I’ve harped on plenty about the importance of getting some sort of analytics installed on all of your web properties. And I’m an unashamed fan of Google Analytics because it’s quick to set-up, boasts powerful reporting, and is drop-dead easy to use. Ah yes, it’s also free. Unfortunately I come into regular contact with businesses that are paying significant money for their Google Analytics set-up, reporting or ‘maintenance plans’. I have no issue with agencies charging fair market prices for their services, including a premium for their IP that comes from years of experience in the game; I do however have a problem when an unfair advantage is taken.
Asymmetric information is the cornerstone of many service business models – if I know something you don’t, but you need something done requiring my knowledge, then I can charge you for it. But because online marketing and social media are such new business disciplines it’s too easy (and tempting) for agencies to position very simple work as being more complex, expensive or time consuming than it really is.
Here are some of the common ways which simple tasks around Google Analytics are being manipulated:
Being Charged to Set Google Analytics Up
As I’ve said, it’s a free service from Google and takes no more than a few minutes to follow an online bouncing-ball registration process. Even if it took a full five minutes, I find it hard to believe that an agency could include that as a line item expense (and keep a straight face).
Being Charged to have Google Analytics Installed
Most modern websites use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) – drop Google’s analytics tracking code in once and it automatically propagates through to every present and future website page. Another five minute job.
For websites requiring a manual page-by-page insertion of tracking code, the usual hourly fee would reasonably apply. There are also instances where the tracking code needs to be altered to perform non-vanilla functions – the client will need to pay something for this.
Being Charged for Google Analytics Reporting
The Google Analytics auto-reporting feature is quick and easy to activate. Reporting data can be exported in a range of formats – including PDF, Excel & XML – and be pre-set to auto-generate as an email attachment to one or more addresses every day, weekly, monthly or quarterly.
There are two main variations of agency money-for-nothing Google Analytics reporting – 1. the agency simply forwards an automatically generated colour PDF report onto the client, or 2. the agency exports their client’s raw data and pumps it through an overlay of their own branded graphs, charts and lists (typically an intern or a junior gets this very boring job).
Agencies are perfectly entitled to charge their clients for reporting, but it should be for sales and marketing insights drawn from the data, and come with recommendations or action based options. After all, data in its own right is of limited value to anyone. On rare occasions I’ve seen agencies churn out some pretty good segment level custom reporting – a solid value-add that can and should attract a client fee.
The Agency Holds Their Client’s Google Analytics Account to Ransom
If an agency has set up a Google Analytics account for their client – and we know they didn’t pay Google any money for this – then as far as I’m concerned, it’s the client’s account and not theirs.
I’ve seen agencies refuse to give their clients direct access to the own analytics accounts and data – can you believe? I’ve also seen instances where a client is told that if they leave the agency, their Google Analytics account will have to be closed down, i.e. they will forever be denied access to their own website data. This forces the client to go through the set-up process again and get new tracking code reinstalled. And they loose all of their historical data. Talk about mean spirited.
Betting on Dumber
Seth Godin’s blog post, Betting on smarter (or betting on dumber) talks directly to the issue of agencies and individuals who are making a (healthy) living by exploiting the ignorance of others:
“Marketers fall into one of two categories: A few benefit when they make their customers smarter. The more the people they sell to know, the more informed, inquisitive, free-thinking and alert they are, the better they do.
And most benefit when they work to make their customers dumber. The less they know about options, the easier they are to manipulate, the more helpless they are, the better they do. Their perfect customer is someone in a hurry, with plenty of money and not a lot of knowledge about their options.”
Setting up your own Google Analytics account
A recommended analytics guide: Web Analytics 2.0 by Avinash Kaushik