The other day I got one of those automatically generated emails that Web services send out. This one was from Google Analytics, and it was related to a profile attached to one of my new clients. The account had just been deleted by one of the other administrators.
After a short bit of research I discovered that the administrator who deleted the account did not work for the client — the administrator was the client’s Web developer.
I contacted the Web developer to see what was up. It turns out it was a mistake. You see, for the standard package of Google Analytics there is a limit to the number of profiles you can have.
The Web developer needed more profiles and my client’s profile wasn’t an active one. The Web developer didn’t realize that by deleting the profile it would effectively erase the analytics data — it was a mistake.
The result: All of the data about Web traffic to the client’s site is lost: which keywords drove people to the site, which ad campaigns worked, which times of year traffic was highest, which regions of the country sent the most traffic, and which site content tended to get more people to contact the client.
There are several lessons to be learned in this.
1. Website owners: Don’t use your data gathering/reporting tool to store valuable information. Just because you use a tool like Google Analytics to gather Web traffic data and make nice reports doesn’t mean that you should keep all of your data with Google Analytics. Services go down, people make mistakes, and terms and conditions change.
If data is important and useful for you then keep it in formats and locations that you control.
In the case outlined at the beginning of this column, I had completed a first-pass report and review on several important metrics for the client before the data was deleted.
This means there was some useful information retained in terms of action steps and reasoning behind those action steps.
But it was just a first pass — there are a lot of potential insights that are lost because there was no regular reporting occurring. Had there been some reports on key metrics at regular intervals, over time the loss would be less severe.
2. Web developers: Don’t use your own Google Analytics account to make profiles for your customers. When you use your own account, you will eventually run into the hassle of running into limits on the number of profiles you can have. At that point you will be faced with an unpleasant migration, being forced to make additional Google Analytics accounts, which in turn will run into their limits or perhaps necessitate the purchase of an Enterprise account.
None of those options are any fun.
But I also understand why you would rather just attach the Google Analytics to your own account: It can be complicated, hard and scary for a client to create their own Google Analytics account. This is especially true if the client doesn’t already have their own account.
But as complicated as it may seem, walking your customers through the four screens necessary to set up a Google Analytics account is much much less complicated than the alternatives outlined above.
Once the client has their own Google Analytics account, the client can then give you administrator privileges, and you’re good to go. There isn’t a limit on the number of accounts on which you can be an admin.
Now I’m sure there are some sneaky Web developers out there who are using control of the Google Analytics stuff as some sort of power charm to keep clients from leaving them. My guess is those kinds of Web developers don’t read this column.
But if they did, I would let them know that they are quite likely in violation of Google’s terms of service. One of the things any Web developer does not want to be is in violation of Google’s terms of service.
You see, when Google cooked up this complicated scheme of profiles and accounts, the purpose was to prevent website owners from being held hostage by Web developers.
You own the data associated with your Google Analytics account. The website developer is a third party and can only do things with the data at the consent of the website owner.
In the situation at the beginning of the column, the website owner did not agree to have their data deleted. But it was. And there isn’t an undo button for that.