Google Analytics Tracking Tool Review

A picture of business people studying analytics
••• Getty Images/Monty Rakusen

Google Analytics began tracking sites in mid-2006. It has quickly become a preferred web analytics tool because of its many features. Even though it's free, Google Analytics is packed with many of the same reports you'll find in high-priced solutions.

What Is Google Analytics?

  • Google's web analytics tool has massive reporting capability, rivaling paid web analytics solutions.
  • It is free for sites with up to 5 million page views per month or unlimited page views if your site is linked to an AdWords account
  • Data can be exported using Excel, CSV, PDF, email, and tab-delimited files

Pros of Google Analytics for Business

  • Free
  • Ability to track multiple sites
  • Monitors social networking activity
  • Measure video performance
  • Ability to track mobile phone users

Cons of Google Analytics for Business

  • Statistics are not real-time
  • Support is limited to a help center and user forum unless you hire support from a certified partner
  • Visitors can now opt out of having Google Analytics track any of their online activities

More About Google Analytics

Huffington Post, WNYC, and KCRW are media sites that have used Google Analytics to increase online readership. Yelp, CKE Restaurants, the American Cancer Society, and RE/MAX are other recognizable users of the free service.

It's easy to think you get what you pay for with the word "free." But the features of Google Analytics rank right up there with some of the most expensive web analytics tools, such as Omniture SiteCatalyst and Coremetrics.

For media sites, there are many advantages of using analytics to create a successful website and Google Analytics is a powerful tool to help business owners do just that. Gauge separate areas of your site, such as health, political, sports and weather sections to see how many visitors are driven to each one.

Drill-down reports on your content to identify high exit pages. Narrow down those pages that are driving visitors away so you can repurpose your content to keep people on-site.

Watch the traffic patterns of your newest content. How well do the stories or videos perform? Expand your coverage on the topics that attract the most attention to take advantage of the high number of readers who are sitting on your site wanting more.

If you've got stories or videos that are never viewed, it may not be the content's fault. Most traditional forms of media try to generate buzz about a story by telling their audiences to go to the website. Monitor your traffic performance through Google Analytics when you change your print or on-air language to more specific terminology, staying away from the generic "visit our website" and moving to "get the latest recall information on our consumer alert page."

Instead of writing stories you hope people will read, you can look at your traffic patterns to determine what types of content they're really seeking. Optimize old content that's relevant to what visitors are reading right now and create new content that targets the same audience based on the reports.

Other interesting features of Google Analytics include the ability to compare your site with those in the same industry as yours, path monitoring to see where your visitors arrived on the site and where they left as well as a site overlay to view your visitors' clicking habits. You can also set up alerts when traffic spikes or visitors from a certain group hit the custom value you've set.

Google Analytics does have its limits, though. Internet users can now opt-out of having their online activity tracked through any site using Google Analytics. Your reports won't be as accurate as they could be. Stats are not real-time either. Data generally show up within a few hours, but it can take up to 24 hours for your reports to update with new numbers.

The good news is, developers continue to improve upon Google Analytics. With Google behind the project, it's not one of those free tools that will be here today and gone tomorrow.