Everything About Hosted Web Analytics
With over 50% of Fortune 500 companies using hosted web analytics tools, you may have begun to think about what kind of web analytics you need. There are a wide variety of hosted and self-hosted solutions that can help you track and analyze visitor data, but trying to figure out which tool you want can be a hassle, especially if you're not familiar with the basics. There's no one right solution that works for every firm—this guide will help you understand the strengths and weaknesses of hosted and self hosted web analytics so that you can make the call that will work best for your clients.
What's the Difference?
The terminology surrounding web analytics and hosting can be a bit confusing. In general, web analytics refers to tools that gather data, analyze your website traffic and make changes based on the data you've gathered. Hosted web analytics are the most common type of tools available for the novice analyst. These are tools that are “hosted” on another website, like Google or Yahoo. In order to work, these tools need your computer to be connected to one of their host servers.
The opposite of hosted isn't non-hosted, it's self-hosted—in other words, a piece of software that you run on your machines. Self hosted web analytics are software packages that don't require you to be connected online at the time when you use them, and they keep your data on your machines instead of sending it elsewhere.
Hosted Web Analytics: Pros
There's a reason that the majority of companies use web analytics software hosted by other companies. Google and Yahoo each have significant market shares for hosted web analytics because these search engines have already put a great deal of work into making search results better. Helping content producers create better, more user-friendly content is in the best interest of these websites, and they can use the data to make the search user experience better.
One of the biggest advantages of using hosted web analytics is cost. It may sound too good to be true, but the vast majority of these analytic tools are actually hosted completely for free. You won't have to pay for expensive software licensing if you use hosted web analytics, and it's also free to upgrade when these web analytics tools get new features.
These tools often offer the widest range of standard reports. If you're new to using analytics, hosted web analytics can be your best bet because they give a tremendously wide range of data. There is also more training available for this type of analysis software—not because it's more difficult to use, but because it's so much more common than using self-hosted analytics.
Hosted Web Analytics: Cons
While using another company's hosting has benefits, it also can present problems depending on what your firm's goals are. An increasing number of law firms don't want a company like Google or Yahoo to have access to all of their data, fearing that it could actually help competing firms as much as their own.
While the range of information available through hosted web analytics can be intoxicating to a new analyst, people with more experience often find that a wide range of standard reports just creates vast amounts of irrelevant data. Creating custom reports using hosted web analytics can sometimes be difficult, and will usually require additional training.
Self Hosted Web Analytics: Pros
If you choose to use a self hosted analytics application, you can get software that includes a “dashboard” of basics like Google or Yahoo, or a very narrowly tailored program that works on specific types of custom reports. This flexibility lets you choose analytics that are designed to work for problems exactly like yours.
Self hosting also eliminates any problems with giving up your data. Instead of having your website traffic data stored off-site and being analyzed by search engineers, you can maintain total control over your information. The value of maintaining your data depends on what you expect that it will be used for—many law firms simply don't believe their reports need to be kept in-house, and are quite comfortable with using hosted web analytics.
Self Hosted Web Analytics: Cons
If you're using a self hosted solution, you should probably already have a grasp on what metrics are important for you and what your firm's website traffic and conversion goals are. That's because most self hosted web analytics software costs money—and sometimes a lot of it. Because analytics are a long term, ongoing process, choosing the wrong tool for your analysis can cost a lot of time and money. You will want to carefully research reviews of any self hosted web analytics software before you make a purchase.
Because your data is only being stored on-site, you'll need to take special care with backups if you are self hosting. Hosted web analytics are substantially less likely to experience major data loss problems. Give some thought to what you'd do even in the unlikely event of a natural disaster, and consider secure off-site data storage or cloud storage.
Which Hosted Web Analytics Software Is For Me?
Everyone's preferences are a bit different when it comes to web analytics. While Google Analytics is sometimes considered the gold standard of hosted web analytics, other hosted services offer great all-around analytics and specialty analytics as well.
The best way to find out what software you like best is to simply experiment. Just as the process of analyzing and editing your website involves trial and error, feel free to try out several different services until you find one that you feel comfortable with. You may find that the graphical interface of one dashboard seems more intuitive and easy to use, or that the tools of another are particularly robust for letting you look at a particular interesting metric. Because upgrades to hosted web analytics software occur all the time, you may also want to check out different tools periodically just to see if they have anything new and useful.