Is Your Business Analytics Yours? Probably Not. Here’s Why That’s A Bad Thing.

Is Your Business Analytics Yours? Probably Not. Here's Why That's A Bad Thing.

If you listen to our podcast – and you should – you know that one of our objectives is to give small and medium business owners a glimpse into the behind the scenes world of digital and online marketing in the hope that that knowledge will help them make better business and budgeting decisions.

As an example, we’re currently in the middle of a multi part series about a customer that had his web site unceremoniously shut down by his prior web developer. Why are we producing this series? Because it happens often enough to merit discussion. As it turns out, bad things happen, but more importantly bad things can be avoided.

Another example is the use of and availability of website analytics. Specifically Google Analytics. This wonderful tool is powerful and free, but you may be surprised to know that it’s often not configured properly and as a result, you may not be getting the long term results that you want.

What follows is a letter I wrote to a client; let’s call her Mary of AcmeCorp. In it I outline the use of Google Analytics in a non technical way as we transition from her previous web developer to my marketing company.

Here’s the background: while transitioning from Mary’s old developer, we asked that developer to give us administrative access to Mary’s analytics so that we could transfer the account to her. What we found was that the developer had set up Mary’s analytics under his account. As a result, the data is technically his and not Mary’s.

I wanted to share this letter with you because it represents a common scenario that can be avoided.

Mary,

AcmeCorp needs to make a decision on how it wants to handle analytics moving forward.

First, let me explain how Google analytics works. Google Analytics has a two tier system that consists of “accounts” and “properties”. An account can have many properties.

For example, we have an account called “Rahvalor” which is our corporate business name. That account has the following properties:

  • Rahvalor Website
  • Web.Search.Social
  • The Marketing Game Changer Kit

I can transfer the “Rahvalor” account to another individual, but the properties are bound to the account and cannot be moved to a different account. In my example, while the Rahvalor account can change ownership, the property Marketing Game Changer Kit can never be taken out of the context of the Rahvalor account. This behavior is inherent in Google Analytics and cannot be changed.

For analytics to be set up properly, we set up each of our clients with their own account and that account then has one or more properties depending on what sites the client has. We don’t place their sites (properties) under our account because should they choose to move away from us, their property will forever be tied to our account.

One thing to note is that properties can have users attached. If we were to add a client as a property under our account, we could still give them access to view their analytics reports, but they would never be able to “own” that property. It would always be under our account.

This brings us to the challenge at hand.

Your prior marketing company set up an account that represents their business organization and set up your company as a property within their account. This means that while you can be set up as a user to view the property details and reports related to your website, the property will not be yours and will be tied to your prior vendor’s account until such time that Google decides to change this functionality in the software. This has been a feature request for many years and there is no expectation in the marketing community that this will happen soon.

The risk here is that should your prior marketing company go out of business, if you have a falling out or if they simply opt to delete your property because you are no longer working with them, you have no recourse to get access to that data. Put simply, your analytics for the past several years belongs to them, not you.

That leaves you with the following options:

Option #1

Leave the analytics as is. The pro is that you will continue to have access to that data both forwards and backwards in the same place. The con is that the data is not yours. You can be cut off from that property at any time.

Option #2

Start a new analytics account. The pro is that you will own your data moving forward and no third parties can cut you off. The con is that you will not have historical data in your account. You will still have access to your old property that your prior developer has granted, but only as long as they allow it.

My suggestion is as follows: Go with option #2.

My rationale is that your traffic level is currently very low. For us to move forward with your marketing, we will almost never reference your old data. If we do need to do that, we have read-only access to your prior analytics until such time that your prior developer revokes it. If your site had a higher level of traffic, there might be some debate here. But given where we are and where we want to go, I don’t see a reasonable cause for keeping the old analytics while balancing the risk of potentially losing them.

Please carefully consider this decision.

Mary considered my recommendation and opted to go with option #2. But your scenario may be different. If you have substantial traffic or you run ads or campaigns that require you to deeply analyze your analytics historically and you don’t own them, then that may be a recipe for disaster.

Your action item right now, is to contact whoever set up your analytics and find out how your data is set up and whether it can be easily transferred to you in the event of a catastrophe. That means the account should be yours and you should be named as an administrator on the account.

Needless to say, even if your developer manages your analytics, you should still have access to them. Too often, businesses rely on pre-rendered PDF reports provided by their developers. Let me put it bluntly, those PDF reports are useless. You gain no knowledge unless you can log into your analytics and shape the data in a manner that suits your needs. Its reasonably easy to do, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Ralph M. Rivera
Hi, I'm Ralph! I'm a web developer at Rahvalor Interactive, a creative marketing services company that I founded in 1999 with my wife and business partner Carol Lynn. In January 2012 we created Web.Search.Social as a branded service offering that brings enterprise-level services to small businesses in an affordable way. I'm also founder and CTO of Podcaster's Toolbox, a SaaS platform designed to help podcasters plan, produce and promote their shows. I teach web development at Manhattan College in New York City. Carol Lynn and I are home based near the Jersey shore but we're currently location independent and traveling the country for a year, working and podcasting. I'm also trying to build a flux capacitor, but that's not going as well as the other stuff I do.
Ralph M. Rivera
Ralph M. Rivera