Google Analytics Opt Out – Armageddon or Just Bump in the Road for Online Marketing

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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6 comments on “Google Analytics Opt Out – Armageddon or Just Bump in the Road for Online Marketing

Ric Dragon

I’ve got a feeling this is a tempest in a tea pot, a mountain from a mole hill… I really don’t see more than .5% of users rushing to install this privacy tool. Who cares if a website owner can tell if some person from Conyers, Georgia visited their website?

But it does allow Google to say, “see, we take privacy seriously. Users can opt out of having their web browsing show up in GA”.
Meanwhile, however, those same users would still show up in server based records.

Andy – well written post.


    Andy Groller

    Thanks Ric.

    I completely agree with you in that the probability of a lot of people actually using this tool is pretty minuscule, but imagine if that 0.5% you mentioned just purchased $200K worth of product (big time hyperbole there but just an example).

    Now take into account that you’re spending $15K a month on PPC, $10K a month on banner ads, & $5K a month on email blasts. What venue to attribute this $200K of revenue to if you can’t track it? Not being able to attribute revenue to a source of traffic (albeit it’s the last click attribution scenario all over again) severely hinders your decision making on continuing those three marketing tactics or stopping one if the need arises.

    Again, I agree that the amount of users actually using this opt-out will be small but the bigger question is ‘what kind of users use it’?


Sean

52% of general public still use Internet explorer as their main browser because they do not know any better, or many are afraid of crazy high tech things like right click menu’s and such.

The only people who will install this are extremely savvy high tech people who are borderline paranoid of being tracked. I think its fair to say, thats a very small percentage of people. This will never catch on mass market, and Google only released it, so they can say they are providing the option of removing it, to the vocal minority who i’m sure will complain. Put these people in a margin of error +/- .01 percent for any stat tracking and call it a day imho.


    Andy Groller

    Thanks for reading Sean.

    Definitely agree with you on the percentage of people actually using this opt-out being very minimal. I also don’t think those who are “borderline paranoid” truly understand what data Google Analytics actually collects & what it doesn’t collect.

    Besides the IP location of a user, Google Analytics does not collect any personal information such as name, email address, etc. so in actuality Google Analytics is probably the most secure (from a paranoid individual’s viewpoint) type of web analytics software.


Gary A Mort

Actually, there is one market that is extremely likely to use it….and it is the big market of people still using IE6 and IE7 – corporate users and academic users.

Anywhere you have an IT shop supporting a bunch of users and setting standard install packages, I would expect to see this item added to the standard install.

If your market is small business or personal users using their own systems, your fine.

If your market is people coming to your website during business hours from their dayjob….you may well be in trouble.

Sure, they COULD have blocked it before, but that always involves guessing games and trying to keep up with new technologies to block. If Google gives them an easy out, it can almost become mandatory to block those.

As for how much of an effect that will have, simply look at Quantcast and see how large a percentage of your visitors they estimate are browsing from work. I rarely see that number go below 50%.


    Andy Groller

    Hi Gary,

    First off thanks for reading.

    Secondly, those are some very good points. I’m not sure I totally agree with you about IT shops (colleges, corporations, etc) likely adding the Google Analytics opt out to their standard install packages though.

    Do these institutions really care if their users (students, faculty, employees) get tracked by the websites they visit? Also, do the IT people in charge of setup really care either?

    Just a thought here, but for corporations that install the opt out, you have to wonder if the old saying “what goes around, comes around” would come into play too. Basically, corporation A installs the opt out but gets burned in tracking their own website’s performance because corporations B, C & D install the opt out too. Granted each corporation is separate case, but if you extrapolate this scenario you are looking at some serious loss of tracking data across the business world. Not likely to happen, but just a thought.

    All of that being said, you definitely bring up very interesting points that I had not thought of and that we should all keep our eyes on. This is especially important if you are advertising B2B products where the likelihood of relevant users searching from their places of employment is highest.

    Thanks again for reading!