Recently, I was tasked at my job to investigate the differences between WebTrends and Google Analytics. My company has a contract with WebTrends and it was due to expire at the end of the month. From the very beginning, we were not utilizing the tracking capability of the WebTrends software. No one really knew how to set it up to track web campaigns or search query strings effectively. Plus, no one was analyzing the data to see where the traffic on our site was coming from or going to. So the decision was made to evaluate if Google Analytics would be better for us since it was free and the process of querying searches seemed much easier than with WebTrends.
I was happy to take on the project, even with my heavy workload. I had dabbled with using a couple other free website traffic tracking sites for years. Statcounter(which it seems is now defunct) and Sitemeter in particular. Both were good for small sites that didn’t generate many thousands of hits per day. You could drill down into your visitors’ statistics and see what browser they were using, screen resolution, IP address, entering page, exiting page, time on site, etc. However, I had never messed with Google Analytics and hadn’t heard of WebTrends until I had worked there. Actually, a fellow co-worker of mine, Todd, was tasked with trying to figure out how to configure WebTrends earlier. So I took on trying to learn how Google Analytics worked. Then we could pool our data and give our boss a comprehensive analysis and recommendation.
One of the first things I found was that it was easy to get to data in Google Analytics. The menu bar was pretty intuitive and if you’ve played with any kind of web tracking software you’d be able to navigate to where you want to go. From what Todd was saying it was like pulling teeth to get your results for a particular search. Evidently, you have to set up a campaign and generate links from that instead. *More on this later.
The URL link builder tool was handy but I was left wondering exactly what data should be put in some of the fields. I think they needed to put more examples. I’m not sure how WebTrends handles query strings. If they give you a tool as Google did or not. Or at least give you some examples of how to tag your links.
Another nice feature was the Site Overlay function which overlays your site pages and lets you see how many clicks each of your links are getting within a specific range of dates. There seemed to be the possibility of some erroneous data but overall it looked accurate. It may have been an issue with how we tagged certain links. WebTrends did not offer this function.
The ability to generate reports and email them in different file formats was impressive for Google Analytics. While WebTrends gave you the ability to export your reports in Word, PDF or CSV formats Google allowed you to export them in PDF, XML, CSV and TSV. And you can send them as attachments from Google in an email. You can also schedule them to be sent to you at specific intervals: daily, weekly, monthly or quarterly. Pretty cool for those of us who don’t want to take the extra step to have to open another browser and log in and run the search query to find the data. I couldn’t find that option in WebTrends though I figure it has to be there somewhere. I could be wrong. I’ll check with Todd and see what he says.
Now I have read that WebTrends is good to use if you have large amounts of traffic to your site and you can pick through your log files. Your log files are hosted on-site and you can access them easily. Google Analytics has your data on their site and some people are skittish to let that be.
All in all, Google Analytics stands up to WebTrends in most categories and out performs in quite a few (e.g. ease of use, site overlay, report scheduling, query string URL builder and cost) Cost is the biggest difference between these two. It is hard for me, in good conscience, to recommend that we pay for tracking software when there is a free, comparable (and better in some cases) alternative to use. Of course, this is all moot if you do not have someone to properly analyze the trending data and use it to improve visitor retention, marketing strategy and conversion.