Free Web analytic tools used less seriously: study

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If you get something for nothing you are less likely to take it seriously, especially when it comes to free Web analytics tools.

That was a key finding in Web Analytics Demystified's latest report, "The Problem with Free Analytics."

The report, written by Eric T. Peterson, a Web analytics author, and Zori Bayriamova, a former JupiterResearch analyst and market researcher , examined the use of free Web analytics tools, such as Google Analytics and Microsoft's upcoming "Project Gatineau," and licensed Web analytic tools.

The authors found a "very strong correlation between a lack of investment in Web analytics technology and a sub-optimal use of this type of technology." In other words, companies that aren't investing in Web analytics may not be using it to the fullest extent.

Data support this. Thirty-five percent of those with free software consider Web analytics an ad hoc endeavor to their company's goals, but only 19 percent with licensed software expressed this belief.

According to the report, companies that rely on an ad hoc approach towards Web analytics are also more likely to be unsure of how to integrate Web analytics into their organization's decision-making and tend to use analytics for general guidance.

However, these companies were also more likely to report that their current approach answers fewer than half of their questions about user interaction with their Web site.

Eric T. Peterson, CEO of Web Analytics Demystified, advised that marketers "not be lulled into a sense of complacency" that may come with using free tools.

"Web analytics is still hard work," he said. "Companies can have the tools but they need people to run them."

The study was conducted in March. Web Analytics Demystified designed a survey and gave it to Web analytics users and consultants who were recruited randomly through Web analytics-related Web sites and events, with 856 respondents completing the survey.

The report found that in general companies using free analytic tools had a general lack of resources. They were more likely to be understaffed. Forty-two percent of companies using free tools reported zero dedicated resources for Web analytics and an additional 39 percent reporting only a single dedicated resource.

Users were more likely to lack sufficient resources and more likely to be new to the practice of Web analytics.

The report found that smaller companies are more likely to use free tools and that 52 percent of respondents using free tools are working for companies with fewer than 50 people.

Salaries at free-tool companies are lower on average. Thirty-two percent of Web analysts earn under $50,000 a year. Only 8 percent of Web analysts at companies with for-fee tools report salaries that low.

Despite that, only 38 percent of respondents working with free tools said that they had considered switching jobs in the last six months, compared to 56 percent of respondents at companies using fee solutions.

The report said that with the right organizational commitment and attention to process, any company with any application, regardless of price, can be tremendously successful in their use of Web analytics. Peterson echoed this, saying there was no quality difference between free and licensed software.

"Nothing in the report suggested that companies couldn't be very successful with free tools," Peterson said. "The findings indicate that its not the technology - it's how companies are using it. This is great news."

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