Which Web Analytics Is Best for You… and Why

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If you are looking for ways to monitor and measure your website performance, you’re probably confused on where you should start, right? With all of the different products out there, which ones should you use and which ones should you ignore?

Over the last 6 years or so of working in the field of web analytics, and I’ve found the following tools to be very helpful. They run from free to very pricey, simple to complex, so there should be something here for you no matter your budget and needs.

Importance of Analytics

There are several reasons why analytics are important but it boils down to this: performance. In other words, how good are your social media campaigns at generating conversations? How well is that new landing page converting? How well are your SEO efforts bringing in new traffic? What’s the lifetime value of your customers? Web analytics can help you answer those questions.

When it comes down to it, these three issues are why analytics are so important:

  • Resource allocation – Whether it’s loading up on people to run a massive Facebook Fan page campaign or amp up your SEO efforts, these things cost time and money, so it’s important to track the results so you can plan properly.
  • Optimize campaigns – The intelligence you gather from your web analytics can help Marketing make better decisions about their programs.
  • Overall brand impact – What is the impact your campaigns are having on your brand and business from top to bottom? Web analytics can help you answer that question.

Why Redundancy of Analytics

You might be tempted to shop around for different web analytic products, looking for the right one. Well, I hate to break it to you, but there isn’t necessarily the right one.

Some offer real-time data while others break it down into tiny historical chunks. So, it depends on your needs. But I do recommend that you consider using two different web analytic products.

Let me explain.

Aaron Wall at SEO Book makes a good case for using two analytic productsa primary one and a backup. When looking for a backup Aaron recommends you look for one that has these four features:

  • Lightweight – The load an additional analytics tool can put on your servers can slow down the speed of your site.
  • Low cost – The backup analytics tool shouldn’t set you back another grand or two. It’s not a bad idea to use one that is free.
  • Provide overview – This backup tool should give you an over-arching view of your analytics, something you can compare with your primary tool.
  • Flexible – Every website has different needs, so you’ll need a solution that can fit with yours. Make sure the solution is customizable as nothing will be perfect out of the box.

Why the redundancy? Well, it’s not just because if primary analytics goes down temporarily that you’ll have the other one in place. But instead different analytics tools solve different problems and in most cases you won’t be able to get everything you need in one tool.

Plus, you can make comparisons with the data when you have a large event like the Panda update sweep through the web. That update might affect Google Analytics differently than it would your back up analytics.

Primary Web Analytics

When it comes to using a primary web analytic service, Google Analytics can’t be beat. For starters, it’s free and includes a massive amount of the reports that paid products offer.

There are some disadvantages, like statistics are sampled and support is limited to a help center and user forum. You have to hire a certified partner for support if you really want it.

But the ability to track multiple sites, monitor social networking activity, track mobile phone users and measure video, on top of tracking typical analytic metrics like bounce rates, makes it a good tool for just about anybody.

Clicky, unlike GA, can be your primary web analytics tool because it collects data in real time. However, the robust programs for larger sites will set you back about $25 a month.

Urchin, which Google picked up in 2005, has a hefty price tag. Google released versions in 2008 and 2009, the last one incorporating AdWords. Urchin analyzes log files or does what’s called a hybrid, that allows you to get more accurate web information.

Another option is Omniture. Their analytics product, Site Catalyst, will give you multiple reports for video tracking, reports on mobile phone users and social media outlet reports. It does not collect bounce rates, and it’s pricey.

Customer Loop Analytics

If your site has is built on a complete customer loop, like a sign-up process, or you need to make decisions on individual behavior then KISSmetrics is a product to consider.

KISSmetrics will take all of a person’s activities on your website while they’re just visiting and tie them to their email address once they become a customer. Then you’ll be able to capture the actions that a customer takes on your site, as well as how they interact with your email campaigns, your banner ads, and your mobile or desktop apps. And best of all it will give you information on things like lifetime value of your customer, churn rates, and cohort reports.

Back Up Analytics

Now that we’ve covered some primary web analytic tools, let’s discuss what you should use for back up.

Piwick is an open source alternative to Google Analytics, so it provides many of the same reports, but has some advantages. For instance:

  • Reports in real time – For high traffic websites, you can choose the frequency for reports to be processed.
  • You own your web analytics data – Because Piwik is installed on your server, the data is stored in your own database and you can get all the statistics using the powerful Piwik Analytics API.
  • Built in-plugins – You can add new features and remove the ones you don’t need.
  • Vibrant international open community – There are over 100,000 active users, making it a good community for support and answers.

Open Web Analytics is another open source product worth considering. OWA also comes with built-in support for tracking web sites made with popular content management frameworks such as WordPress.

For only $30 per single site license, Mint will allow you to self-host your website analytics. It’s got a simple interface with robust metrics on visits, referrers, popular pages and searches. It’s another good choice for a back up analytics tool.


Web analytics doesn’t have to be confusing. As long as you understand what you need to measure, the time and frequency you need reports and how much you can spend, then you can select products that will help you improve your websites success, which is the name of the game.

What other web analytic tools do you like and recommend?

Neil Patel
Neil Patel is the co-founder of KISSmetrics, an analytics provider that helps companies make better business decisions. Neil also blogs about marketing and entrepreneurship at Quick Sprout.
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  • http://www.fickling.com Macon Georgia Homes

    Would “SmarterStats” be considered an analytics software? thats what I use.

  • http://www.nerdywerds.com Mason Costa

    I’m so glad you posted this article. Lately I’ve been gathering research about different analytics programs. I do have a question though, and anybody’s input would be great; how off is Google Analytics? I look at my Awstats and they say I have double to triple the visits in a day that Google Analytics reports. I know GA is javascript based, and the log files are generated by my server; but can GA really be that far off? Awstats also separates out a good deal of bots and spiders, so I don’t really think they’re inflating my stats too much. Great article, and thanks for anyone that sheds some light on this for me.

    • http://AnimalNetwork.com Michelle

      Your awstat using log files is counting spiders – googe does not. We went through this exact dilemma 5 years ago when we switched off log based to javascript. I called the IAB and they verified.

      • http://www.nerdywerds.com Mason Costa

        Thanks. I know there’s a section where spiders and bots have supposedly weeded out, but I wasn’t really sure. How off were your Awstats numbers?

  • http://bizdharma.com Himanshu Chanda

    Hi Niel,

    While it is very apt that the choice of product will depend on what features you require. I would like to put the question to you to understand what as per you should be tracked and to what extent. This can be for sites like ecommerce, blog, news site or web app. Till the time a person doesnt know how to pull profits from the data, the data though of whatever depth is useless….

    Do shed some light


  • http://www.wnwdesign.co.uk Camilla

    GA is now bringing in real-time analytics data too (they’re rolling out the service in beta to anyone who signs up), so they’re fast becoming the best offering out there, even ignoring the fact that it’s free. Some of these others you’ve mentioned I’ve not heard of, and look quite interesting, I’ll probably have a quick check through to see what’s available – I’d particularly like something that integrates with Social Media in more detail.

  • http://www.ryanmjones.com Ryan Jones

    Great article, but one small criticism: Omniture does collect bounce rate. It’s a calculated metric. It’s not there with the out of the box setup, but it’s there.

  • http://halte.ro/ Ioana

    Clicky is a lot better than Google Analytics and for most websites it doesn’t cost much either. People with huge websites should be able to afford something else.
    I for one go for Clicky + Piwik. I don’t understand this admiration for GA, the tool has flaws, it’s badly designed (like most Google products) and why would you want to feed all that data to those who decide how your site will rank? There’s no such thing as free.

  • http://www.atinternet.com Antoine Gay

    I would like to point out the last Forrester Wave Report that mentions 7 tools including Omniture, Google Analytics and AT Internet (that I represent, the only non-US company)

  • http://Www.pressbox.com Sid

    We just spent 4 months looking for a web analytics product that allowed us to trigger content and manage behavioral targeted email as well as run ab testing and came across cognesia.com that for us us a perfect combination with google analytics. covers everything that ga does not want you to be able to do. Also integrates with yahoo and google ppc to allow true roi comparison. Kind of blows everything else we looked at out of the water and well worth getting ro know.

  • http://www.panoramicuniversal.com/ Cowessess Wayna

    Hey Neil .. thanks for the brief glance regarding the Analytic programs… i agree to your fact that it should not be confusing and easy to understand(if we know exact stuff to measure and filter), I am going to use piwik as a supplementary..although it has lots of files but still.. to check the real time visitors I will use the piwik.

  • http://www.strefa-adwords.pl Reklama w Internecie

    What you think at the getclicky.com ?

  • http://www.jsolegalconsulting.com John O’Connor

    Good article, for my money, I like the look and feel of clicky. I don’t run a huge site so the monthly cost is like $10, which is worth it because the real time feature is great (although a little Orwellian). Just my two cents.

  • http://www.create-an-ebook.co.uk David

    When a lot of detail isn’t required, I use Stat Counter at statcounter.com . It’s free, quick to set up, and has all the basic information needed.

  • http://www.seojunkies.com Lewis Warren

    Good post, I particularly like the section on including a backup tool. Obviously though once you have chosen a tool, it is crucial that you stick with just that tool, otherwise comparison are virtually impossible. A lot of people criticising GA, but i can understand the appeal of it, it’s easy to understand, and so widely used, so can be great for comparisons.

  • http://www.none.com CJohnson

    Omniture and Coremetrics have been the cadillac’s of the industry. Omniture has great usability/GUI interface. In my opinion, offers much more customization, other related tools/functionality: Discover tool with segmentation you can set up dynamically on the fly. Omniture can tie with other tools such as Salesforce… has ABTesting, marketing channel (on/offline capabilities), social tracking, can integrate company data (revenue, orders, any other data), into the tool.
    The Pathing and Navigation reports, I think, are better than GA. This is dynamic, you select a Pagename, create your own funnel based on up to 8 pages and see the Conversion/Fall-out abandonment btw pages. The difference from GA: you don’t have to set it up static, like a goal, where that goal or funnel path never changes, and it only gives you data from the point you set up the goal forward. Omniture lets you pick any pages and see all the historical pathing between those pages from the time you turned on Omniture or those pages went live. You can create and change the page pathing reports anytime you want and see the data between pages with the historical data to show trends. This kind of functionality is more powerful, and to some, seen as a needed feature.

    What it comes down to really depends on how big your business is, what your willing to spend, and what you want to get out of the tool. Free GA is obviously enticing and certainly provides enough for small businesses with small web sites and not many paths to get to a conversion – that I think is key.
    Do you want basic tracking data, with some pathing data? GA is fine.
    Or are you wanting to dig into the navigation and behavior of your visitors on the site, look at their pathing through your pages in many different ways and comparing how different segments navigate your site so you can optimize the usability of your site and you have a multitude of paths to a conversion? Then Omniture is better for that purpose. Either way you need dedicated resources for implementation and reporting.

    Can someone tell me what exactly is the Bounce rate in GA? How is it Calculated???
    I have not been able to get a definitive answer to that. Omniture does have what I believe is comparable to a Bounce Rate. And Yes you can create your own calculated metric off any other metric in Omniture. Omniture has % Exits on the site vs. visits to the whole site. They also report single page visits and you can calculate single page visits/total page visits for any page.