Why a Paid Version of Google Analytics Makes Sense

Peter O’Neill
Reading time: 7 minutes
8th February 2011

Note: This post has moved from Leapthree.com to Ayima as part of the 2018 acquisition.

The story of the hour appears to be that Google will be releasing a paid version of Google Analytics at some stage in the future.  I used to work for a Google Analytics Certified Partner and thought a few times while there about the benefits of a paid version with these ideas re-triggered by the new speculation.  Having read Adam Greco’s excellent piece on the pros and cons of a paid version of Google Analytics, I wanted to add my thoughts around this, both from previous ideas about it and building on what Adam has written.  Not so much on the pros and cons but what I think will be included and why they are doing it.  All of the below is guesswork only, I unfortunately have no inside word on what Google is planning.

First of all, what is the end goal for Google.  Their business is not web analytics, that is only a means to an end for their real business – what was originally creating the best possible search experience and is now closer to being a medium and platform for advertising, whatever the mechanism.  So I don’t believe Google would develop a paid version of GA in order to make money (although 1,000 customers paying circa £100k per year would be a nice bonus).  The reason Google would offer a paid version is to get more of the big businesses with huge marketing budgets using web analytics to understand the performance of their marketing budget.  These insights would be used to transfer a larger proportion of those advertising budgets to Google and that is the real pay-off for Google.

In that logic, there is no requirement for the web analytics tool to be Google Analytics.  Implicit then, if I have got that end goal right, is a belief from Google that their analytics tool will be better at providing that impetus for change for big organisations than tools like SiteCatalyst and WebTrends.  Interesting…

There was a comment left on Adam’s blog from Judah suggesting the cost of the paid version of Google Analytics will be six figures.  I initially scoffed at this but then it started to make sense.  As I mentioned earlier, I am seeing revenue generated as a bonus, in which case the actual cost doesn’t matter.  Flip it around and Google could set a high price tag as a disincentive, as a means to minimise the number of companies who sign up.  To explain why Google may desire to keep low the number of companies paying for Google Analytics, let’s look at what these companies might get for their money.

  • A Service Level Agreement – Both Adam and Judah mentioned this and it is probably the key thing Google will be offering.  It is a guarantee to big businesses that there is no risk to their business through using Google Analytics.  Adam and Judah both describe the contents/benefits of this better than I could so I will satisfy myself with suggesting that this removes one of the biggest pillars of the anti GA argument used by sales people from their competitors – is it worth risking your business by relying on a tool that doesn’t guarantee your data is available as and when you need it?  It also means senior managers get the name and phone number of someone they can yell at when things go wrong (as they do with every web analytics tool).
  • Support phone number – When there appears to be a bug in the system or you don’t know how to get something to work, you need someone to call.  GACPs are great but they can’t look under the bonnet to really understand an issue with the data.  To do that, there needs to be people in house who can look into how the reports are built and how the raw data is aggregated to produce the output users see.  Google would need to offer this service and as part of the SLA, give response times.
  • Processing Power – Google is now providing web analytics for millions of websites and there are processing costs to offer the current feature set for all users, let alone any improvements to GA in the future.  I don’t see a paid version offering much new functionality but there are other benefits through dedicated servers:
    • Data available sooner, maybe not real time but the delay could be cut down significantly giving organisation the ability to act sooner.
    • A faster interface reducing the time it takes to explore reports and get insights.
    • No or reduced sampling as senior managers seem to believe data cannot be useful/accurate unless it is all there.
    • More custom variables allowing for enhanced customisation and the ability to answer more business questions (another big current advantage for the paid tools removed).
    • Ability to reprocess data for a new profile configuration (although I can see this one costing extra).
    • Two product feature enhancements which could not be rolled out to everyone due to the processing costs
      • Data uploads so that all the information you need is in the one place.
      • Enhanced funnel functionality simply as this is the area where GA is weakest in my mind.  I refuse to believe to believe they are incapable of fixing it but I can believe that the fix costs them in processing power.

So why would Google choose a high price as a disincentive against going for the paid rather than the free version of Google Analytics.  All of the above cost Google in either servers or people and are a distraction for Google from what they really want to be doing.  So pricing it at a level where only companies with the big advertising budgets that Google wants to get their hands on will pay for it makes sense.

As a side benefit, it appears to be an irrational behaviour in the world but some people value things on the price of them.  So a CEO may say no to putting Google Analytics on their website and investing in the resources to get value out of web analytics as it is a free tool and therefore can’t be valuable to them.  Tell the CEO that the tool will cost £250k a year and their world view may suddenly change.  And one day, their view on the budget split across the different marketing channels may change as well.

In a similar way, Google Analytics should get additional credibility in the wider world as well.  Some of the myths that are so easily repeated may get dispelled.  Even in the post on Brand Republic regarding the potential release of a paid version of Google Analytics, the line “Google offers a free analytics tool with basic features” was used.  Google Analytics may be free but features such as advanced segmentation, custom reports, secondary dimensions, data visualisations and Google Intelligence features are not basic.

One thing I can’t see Google doing is offering an in-house consultancy arm for Google Analytics.  This is an unnecessary distraction that they have the option of avoiding.  Instead I think they will change to a two tier Google Analytics Certified Partner programme with a very limited number of partners certified as the elite (is it sad that I just visualised a Top Gun style academy for these elite GACP?).

I see a paid version of Google Analytics as a good thing, for Google, for businesses who pay up and for web analytics as a whole.  Anything that gets us recognition and into the boardroom is a good thing as has been espoused by a number of leaders in the web analytics community recently – see Evan LaPointe’s predictions and hopes for web analytics in 2011 as a case in point or most of the posts from Avinash.  I see this as a potential factor that wakes up the big businesses with smaller organisations dragged along for the ride.  But for anyone else, any thoughts on my guesswork about the future for Google Analytics?

P.S. My business is very new and I am not yet a GACP.  But that is a business objective for this year.  And then, IF Google offers a paid version of Google Analytics AND if they don’t offer consultancy in-house AND if they have Top Gun partners, well that would definitely be a future objective.  Just need to work on my call-sign…

Written By Peter O’Neill
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