Yesterday, Google rolled out their new service, Google Analytics. Google Analytics is actually "Google hosted Urchin web stats". It's nice, powerful and free. But is it a GoodThing (tm)?
First of all, Google Analytics is not a replacement for log-based traffic analysis. It will track (at least for now) only modern browser HTML content requests, leaving out things like RSS feeds, audio or video downloads, etc. What's more it is unable to measure traffic in MB or break it down to file types (HTML, images, etc.), metrics web masters rely upon to optimize site performance and minimize hosting costs.
But Google Analytics is a really powerful marketing tool. It brings data mining to the masses. It will introduce the average Joe to "conversion" and "funnels" and will give them the power to take advantage of metrics available until now only to a small percentage of web publishers. I think this is a GoodThing (tm).
What's more I hope that the wide use of such a tool will set a de facto standard for web metrics. We will finally be able to talk about "Unique Visitors", "Absolute Unique Visitors", "Visits" and "Pageviews" without the need for an asterisk next to each term and an appendix defining the terms -it will be implied "as measured by Google Analytics", even when other tools are used. This is a giant leap for medium to small-sized on-line advertising. It is a great benefit for the small sites to be able to provide the same metrics as the big guys. It will also make it much easier for agencies to advertise on small sites. This is a GoodThing (tm) too.
At what cost? Well, you will have to share this knowledge with Google. They will know as much as you do about the advertising power of your site, even more. They will know your visitors/users/clients habits. They will know a large part of the Internet much better than anyone else, a power that may seem frightening. It is to me, I have to admit.
However, Google does not provide this service in a way that locks you in. You could switch to a different service any time. Or just stop Google Analytics -unless you get hooked to their stats for good.
GoodThing (tm) or not? I do not know. But I think it is safe to use them and take advantage of them for now.