Practical Ecommerce

Google Analytics “Inaccurate,” Expert Says

Many ecommerce merchants use Google Analytics to track visitor activity on their websites. But there are other analytics firms, too, that offer services to merchants. One of them is ClickTale, an Israel-based firm with over 35,000 clients, according to its co-founder.

That co-founder is Tal Schwartz, who is both an academic and an entrepreneur. He launched ClickTale in 2006 when he was teaching entrepreneurship at a university in Israel. He says ClickTale is now “the industry leader in customer experience analytics, providing businesses with revolutionary insights into their customers’ online behavior.”

ClickTale is hosted service, with monthly prices ranging from $0 to $790. Schwartz is both a fan of Google Analytics and a critic. He claims that Google Analytics is wrong in how it computes the time visitors spend on a site, and that the error can affect ecommerce merchants. We asked him about that.

PeC: You recently wrote about an error in Google Analytics. What is it?

Schwartz: First, I should clarify that we ourselves use Google Analytics, and are big fans. However, it has several major limitations that its users should be aware of. The limitation is based on Google Analytics’ method for calculating “Time on Page” and “Time on Site.” Google Analytics calculates these values as follows:

  1. It records when a visitor opens the first page.
  2. It records when a visitor opens the next page.
  3. It subtracts these two times and calls the result “Time on Page”
  4. It adds up all the “Times on Page” to create “Time on Site”
Time-on-page graphic. Supplied by ClickTale.

Time-on-page graphic. Supplied by ClickTale.

However, this is inaccurate. For example:

  1. If the visitor doesn’t move through your site (a bounced visitor), Google Analytics can’t record a second page being opened. It therefore has no way of knowing how much time a bounced visitor spent on your website.
  2. We’ve seen that visitors will often change tabs, minimize their browser or walk away from their desk while browsing, and then come back to the website later. These are all normal browsing habits, but as Google Analytics only captures when visitors move from one page to the next. “Time on Page” tells you nothing about how these visitors interact with your website.
  3. Google Analytics also cannot tell you how long visitors spent on the exit page, or more importantly, why they left. Did they finish their transaction and leave after a few seconds, or were they trying to fill out an online form for several minutes before leaving in frustration?

PeC: Why does that error matter for ecommerce merchants?

Schwartz: It’s a big problem for ecommerce merchants for two reasons:

First, many of the visitors to an ecommerce site are bounced visitors. These are the potential customers they [the merchants] didn’t get. They are the lost sales, lost leads and lost profits, and Google Analytics cannot tell you anything about them. The “Time on Page” provided by Google only refers to multiple-page visitors, but Google does not mention this anywhere.

Graphic illustrating bounced visitors. Supplied by ClickTale.

Graphic illustrating bounced visitors. Supplied by ClickTale.

Second, Google Analytics gives you no information about how long your visitors actually interact with the content on your website. All it can see is the amount of time a page was left open, which doesn’t tell you anything about how long your visitors were actually looking at your site or doing something meaningful like choosing a product to purchase or trying to complete an online form.

PeC: You own an analytics company, ClickTale.com. Why should a smaller ecommerce merchant pay for analytics, when Google Analytics is free?

Schwartz: First of all, ClickTale is available for free as well. Google Analytics is great for monitoring your website page views and traffic sources. It tells you where your visitors come from, which pages they visit, and where they go. But it doesn’t tell you about what’s happening inside your web pages and what the visitors actually do on the site. ClickTale provides valuable insight as to what’s going on inside your web pages. So if you’re serious about improving your conversion, you need to figure out exactly how customers use your website.

Also, Google only records a timestamp of the page loaded, as well as basic visitor information such as the IP address. ClickTale records every mouse move, click, scroll, hover and keystroke. So while Google stores very little information per visitor, we store full, playable videos of each visitor’s complete browsing experience.

PeC: How does this help an ecommerce merchant?

Tal Schwartz

Tal Schwartz

Schwartz: We show businesses what customers really do when they browse their websites. Our customers use our analytics tools to figure out the “why” behind the “what,” and this helps them optimize website performance, improve usability and dramatically increase conversion rates. Since we are a hosted service, setup takes just a few minutes, and our subscribers can start watching their users’ complete browsing sessions right away.
For example, you might have a purchase process on your website that takes three pages to complete. Google Analytics tells you that your customers keep leaving on page two, but you might have no idea what is causing them to leave. With ClickTale, you can see exactly what the problem is straight away, and spend more time focusing on how to fix it.

We provide several unique features throughout all our plans:

  1. Full Movie Playback. Watch movies of your customers’ browsing sessions.
  2. Powerful Filtering. Define scenarios and then watch visitors who match these scenarios (visitors who abandon your checkout page or failed to complete your online form, for example).
  3. Powerful Visual Heatmaps. Aggregated information of your visitors’ clicks and scrolling behaviors.
  4. Form Analytics. See exactly where your visitors get stuck inside your online form, how long it takes to complete the form, which fields they leave blank and where they experience errors.
  5. Link Analytics. Show how visitors interact with links, where they hover and for how long.
  6. Campaign Tracking. See how visitors who come from your marketing campaigns behave.

PeC: Proponents of Google Analytics say that it tracks pay-per-click ads in Google well and that other analytics providers do not. Is this true?

Schwartz: Google created the AdWords pay-per-click service, and it definitely does a good job at tracking click-throughs and conversions. But Google can only tell you how many people came to your site from each ad campaign and whether they converted, not what they did on your site when they got there.

PeC: Got it. To wrap up, should an ecommerce merchant use Google Analytics?

Schwartz: Yes. We recommend that ecommerce merchants use Google Analytics in conjunction with ClickTale. Google Analytics provides important quantitative data about a merchant’s traffic, while ClickTale provides qualitative data and powerful drill-down capabilities that enable merchants to figure out exactly what users are doing inside their webpages.

Practical Ecommerce

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Comments ( 6 )

  1. Michael J. Kaye October 19, 2009 Reply

    I tend to agree with some of his thoughts on Google Analytics, but keep in mind that this is the CEO of a competing service talking…

  2. Tag44 October 20, 2009 Reply

    Nice post, thanks for sharing the resourceful information here, even i thought that Google Analytics are not accurate.

  3. LC7 October 22, 2009 Reply

    We use ClickTale and highly recommend it for not only ecommerce but lead generation sites. We had a case where a small minority of customers were having issues on the final checkout page. With ClickTale, we were able to track down the issue using the playback of the customers browsing session, and discover that they were using multiple browser tabs, and adding products in one tab (on a secure site) but not adding them in another tab (on an insecure site). We are even able to track individual users using their IP address (which you can’t do in Google Analytics).

    If you are serious about increasing conversion and streamlining your site navigation, this system is mandatory!

  4. Mark Simon October 22, 2009 Reply

    The playback is very cool but be careful and monitor your website performance. ClickTale can kill your page load time / website performance because it records the visitor session.

    I believe you can set it to only a percentage of visitors, but then that percentage of visitors is not getting the same experience since load time is probably different.

  5. dmonteverdi October 22, 2009 Reply

    A very misleading headline by an ill-informed author. Out-of-the-box time-related metrics for EVERY web analytics service provider are flawed and should only be used directionally unless a specific customization has been implemented.

    Instead of highlighting a common flaw, the author should have focused on providing more info about ClickTale’s unique value to businesses.

  6. dxearner2004 November 11, 2009 Reply

    I have used ClickTale and think it is a valuable service, but this stance turns me off. First and foremost, ClickTale will never replace the depth and analytic reporting options that Google Analytics offers. It is a great compliment however it is not even close. In addition, the reports they tout in this article are not even downloadable to put in report form.

    Second, the fact that Google Analytics cannot tell you what Adwords traffic does on the site is completely FALSE. With about 23 seconds of work you can setup a custom segment, and see exactly what they are doing. Speaking of segmentation, that is something ClickTale does not do.

    This isnt an attempt at ClickTale bashing, as again I use the product. But every product has its quirks. This tactic to get attention leaves a bad taste especially with misleading statements.