Why Analytics Are So Important
With SEO the most important thing to track is performance. Of course the bank account (& its growth rate) is a high level tracking mechanism, but it is the result of the combination of many ideas & efforts, the combination of multiple marketing strategies & traffic streams. To dig in further on what's working web analytics are your bread and butter. They don't give you aggregate data or could be data, but precisely and exactly what is happening on your sites: separating out what is working from what is not.
Without analytics you are flying blind.
Which is, of course, dangerous!
Redundancy for the Win
Most web analytics tools are either good for realtime tracking or offering granular historical data. Few tools are available at a reasonable cost and great at both. For that reason, I prefer to always use at least 2 web analytics tools.
The other major reason to use 2 tools is to have a stable baseline in case something changes. For instance, Google announced a change to how Google Analytics tracks sessions & only a few weeks ago they also changed how image search is reported, merging it in with core search. Either of those 2 changes could at first make a webmaster think that maybe they had recovered from the Panda algorithm, when the only thing that changed was an arbitrary forced change by their analytic tool provider. Many webmasters have complained about the changes, but can't force Google to change their ways with a product that is provided for free.
Did the above site recover from Panda or was it a data anomaly from Google changing web analytics? If you are using 2 tools it is far quicker to know the answer to that question.
Ok, so you like the 2 tools idea, but what tools should you use?
Primary Web Analytics
If you don't mind Google tying you to your website (or want to integrate data that is only available in Google Analytics) then Google Analytics is an easy starter choice. If you don't want to give your data & identity to Google then Clicky is a great primary analytics tool.
If you love Google's feature set but want to host your own data they still sell the Urchin software for $10,000. It offers additional features like logfile analysis, robot & spider reports, individual visitor drilldown, server errors, works on intranets, and so on.
There are many other high end providers like Omniture, but I haven't really played much with them as most of our sites tend to be affiliate sites. If you do have a complete customer loop on your site & a sign-up process then services like KISSmetrics & ClickTale further allow you to dive in on how individual users use your website.
Back-up Web Analytics
My general goals & preference with a back-up analytics tool are:
- light weight (doesn't use significant server resources)
- low cost
- provide a general overview baseline to compare primary analytics against
- offers realtime data (as some of the primary analytics tools have a delay to them & having realtime data allows you to see how, where & why your content is spreading, which can help you further engage in conversation and help to spread it further)
As for the back-up web analytics tool, I typically go with Mint because it is quick and easy & only costs a one-time fee of $30 per site. Installation takes about 5 minutes, you upload it & then it just sits there and does its job.
I have also tried Piwik & Open Web Analytics. Of those 2 I prefer OWA because it is more lightweight (Piwik may have more features, but has a lot of files). OWA also has a cool screen recording option baked into it. Be aware that if you have a high traffic website & use OWA that you may create too many MySQL connections and cause the server to be less responsive.
If you are fine with tying some of your websites together but do not want to have them tied together in Google Analytics then you can have one install of OWA or Piwik on a dedicated server & set up multiple profiles for different websites. Be aware that if you have things like screen recording turned on then you are going to be eating significant server resources!
What are your favorite web analytics tools?
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