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Google Offers Web Analytics For Free

Webmasters can get free, sophisticated tools to determine how many people are visiting their sites, and what they're clicking on, causing suffering among pricey competitors.

Disrupting yet another market, Google Inc. is now offering enterprise-class Web analytics for free.

In March, Google acquired San Diego-based Urchin Software Corp. and promptly lowered the monthly cost of the company's hosted Web-analytics service, Urchin On Demand, from $495 to $199. Today, the search company is re-branding Urchin under the name Google Analytics and making it available to everyone for nothing.

"From an enterprise standpoint, the price is right," says Brian Comeau, a search engine optimization specialist at E-commerce network Ritz Interactive Inc., which currently relies on Urchin.

Web analytics is the analysis of the data generated by visitors to Web sites -- the pages they visit, the ads they click on, and various related metrics -- for the purpose of marketing and content optimization.

According to Eric Peterson, a senior analyst at JupiterResearch, competing enterprise Web-analytics vendors charge anywhere from several hundred dollars annually to millions of dollars per year for complex, high-traffic installations.

For small businesses and individuals, ISPs often provide Web-analytics software in conjunction with Web-hosting services. And there are a variety of limited but free Web-analytics programs and services available.

Peterson speculates that Google's new price point will cause some pain. "My suspicion is that because a lot of companies shuddered when Google bought Urchin, this is going to make them blink," he says.

Even so, higher priced competitors may still find opportunities. Peterson notes that in March, JupiterResearch determined that some 83% of companies in the U.S. with $1 million or more in annual revenue were under-invested in Web analytics. By his count, that's more than 250,000 companies.

Google Analytics has been updated to integrate with the company's AdWords advertising service, enabling marketers to obtain ROI metrics without the need to import ad campaign data. It also includes new summary views of traffic and trends, preformatted for executives, marketers, and Webmasters.

Emily Jipson, senior product manager at FT.com has been using Urchin since June, at no cost through a special arrangement with Google, and she speaks highly of the software. "What we get out of it is a really specific insight on our customers," she explains. "For larger organizations, it offers all the reporting functions you need to really understand what customers are doing."

"Adding more visibility is really important to us," says Paul Muret, an engineering director at Google and the former CEO of Urchin.

Visibility is great if you're doing the looking; it's less desirable when someone else can see your data. Google, however, insists that it takes the trust users place in it seriously. The company says, "We understand that Web analytics data is sensitive, so we accord it the ironclad protection it deserves."

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