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, 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.

PEC Staff
PEC Staff
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