I may be a bit late to the table on this but I thought I’d relate my experience shifting a few services over to Google.
Two months ago, awash in spam, seeing no end in sight, and having had about a year and a half of managing all my email twice (once on my iPhone and once on my desktop) I decided to give Google a shot. Google via Google Apps offers *domain name email services. Regardless of where your web site is hosted, you can run your domain name email through Google for free or for a small fee (the fee gets you better customer service and guaranteed service uptime.)
The advantages in doing this are numerous. First your email is via an IMAP service (as opposed to POP); this means that your email lives out there on Google’s servers. So, whenever you view it, delete it, move it around, or reply to it those changes are seen on every device you use to access it. Any changes you make only have to be done once. If you use multiple computers or a device like an iPhone then there is no more multiple management. Apple offers a similar service with its MobileMe email but they don’t offer it for domain name email.
The second advantage is that Google has some of the best spam filters ever invented. You don’t have to set anything and there is little to manage. They work, plain and simple. Who knows what they do but you got to love it. I get 150-300 spams per day and it is such a relief to no longer have it in my face. Once in a while a solitary spam may make it through the filter or once in a while legitimate email gets tagged as spam, but it’s rare.
Prior to this I had used Apple Mail’s spam detection and had set up many filters but it was never good enough. Spam in foreign languages always got through as did spam with no text but with image files attached and spam masquerading as email I had opted into.
*Domain Name email is email tied into your web site domain name. Email for www.mydomain.com would be email@example.com. Using domain name email for your business is a no brainer. It looks professional and it’s easy for clients to remember. To not use it in this web driven world is to do your business a disservice.
Google Analytics are web stats. To use the service you create a free account and then put a small bit of code on every web page that you want to track. This is easier than it sounds and works well for web sites and blogs. Most web site hosts provide some sort of web stats but I’ve found their offerings to be rudimentary at best. My shift to Google Analytics has highlighted those services weaknesses.
My web site is hosted by Dogbark.com, their stats are included in the hosting via software from Webalizer. According to Webalizer, last month I had over 5000 unique URLs view my site, an average of 422 pages viewed per day, and an average of 83 visits per day. Sounds great but how accurate is it? On a simple ticker count I’m sure it is accurate but it’s also misleading in terms of the activity on my site. It includes everything – robots or spiders visiting my site, a client who may access a file on the site but not view any web pages, and it even includes me double-checking my site or working on my site. How does it compare to what Google Analytics is reporting? For the same time frame, May of 2009, Google Analytics reports that I had 258 unique URL’s visit my site, an average of 187 pages viewed per day, and an average of 10 visits per day. That’s a big difference.
The discrepancy is because Google Analytics knows to filter out robots and spiders cataloging my site, it doesn’t include files downloaded or accessed which are not part of my web pages, and I have filtered it to not include me in the stats. So, what I’ve learned is that my site’s overall popularity is much lower than I had been led to believe. A bit of a bummer but Google Analytics also provides much more information and on that front things are looking wonderful. While my traffic is less than assumed the quality of the visits is extremely high. This is information that Webalizer never made clear. For example, during May the average visitor viewed 20 pages on my site and the bounce rate was under 15%. This means that over 85% of the visitors went beyond my home page.
Google Analytics has many more features and is extremely flexible in what it can report and how it presents the information. One feature is benchmarking where it will compare your site to all sites in its database of a similar size or to all sites in its database within the same field. On these fronts my site is doing very well, too. Compared to all sites my site is doing over 2,000% better on visits, over 18,500% better on pageviews, almost 1000% better on average time on site, and the bounce rate is over 60% lower than the benchmark. All very very good. Similarly, if I benchmark against other photo sites things still look good: over 230% better on visits, over 2000% better on pageviews, about 150% better on average time on site, and the bounce rate is over 50% better than the photo sites benchmark.
In the past week I added Google Analytics reporting to my blog. It’s too early to report stats on that but I’m finding parallels between it and what I’ve learned from adding Google Analytics to my web site.
What can you learn from all this information? It can be a bit of a black hole if you let yourself get lost in the numbers and the data. It’s not my desire to get sucked in. In the reports, I’m looking for confirmation of my how my site is doing and general trends – that the reports I am working with now are better tailored to the information I need only helps.