More than six weeks after renaming and upgrading its Web analytics service and cutting its price to zero, Google Inc. continues to labor to make it meet the expectations of the company and of users.
On Nov. 14, Google festively announced that it had improved its Urchin on Demand service, renamed it Google Analytics and made the previously US$199-per-month service a freebie.
However, the service’s ballyhooed launch as a free offering ended badly. Overwhelming demand created serious performance and availability problems which angered users and forced Google to suspend sign-ups.
The company said at the time that it would resume accepting new users “very shortly.” That was in mid-November. Google Analytics remains closed to new clients.
Why? Google is still adding computing capacity to the Google Analytics platform, to make sure it doesn’t again buckle under the demand from new users.
This week, a Google official declined to even give a ballpark estimate of when Google will resume sign-ups for the service, saying only that he expects that to happen “soon,” at some point before mid-year.
“We’re increasing capacity to add more customers as quickly as we can. We want to make sure every customer that comes on has an ideal experience, so we’re working hard on the capacity issue,” said Richard Holden, Google Analytics’ director of product management, on Tuesday.
While prospective users remain locked out, existing users have faced lingering issues and inconveniences.
For example, a restriction on the number of Web sites that existing customers can track has been lifted progressively over the past several weeks, and by Tuesday it had been removed for all users, according to Google.
Meanwhile, the freshness of reporting data has also improved progressively, so that users can receive reports several times per day instead of once every two days, as was the case back in November.
“Yes, reporting time has lagged since it was launched as free service, but it’s getting better, noticeably faster. There were points when it was taking a day or two to get caught up and now you see reports updated a couple of times a day,” said Caleb Whitmore, manager of search marketing and Web analytics at POP, a Web site design and hosting firm.
POP, based in Seattle, began using Google Analytics about five months ago to provide traffic analysis services to its clients. Google Analytics monitors Web site visits and can be used to track, for example, the effectiveness of online marketing campaigns and to determine how to modify Web pages to improve sales conversions.
Others are hoping that in addition to boosting the computing backbone, Google will also beef up its customer service staff. Jeremiah Foster signed up for Google Analytics when it was launched as a free service and has been impressed with its quality but not with its customer service, which he called “somewhat disappointing” in an e-mail interview.
“I think Google has never wanted, nor been forced, to supply customer service,” wrote Foster, who uses Google Analytics to track usage of five Web sites, including the one from his company, a free software consultancy called DevModul and based in Sweden. “They don’t do a good job customer service-wise.”
Jupiter Research analyst Eric Peterson says that right now customer support is a big issue affecting Google Analytics, after the stampede of new users joined back in November. “The major problem people are having is the one we predicted all along: that it’s not very well supported,” he said.
Currently, Google Analytics provides a free help center and e-mail support to all users via this Web site, which is staffed by a team of specialists. More free resources are available at Google.
Meanwhile, Google Analytics users who are also large advertisers in Google’s AdWords program can get free support directly from their Google account teams, which are trained on Google Analytics, according to the Mountain View, California, company.
Finally, Google also has a stable of trained third-party partners that can provide consulting and support for a fee. A list of those partners can be found at the Google site.
But ultimately, if a customer isn’t getting a prompt answer to a support question “then we’re not happy about that obviously,” Google’s Holden said.
Google should also continue improving the Google Analytics features. For example, POP’s Whitmore is currently looking to offer another Web analytics service to clients for whom Google Analytics isn’t sophisticated enough.
“Google Analytics is a fantastic product, but it isn’t top end. It’s good but it isn’t the best analytics solution out there,” Whitmore said. “Some of our clients do very well using Google Analytics but others need a more sophisticated solution, so that’s why we’re looking at other providers.”
By Juan Carlos Perez – IDG News Service (Miami Bureau)