The BIG Fight – Internet Privacy vs Google Analytics 5

Jan. 20, 2012 | by Sam Zindel

Following the connect post on the content battle by Jeremy Head there is another head-to-head brewing in 2012…

With the old Google Analytics (GA) interface being phased out later this month, I take a look at the duel between Internet Privacy and Google Analytics that is likely to be more heated than ever in the coming year. Analysts like myself are preparing to wrestle with reduced data samples and doubts over the reliability of tracking data in Google Analytics.

[The purpose of this blog post is to inject an element of humour whilst identifying some of the new GA5 features and privacy-driven issues undermining GA’s performance upgrade – likely to impact GA in 2012. In the week that ‘The Greatest’ turned 70, there is only one way to sort this out…]

Urrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Let’s Get Ready To Rummmmblllllllllllllle!

In the red corner representing the interests of personal internet users across the globe, weighing in at 201lbs, the rising challenge to tracking data and analyst insight – Internet ‘it’s the law’ Privacy

In the blue corner representing web analytics and e-commerce marketers from around the world, weighing in at 220lbs, the undisputed heavyweight champion of website statistics – Google ‘Real-Time’ Analytics 5

“Ding-Ding”

 

Google Analytics 5 comes out fighting early in 2012 giving the crowd what they hoped for. Packed with new features that not only look pretty but fill some of the gaps that have frustrated data enthusiasts for some time.

Highlights include Real Time Statistics – no more waiting 24 hours to see your website stats. You can see how many people are on your site, and indeed what page they are on right now. Flow Visualization – allowing you to trace how your visitors navigate your site including time on page, interactions, goal paths and exit pages. Average Site Speed - displays the average loading time of your website. Multi-Channel Funnels - shows path to conversion for up to a month’s worth of site interaction. Social Engagement – tracks how visitors interact socially with your site.

 

With Google Analytics looking so good, it’s a self-inflicted injury that lets Internet Privacy into the fight. Encrypted search results for users logged into Google has shot Google Analytics in the foot as search queries are not provided for these secure searches. Coupled with Google’s own strategy to drive take-up of Google+ they stand to isolate themselves from much of their core support as marketers, search analysts and data modellers become increasingly infuriated with a loss of previously visible data.

 

Support from GA’s corner helps to relieve the pain felt by many. The question is whether the coaching team will run out of elastoplast if internet privacy were to launch a sustained attack or if encrypted search was adopted as standard practice.

 

Internet Privacy lands the biggest blow in the contest so far and catches GA5 in the EU. With the aim of protecting web-users from intrusive 3rd party cookies (hear, hear) the proposed legislation is in danger of blocking perfectly legitimate first party cookies used for anonymous data tracking (like those used by GA) if users choose not to opt in. The ‘opt-in’ strategy is likely to annoy internet users, interfere with website performance and render a huge chunk of web data untrackable in GA should the EU cookie law be enforced from 26th May 2012.

Not even a pop-up blocker could stop this one landing.

Examples from Ireland and Germany show how much of an impact we may face in the UK.

The German DPA outlawed use of Google Analytics for 2 years until Google Analytics finally caved into significantly improved compliance with Germany’s data protection laws. (the ban on use of GA was lifted in Sept 2011 subject to guidelines)

You can see the GA team looking to the judges table for a mysterious man-in-a-hat that might provide a ‘get out of jail’ scorecard

Wanting to offer fans more in the closing rounds, Google targets tool integration in an attempt to provide a quick win. GA5 integrates with Webmaster Tools data allowing you to analyse impressions, average position and CTR from within the new GA interface. AdWords data has been imported for some time, what’s to say Google doesn’t bring other tools under one roof before the year is out?

Internet Privacy is increasingly on the consumer-driven front foot. There is a growing market to cater for the privacy-conscious online consumer (CES 2012 has been packed with ‘secure surfing‘ products and gizmos). Expect this to continue to grow as privacy education and ‘best practice’ internet use permeates a more mainstream audience.

 

The 2012 agenda is full of mixed messages around privacy. On one hand facebook continues to push the boundaries of personal info sharing (changing the mentality of the next generation while they’re at it) and using some of this information for Corporate gains. On the other hand the clampdown on cookies and the ability to track web user data (anonymity no longer seems enough protection) stands to tie the hands of many web analysts -restricting insight and reducing marketing and advertising opportunities of the very same companies exploiting the facebook ‘Likes’ and user targeted ad campaigns.

 

So who’s winning the fight?

You’d have to say GA still have the upper hand and as the year rumbles on, it will be interesting to see how much impact the privacy agenda has on data tracking. The most interesting threat to Google Analytics comes from within. Having battled through algorithm changes and new search features, SEO data analysts have always found paths through the Google data minefield and changed course in line with Google as and when necessary. The new challenge thrown up by increasing amounts of encrypted search data leaves less room for manoeuvre and many of us may well find ourselves increasingly in the dark.

The verdict: A points victory to Google Analytics 5 but the fight is far from over…

You be the judge and add your comments below

Sam Zindel

Data Modelling Analyst – iCrossing UK

Related reading:

The making of Google Analytics 5

GA official privacy policy wording

Google EU Anti-trust action by April?

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    Please note: the opinions expressed in this post represent the views of the individual, not necessarily those of iCrossing.

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