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Analytics On The Cheap

Google to offer Web analytics for free; service assesses data generated by site visitors to use in marketing and content optimization
Disrupting another market, Google Inc. is offering free Web analytics aimed at businesses.

The search company bought Urchin Software Corp. eight months ago and promptly lowered the monthly cost of that company's hosted Web-analytics service, Urchin On Demand, from $495 to $199. Now Google is rebranding the service as Google Analytics and making it available to everyone for nothing.

"From an enterprise standpoint, the price is right," says Brian Comeau, a specialist in search-engine optimization at E-commerce network Ritz Interactive Inc., which uses Urchin. Web analytics assess data generated by Web-site visitors--pages they visit, ads they click on, and other metrics--to use in marketing and content optimization.

Competing Web-analytics vendors charge from several hundred dollars a year to millions of dollars annually for complex, high-traffic installations. Small businesses are more likely to use Web-analytics software that Internet service providers offer in conjunction with Web-hosting services. A variety of limited but free Web-analytics programs and services are available, too.

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

Google Analytics has been updated to work with Google's AdWords advertising service, letting marketers obtain return-on-investment 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, the Financial Times' site, has been using Urchin since June at no cost through an arrangement with Google. "What we get out of it is a really specific insight on our customers," she says. "For larger organizations, it offers all the reporting functions you need to really understand what customers are doing."

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 on its Web site, "We understand that Web analytics data is sensitive, so we accord it the ironclad protection it deserves."

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