Throughout my career as a PPC manager, I have had the opportunity to use several different web analytics packages as part of my job. There’s no doubt in my mind that having some kind of accurate web analytics program is essential to any PPC efforts. But, there is the question of which one to use. In my opinion, the two best analytics packages out there are Omniture SiteCatalyst and Google Analytics. But they are very different programs, and it can be difficult to choose whether you want to go with a free, somewhat limited package (Google Analytics), or an expensive and incredibly complex package (Omniture SiteCatalyst).
Let’s start out with Google Analytics, since this is going to be the most appropriate software for the vast majority of advertisers. As mentioned above, it’s free (unless you get the pricey Google Analytics Premium upgrade). That factor alone is going to make it appealing to a lot of small businesses and startups. And rightly so. For a free product, Google Analytics is incredibly useful. If you just need to know basic stats regarding your traffic, site usage, and conversion, the free Google Analytics installation can handle all that and more. Google is constantly updating this product, and keeping the price at the low, low cost of $0. It’s hard to beat that.
Google Analytics’ ease of use is also it’s greatest disadvantage. For more advanced web advertisers, you may find yourself limited by Google’s selection of metrics and conversion events. Plus, if you don’t like the way Google is detecting your traffic, you’re out of luck. Google Analytics is a great out-of-the-box solution, but if you want to customize your analytics installation in creative ways, you’ll have to upgrade to a more robust package.
If you have the money to spend, Omniture SiteCatalyst is an excellent alternative. But it’s not cheap. Pricing is negotiable and depends on how big your site is. But you can expect to pay several thousand dollars per month for a license. But with that cost comes much better support than Google Analytics, and much more leeway to customize your analytics installation.
In SiteCatalyst, you can define your traffic sources using what they call SAINT (SiteCatalyst Attribute Importing and Naming Tool) classifications. You create these classifications yourself, so you have a tremendous amount of freedom in how you categorize traffic. For example, I use SAINTs to categorize individual paid search, social media, and email campaigns. SAINTs work by assigning an alphanumerical key to traffic. You can then insert that key into a URL parameter to track traffic from that URL. You assign attributes (such as campaign name, traffic source, or promotion date) to the key in your SAINT file, and then Omniture knows how to classify that data in custom reports.
But traffic data isn’t the only thing you can customize. You can also create custom metrics using the calculated metrics function. With this, you can take Omniture’s default metrics and enter them into a formula to create a brand-new custom metric. For example, you could take the default metric “Revenue,” divide it by the metric “Instances,” and get a calculated metric “Revenue per click.” You can also create custom variables to put into the calculated metric formulas. This gives you an endless amount of variety in creating metrics for reports.
The disadvantage of SiteCatalyst is that there is a steep learning curve due to all of this customization. Omniture won’t always automatically detect traffic sources. For example, you have to define how it separates paid vs. organic traffic – something that Google Analytics needs no help doing. If you don’t set up your traffic detection properly, you could get some useless reports until you figure out what’s going wrong. But if you utilize Omniture’s support channels or hire an analytics consultant who is experience in using SiteCatalyst, you can get some really useful granularity to your reporting.
So which of these two choices is better? It all depends on your budget. Google Analytics definitely provides the most value per cost, since it is free. But if you have the money and time to invest in a serious analytics package, Omniture SiteCatalyst is worth it. But remember, web analytics is only as useful as the information gleaned from it. It’s better to invest in a capable analyst who can pick out actionable insights from analytics rather than to try and solve the problem with high-maintenance software.