A Complete Guide To Web Analytics Solutions

The web analytics space is not an easy one to navigate as there are numerous companies and product types which will fit your needs differently. In order to help find the way through it all, I’ll map out the options as they currently stand. Please let me know if I’m missing an application you think should be listed. I’ll check it out and add it.

The Freebies
There are numerous free solutions out there, and they range from very useful to “you paid for what you got”. As you might expect, the free solutions lack a lot of the power of the paid ones, and they usually don’t offer much support. If you don’t have any money to spend on analytics or you’re new to it and want to get some experience before paying for a solution, then going with a free package is a great way to go.

Analog – One of the oldest web analytic packages available. Analog is free, and runs off of your log files. It can require quite a bit of customization, and is pretty cut and dry for what it offers. I used Analog for years, but find it just is too old school and a pain to work with to really be a great option these days.

AWStats – An improvement on Analog, but still a logfile-based solution. There are a few nice things about logfile packages, such as the fact that they work with users who have javascript or cookies disabled. However, the storing of logfiles can take up a lot of disk space, requires that you manage the files, and the analytics package takes usually can take time to analyze large files. AWStats is an improvement on some other options, it provides some graphs, and it’s nice that it also can do streaming and email statistics from their log files.

Google Analytics – The new kid on the block that made the biggest splash in 2005. Google Analytics was formerly Urchin until they were purchased by Google. Urchin was formerly not free, but months after acquiring them Google opened it up to the world. Presumably to help drive people to use Adwords since it ties in with Analytics so well. Google Analytics is the most powerful free application. It provides a wealth of statistics, a usable interface, and a lot of ecommerce statistics which are not common in free applications. It’s tie in with Adwords is handy if you do a lot of advertising there. It also uses a javascript tag to report the data so you’re not dealing with hosting your own logfiles. The downside is that the data is often 12 hours behind, so it’s not useful for looking at up to the minute stats.

Google Analytics

SiteMeter – A previously popular solution for bloggers and small websites, Sitemeter has a free version that just requires you put their colorful logo at the bottom of your site. If you leave your data open, others can click to see your stats. This has some cool social aspects to it, and for those selling advertising it can be helpful. Overall, the application seems pretty old at this point, and doesn’t provide a wealth of data in the free version. However, it is simpler than Google Analytics, and you don’t have to mess with logfiles.

Webalizer – Similar to AWStats and Analog, Webalizer is a logfile analysis solution that is free. It has some customizable charts and provides all the basics, but like the others I don’t feel that it really measures up to the ease of use of Google Analytics or Sitemeter.

Blog Specific or the Cool Guys
The rise of blogs has lead to many application developers in all industries to start making blog-specific applications. Analytics is no exception and in the last year we’ve seen a few solid entries in the blog analytics space. Blogs tend to be simpler than some regular websites, and they don’t usually need ecommerce statistics. These applications focus on blogs, so if you’ve got a standard blog, you may want to look here.

Blogbeat

Blogbeat – Blogbeat is a newish application aimed at the blogging market. It’s been a bit overshadowed by all the buzz about MeasureMap, especially with MeasureMap being purchased by Google.

While it’s not quite as pretty as MeasureMap, it feels just about as simple and perhaps a little bit more useful. I wouldn’t hesitate recommending people use Blogbeat. Like MeasureMap, it focuses on stats for your blog posts, referrals, links out, and searches. It has a free 30 day free trial, and it’s not too spendy after that. Installation was a breeze, so give it a try.

Mint – Perhaps the first analytics application aimed at blogs, Mint is a one man show run by Shaun Inman. Don’t let the low employee count fool you, Mint is a nice application. It has a cost of $30 per site, but that’s not too spendy if you care about your stats. The interface is very AJAXy and cool, and you host the data on your own instead of giving it over to a third party like with most analytics applications. It also has an API so developers can build on it, very cool. One problem though, is you need to be able to host it on a server running Apache, PHP, and mySQL. A great application though from a one-man army.

MeasureMap – The darling of the blog analytics space with it’s recent Google acquisition before it’s even out of it’s private beta. MeasureMap was developed by a four-person team from information architecture/visual design powerhouse Adaptive Path. It’s definitely pretty and smooth, and it’s very blog-focused with post stats, referrals, links out, and comment stats. I’ve been playing with it for a few weeks and enjoy it, but sometimes miss some of the details of other applications. It’s still early on, so MeasureMap will most likely add more features depending on what Google does with it, which I think is integrate it with it’s Blogger platform.

Installation was easy as it asks your blogging platform and gives you specific instructions based on that platform. They also have an “Events” feature coming out soon, as well as a developers API. Currently it’s free if you can manage to get an invite.

MeasureMap

Low Cost Solutions
If you’ve got a serious small business web site, but don’t want to go the free route with something like Google Analytics, you might consider one of these low cost solutions. They are on par or better than Google Analytics, and your data is safe from Google, and because you pay you get support and near real time data.

Hitbox Professional – The lighter version of analytics application HBX (profiled below), Hitbox is an affordable solution at around $26.95 a month depending on volume, and it gets you most of the basic to intermediate stats a user would want, from an analytics leader in public company WebsideStory.

Hitslink – A stats app that’s been around a while from Net Applications. Hitslink is a solid mix of a typical web analytics application with simplicity and some more advanced stats like ecommerce and setting conversion goals. It’s not flashy, but it gets the job done at an economical price. A 30-day trial is available and installation was very easy for me.

Visitorville – This is one of the most unique analytics solutions available. It’s best described as web analytics meets the Sims. It has a 3D and 2D world where your analytics are mapped to an interface like you’re in a Sims-like video game. For very visual people this is a really fun way to check out your stats, and it has some great realtime features where when a visitor arrives to your site they arrive to the building (page) in a bus (the referrer). So, you see someone arrive to a building via a Google bus if it’s a Google search referral.

VisitorVille

It also has ecommerce stats and page overlay features, making it a pretty darn complete application. The price is pretty cheap, so if you think you’d be into a very visual view of your stats, give it a shot.

The Big Guns
If you’ve got a serious web business, you need serious data. When you’re making hundreds of thousands of dollars a month from your web presence you’re losing money by NOT using one of these applications to know exactly how your users are behaving on your site. These applications can really be used to test and improve your site, but you’ll have to pay for their superior features and support.

Clicktracks – The originator of the “page overlay” analytics technique, Clicktracks has always had a different user interface and style delivering analytics data to it’s user. For some people their interface style is a huge favorite, for others such as myself I just couldn’t get into it that much. I can see how some would love it, but perhaps my years of standard analytics interfaces lead me to want something else.

I do like how they offer both a hosted ASP solution and a software solution if you want to keep the data on your own server(s). Pricing is spendier then the low-cost solutions, but it’s also cheaper than the most of the other big gun analytics providers.

E-commerce data is a big part of the mix if you want it to be, so I think Clicktracks fits well as a user-friendly small business ecommerce solution.

Coremetrics – A long time player who I’ve never had the chance to use. I demo’d it years ago, so I can’t really say much as I’m sure they’ve iterated quite a bit since then. They have a lot of big clients, and their feature list looks very powerful. Pricing isn’t cheap, and is usually negotiable but comes from a baseline of usage.

Fireclick – Another full-powered application I haven’t had the chance to use. Like Coremetrics they have an impressive client list and have a nice looking feature set. The Fireclick Index is a report that features a dozen key performance indicators to track your key metrics all from one report. They also feature an Excel plugin and a site overlay tool to see your data while viewing your site. Pricing is not listed and most likely negotiable.

HBX – A superpower web analytics application from public company WebsideStory. One of the leaders in all kinds of types of analytics reporting. HBX was one of the first to implement setting up custom funnels to track conversion on goals, they’ve had a site overlay for a long time, have a great plugin with Excel called ReportBuilder, introduced user segmentation early on, integration with PPC advertising, and have been using AJAX and other “web 2.0″ technologies before the term even existed.

They have an impressive client list, and I’ve also had the pleasure of attending their user forum where they did a great job educating and also talking to their customers to get help on where to take their product. Pricing isn’t cheap, and is negotiable.

Omniture – A web analytics company based out of Utah that’s been on fire over the past couple of years signing big clients like eBay, Microsoft, and AOL. I haven’t used Omniture, but have heard very good things about their SiteCatalyst solution for it’s power in user segmentation and ecommerce statistics. They also have a Data Warehousing feature that allows real time reporting combined with the flexibility of having good access to old data. Pricing isn’t cheap, and once again is negotiated with a salesperson.

Visual Sciences – A web analytics company that’s been in “stealth” mode for a long time, they’ve long been talked about as having a disruptive technology compared to their competitors. They were just purchased by WebSideStory which should make for a very interesting application in the future as they make HBX and Visual Sciences merge or work together somehow.

Webtrends – The granddaddy of serious web applications, Webtrends has been around forever and been sold a few times along the way. Their now on their 7th version of their application, and they boast a big client list. Some new features include a conversion view from five points, bookmarking and sharing of analytics, a unique first-party cookie solution, and more. Unlike some of the other power applications, they do offer a free trial, but pricing isn’t cheap.

RSS Analytics Solutions
Most of the web applications aren’t tracking RSS feeds (yet). A couple of quality RSS companies that provide a number of services also provide RSS analytics.

Feedburner – Feedburner reports on a few basic feed stats for free like your total feed circulation, and for just a few dollars a month you can update to the Pro stats package to get more stats like what RSS items were viewed, how much, and what ones got clicks to your site. You can also see what feed readers people are using.

Feedburner

Pheedo – Pheedo’s stats are more aimed at RSS advertising, but you can get stats on your feed circulation and how much revenue you’re generating from your ads.

Conclusion
There’s so much to be gained from analytics. Start out by trying a few of these applications that fit your site and see what you can learn. You might be surprised.

If you know of an application that should be listed and/or reviewed, let me know at pmccarthy AT gmail DOT com.

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