If you are serious about search engine optimization, Google Analytics is NOT for you. I know it’s tough to look past the (non-existent) price tag, ease of use and conversion tools — but trust me when I say that Google Analytics is a flawed program for your needs.
#1 – Limitations of Technology
In order to make the most of your SEO efforts you need to know when a spider is coming in, what pages they’re requesting, and how often they’ll come back. Using this information is how you can launch and optimize new pages, set up the best internal links and prioritize your source code changes.
While it sounds strange, I would go so far as to say that tracking spiders is just as important as tracking your visitors.
#2 — No Support for Log Files
I’ve met many novice SEOs who rely solely on Google Analytics. While it makes me wonder how much they are actually doing for their clients, I urge them to begin using log file analyzers.
Log file analysis opposes page tagging when it comes to the technologies behind web analytics. Tools that rely on log files are using hard coded server logs to mine all information. Every request for a file on your site is recorded, along with an IP address, user agent, and in most cases — the referral string. While it can be a bit more work to use these applications — the data you get back makes it a necessary evil.
The best part about log analysis is in the filters you can build. I know the Google Analytics tries to address this to some degree but it’s lacking at best in the control that you have.
Sadly, Google Analytics will not allow you to upload log files (or, retrieve them via FTP/HTTP) as other applications do. If they could build this feature in, it would be a win-win situation. You could use GA to track all of your data — and so could Google!
#3 — You’re at Google’s Mercy!
When you need to check reports, you access them online via the Google Analytics interface. The reports cannot easily be taken with you, and you have no way of archiving your data efficiently.
Worse still, is that Google retains control over your data at all times. If they change the interface or style of reporting, you are stuck with having to deal with what they give you.
If we’re talking about YOUR web site, YOUR visitors and YOUR analytics… Why should Google have all the power?
Before thinking that the product is complete too, leave the analysis to experts in web analytics. According to Matt Durgin’s blog, Forrester Research was less than thrilled by GA…
Google Analytics was reviewed, but ranked far below the commercial solutions — further back than Urchin (whom Google acquired and re-branded as Google Analytics) ever ranked behind its competitors. This could be evidence that Google will not devote the resources to keep up with the commercial solutions on the market. If this trend continues, look for a larger discrepancy between the “free” Google Analytics, and the commercial, professional tools on the market.
In the end, Google Analytics is not a useless tool. It is however a tool that does not address the needs of serious search marketers. If you’re looking to make the most of your time spent on analytics, do yourself the favor of using multiple tools.
Generally speaking, Google Webmaster Tools should provide accurate data for your site and how Google related to it. So should Yahoo’s Site Explorer.
At the end of the day though, you’ll need a solid log file analyzer to learn more. Here are three recommendations I can stand behind:
Free Demo Available / Commercial Versions at $74.95 and $124.95
Sawmill: Universal Log File Analyzer
Trial Available / Commercial Versions from $99 to $30,000
Trial Available / Commercial Versions from $99 to $699