Web Analytics Opt-out: Is It the Beginning of the End of Web Analytics?

by David Penz on July 15, 2010

David Penz

David Penz

When Google announced on its blog that the company was releasing a browser add-on that gives Web surfers the choice to opt-out of being tracked by Google Analytics, a few confused marketers commented that they thought this would lead to the end of Google Analytics as we know it.

Why would a marketer not want Google to release an opt-out process?  Here are a few of the reasons:

Accuracy of data may decline: If enough people use the opt-out add-on, the number of visits tracked and reported could become significantly different from the actual number. Smaller companies may find it difficult to segment their data and still maintain high enough volumes of visits to maintain consistency in the accuracy of metrics.

Web will lose conversions: People using the opt-out may be typing in your landing page from an offline ad, or for some other reason may have performed some value adding action that you have now missed. When attributing revenue, Web could lose credit since the visitor wasn’t tracked.

Others aren’t doing it: Other Web analytics tools, especially server log-based systems, don’t offer opt-outs. These alternatives are now becoming more attractive to marketers who want as accurate data as possible.

Google Analytics

Data isn’t private anyway: The data that Google Analytics users see is fairly anonymized. Data is reported at the aggregate level, and no personal information is available on any individual Web user. The offering of an opt-out might give some users the false impression that you are actually collecting and using personal information when, in reality, by using Google Analytics you do not have access to personal information. It may also undermine the privacy policy and system you already have set up, which may include your own version of opt-out.

However, there are a few reasons why marketers should not be upset:

It gives consumers choice: Concerns over data privacy grow every time a story breaks that a company like Google, AT&T, or Facebook has had its stores of personal data compromised. These concerns can cause the wary and cautious to avoid websites they do not trust in favor of a website or offline store that they are comfortable with. Giving people the choice not to provide data to you may make enough of a difference in their comfort level to prevent abandonment from a goal or conversion funnel.

It protects against legal threats: Governments around the world are stepping in and passing laws and regulations to protect the right to privacy. Adding an opt-out process to your privacy policy adds one more level of protection against potential legal threats.

Offline tracking isn’t perfect either: Marketers are already forced to accept the fact that they cannot properly track 100% of individuals being marketed to through other channels. For example, if someone orders from a different address than you sent a direct mail letter, to or forgets to provide a promotional code when ordering, their order may not be attributed to the proper marketing campaign. The loss of the ability to track some people that are using the opt-out should also be acceptable, provided the issue is properly explained and accounted for when reporting campaign results.

Data will remain precise: Web visit data will remain consistently measured over time, meaning even though the raw metrics may be lower than reality, you will not lose the ability to compare metrics across segments or evaluate trends over time.

Do you love or hate Google’s decision to create the opt-out add-on? Would you like to see other web analytic tool vendors follow suit and provide similar opt-out tools directly to consumers, or would you prefer to avoid this path?

Resources:

Google Analytics Blog

About the Author:

David Penz is a Marketing Analyst with SIGMA Marketing Group.

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