There are two Google products for web analytics – Urchin Software and Google Analytics. Which one should you choose? This article describes what criteria to use for deciding between the two and is a follow up to my recent article “What is Urchin 6“.

As a general guide, Marketers prefer Google Analytics, IT departments prefer Urchin

This statement is reflected in the user-base for each product. Urchin is mainly used for measuring intranets (an area of the business that Marketing is not involved in), and used by web-hosting providers where deployment scalability for a large number of websites is important.

On the other hand, Google Analytics, apart from being a free service (Urchin requires a purchased license), is used by organizations that wish to have greater control of their individual web analytics implementation.

Those are not mutually exclusive rules or requirements, so lets look at some criteria.

When GA is the best fit

Select Google Analytics if you are measuring the success (or not) of your website, its ability to convert, and the effectiveness of online marketing. Google Analytics is much easier to implement, has stronger AdWords integration, and by comparison is maintenance free. Site overlay and internal site-search reports are only available in GA.

Google Analytics also has AdSense integration, which Urchin does not, and has the greatest potential for other Google product integrations. This is because Google Analytics is SaaS (Software as a Service) solution running on the Google network. Essentially, it is much, much easier for a vendor to integrate data within its own network, rather than an external stand-alone system.

These are key reasons why marketers love Google Analytics.

When Urchin is the best fit

Select Urchin if:

  • You have an intranet site behind a firewall that blocks internet activity. Google Analytics is a hosted solution that needs access to the internet in order to work.
  • You are unable to tag your pages*.
  • You are a hosting provider wishing to offer visitor reports to thousands of customers. Urchin has a command-line interface that can be scripted to create and modify multiple website reports at once. That is, Urchin has greater flexibility when it comes to large-scale, multi-user deployments.
  • You wish to track individual visitors (anonymously). Google Analytics does not track individuals as it is against Google’s privacy policy. Hence GA data is both anonymous and aggregate.
*Note: Some third-party hardware solutions can automatically insert Google Analytics page tags for you on the fly, that is, as the page is requested from your web server. They achieve this by using proxy servers that sit within your network (in front of your web server) and insert the code for you. See, for example, www.click-stream.com, www.coradiant.com.

When you need both

Select both if you need the flexibility of maintaining your own visitor data, for example, for third-party auditing purposes. Combining Google Analytics with Urchin Software gives you the best of both worlds—the advanced features of Google Analytics (free) and the flexibility of Urchin (data control). This article: Backup your Google Analytics data and use Urchin describes how you can configure your page tags to stream data both to Google Analytics and Urchin simultaneously.

Recommendations

My recommendation is to use Google Analytics wherever possible. It is easier to implement, has a slicker user interface (with best-in-class geomap overlay reports), and is primarily aimed at Digital Marketers. Urchin Software should be used where there is a specific technical need that Google Analytics cannot fulfill. Urchin currently lacks some marketing features that GA has, though it can track individual visitors anonymously. if you can, use both tools.

Are you considering the merits of Urchin v GA? Please add your thoughts with a comment.