incomparable1A frequent query I get via email is to recommend a web analytics tool. Something like: “is Omniture better than WebTrends” or “would you recommend CoreMetrics or WebSideStory” or “is Visual Sciences worth its cost” or ….. you get the idea.

I rarely recommend a specific tool in reply to emails from readers (see Disclaimers & Disclosures), I usually reply back with things to consider when selecting a tool. I recommend these posts:

But the other day I got this very interesting email: 

As I am fairly new to reading posts and I am spending a lot of time off work to find solutions I was wondering if you have ever done any comparison on the different tools out there? Webtrends vs Omniture vs HBX and so on? If so can you point me to some good comparisons?

I am able find a lot of information on all the products but no true comparisons. Not sure if this information is in your book but I will be picking that up this week so I will see then

The nuance on looking for comparisons was interesting and also that the reader had already looked and not found anything really helpful.

planets size comparisonI am afraid that in my reply I could not point to any comparisons that might be really helpful. I have of course read loads of ‘em from individuals and agencies and consulting companies and industry Analysts.  But either the quality is uncertain or the author’s experience with real world needs / implementation / uses is sorely lacking.

What is available is well meaning but rarely will it give you, as the reader put it, true comparison. Lots of check boxes where X tool meets Y criteria or not compared to its competitors, but enough to give you confidence to really choose? Not really.

Buying a web analytics tool is like buying a car, you can do all the research on the web you want but you have to get your butt into the seat of a real car and take it for a test drive and see how you feel about it. Press the buttons, get a sense for how your hands feel on the jamie test drivesteering wheel, what happens when you take quick turns or go over pot holes on the road. Then you start to get a real idea of what the difference is between a Saturn Ion and Toyota Matrix.

Each web organization is unique when it comes to its culture, existing systems, IT skills and infrastructure, the need for reporting or analysis etc (even if different organizations are in exactly the same line of business). What works in your favor is that in our world you don’t have to take the tools you want to compare for a 30 min test drive. Any vendor, especially one that wants your business, will let you implement their tool on your site for free for a few weeks and take it for a spin. 

Bottom-line: If you want to pick the right tool for your company you’ll have to actually try a couple in real life on your real site before you can decide which one is optimal for you.

If you do decide that you are going to choose a tool not based on a read-only (or worse Vendor Marketing VP PowerPoint presentation) then here is something to make your process less painful: Pick one tool from each of the three buckets below to ensure you get the broadest exposure to what is possible.

  • Bucket One : Omniture, HBX (WebSideStory), WebTrends, CoreMetrics.

  • Bucket Two : ClickTracks, IndexTools, Unica NetInsight.

  • Bucket Three : Google Analytics, Microsoft Gatineau.

Rather than choosing from tools that will give you kinda – sorta the same kinds of features or functionality the bucketing recommended above will ensure that you makeBuckets the most optimal decision from a diverse set of choices.

I find that very often people choose from tools that are very similar and ultimately their final choice is not the best. Every once in a while you need a Ralph Nader in the mix!

Important: There is no implication in terms of features or greatness or price etc in the bucketing system. 75% of what you’ll need is actually present in any tool in any bucket. The reason each tool ended up in its bucket is because that bucket offers something compelling and different.

Bucket One “What’s Unique About Me” Sound bites:

    Omniture will literally do anything you want it to do with a ever expanding set of features, HBX is your friend if your company’s best friend is Excel, WebTrends is morphing into messaging itself as a customer insights company, CoreMetrics has a few unique features for retailers. These are tools that are often top of mind when people think of web analytics. Each does something better than the other, but there is also a large overlap.

Bucket Two “What’s Unique About Me” Sound bites:

    If you want to do real post facto analysis then ClickTracks will shine, I wish a lot more people realized how awesome IndexTools’s custom reporting interface is (Ajax!!) and it comes at a great price, NetInsight integrates efficiently with your online and offline campaigns. Each of these tools provides a truly compelling alternative to bucket one and three.

Bucket Three “What’s Unique About Me” Sound bites: 

    Google Analytics brings 100% of the standard web analytics reports with integrated end to end adwords reporting, for free. Microsoft Gatineauwill join the group hug soon (Ian: we are all waiting with a bated breath!). Both of these tools will prove to you that you only have to pay if you can prove to yourself that your needs are complex enough to need something special.

[I am not including Visual Sciences in the mix above because it does stand by itself. It is a true analysis tool, that some might say is expensive (based on pricing shared by a competitor at Emetrics 2007 in London). But if you have true advanced Analyst skills to apply in your web organization, and support from your IT team for implementation, then then you’ll be able to glean far superior actionable insights.]

Summary: Compare by implementing. Learn by using. Identify the best cost – benefit choice by having atleast one tool from each of bucket above in your comparison.


I had written a post in September 2006 that lays out how you can choose the right tool for you. It recommends a linear process (start with a free tool, implement and learn, identify gaps, then go for comparing paid tools – ones in bucket one and two above).

Here is a recap of what was listed in that post:

    How to Choose a Web Analytics Tool: A Radical Alternative

      Step 0: Assign optimal ownership. (Day One)

      Step 1: Implement a web analytics solution. (Day Two)

      Step 2: Start using simple reports and process of creating a intelligent audience in your company. (Day Three)

      Step 3: Teach yourself the limitations of web analytics, tagging, numbers not matching, need to go redo your website IA / URL’s / ID’s / Cookies / data providing facilities. (Day 17)

      Step 4: IT “rules”! Cross your fingers, dive in. (Day 27)

      Step 5: Do a honest and deeply critical self review of where you are. (Day 57 or infinity)

      [Updated] Step 6: Pick one tool from bucket One and Two, above, and make a informed and intelligent the right tool for your company.

      Details of each step: Click Here.

See what I mean? Picking the right tool for you is harder than finding a wife / husband!!

Have web based or Analyst comparisons helped you choose the right tool? Do you agree with how each tool has been bucketed? No? Have a different soundbite for a tool? Please share your feedback, critique, expertise via comments.

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