Stop giving web analytics tools the credit YOU deserve

So, another day, another bunch of tweets about paid vs. free analytics tools.

I’ve been wanting to weigh in on this for some time now, but it’s always been a struggle to not come across as a defender of free tools or sound like I’m coming down on paid tools. The truth is, I love both. A lot. But here’s the real truth.

I am awesome. My tools may be awesome, too. But I AM WAY AWESOMER.

And so are you.

The best nailgun in the world cannot build a house. The best fry pan in the world cannot cook dinner. The best web analytics tool in the world can’t do anything without a great person behind the wheel. And I don’t mean a super smart uber geek who knows all of the ins and outs of the tool. Engineers and mechanics make terrible race car drivers because they’re overly obsessed with camber and timing belts when they should be focused on the fact they’re in last place. I think we may be doing the same.

All of this business about paid tools vs free tools, and dare I say the whole concept of #measure, all boils down to the fact that today, we are a tool-centric industry, often to the detriment of being an expert-centric industry. Yes, we do have some incredible experts, but I’m going to be so bold to say that we have far more engineers and mechanics than we have race car drivers. We are mired in the details, and often have a hard time translating our micro efforts into macro concepts for the business to chew on. Some analysts break this mold. But many don’t. Especially those who assume that the tools indicate anything about intent, sophistication, capability or intelligence of the user. If you think the tool makes the man, you need to do a lot more reading about successful businesspeople.

It’s time

It’s time for us to own the data as if it came from us, not a tool. It’s time to own the insight as if it came from us; not the tool. And it’s time to own the action that resulted from that insight, not give the credit to other specialists and the tools. What we do as businesspeople is not about tools. It’s about action. Action was born out of insight. Insight was born out of data. Data was born out of the tools. Celebrating the tools is like celebrating smelting for the quality of your meal because the meal came from a chef who used a pan that came from an iron ore deposit deep in some mine somewhere.

WE need to be what’s important about this industry. Don’t you think it’s funny that we market ourselves as #measure, and the tools market themselves as business value / ROI? Seems about as backwards as possible to me.

This is not a brow beating. This is me saying wake up to who you already are. You are an incredibly intelligent change agent. You are a logical decision maker. You are someone who believes in helping the consumer and improving your ability to meet their needs. And you are someone who can defend your creativity and business urges with consumer-created data. You are one of the single most valuable people in your entire company.

Don’t give that away to some tool.

Some facts to ponder:

  1. Google Analytics is NOT free. It is paid for by billions of ad dollars, and is created and improved by some of the most brilliant software engineers in the world. GA is a strategic move to help advertisers better understand their ROI, make changes, and drive growth in their ad budgets. As such, it’s an incredibly sophisticated tool, and in many ways (like OS X, for example), is a decade ahead of the more expensive competition. Some of these differences are difficult to tell (the superiority of the infrastructure) at face value, but will reveal themselves as improvements roll out more quickly, more modularly, and with better UI and performance than paid competitors, which has already happened with superior UIs and processing time for segmentation, custom reporting, and [straightforward] predictive modeling capabilities.
  2. There are some significant features of the paid tools that are simply not possible with Google Analytics and other tools (like modifying attribution rules, for example). You should be aware of exactly what these are, and if your business demands it, you should make the appropriate decision.
  3. Web analytics tools are not where our suite of tools ends. Let’s move the conversation toward supplementary tools, technologies, and methods, and how those can round out our understanding and ability to react to consumer behavior more purposefully and quickly. With most site changes taking weeks or months to complete, the conversation needs to turn to things that improve our ability to act and react, and away from technology that has oftentimes slowed us down.

2 Trackbacks

  1. […] been loving the comments Ned and I have been going back and forth on and decided that a comic would help explain the core concepts we are […]

  2. By Reading Atlanta Analytics | panictank on August 29, 2012 at 7:30 am

    […] Reading Atlanta Analytics Posted on August 29, 2012 by tst All of this business about paid tools vs free tools, and dare I say the whole concept of #measure, all boils down to the fact that today, we are a tool-centric industry, often to the detriment of being an expert-centric industry. — Stop giving web analytics tools the credit YOU deserve […]


  1. Ned Kumar

    Hi Evan,
    I agree that the tools by themselves cannot come up with explosive insights. Neither do I think people by themselves are “awesomer” than tools in producing these insights (especially in today’s social world where we are drowning in an exaflood of data). To me this is one of those situations where the proposition 2+2 > 4 is true. The advancement of our industry/community will depend on how we structure & shape the symbiotic relationship between man & the machine vis-a-vis web analytics.


    Posted March 24, 2011 at 10:42 pm | Permalink
  2. Well, I didn’t think I’d ever say this, but I have to disagree with Ned!!! I think people are always and always will be awesomer than tools, and can still learn things, gain insight, and drive action with or without the tools. They help (tools provide mechanical advantage), but they do not, on their own, produce.

    That’s just my opinion, but I think if we look elsewhere, we see that system-wide, those with a skill can use that skill with or without their tools to differentiate themselves from others:

    A craftsman will make a better palm tree hut on Survivor than a lay person.
    Someone who knows the market will do better without intricate investment data or tools.
    A chef will make a better PB&J sandwich than most people.

    In each and every case in humanity, tools do amplify the skill far beyond what the person is capable of without the tool, but our reverence needs to be for us, the practitioners. Not for the tools. I think it’s easy to get excited about a tool that enables us to do more things or better things, but we need to make sure that we remain the focus, not idolize the tools.

    As for the future, I think that the more we emphasize the people, the more we will demand from our tools, forcing them to be better at a faster pace.

    Posted March 28, 2011 at 10:27 am | Permalink
  3. Ned Kumar

    LOL – had to happen sometime, and I would rather you disagree with me here 🙂

    But seriously, I am not saying we worship tools. Quite the contrary, tools are just that – tools. However, yes – I would definitely not agree to the blanket statement that “people are always and always will be awesomer than tools …and can drive action with or without the tools”.

    Also, in your comment I think you are mixing two different topics. Can a person with skill do better than a lay person with or without tools? The answer is yes in most cases (you will find cases where the lay person is amazingly creative and may beat the skilled person without tools).

    But I thought the question we are trying to answer is not about skilled vs non-skilled but (skilled or non-skilled) with tools and without tools. It is my hypothesis and am willing to bet my money on it that the output of a skilled person with tools will be better than the output from that same person without any access to tools.

    Taking your example – A craftsman will make a better palm tree hut on Survivor than a lay person – Absolutely. But I bet a craftsman with the right tools will make an even better palm tree hut than a craftsman with no tools.

    Agree that a chef might make better PB&J sandwich…but I would like to see that chef tackle a side of beef weight > 500lbs without any tools.

    The point I am trying to make is that while tools should never be the highlight of analysis (people should be), it is unwise to discard it. On the contrary, we should use our intellect (the very thing that makes us superior to tools) and use the tools as our slaves to do the heavy work.


    Posted March 28, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  4. Love it!

    Haha, you must have some experience with beef sides if you know their weight 🙂

    I think we’re in agreement that people with tools will always be more enabled than the same person without tools. Where the gray area exists is between skilled people working with less compared to unskilled people working with great tools. I may be so bold to say that I’d rather have the skilled person working with less. The craftsman may indeed do a better job with the palm fronds than I would do with a truckload of lumber and a nailgun.

    Companies think that by buying Foresee or tealeaf, they will be better off. I think that the same money spent on smart businesspeople will go much farther with the existing suite of tools because 90% of the juice is still left in the fruit they have already harvested. Then, once we have squeezed 80% of the juice out (in keeping with 80/20), there is probably a greater marginal return in adding to / enhancing the tool suite vs. spending the disproportionate effort required to get the last 20% out of the existing tool set. And the benefit of investing in these tools NOW as opposed to before is we know what 80/20 looks like!

    In essence, what I’m saying is that we tend to look to the tools a lot of the time, and the argument is particularly strong around GA vs. OMTR SC. 99% of SC users aren’t getting 10% of the juice SC provides them, and they could often get 75% of the insight SC could drive with a “free” tool like GA in the first place. Many people misguidedly assume that GA is about cost savings or lack of sophistication (see the linked tweet), which couldn’t be further from the truth.

    So….I guess we sorta agree? 🙂

    Posted March 28, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Permalink
  5. Ned Kumar

    People need to focus on learning and skills first before they wield any tool. Martial arts is a great example/analogy. A person is not even allowed to touch any weapons (tools) till they reach a certain level (green/blue belt as the case may be). All the focus in the initial stages is to get the skills and kathas (detailed patterns of movements) right. Only when they have mastered these basic blocks, punches, and stances are they allowed to progress to the stage where they may start with weapons. And even then they start with the basic (staff) and then move on to the more complex ones.

    So should be the case with WA. I agree with you that a novice should never be thrust forward to become “expert” in the web analytics tools till he./she has the foundational elements correct.

    I think we are finally getting there on the agreement part 🙂

    Posted March 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm | Permalink
  6. Ned Kumar

    Btw, liked your comic :-). And it supports both our arguments.

    The key with skilled Ninjas is the fact that they can take even a banana and turn it into a weapon. To that point you are right that I would rather have a ninja with a banana on my side than a dumb ass with a katana.

    But if I am faced with the choice of picking a ninja with a katana or a ninja with a banana, you know which one I am going to pick 🙂

    Posted March 28, 2011 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

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