Learning to share (or give) analytics data

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For many marketers, it is hard to remember what life was like before Google Analytics. So profoundly useful, few will recall that it was just two and a half years ago that the service arrived on the scene, providing free tracking to anyone who knew how to copy and paste code. Last year, a major update added multiple bells and whistles, including an easy-on-the-eyes interface and scheduled reporting. And most recently, Google Analytics launched a data sharing and benchmarking service.

In an e-mail to users, Google Analytics stated the following, “…you may have noticed that you can now choose to share your Google Analytics data. By providing data sharing options, we hope to provide you with transparency, control, and new services based on your preferences… We're also happy to announce industry benchmarking as the first new feature available to those who opt to share their data. Benchmarking lets you compare your metrics against industry verticals.”

Google has made sharing very, very easy, much to the firm's benefit. Upon logging in, users see a large yellow box announcing this change and asking users to opt in. With one click, data is shared. For the more advanced users, clicking on “more data sharing options” gives the opportunity to share data with Google products only, such as AdWords or AdSense, or anonymously with Google products and the benchmarking service. The latter choice combines the Web site's data with “hundreds of other anonymous sites in comparable industries” with the end goal of charting performance in a benchmark report. Google also states that this data will be used to improve its products or services.

Once data sharing and benchmarking is selected, users can see how their sites perform against sites of a similar size, or against a particular vertical, by clicking on the “Benchmarking (beta)” tab under “Visitors.” Google notes that as more sites enable data sharing, more verticals will be available. Only those who offer up their data will be able to benchmark.

This is a very clever carrot. Many firms secure similar benchmarking (though clearly more sophisticated) by subscribing to panel services from Hitwise, ComScore or Nielsen. Many thought Google was crazy to offer up a tracking service for free a few years ago. Clearly, it helped ramp up the installed user base. And once again, the “free” approach will serve Google well. Deftly offering a benchmarking service in exchange for data only increases Google's purview of Web user behavior.

With Google's share of search sitting at 70%, it already has a very good idea of searchers' wants, needs and interests. Couple this with Web analytics data in the aggregate, and Google will now understand what happens after the search.

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