubt about it, times are tough for almost everyone.

In the midst of our looming recession, I am sure that, like me, you want to get the most bang for your buck on any purchase that you make.

Luckily for those of us who need a great Website Analytics service to keep tabs on our website’s visitors, there is no need to spend even a buck to get a whole lot of bang. Welcome to the wonderful world of freeware (or free basic version that kinda does the trick.) Keep in mind though, that nothing is ever truly free. Everything has a price, and that price does not necessarily have to have dollar sign in front of it.

The list below contains some the best free website analytics services that are available, what their best features are, and what price you have to pay for the free product. Look on the bright side, they might be able to help you save up for that gallon of gas you always wanted.

Stat Counter

Best features:

  • Visitor Paths – Reveals the navigation path of each visitor (i.e., which parts of your website they went to) as well as the amount of time they was spent they spent in each area.
  • Magnify User – Enables the user to narrow down visitors to their host name, city, ISP, # of visits, Browser, and even their Operating System. I conducted a trial test to determine how accurate this was by visiting my website from 4 different locations around Atlanta. StatCounter only gave me 1 inaccurate result out of 4, but I will cut them some slack since the only thing they got wrong was my location on one of the trials, which was still within 30 miles of where I actually logged in from.
  • Popular Pages – Provides the user with a list of their websites most popular pages, which can be customized to show rank by the amount of time that was spent on each page, or how many times the actual pages were visited.
  • Entry and Exit Pages – Shows the user the most frequent entry and exit pages, which of course are ranked according to their relative frequency.
  • Search Engine Wars – provides a list which shows you which search engines generate the most traffic for you.
  • Recent Visitor Activity – This is probably one of the tools on StatCounter that I use the most. It gives you a list of your most recent visitors (whom you can of course individually magnify)

Price You Pay

  • Limited Features – The free website analytics package comes with every feature except for secure tracking, daily email reports, and the option to create a custom brand logo for the tracking device on your web page; however, the free package does not require users to add the StatCounter logo to their site, but instead give you the option to make the tracker invisible.
  • Compatibility Issues – StatCounter may not be compatible with, or provide inaccurate results, if you are tracking user activity on public websites that have their own free analytics service, like WordPress for example.
  • Technical Issues – StatCounter also seems to have technical issues with the IP Blocking feature. For example, every time I visit my own website to conduct a modification, it tracks the visit, even though I specifically added my IP address to the blocker. This technical flaw can also be extremely frustrating. Amendment: The CEO at StatCounter informed me that they were having some technical issues for about 2 weeks with their IP Blocking feature, but they seem to have recently worked out all the bugs, so it works fine now.

Google Analytics

Best Features

  • Customizable Dashboard – Navigating through the large amount of data reports and features that Google Analytics has to offer can be overwhelming, time consuming, and frustrating; however, taking the time to customize your dashboard to include your most important data reports is going to help you avoid these navigational issues, and save you a lot of time down the road.
  • Bounce Rate Data– Ahh…good old bounce rate. This is one of the more useful data reports that Google analytics provides. Not to mention, I don’t think there are any other free website analytics services that provide bounce rate data.
  • Conversion Goals – the conversion goal tool in Google Analytics is great way to define and track outcomes or actions that you desire from the individuals who visit your website. Google has a guide that goes into more detail about the tool, and instructions on how to set it up.
  • Context – Essentially allows you to compare one data report to another. Very helpful in assisting the analysts and decision makers.
  • Map Feature – While a lot of these analytics services provide a map where the user can view the frequency of visitors in various locations around the globe, the interactive map feature on Google Analytics is one of the best that I’ve seen so far.
  • Content Overview – Provides a table which shows a ranking of the top pages that are visited on your site as a percentage of all visits. If you want to verify how accurate it is, then create a website profile for the same site that does not block your own I.P. address, then manually records how many times you visit your own site, and verify your number of visits with Google’s data report.
  • Segmented Data – allows the user to segment their data by user type, source, browser, among many others. The two segments that I tend to use the most is the location segment (country, city, state) and the Network Location, which I have given an example of in the pdf links below:

City-Segment (example)

Network-Location-Segment (example)


Price you Pay

  • Fueling the Power of the Darkside – People in the internet marketing community seem to trust this data collecting powerhouse about as much as they would trust a puppy not to pee on the carpet. By giving Google access to your site’s analytical data you are giving them more information about you and your company, which can no doubt be used against you in the future when you form a rebel alliance to take down the evil empire. If you want to know more about this evil empire, read Danny Glover’s post in the SEOmoz blog: The Evil Side of Google?
  • Some Technical Issues – Word in the analytical community is that Google has worked out most of the kinks with their goal conversion feature, but I still have my doubts in the tools accuracy.

Site Meter

Best Features:

  • Ease of Navigation – SiteMeter’s menu was one of the easiest ones to navigate out of all of the website analytics providers I have covered so far. Some of the other analytics providers, especially Google, should have gone through a more intensive testing process for the ease of navigation among normal users, not the designers. Maybe they should give Robot Replay a try. The different resources and features available for users are broken up into nice and neat categories. There is no detailed or complicated drop down menu, which helps a beginner avoid feeling overwhelmed. SiteMeter even has a tour that that explains how to find and use the different features. What’s even better is that the tour’s explanations are given in such a beginner-oriented method, that even my dog seemed to understand……”good boy.”
  • Recent Visitor Details – Once again, with other website analytics services I had it took me a while to find certain pieces of information about my visitors, especially specific details. You probably won’t have a problem finding this information on SiteMeter though, because it’s right where it should be, in the recent visitors category. After you navigate to the visitor details, SiteMeter provides you with an extensive summary of most of the information you need for a particular visitor of interest…… all on one page!! What a great concept.
  • Statistics Help – Staying true to the theme of making their Analytics Service as easy to understand as possible, SiteMeter even includes a statistics help box at the bottom of each page of data.

Price You Pay

  • Limited Features – The only downside to SiteMeter’s free package does not include a majority of the features that are available through the other packages. What’s even worse is some of SiteMeter’s competitors, like Google Analytics and StatCounter, offer a free package that includes many of the features SiteMeter makes you pay extra for.
  • IP Filter Problems – The free package also only lets you filter one IP address, but seems to have trouble filtering even that IP from your visitor results.

Robot Replay

Best Features

  • Mouse Gestures: You can record visitor’s mouse gestures. This feature can really help you determine if your visitors are having any navigation issues, and how easy it is for them to find their destination in as few clicks as possible (i.e., how high or low is the level of cognitive processing for the visitor) Mouse gestures should also be able to help you determine which parts of your website are causing them to pack up their bags and leave.
  • Form Replay: Lets you record and watch visitors who fill out forms. Pretty self explanatory.

Price You Pay

  • Compatability Issues – Robot Replay does not appear to be 100% compatible with other website analytics programs.
  • Beta – RR is still in the beta, so there are a number of obvious kinks that the designers still need to work on.

Sphinn

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3 responses to “Nothings Free. Except Web Analytics….right?

  1. Nice comprehensive list. I’ve tried a few of those you’ve listed. I’m kind of surpised that gostats isn’t included though – it’s a great one.

  2. Hi Justin – thanks again for the StatCounter review!

    I’m just posting here to advise about the comment I posted to your recent StatCounter review here https://justinbentley.wordpress.com/websiteanalytics/statcounter/

    Just wanted to respond to a few of your points!

    All the best.

    Aodhan

  3. Pingback: The Power of a Blog: CEO Pays Attention « Justin’s Marketing Blog

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