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Google's Data Mine

Those of us who turned on Google Analytics yesterday can now see results and pretty charts. It's much too early for most of the information to mean anything. For example, I was momentarily shocked to see the "Returning visitors" percentage at a meager 5%. But then I realized that Google had only analyzed a little more than a day's worth of data, so of course that percentage would be low.

Other information does tell you a little more about the behavior of your visits. The "Content Summary" shows entrances and exits, which indicates how many people read one page and leave. If your traffic source is mostly people searching for a particular subject, your exit percentage (they call it the "bounce rate") is probably high, while if the source is RSS feeds or people coming directly to your index.html page, it will be lower.

Unless you have defined goals, the Marketing and Conversion reports won't have anything to tell you. A "goal" is a page you want people to reach. Google suggests that might be the "Thank you" page for a completed purchase, but if you are not selling anything, you might instead be interested in certain other pages, like your rates page if you are a consultant or service company. Just using your index.html page could be interesting if most of your traffic is search engine driven to inside pages.

There's a lot of valuable information here, but keep in mind that it's not just valuable to you. Google is giving all this disk space and processing power to you for free because it is even more valuable to them. Google sells advertising, and before Analytics knew quite a bit from their search engine traffic and their ads. Adding Analytics increases their knowledge many fold, and could both fill in gaps and add traffic data they never had before. It's really a gold mine for them that will let them do far more effective marketing. So while we all ooh and ahh over the reports and graphs, Google is quietly building an incredible pile of extremely valuable information.

Is there reason to be concerned about that? Remember, Google's "Do no evil" motto is just a motto. I can easily imagine that a very high percentage of web sites will be signing up for this even if they do worry a little bit about the massive power Google may gain from it. This could eventually mean vastly improved ad and search targeting, which is good for Google, good for the sites running Google ads and perhaps even good for the people who view the ads, but it's not good for Google's competition. This information could also be used to improve Google search accuracy, which means it could affect page rank and therefore have positive and negative affects on web sites. In other words, we are willingly giving Google data that gives them a new way to assess our worth. Of course that can be good or bad, but the point is that it's an awful lot of power moving toward one company.

I'm reminded of the old skits having the newscaster saying "I welcome our new alien overlords". Google isn't alien, but Google Analytics may put them very much in charge.

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