Google Upsides and History
All the way back in 2005, Google acquired now defunct Urchin’s analytics platform and positioned it front and center as its primary means for marketers to keep tabs on where their website visitors were coming from and how they interacted with a given site once they arrived.
Since that time, it has unquestioningly cemented its position as the “go to” analytical platform — it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to say that Google Analytics (GA) has become to its core purpose what Xerox is to copy machines and Coca Cola is to sodas. The fact that its predominant version has been offered at no charge for all this time has no doubt been a key element in its popularity — who doesn’t love “free”, after all? — but Google Analytics has also benefited from a series of upgrades over the years to keep it not only viable, but acceptably vital.
Nonetheless, GA does exhibit some shortcomings that have opened the door of opportunity for competitors like Heap to step through and offer their solution, so this begs the question — in a face-to-face digital battle between Heap Analytics and Google Analytics, who wins?
As it turns out, declaring an outright winner really isn’t all that easy, as both Google Analytics and Heap Analytics have their pluses and minuses that make them a rock-solid choice for some users, while rendering them considerably less optimal for others.
Google Analytics — Still By Far the Dominant Analytics Solution
Don’t let GA’s long-standing tenure at the top of its space fool you. It’s still a very effective tool for marketers to keep track of what often matters most. For most of those marketers, this includes metrics like traffic sources, audience demographics, page views, dwell time and more.
Further, despite its tool commonly being perceived as the only game in town during much of its lifetime — or at least close to it — Google hasn’t been content to let GA languish into mediocrity. It has received quite a number of upgrades over the years to keep it on pace with the more “boutique” analytics solutions that have been introduced since its debut.
While webmasters often bemoan the changes a company makes to its digital products —although Google may not always be particularly sensitive to user sentiment — it seems beyond question that the present version of Google Analytics is also its most evolved and capable version. The platform features plenty of potential integrations, not just with Google products, but with top-tier players like WordPress, Salesforce, Shopify and much more.
It’s a solid tool for keeping tabs on pageview data, traffic attribution, user habits and a number of metrics that are pivotal to the customer journey and, when it’s properly armed with the proper array of those aforementioned integrations, is also very helpful in measuring a company’s social media presence and effectiveness. Of course, it’s also hard to argue with the price — most users do gravitate toward the Google Analytics free version, after all.
Nonetheless, the platform isn’t without its vulnerabilities and shortcomings. Let’s have a look at some of those.
Some of Google Analytics’ Downsides
Warranted or not, GA’s substantial tenure is near the top of its perceived weaknesses — apparently even to Google itself. More than a decade and a half as the offered analytics solution positions Google Analytics as the undisputed OG of its niche, but that title comes with some drawbacks. Perceived obsolescence may be one of them — even with the upgrades GA has benefited from. There have been many shifts in the landscape during GA’s tenure, most recently including the advent of user-friendly machine learning that can be implemented without enlisting an army of IT specialists to do so.
In this regard, GA hasn’t really stayed on pace. There’s plenty of conjecture that there will come a time when Google benches its popular analytics offering in favor of GA4, which was officially launched about a year and a half ago and features a notable emphasis on machine learning to create more predictive behavioral results.
When that time does come — and it’s more a matter of “when” than “if”— GA users are likely to come face to face with still another perceived shortcoming that has plagued the platform.
If Google’s updates to GA have resulted in a substantial amount of lost data — and there are a lot of user complaints that it has — one can only imagine what might happen to that data if GA is scrapped altogether. This is why a lot of analytics professionals recommend that you start running Google Analytics and GA4 side by side, so that you’ll have a relatively uninterrupted stream of data to analyze when that transition occurs.
In addition, the notion that consumer privacy takes a backseat on Google’s priority list has also been a concern. Retargeting can be a very effective advertising strategy, but when it becomes so pervasive that consumers begin to feel that each of their search queries results in a barrage of ads from the online destination they just left, it can be off-putting. In consumers’ minds, it also conjures up the image of a direct data “super-highway” between Google’s analytics and AdWords departments. That image is unquestioningly accurate, but consumers don’t necessarily want to be reminded about it.
Another potential vulnerability lies in the area of accuracy. Some of GA’s data is based on approximations and it’s not all that difficult to skew the numbers through internal results, as can be the case when a large company staff repeatedly accesses its website.
Lastly, while Google Analytics has improved considerably in charting consumer behavior on a website, there’s still a widespread perception that it’s centered more on WHO is coming to a website — their demographic information, what device they use, etc. — as opposed to providing a more detailed accounting of what they are doing once they arrive.
Heap Analytics — A Better Analytics Solution?
Created by Stanford University classmates Matin Movassate and Ravi Parikh in 2013, San Francisco-based Heap’s analytics solution was created with a more specific focus than that of Google Analytics. That purpose centers on ferreting out a company’s digital pain points by collection data on what its customers do once on they arrive on its website — not just what device they are using and where they came from, but also what buttons and links they’re clicking on, where they navigate to on the site and other related behaviors.
In doing so, Heap provides a comprehensive view of customer behavior that dives far deeper than traffic sources, page views and session counts. Those clicks and swipes tell a very clear story of what is working on a site and what isn’t.
Heap Analytics may seem like a more evolved approach to analyzing and developing a clearer narrative of customer and prospect behavior — and in many respects it is. But its enhanced abilities also come with a relative ease of use. The platform was originally geared to analytics professionals and digital proprietors with less than top-tier tech skills and it has kept its focus over the years.
Once it does, Heap automatically compiles an impressive assortment of data, including those aforementioned clicks, swipes, page views and taps, all in one place. From there, you can create individual “events” to focus on the metrics you determine to be most important. No coding or tracking code is needed.
You can customize dashboards, trendlines and other means of analysis easily, while closely tracking the customer journey. Because of its emphasis on tracking and increasing customer engagement, it’s easy to see where Heap Analytics would be especially helpful for ecommerce activities, where fixing bottlenecks can result in a substantially increased bottom line. Just improving the user experience while interacting with a single button on a heavily trafficked website will often pay huge dividends. Not surprisingly, Heap features Shopify and Stripe among its featured integrations, which also include HubSpot, Mailchimp and quite a number of others.
Easily organized, this collective data funnel will show how a company’s online users navigate through a multi-step process while highlighting areas of potential improvement. For example, in analyzing a customer signup flow, determining that there’s a point in the process where customers are consistently leaving the site altogether might indicate a lack of clarity in what is expected from them, or it might also suggest that those same customers have begun to view the signup process as being too cumbersome. Heap Analytics will also allow you to compare this conversion data across devices to determine whether your mobile customers are faring better than their laptop counterparts.
Some of Heap Analytics’ Downsides
First and foremost on this list would have to be Heap Analytics’ price, which will represent a substantial financial outlay for many small to medium-sized companies — especially if those companies don’t have a strong ecommerce emphasis. Heap’s lowest tiered paid plan starts at $3600 per year and the cost climbs from there to access the company’s Pro and Premier levels, both of which are designed for larger analytics teams.
At this point, you might ask whether it’s fair to compare Google Analytics, which can be accessed free of charge, to any of Heap’s paid plans. In most cases, this wouldn’t be a fair comparison, but this side by side happens to be somewhat of an outlier.
Heap does have a free plan and if you’re a relatively small business with the need to focus on only one project (website) and you’ll never have the need to create a “dummy” project to test its compatibility with various apps down the line, you may just be fine with it. It does offer a more limited version of the same “auto capturing” ability found in Heap’s paid plans, for example.
Google also has an offering at the upper end of the pricing spectrum — Google Analytics 360, but it’s beyond the financial reach of most companies. It includes guaranteed data freshness and an impressive 99.9% uptime, but also comes with a price tag of $12,500 per month.
In most other respects, those analytics pros that are set on using a free platform almost invariably find Google Analytics to be more useful in real life situations. If you’re tasked with monitoring and analyzing multiple websites, for example, there’s a clear distinction, as GA can easily be configured to perform this function.
Also, Heap Analytics captures so much automatically but it’s up to you to decide what to focus on via the creation of “events”, so you might miss out on key data — at least temporarily. Make no mistake, the data will always be there, but if you don’t conceptualize and organize your metrics properly you might not see it.
Lastly, while Heap Analytics does incorporate elements of machine learning to provide insights of predictive user behavior, it isn’t at a top of the class level — at least it’s not yet on a par with the GA4 platform that Google is currently emphasizing and will likely migrate its users to — whether that transition comes willingly or not.
Google Analytics vs. Heap Analytics – the Conclusion
It all really comes down to priorities and financial resources. If you happen to be an e-commerce-focused company with the necessary financial resources, Heap Analytics offers some pretty tempting advantages over its Google counterpart. The ability to view the customer journey in an easy to interpret, linear manner can be very valuable. As we noted, just optimizing a single point of website engagement — a “buy now” or signup button, for example — will often have a huge impact on the bottom line.
By contrast, if e-commerce isn’t an emphasis for your company and identifying traffic sources and other tried and true metrics is at the top of your list of priorities, then Google Analytics will likely be a prudent choice — especially considering the constraints surrounding Heap Analytics’ free version.
For those of you who have either already made your choice of analytics platforms, or plan on doing so in the near future, we’d love to hear from you. Which option are you considering — even if it isn’t Google Analytics or Heap Analytics?