Google Analytics is increasingly becoming the primary tool for website visits analysis. This growing popularity is developing from Google’s decision to provide the analysis service for free, while its major competitors provide the service at a fee. As a result of free service, Google Analytics (GA) has become the market leader with about 48 percent market share in the top one million websites. However, critics have expressed concerns that GA has various flows that limit its use within the fast expanding sector. This paper looks into major limitations experienced by GA users.
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Among the most standing drawbacks is the ability of special browser extensions, ad blockers, to obstruct the use of GA in websites. This is in the understanding that GA is increasingly becoming an important tool used by marketers to position their advertisements and keep traffic on specific web pages. Visitors restricting GA from grabbing their data therefore deny respective website owners the much needed information on visits, which is the exact opposite of the purpose of having the tool in their sites.
Such blocking has a negative impact on website owners’ use of the collected data. For instance, the data collected is not complete because not all visitors’ information is provided by GA. A user whose visits could have converted into sales is ignored, which means loss of sales for a website using GA tool. Web marketers are forced to use additional analytic tool in order to capture data that was overlooked by free Google Analytics.
Internet users’ privacy issues also arise as GA uses IP address as key identifier. In this regard, webmaster and analyst of the respective website could easily know the identity of individual visitors by following users’ geographical location. This problem becomes more serious when the respective user is logged into one of Google portals such as Gmail and YouTube. In addition, recent development of Google+ means that the search giant can go to the extent of recommending friends to visit a certain page visited by individual, therefore blowing the much needed online privacy cover. This concern has given rise to private networks providing the service of browsing with hidden IP addresses. Marketers who need to know the geographical location of website visitors in order to develop better strategies become disadvantaged. The increasing concerns of online privacy is leading to more users choosing these private networks, which means that marketers using GA will continue to get incomplete data necessary for their marketing programs. Some of these networks distort the accurate data and therefore provide inaccurate geographical location — this leads to inaccurate decisions by markets.
Another GA limitation is the sampling method used in reporting data. For instance, a website with 500,000 visits sees reports of a much less number, leaving some data unreported. Google undertakes the sampled reporting in order to reduce the overload on its servers but this is done at GA clients’ expense. Despite such attempts of speeding up response times, GA has been considered as one of the slowest in the industry. The following graph shows GA’s response time at different hours in North America and Europe. The tool’s response time seem to decline as site visits approach peak hour periods. Google indeed needs to work hard at improving GA because slow response could lead to dropped visits and subsequent loss of revenue by website owners.
Graph 1. Google Analytics script load time from Europe and North America.
Source: Pindom, 2009.
Another concern is that the reports are not real-time, meaning that the owners of websites with high traffic can hardly know what is happening at different periods. This is in consideration that real time data is necessary in marketers’ obligations. For instance, marketers can easily know the best time to have somebody oversee the visitors having problems and the number of people that have to be on this duty at any given time.
In addition, the fact that Google Analytics can only be accessed through Google means that users have to log in in order to see the data, unlike in other services that provide real-time data and their customers can easily download the data to do the analysis when they need to. These limitations lead to conclusion that GA is a valuable tool for analysis but will have to fix the above areas in order to remain relevant in the increasingly competitive sector. Fixing the issues will go a long way in helping GA assert its authority and become a true market leader in web analysis.