Google Analytics – A first impression

The last couple of the days, the whole world wide web seem to be talking about Google and their latest release, Google Analytics. Since I thoroughly enjoy Gmail, think Google Maps is pretty cool and, naturally, use the search engine daily, I was intrigued to say that they were releasing a statistic service in the form of Google Analytics. And for free!

Of course I could’ve written a post right away telling about the release, but I wanted to test it first to tell you about my first impressions. Apparently it took 12 hours to get the account activated after signing up, a truth with modifications if you asked people who tried. After maybe 20 hours the account kicked in. Fair enough, I know everything about deadlines and tight releases schedules.

There seems to be lot of different views and ways of analyzing the data collected, all presented in a design that’s easy on your eyes. All you need to use it is to create an account (or use your Gmail one) and to include a JavaScript in the pages of your web site. Two things that bothered me right away were:

It’s not real time
To me, then it definitely loses its main attraction. I want to be able to check what has happened the last hours, hell, even the last minutes. Live, ok? Now it seems I can only see the data from the day before; that is, when the day is over according to US time. Pretty annoying if you’re located in Sweden.
No localization
There seems to be no way, at least not as far as I can find, to localize the time zone and the ways dates are presented. The American date format is pretty disturbing for the rest of the world, if you don’t know that.

On top of that, it gave off some inconsistent behavior in different pages, but I guess every new release has its problems. However, just before I wrote this post, I tried to sign in to check if it was more stable now, and guess what happened? Every time I signed in, I got redirected to the start page of the search engine. WTF? I mean, really…

For the moment, I’m pretty disappointed. If a product/service is as shaky as Google Analytics seems to be right now, cancel it. Pull the plug. Fix the problems and re-release when it works, before it has created such enormous badwill (or perhaps that’s already too late).

But what if they succeed?

Well, then this might become interesting. It’s a free service which supposedly offers a lot of ways to analyze your stats; it’s bound to compete with other services. What will happen with things like Mint, Measure Map and StatCounter? Will they be pushed to become better? Will all aspects of those mentioned, as well as other statistics services, become free? Who knows…?

What does Robert use?

I use StatCounter, and so far I’m very pleased with it. It has always worked but one time, and then I got instant feedback and support, and within an hour or two it was working fine again. Maybe it doesn’t offer as many ways to check the data as Google Analytics, but I prefer a small reliable service over a bulky shaky one any day.

I’m also very interested in what Measure Map will come up with. I signed up for an invitation a while ago (re-did it today), but still haven’t heard from them. If you guys read this, let me try it! :-)

Why not Mint, you say? It’s created by the multi-talented (I did a search for multi-talented, by the way, and one of the results was Vin Diesel. Ha ha ha!) Shaun Inman, and people say it’s really good. I have two simple replies to that: I want it to be free and I don’t want to host it myself. Simple as that, but I do wish Shaun all the best and I’m sure he’ll do fine without me as a customer. :-)

I also wonder, if you use one, what statistics software do you use? Let me know!

 

More reading

 

PS. By the way, why haven’t Google released Gmail to the public yet? Let people use it, it’s great. If you want a Gmail account, but don’t have an invite, just write a comment and tell me. I can send you one right away. DS.

PS 2. Thanks to Dejan who first tipped me about Google Analytics. DS.

Posted in Developing,Google,Technology |

41 Comments

  • Kalle Wibeck says:

    I’ve tried Analytics for two days now and after the initial 20 hour wait it seems that it takes about 8 – 12 hours for the stats to be listed for me too, which is far from real time.
    On the other hand I can’t really see the need for real time stats in a regular corporate website, of course the tech-nerd in me would love to instantly see everything, but for my clients needs the historical perspective are far more interesting.

    For the last years I have used Urchin 5 (the last “self-hosted” Urchin version) a lot for our custumers and think that it does a fair job with your site stats… Even thought Urchin 5 is self-hosted you don’t get any real time stats since it periodically analyzes your IIS logfiles, default is once a day.

    My basic comparision between theses two (Urchin 5 and Google Analytics) will be:

    Urchin tracks all visitors, not only those capable of executing javascript.
    Urchin tracks all files not only HTML files.
    Urchin keeps track of your error messages (404 etc) and bandwith usage
    Google’s interface is much more intuitive
    Google’s reports are far greater when it comes to actually analyzing your users behaviour and origin
    Google’s non-tech sections (Executive and Marketing) will attract more users since they’re less tech focused and far more analytic

    I must say that I’m overwelmed by Analytics so far, that much analytic power for the cost of nothing! Sure it’s been a bit shaky but I’m quite confident that it will become real stable once they have dimensioned their servers for the right amount of traffic.

    What drawbacks is there then? Well, firstly you will not get any stats for transfered files, which is a “must have” for any organisation publishing other media than HTML (pdf, xml, doc, jpg, gif, flash, mp3 etc.). Neither will you be able to keep track of your error messages like 404’s etc since these only resides on your server.
    But I think that Google (in time) will offer a service that will keep track of this to if you install a HTTP extension on your web server.

    What about all other services out there? I guess that the free ones will be forced into different niches just like MeasureMap with blogs.
    But when it comes to self-installed services or CMS integrated ones my guess is that most mid-to-large companies will prefer to access this data via their own domains…

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Kalle,

    Thanks for a long and interesting comment!

    I guess it's easy to bash Google right now, and especially since this is their first major setback (to my knowledge), and it also seems like people have a need to give Google shit because trashing Microsoft isn't just that original anymore…

    However, I still think it seems like it wasn't ready for a release yet.

    Regarding stats software, I guess that what it all comes down to is for whom the stats are and how they will be used. Like you say, mid-to-large companies will probably host it themselves in conjunction with a CMS or something similar.

    So who will use Google Analytics and their likes? I guess small companies then.

    While I understand what you mention with corporate web sites not needing live stats, for me personally, it's important.

    Other basic criteria that I have is to be able to to see unique visitors as well as visits altogether, that they will be registered even if they have JavaScript off (usually done through images) and to be able to see at least some information about each visitor.

  • Yannick says:

    Hey Robert,

    I got my invitation yesterday for MM, so hang in there, I'm sure they will send your invite soon. So far I like it though I'm still trying to get the post and comment stats to work with Textpattern. I probably will post something on it after I get everything setup and use it for a few days or so.

    I love the redesign of your site by the way. Keep up the good work.

  • I use a server-side log file analyzer called AWStats. It's good enough for me, as I am not really missing the data one can only retrieve through client-side scripting.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Yannick,

    That sounds promising!

    And thanks for the very nice compliment! :-)

    Jeroen,

    Thanks for sharing!

    I've heard about it before, but ruled it out sine I don't want to host it myself.

  • Brent says:

    I haven't tried Google's new stats program but it seems nice. The lack of real time stats however is somewhat disheartening.

    No offense to Inman but I have to say, I think Mint is a complete waste of money. I believed the hype and spent $30 on it but it is really worthless. It is quite obvious more time was put into the nice looking graphics and CSS then into the actual stat analyzing.

    You can really only analyze the last seven days, and only the current day in full. No graphs, no nothing. The sad part is I knew all of this before I bought but yet decided to check it out because it was only $30 and figured it was worth a try.

  • Ã&Acirc says:

    Googles first real setback you say in your first comment … how about the very interesting Google Web Accelerator … that was one major fiasco !!

    I signed up for Google analytics yesterday afternoon (Swedish time) and still have no statistics :(

    And if I only get yesterdays stats on US time my account will be disabled very, very soon.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Brent,

    Thank you for letting us know of your experiences. I haven't tried Mint myself so I don't really know, but I've heard that it's popular.

    In that case, maybe some of the other stats software mentioned above might help you out? :-)

  • I would agree with the general consensus that Google Analytics has seen a shaky start. I'm not seeing much data apart from 15 visits which hasn't changed over the last couple of days which is of course totally incorrect : ). In addition the javascript status took ages (20+ hours) to disappear as did the data collecting status.

    Like every other Google service before it, analytics is probably getting hammered as everyone rushes to try it out. Eventually things will settle down and then it will be possible to see how good it really is.

    I would like to see the option to change the date format too, as the American date format can be really confusing/annoying when you're not used to it.

    I can probably live with the time-lapse for when data is available as long as the data is there consistently – currently it's too early (in terms of my 'installation') to tell.

    One thing is for certain; no-one can complain at the price.

  • Jere says:

    If Google didn't spy on the internet users before… :|

  • Patrick says:

    I primarily download my log files from my host and run them through a standalone app called Weblog Expert in Windows. That way I can both include/exclude whatever information I want to find out and analyze/ban spammers.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Arní,

    Huh. I've never heard of Google Web Accelerator. :-)

    And if I only get yesterdays stats on US time my account will be disabled very, very soon.

    Yes, I share that sentiment. Oh well, we'll see…

    Stuart,

    That was a very good and concise sum-up. Localization's bound to be added. Time-lapse… We'll see about that one.

    But being Google, you should have some experience with huge amounts of traffic, right?

    Jere,

    True. It seems to be a common consensus now that Google seem to know an awful lot about web users all over the world.

    Patrick,

    Thanks for sharing.

    Sounds interesting, but also like a little too much of a hassle!

  • andr3 says:

    I'm with you on both the lack of real-time stats and the US-centered timeframe.

    I've been lucky enough to receive an invitation to try MeasureMap (if you want to have a look around my account, mail me.) And even though i thought i would have to sit this one out since i'm using a custom-built CMS i've managed to link it up and now it's working, both the post and the comments statistics. It wasn't that hard, so i'm very pleased! :D

    As for Google Analytics, i think i'll use it the same way i use Awstats… a backup plan. Normally i have Shaun's ShortStat running for live stats and i checkback with awstats for other info.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    andr3,

    Interesting to hear!

    I really appreciate your offer, although I think I'll wait just a little bit longer to see if I get an opportunity to test it. :-)

    And yes, I think Google Analytics will be some kind of backup for me too.

  • Patrick says:

    I too jumped at the google analyzer, then was under-impressed. The price is right, and it's got a few niceties… but just doesn't quite cut it.

    For what it's worth, I use web log expert light. It's not fancy, but it sits on my desktop and scans whatever logs I drop in a specific folder. I agree with you, I don't want to host my analyzer on my website, and I want it to be free -this fits those requirements (no mint for me either). There are some features it's missing, but I suspect they're in the $$ version…

  • Guess we're both in the MeasureMap *Unwanted* folder – though I bet you get your invite before I get mine ;)

    I use *mint* and I'm very happy with it. The widget is perfect for a quick glance, and I find the recorded detail well judged for my needs. It's the fantastic *peppers* that use the mint api that really make it dance tho'

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Patrick,

    Yes, I agree. I can't decide if I'd use it regularly or not…

    Try StatCounter, you might like it!

    Steve,

    Yeah, for some reason we've ended up there. I was just hoping that my trackback from this post to them would push me over the brink so I'd get my invite before you do! ;-)

    Good to hear about mint, and yes, I've heard that the peppers are really nice.

  • So far the statistics I get from Google Analytics are interesting and useful, but the lag makes it more or less unusable. It is now Friday, and I still can't see the full stats for Tuesday. Not sure what's going on, but something seems seriously broken.

  • Jens Wedin says:

    Robert: The screenshots has been added.

    About the lag, if you read the help it says that the stats should be updated every hour. The lag is probably because every webmaster has added their websites to the service. It will probably work better in the future.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Roger,

    Yes, it doesn't seem very stable at all for the moment.

    Jens,

    Thanks, I hope I didn't push you too hard! :-)

    …if you read the help it says that the stats should be updated every hour.

    If that's true, it will definitely be a different service. However, I still miss localization enormously!

  • Jens Meiert says:

    I soon burst asunder – Web Analytics is one of the things I kept a close eye on the last months (don't ask… read articles and books, attended conferences, reflected intensively, and of course evaluated dozens of tools – my web site currently uses three different tools for statistics, just for testing purposes). And now it's Google, again. Let's take a closer look at it, too! :)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jens,

    Ha ha, I know what you mean!

    I use two here for the moment, but if Measure Map will ever give me a chance, I guess it will be three, too… :-)

  • Kalle Wibeck says:

    Looks like Google has made a very faulty estimation about the interest in Analytics. Now they hace added this message to the "Check status" page:

    <blockquote cite="Google Apologie">The demand for Google Analytics surpassed even our highest expectations and as a result some customers may temporarily experience report-update delays. All data continues to be collected and no data has been lost. We are currently adding resources to ensure high-quality service. We apologize for any inconvenience.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Kalle,

    Ah, interesting.

  • Kalle Wibeck says:

    Robert, regarding the US time-zone and date format mentioned in your article I received this e-mail from the Analytics Team yesterday (4 days after I sent my question):

    Hello Kalle,

    Thank you for your email.

    I understand that you would like to change the date format and time zone

    of your reports. At this time, all reports are displayed in the American

    date format and in Pacific Standard time. However, we understand the need

    for users to have reporting in different time zones as well as different

    date formats and will take your thoughts into account as we move forward

    with our product development.

    We greatly appreciate any feedback or suggestions for ways we can improve

    Google Analytics. Your comments provide us with the assistance we need to

    optimize our program, so please continue to give us feedback in the

    future.

    If you have any additional questions or concerns, please visit our

    Analytics Support at http://www.google.com/support/analytics.

    Sincerely,

    The Google Analytics Team

    I thought that this might be interesting for anyone else that are disturbed by the "awful" US date format ; )

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Kalle,

    Thanks for sharing!

    That does indeed sound like good news if it happens.

  • Jens Meiert says:

    Har, once again – I decided not to use Google Analytics.

    Why? Because my first evaluation showed me a JS file of 17 KB. This is just incredible (it’s outrageous, to be honest), and an absolute no-go. Related to my homepage, this would just double everything you need to download. And adding that the 3 KB size of the Mint script almost made me refuse Mint, you’ll probably know what I mean.

    (Okay guys, I’ll nonetheless give GA a try, but only temporarily. I love fast web sites, and I don’t want to bother my users by scripts where they are the last who benefit.)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Jens,

    Geez…

    That sounds like a lot. Maybe I need to look into this. God knows one can accomplish many things in 17kb.

  • Johan says:

    @ Robert Nyman:

    The statCounter: how is it added to the page with a JS and and image?

    The excellent experiment to turn Extreme Tracker from a kludgey inline JS anno 1990s into a DOM tracker would this apply to the statcounter to: the kludgyness?

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Johan,

    Yes, StatCounter is added through an included script, a short inline script with some parameters, and a noscript block that has an image.

    I don’t really know how it would work as a DOM tracker.

  • Kashif Razzaqui says:

    Sounds interesting

    Does anyone have a spare invite? Please send it across.

    Thanks :)

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Kashif,

    I'm sorry, I just heard that you need an invite to use it. When I started using it, I could just use my Google account and start with the service right away.

    And unfortunately I can't find any way to invite people from my account. At least this link explains their current situation: http://www.google.com/analytics/progress.html.

  • We were using GA for our medium-sized web site (about 4 million unique visitors/month), and finally got fed up with performance problems of the initial load. So many times, if you would come to our site the first time, it would be slow and the browser message would be "…waiting for analytics.google.com." That, coupled with a 24-hour delay on being able to see site or analytic changes made it not worth doing.

    I've been trying to find an analytics tool that can be self-hosted, or at the very least, be proxied through our site. Mint looks somewhat interesting, but I could not find a free demo of it. The php/mysql nature of it makes me want to load test before I buy.

    Anybody know of a self-hosted analytics tool they like?

    I really don't want to home-brew it.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Bill,

    Interesting to hear. I've experienced the same with long response times plus the fact that the Google Analytics JavaScript file is a hefty 17 kb is most likely being a factor.

    When it comes to alternatives mathing your criteria , I don't have any good suggestions, I'm afraid. If you only want simple JavaScript-based stats, I like StatCounter a lot.

  • I have used Statcounter and liked it. I only used the free service, so the logs were rather small. I did not like the fact every page had a back-link to Statcounter.

    On to Google Analytics, I just recently acquired an account. The server performance has been acceptable. I am still learning my way around it, but I already don’t like the fact:

    You can’t use your back button when mining data. This is a real pain. I have only tried this in Firefox.

    I have not found a screen where you can view the landing page & keyword used to find that page. Hopefully they will continue to make this a better web analytics solution.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    Dating Advice,

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • my work says:

    Google is a most BRAINED search engine… Sergey Brin have to proud…

  • MeasureMap is now part of Google.

  • pablo says:

    I use AWStats and they work great. I don't have to touch any of my webpages, since AWstats works with the IIS log files. At first, I thought it would be a nightmare to install it and configure it, but the process is really simple.

    Of course, you have to have access to the server, and the tool has to be self-hosted.

  • Robert Nyman says:

    pablo,

    Absolutely, the biggest choice is if you want to host the stats solution yourself or not.

  • We have just installed google analytics on our website. The classic that is the old format

    is much easier for us as we are new to it. However the new one is a bit complex.

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