Google Analytics – Free For Now…

It’s been a while since my last post… reentering the work world after a blissful maternity leave! As I have been catching up on my industry reading, I can’t help but wonder if we are moving toward a freemium model for Google Analytics in the near future.

NOTE: I am not even counting Google Analytics Premium as part of this post – at $150,000 annually, it is simply too costly for all but the largest of organizations.

What makes me wonder about this? Well, it started when Google stopped providing keyword query data in the Analytics product for users that were logged in at the time of their searches back in 2011. Google claims that they started doing this in the name of user privacy, but curiously, keyword query data is available for these same searches’ paid results. Couple this with the more recent news that Google is looking to hire someone to specifically build the searching while logged in component of their business (as reported on Search Engine Land including an update that the job post had been mysteriously removed) and it starts to come together…

It makes sense, from a business perspective, really. We are all so used to Google providing free search and tools, it might at first seem surprising to think that they could be moving in this direction. But we should never forget that Google is a gigantic, public company with enormous pressure to not only maintain, but constantly increase their bottom line!

If you are an AdWords advertiser, you have already experienced a myriad of ways that Google has changed AdWords, supposedly in the name of easier use and better performance, that certainly benefit Google when not actively or thoughtfully implemented or managed. The close variant feature comes to mind here.

But, I digress…

What makes me think that we will probably be seeing a free and paid version of Google Analytics in the near future? Mainly, the increasing volume of (not provided) keywords in Analytics for most sites. This is becoming more and more of an issue for search strategists, both on the SEO and SEM sides. Sure, you can use Google’s Webmaster Tools to view the top 1,000 search terms that sent traffic to your site, but Webmaster Tools is no Google Analytics! Knowing a list of terms is helpful, but only to a point. Were these organic searches or paid searches? How long do visitors using certain search terms stay on your site? Do they convert? What role is mobile playing? None of this information is available in Webmaster Tools – you need the Advanced Segment capability of Google Analytics to really dig into these types of questions.

And, these types of questions are incredibly important to anyone who manages a site with any type of conversion goal! I know for our clients’ sites, the percentage of (not provided) keywords has been steadily creeping up since the Google policy change. Many have 20% or more that are (not provided), which is statistically significant! With their clear desire to have more searchers use their search while logged in, I can’t help but brace myself for the announcement that for a monthly or annual fee, strategists like me could magically have access to all that data again!

Is this the end of the world? Certainly not. It is actually a pretty brilliant move – from a profit potential perspective for Google. Think about how many sites are running Google Analytics and chose to do so at least partially because it was a pretty robust free tool. I don’t know many firms or consultants who use paid analytics products anymore, including Neptune Moon, because Google Analytics does a great job and at a great price. Will we end up paying if Google opts to go the freemium route with Analytics, I would think that yes, we would. Google is doing what it always does – getting us so used to deploying and using their products that the sheer hassle of moving to another system will make it worth paying to just continue using theirs. Oh, and let’s not forget the investment we have already made with Google Analytics for historical data!

It will be interesting to see how this all plays out. I know we will be watching closely.


  1. Finally, be aware that Google Analytics isn’t just a standalone program that can be used to measure on-site visitor activity. In fact, the program can be integrated with a number of other Google tools and other third-party products in order to provide a more robust web data and reporting environment.

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