The Biggest Web Analytics Mistake You Didn’t Know You Were Making (Part 1 of 3)

August 2, 2016 Matthew Maddox

Exhausted man at computer rubbing his forehead

Many sites, large and small, use a secondary web analytics tag to validate their primary tag, often using a free tool to back up their paid solution—a practice that can actually be counterproductive to gathering reliable data.

In a recent analytics webinar, 5 Tips to Bulletproof Your Analytics Implementation, we polled the audience to find out why enterprises use a free tool when they already have a paid tool. Out of 89 people who responded, one third of them use a secondary analytics tool to validate the primary one.
image of data from a survey about analytics implementation

So what’s wrong with using a free web analytics tool?

Nothing, actually.

As long as you use it for its intended purpose, it will work fine. If you like Google or Yahoo for web analytics, by all means, use them.

The issue arises when you use a free tool to validate another solution’s data.

Analytics solutions were designed to collect and report data, not to be compared to one another. The temptation to do so makes sense at first glance, after all, both tools are there and available, so why not?

You wouldn’t use a drill to pound a nail because it was handy, would you? No matter how convenient it is, it can’t do the job. Same with validating analytics: use the right tool.

This position flies in the face of what many call an industry best practice, but if you follow this post series, I will make the case against it, covering the following points:

  • Free still has its costs (post 1)
  • True comparisons are impossible (post 2)
  • How do you know which tool is wrong? (post 2)
  • Not meant for validation (post 3)

Let’s jump in.

Free isn’t always free from cost

Free analytics tools have been used for years to validate premium solutions. As an analytics trainer at Adobe, I would often see a combination of Google or Yahoo and Adobe Analytics on customers’ websites. Sometimes there were even more tools. This has always puzzled me, and we advise against it. It continues to be common practice—but not best practice.

The question boils down to “Why are you using a secondary tool in the first place?” If the answer is, “Because it’s free,” then you just might be getting what you’ve paid for.

It’s likely that you are already paying a substantial amount of money on your primary analytics solution. But when you see a free tool that your competitors are using to “verify” the numbers, you can’t resist the temptation to use it too.

We get this kind of logic from our teenagers when “everybody” is doing something. As parents we can generally spot that fallacy a mile away. But professionally, we get hung up on this point and continue to use the secondary tool because everybody else is doing it, and we fail to examine if the secondary tool really gives us what we expect.

Or maybe somebody in management requires the free tool because they believe it is an “industry standard practice.”

And you don’t have to get Purchasing to approve another contract.

However, free is seldom really free.

Using two web analytics tools requires implementing two different solutions, which could double the costs on your most important resource (your people), if done with real validation in mind.

The developer or digital analyst, or even the whole team, has to now take the time and resources to learn both tools with the hope that the reports will match and validate each other—but in reality, how often do the numbers really match up?

Granted, many users of a free secondary analytics tool do a quick and dirty installation using defaults only. But such an approach does nothing to actually solve the problem of validating the primary tool because the tools don’t match. At best, you might get similar page view metrics. I’ll discuss this more and show an example in Part 2.

And if you are leveraging your team’s time to now manage a secondary web analytics tool, what other opportunities are being missed?

Missed opportunities

Different solutions work differently. Adding a “free” secondary solution can actually take a wasteful chunk out of your web analytics budget if you’re using it to get that elusive report validation.

There are opportunity costs to consider—whenever developers or digital analysts take the time to implement a second analytics solution, it prevents them from advancing other projects. What opportunities are missed?

These opportunity costs are compounded because a secondary analytics model is not a validation process, could potentially be collecting inaccurate data anyway, and your teams will still have to find additional time and resources to manually validate the data as needed.

In fact, Forrester research finds that many analysts spend as much as 40 percent of their time validating data. If you are one of these analysts, it is likely you want to use your time in better and more productive ways.

Maintenance costs

If you are attempting to validate your data collection via the use of a secondary solution, every time you make a tweak to one tool, you have to tweak the other.

A validation tool can’t do its job if it isn’t reporting exactly the data the first tool is collecting, right?

But because a secondary web analytics tool is not actually built to be a validation tool, your estimated maintenance costs should be doubled for each hour spent on the primary tool and for reconciling the reported data.

So what are you supposed to use to validate your web analytics?

Once the hidden costs are known, the additional tool looks fairly expensive.

And unreliable.

Maybe the reason for using a free, secondary solution was because, until now, there was no real alternative.

However, automated validation solutions, like those offered by ObservePoint, are now available to perform real data quality assurance.

Now you can use an independent tool (one that doesn’t require implementation) to do what you hoped the secondary web analytics tool would do (but never truly did)—and does it more easily and more efficiently than you hoped.

Still skeptical?

Not only are there substantial costs involved in using a secondary analytics tool to validate your primary one, but it doesn’t actually give you the data you need.

Subscribe to the ObservePoint blog to make sure you don’t miss the next point in this discussion and to gain a more technical understanding of why a true comparison between analytics solutions is never really possible.

With a solution like ObservePoint’s automated website validation technology, validating your web analytics implementation is possible. Perform a free website audit with WebAssuranceTM and be surprised by what it discovers—and start validating decision-making data like you never could with your secondary analytics tool.

Check out Part 2 of this three-part blog series.

 

About the Author

Matthew Maddox

Matt’s mission is to educate and enable customers to use the marketing technologies they select for their sites most effectively. Matt delivered training at Omniture and Adobe for over eight years before joining ObservePoint. He was the dedicated trainer for several global companies, creating and delivering custom courses based on their corporate business requirements. With a wealth of experience solving analytics questions in many industry verticals, including e-commerce, media, finance, lead generation and automotive, Matt offers sound direction and analytics insight.

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