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Google, Pheedo Give Away Analytics

The arcane realm of Web analytics is getting hotter -- and, maybe, easier.

Any area Google enters immediately sizzles, and this week, the search Goliath threw open the doors to its Urchin Web analytics tools, making it free to all publishers.

The same day, Coremetrics, a five-year-old provider of industrial strength-analytics, announced a new release, Coremetrics 2006. On Tuesday, Pheedo will announce its own analytics tools specific to blogs and RSS feeds.

But while it may be easier and cheaper to "do" analytics, experts say that getting the benefits may not be so easy.

Google Analytics is a hosted service, built on its Urchin acquisition. GA opens up site performance data that publishers and marketers can use to improve both online marketing campaigns and general Web site functionality. GA became available on Monday in 16 languages.

"We've made this a free product to advertisers and to anyone on the Web who would like to use these tools," said Richard Holden, Google director of product management.

The Urchin analytics tools, acquired in March, were available to advertisers using Google's AdWords pay-per-click advertising service for $199 per month, a price drop from Urchin's $495 per month fee before the acquisition. Customers who paid for Urchin from Google now get a free pass, like everybody else.

Google Analytics can be used to manage keyword selection and bidding, as well as for e-mail marketing campaigns, referral programs, banner ads and organic search. The product is integrated with Google AdWords, but the company said it works with any online ad network.

AdWords advertisers will access Analytics from within their account management interface. Other Web publishers can go to analytics.google.com to use the service, which won't include the keyword management functions.

"It's our belief that these tools are extremely valuable for advertisers, because, as more informed advertisers, they become better advertisers -- and better customers for us," Holden said. "We also see a great deal of benefit in giving these tools to all Web publishers. If they become more knowledgeable about how sites are built, they'll build better sites over time and make the Web a better place."

Google Analytics automatically tags keyword destination URLs and imports cost data to make it easier to set up and run reports. Roles-based dashboards are designed to make it easier for executives, marketers and Web masters to find the information that's most pertinent to their jobs.

"The idea is that we've aggregated the information that's most important to these sets of people in one easy-to-find place within the analytics package," Holden said.

The offering is similar to Yahoo's Marketing Console, released in November 2003. The Marketing Console, starting at $149 per month, was designed as an easy tool for pay-per-click marketers to measure conversion rates from keyword campaigns, letting them track campaigns, channels, and creative to see which were most cost effective.

Marketing Console also works with paid placement, e-mail, paid inclusion, banners and affiliate program, and, like Google Analytics, provides ready-made reports.

Pheedo provides similar functionality for advertisers and publishers of blogs and feeds. Its "analytics engine" helps publishers see content viewing patterns, the types of aggregators requesting feeds and analyze subscription information. Advertisers can not only optimize their ads within feeds but also produce integrated advertising campaigns across blogs and RSS feeds.

"Our philosophy is that you have to be able to monitor a feed in order to monetize it," said Bill Flitter, chief marketing officer for Pheedo. "If you know what the heck is going on, you can charge more to advertisers, and advertisers can make more money because their ads are optimized."

Pheedo plans to introduce more sophisticated ad serving and behavioral targeting.

Flitter said that the new medium of RSS advertising needs analytics in order to grow and prosper. Right now, the state of the art is placing text after a piece of content or sending a standalone text ad through a feed.

"If we can gather more information about the entire equation, we can produce better ad units," he said.

Google's offering is a logical extension of its business, according to Ellen Siminoff, CEO of Efficient Frontier, a provider of analytics tools for search engine marketing. "As of last year, less than half the people spending money on paid search were tracking it to [find out the] exact results," she said. "Google knows people will be able to spend more on the network if they know how much value they're getting."

Siminoff pointed out that both Google's and Yahoo's analytics are specific to their own advertising services; if MSN and Ask Jeeves, now owned by InterActiveCorp , launch similar analytics services, marketers would need to decide whether they want to work with each one or to manage their campaigns using an independent analytics package that can combine information from all the search sites.

"As there are more [search engine advertising] marketplaces and as there is more marketing spending, there will be increased complexity.

While it may be free and easy to access these new analytics tools via the Web, Jupiter Research analyst Eric Peterson said that analytics requires expertise that can't be simplified to the point that anyone can understand it. (Jupiter Research and internetnews.com are both owned by Jupitermedia).

"Some companies are very good at it, but most don't know how to take advantage of Web analytics data," Peterson said.