"Google Analytics is not free. It costs $10k. You pay that amount to a competent consultant to implement it and train your company. And you also have to follow my 10/90 rule and invest $10k times 90 in a competent Analyst."

Leading web analytics expert, Avinash Kaushik

Lately there's been a fair bit of discussion about what Google Analytics actually costs. Many people have been quite surprised about what a proper implementation of Google Analytics really costs, or that it even costs anything.

So let's look at what's involved and what you can expect to pay for professional advice.

What is Really Free?

The Code and Not Much Else

First up, it is the basic tracking code that is free. But it is a piece of code (technology), and it can be extensively modified and extended to do all sorts of useful thing if you know how.

In fact, if you have anything other than a simple website, you will need to tweak and customize the code. That of course involves hiring a programmer, and preferably one who is experienced with Google Analytics.

Here's a quick list of some of the things you will probably have to do:

If you have sub-domains such as a member area, a shopping cart, even a blog, or a secure area, then you will need to customize the code.

If you want to track ecommerce then you will have to add additional code and adjust it to work with your shopping cart.

If you have any sort of rich media or interactive applications you want to track such as video, AJAX forms, menus etc, then these will need additional coding.

Want to use it with Google Website Optimizer? then you'll definitely need to customize the code.

Plus just making sure you have clean data also requires a bit of careful setup. EG Usually you don't want to count traffic from staff, third party providers such as developers, syndicated or scraped content as part of your site traffic.

So you need to setup filters to remove this data from your reports, and if you've ever looked at a filter, you'll know we're back to programming again.

On top of that, most reasonably sized businesses have different departments such as wholesale, retail, corporate, public affairs, even regional areas.

Each of these departments or business units is only really interested in the traffic to their section of the site. (In fact some of them may not even want other departments knowing what goes on in their section.)

Google Analytics allows you to separate their data using profiles and filters, but again we're back to using programming language.

On top of that, if you're really doing a lot of online marketing, you'll want to get even more sophisticated data and reports on where the business is coming from and what marketing campaigns are working and not working.

You can set this up in Google Analytics, but again you need filters, maybe some custom tracking codes and some marketing analysis experience to know how to do it.

And all of this is just to get you started.

Obviously using the services of a professional programmer is going to cost money, and at current rates that can be getting up to the $200 hour range.

The Reports

The other main thing that is free, is the access to the Google Analytics reports, but as many web analytics experts have pointed out, there are so many reports in analytics programs these days it amounts to nothing more than data puking.

That is, how do you sort through all the mess of reports to find the information that is actually valuable to the business.

This is where the services of a professional business or marketing analyst can help, preferably ones who are also experienced with analytics.

They can tell you what reports you should be looking at and how to set them up. Inevitably you will want some custom reports for your particular business, and they can help with that.

But again, we're still just at the stage of getting all of this set up and already we've required the services of professional programmers and business analysts.

Once we have all this set up, it's only then that we are able to start getting real value out of analytics.

The Real Value

Now is the time to start turning all of that data into real business intelligence that has a direct impact on the profitability of the business.

And here is where the services of an experienced marketer or analytics can make the biggest contribution.

It's one thing for a report to tell you that you got so much traffic and revenue from an ad campaign. It's another for someone to interpret the results and make the cognitive associations as to what worked and didn't work about the campaign, how it can be improved and how to go about that.

In fact this should be the goal of any web analysis service: Telling the company how they can do more business.

Again, this is a professional service.

But Wait, There's More

If you're really serious about using analytics, you won't be just be relying on the dashboards that Google provides.

Most likely you will want to extract the data and run it through your own spreadsheets, custom calculations and macros to produce custom reports and dashboards.

Google, ever helpful, provides a way to do this through their Analytics API. This allows you to suck Google Analytics data straight into Excel or whatever spreadsheet or other application you want to use, and create your own custom reports.

But here again, writing custom macros and working with the API is another programming task.

Knowing what sort of reports to create is a marketing analysis task.

And using professional and experienced marketing people is going to cost you even more than a programmer.

This is Just the Start

What I've outlined above is just scratching the surface of what you need to do to use any analytics solution effectively. Hopefully it will give you a better understanding of why leading analytics experts like Avinash Kaushik say that it costs what it does, and why it takes time to implement properly.

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