Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Don’t be Evil: What are the Drawbacks of Google Analytics?


Google Analytics (GA) is a tool that provides invaluable information to its clients, but GA comes with a few caveats that users should be aware of. GA does not provide precise measurement, can be unhelpful if site traffic is not substantial, must be configured specifically to a user’s liking, might have a negative impact on site performance, and could even present privacy concerns to users who want their web present to be entirely anonymous.
GA is not particularly accurate for sites with low traffic volume; the results that it displays might not be statistically significant since a small number of visits might be over or undercounted due to visitor’s settings or the way that GA was configured for the website. GA needs to track a statistically significant sample of visits and users in order for the data to accurately reflect the true user behavior; otherwise, it will give the site administrator a false sense of the user interaction. Also, GA provides the user a massive amount of information. The volume of information is so great that it is virtually impossible for any administrator to review every piece of data that it collects. Users of GA should methodically identify their key performance indicators and tune their dashboards to show only the data that provides value.
In the past GA has had minor negative performance implications regarding page load time. To add Google Analytics to a site, a small piece of javascript must be added to each page. In several online forums other users of GA recommend placing the snippet of code at the bottom of the page. Recently, Google has created a new snippet that can be loaded asynchronously and as a result has no impact on page load performance.
Because of web crawlers as well as the imprecise nature of using cookies to track individual users, Google Analytics should not be used for accounting or business decisions that require exact measurements. Users should understand that moderately accurate data is more beneficial than just taking a stab in the dark. In order to track returning visitors, GA relies on cookies. This is generally an acceptable method unless a user has deleted their cookies or recently run an antivirus scan.
Google has amassed a huge amount of data and many people have privacy concerns about their online presence. Additionally, site owners do not own the data displayed on GA– Google owns it. Google tracks and uses IP addresses to help identify return customers, but they do not provide this level of granularity to site administrators. In their privacy policy, Google writes “Google Analytics does not share actual IP address information with Google Analytics customers.” Finally, users can opt out of being tracked by Google Analytics by installing an Add-on which excludes the user from being included in Google’s tracking software.
Given all of the various concerns and mishaps that can happen as a result of Google Analytics, users of GA should understand the value it provides and learn how to leverage the data to their benefit. At the grand price of $0, there is no better web analytic software for your money.

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