Google Analytics is the preeminent web analytics tool used in today’s online world for several reasons including easy implementation, constant upgrades, and unlimited potential. Perhaps the greatest draw to Google Analytics is that it is completely free, which in the business world is almost unheard of these days. Given its unlimited potential and vast usage, what would your answer be to the following:

I’m going to provide an opportunity for any user to opt-out of tracking their navigation and behavior on your website, effectively making it seem as if they never visited your site or even existed?

This, in a nutshell, is what Google did a few weeks ago by releasing its Google Analytics Opt Out Browser Add-on which can be found here. Essentially, this opt out plug-in for the 3 major browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Google Chrome) prevents a website’s Google Analytics tracking code from collecting information if that user visits the site. I completely understand the call for online privacy and security measures, but let’s take a general look at how Google Analytics opt out can have a significant impact on not only the website/business in question but also online marketing agencies such as DragonSearch.

The Business’s Perspective

Because Google Analytics is so widely used by both large and small businesses, I think it’s best to separate these two size categories for discussion purposes.

Large Business

The large business uses Google Analytics as its primary web analytics tool for not only tracking site visitor navigation and behavioral statistics but also ecommerce and lead generation activities such as contact form submissions, downloads, and any other type of conversion imaginable as I discussed in my blog post Conversion Tracking – From Application to Zip File. Due to the size of this business, they also have a separate smaller software package specifically tracking ecommerce and conversions; however this tracking does not show the source that produced such actions, only that they occurred. If the Google Analytics opt out becomes a huge sensation for Internet users, this business is not completely lost as they are still able to track ecommerce and conversions; however they no longer know how the site is performing in regards to navigation, bounce rate, and other factors which means they lack the data needed to make improvements to the website.

That being said, they are still a larger organization and thus can afford a web analytics software package that actually costs money such as WebTrends or Acronym Media’s ROI Engine. These web analytics packages are not cheap though, so that means cutting budget elsewhere whether it is agency relationships or employees. Nonetheless, an Armageddon scenario of the Google Analytics opt out can have a significant impact on the large business.

Small Business

The small business does not have the luxury of significant cash flow or resources compared to the large business. In addition, the small business likely relies even more heavily on the data collected by Google Analytics in comparison to the larger business. Not only is Google Analytics free to use for these businesses, but this web analytics package is likely the lifeblood of their venture. If the small business is an ecommerce website, it likely has a separate software package specifically tailored to recording and distributing orders; however this business runs into the same problem as the larger business in that it is unable to determine what source produced these transactions. Lead generation small businesses on the other hand will still know a conversion has been produced but likely will not be able to easily quantify the amount of conversions and not credit those conversions back to their website entry sources such as PPC, organic, or email blast.

Google Analytics opt out Armageddon for the small business can have a much more significant impact compared to the larger business simply because the small business likely can’t afford any other web analytics package, which is why they used Google Analytics in the first place. As a result, the small business not only doesn’t have a clue what users are doing once they reach the website but they have no insight for improving performance, making marketing decisions such as continuing or suspending PPC, or any other site performance related decisions. Armageddon for this business is like a kid taking off his grandfather’s very necessary glasses, stomping on them repeatedly, and then saying the grandfather can’t get a new pair ever again (or laser surgery since I know someone reading this will think of that).

Online Marketing Agency Perspective

An online marketing agency’s success is predicated on delivering results; but what happens when you can’t track those results? The inability to track not only traffic to a client’s website, but more importantly whether those visitors purchased a product, submitted a contact form, or resulted in some other type of conversion can leave an agency nervously shifting in their seats when it comes time for the monthly performance meeting with a client. The Google Analytics opt out goes well beyond these interactions from the online marketing agency’s perspective though.

The Google Analytics opt out basically squashes the ability for online marketers to analyze results from and make appropriate changes to the PPC campaigns, SEO activities, and other vehicles the agency is currently doing on behalf of the client. Talking from a pure PPC standpoint here, imagine the horror of not having any conversion statistics to analyze in order improve click through rate, cost per click, ROI, impression share, or the other 1 million items a PPC manager looks at to increase overall performance. In essence, the Google Analytics opt out leaves you driving blindfolded with arms tied behind your back and your mother-in-law yelling the highest decibel level imaginable in your ear. Scary stuff right there (FYI kidding on the mother-in-law part).

In any case, the Google Analytics opt out leaves online marketing agencies in the dark when it comes to measuring, analyzing, and improving upon results which leads right back to the Armageddon scenarios of the small and large businesses.

Final Thoughts

I feel it is important to mention that although I had heard rumblings of the Google Analytics opt out for some time, the only reason I found the page to download the opt out was because I had seen it in the weekly newsletter from our Google rep. I’m interested to know how others found out about the Google Analytics opt out and also how they got the link to navigate to the download page. So if you’ve heard of the Google Analytics opt out prior to reading this blog post, please share your experiences.

In all honesty, the previous doomsday scenarios are likely never going to happen but everyone has to think of the ramifications and difficulties that would be created if the Google Analytics opt out gets used by a large amount of Internet users. That said, I leave you with this question:

How will you counter the effect of the Google Analytics opt out if it becomes a problem for your website and online marketing initiatives?

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This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 29, 2010 and is filed under Integrated Digital Marketing.

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