Google Analytics can be More Expensive Than WebTrends

Surprise! Surprise! I recently had a chance to do some analysis of reporting tasks when done with Google Analytics vs. WebTrends. The idea here was to see if I could save some money using Google Analytics for web analytics reporting. Make sure to read at the bottom for caveats galore.

The Challenge
Compare reporting effort between Google Analytics and WebTrends for 15 web site profiles that utilize custom segmentation, event tracking, and goal analysis reporting. Being very experienced with WebTrends, I have a pretty good idea of the amount of time it will take to get the data I need from WebTrends. I then did similar tasks in Google Analytics to create a comparison. Keep in mind that this comparison only relates to the time to get the needed data out of each tool. Implementation and Analysis times are not considered. They are roughly the same anyway in this scenario.

The Results
Google Analytics can do most of the required reporting (The only data point I am unable to collect from my requirements is unique visitors by country). However, due to limitations in the way that data is accessed and exported using Google Analytics it would take more than three times the hours to collect the reports needed to perform analysis.

So using my ultra-complex mathematical algorithm: 5 hours per week with WebTrends now equals 15 hours per week with Google Analytics. Hmmm, over the course of a year that is 500 hours of my time. If I use Eric Peterson’s average web analyst salary data [pdf] that is $22,000 that Google Analytics is going to cost in salary. Ouch.

What causes the Gap

  1. ODBC. ODBC. ODBC. WebTrends having an ODBC connector that I can use to directly query the report database is a monster of a time saver.
  2. The persistent export of interval data before the main report in Google Analytics. This is sometimes useful, but not always what I want.
  3. Inability to create a custom report in Google Analytics. Especially around custom segmentation. I need to see multiple values in the reports 1st dimension and GA will only show me one at a time. It is enough to make a grown man cry. And before some kind soul recommends creating separate profiles for all of these just know that before doing that I am at 15 profiles already in this particular situation.

My conclusions

  • Google Analytics is a robust web analytics solution. But we already knew that.
  • While my reporting requirements were not all that intense, there were some aspects of it that really made life hard for me when using Google Analytics. I know there are probably ways around these issues that ingenious GAAC’s have thought up, but you begin to see diminishing returns at some point. I want to stay away from bailing wire and magic solutions that keep me from being replaceable.
  • When you evaluate web analytics tools, it is important to carefully consider your needs. Just because Google Analytics is free doesn’t mean it is the lowest cost.




  1. I use Excel for web analytics analysis. I think that I am in pretty good company until I can afford some sweet software.
  2. None of this is meant to imply that people should use WebTrends over Google Analytics. Needs differ.
  3. This analysis was done by someone who is very experienced with both tools, so results may vary with familiarity, however it is probably fair to say that I am more skilled with WebTrends.
  4. This is not meant as a comparison of the features and functionality of each tool. The requirements did not utilize all features available in either tool.
  5. Why are you wasting away in caveatville? You should be making an awesome comment or subscribing to my feed.

Update: I made a mistake initially and wrote 2nd dimension only shows one value where I should have said 1st dimenstion only shows one value. Sorry for the confusion.

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6 thoughts on “Google Analytics can be More Expensive Than WebTrends”

  1. This is great. Can you explain or give examples of “I need to see multiple values in the reports 2nd dimension and GA will only show me one at a time” please.

    My experience is exactly the same. If we had kept one a certain one of our clients on GA, we’d have to have hired another FTE by now, or cut back on their analytics to the point of being half as useful as it should be.

    You didn’t mention the fact that you can’t re-analyze in GA, which is huge. Talk about making a grown man cry. Of course, GA isn’t alone in this, but other other ASP solutions like WebTrends On Demand offer the possibility on a per-incident basis. And then there’s WebTrends software … without which some of us would probably just not bother being in this field.

  2. Chris,

    Regarding 2d report views, I might have said that wrong. What I mean is if I want to view the values for my User Defined (custom segment) in Google Analytics as it pertains to countries that visitors are coming from I can only view one country at a time. So as I think about it I think I mean I can only view one value in the 1d aspect of the report. Anyway, it was really frustrating. Instead of looking at all the countries with 1d and their custom segments as 2d I only see one country with the 2d custom segment.

    I did not talk about the inability to re-analyze as part of this because it was not officially part of the report gathering process. I do see it as a risk in using Google Analytics but there are a couple of potential ways to mitigate it. You can write all the Google Analytics hits to your log and then use Urchin to track it.

  3. Ah, you want to segment in the second dimension. You need to read my article on cascading advanced filters and then use them so that you can get:source/medium/city/region/country/ in one report, etc. But then, as you point out, I am just an enterprising GAAC with workarounds. BTW, I was really delighted that you recognized what a kind soul John Henson is (he really is!), and you might be interested in using his Copy Goal plugin for Firefox. But I probably only get one link without moderation, so here is the article on cascading advanced filters

    Editor: Here is the link to the Copy Goal plugin. Very useful for people with lots of profiles in Google Analytics.

  4. Robbin,

    Thanks for your comment. What I have noticed in the writing by your company and others is that there are some really brilliant work-arounds available in Google Analytics that do extend the functionality and increase the power of the tool. My personal feeling is that these capabilities are going to continue to be out of reach to the mass of marketers because of the heavy reliance on regular expressions. Usually when I mention regular expressions to marketers what I get back is a blank one.

    One thing I didn’t want this post to imply was that people can’t accomplish their reporting goals in Google Analytics. Because in my case at least I would have been able to, it just would have taken longer.

  5. Great post Michael. I couldn’t agree more. Google is a great solution for sites needing something simple and not very deep. Once you start needing to make serious decisions, at least I think my clients are trying to be serious:), than you need WebTrends or the like.
    I was happy to seem someone validate, with real numbers, that FREE doesn’t always mean FREE which is something I tell my clients all the time.
    ODBC access from WebTrends is SUPER AWESOME and a huge time saver!

  6. Rebecca,

    Thanks for commenting. I agree that ODBC access to the report database was one of the best innovations that WebTrends has had in the past few years.

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