One of the most interesting developments in the past couple of years for website owners is Google’s involvement in so many parts of the web. As we all know, more people search using Google than other search engines — it’s even part of our vocabulary, “oh, just google it!”. It’s their involvement in other aspects that is both a blessing for site owners and a concern for privacy advocates; in particular Google Analytics.

Google Analytics is free to use on your site and provides owners a wealth of information about their site visitors. You can visit and sign up for a free account. Then simply add some HTML code into your site pages and let Google build those very handy reports for you. What kinds of reports? How about who visited, when, length of visit, etc., and it can be for specific date ranges. You can email specific reports, or set up scheduled email reports that are in PDF, Word, or Excel. For FREE! This is the kind of information that usually costs something, right?! But wait, there’s more!

If you tell Google that you are an e-commerce site and tweak your HTML code a bit (several e-commerce shopping carts have this code built in now), Google will track your conversion rate (how many people actually purchased on your site) and track what keywords made the sales (!). (With that information you can adjust your advertising in Google’s other product, Adwords: and bid on those keywords that really bring in sales.) And, if you have a “site search”, you can tweak Analytics just a little to report which words people used to in their searches. (With this information, you can help highlight hidden areas of your site better, re-arranging the navigation, for example.)

Analytics allows you to easily change standard reports — showing the top 100 instead of the default 25 for example — something that many other (paid) products don’t even allow. And while it takes a little while to learn the lingo of web traffic, by allowing the site owner to manipulate the reports, it’s pretty easy to learn what is what. (Disclaimer about web statistics — if you’ve never used web statistics before, you will find out that it is not an end-all. Statistics can’t tell you some of the information that many of your board members or bankers might want, like, what age is our common user, or, does our user tend to buy things at other stores like ours also. You might want to think about using surveys or other techniques to learn more about your users, as most statistics are not terribly “personal”.)

Wow, Analytics sounds great, right?! Are there any drawbacks? Well, for privacy advocates, there are concerns. Because Google’s privacy policies are not as open as some would like, because they tend to keep ALL data they collect, and because SO MANY sites are using their free service, it means that Google could track you as you move around the web. All the reporting for your site (and anyone else who uses Analytics) goes back to them, and because they could use IP address tracking, it’s not that difficult to follow where one IP address went throughout the day. (And now that Google has gotten the go ahead to buy the advertising giant DoubleClick, even on sites that don’t use Analytics, they would receive the IP address and be able to *in theory* track you on those sites using doubleclick also.)

You can find out if Google Analytics is right for your site by visiting their site, reading their FAQs, and getting a book or two to help you answer some of those “newbie” questions. (“Newbie” — google it! ;-))

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