September 14, 2008

SiteMeter's Attempted Challenge to Google Analytics Falls Flat

SiteMeter, one of the most widely-used Web log statistics trackers, has seen itself fall well behind the long, dark, shadow of Google Analytics. And while I've been a happy SiteMeter user for almost three years, its statistical data has at times seemed fairly pedestrian compared to Google's advances, lacking the ability to segment the results by selected dates, to build advanced charts, or even to export the records to Excel or a comma separated value file. This weekend, after months of developing a new version of their product in beta, they finally took a leap forward to better compete, but the roll-out has, so far, been a big disappointment. In fact, on the same day they went live, they had to roll back the launch.

SiteMeter, to date, has featured a free version of its product, and a paid version, to premium subscribers, who, for $89 a year, get expanded insight into referral statistics, user behavior, and their Web browsing setup. Premium users get access to data covering the most recent 4,000 visitors, as well as aggregate data comparing the most recent month's traffic to that of prior months - as far back as you started using the service.

Google Analytics, on the other hand, shows you data from all visitors of your site ever tracked. And instead of being restricted to only one set of users (the last 4,000), you can show visit data from the last day, multiple days, or any date segment. The service also lets you carve up your visitors' history with multiple graph options.

SiteMeter must have been feeling the heat, because their newest version hit the major benefits of Google Analytics. It let you segment results from a date range. It let you export any graph's underlying data. And it definitely expanded the range of graphs available.

The New SiteMeter Tried to Pretty Up Its Visitor Graphs

User Visit Data In the New Site Meter: Basically Raw Code

The New SiteMeter Pulldown Menus: Form or Function?

But what SiteMeter didn't do with their new version was make the data look useful for humans. Instead of a friendly UI, its newest offering felt very raw, with unpolished typefaces, and gaps that showed not all the data was being tracked. It's the same type of feeling most Mac users get when entering Linux for the first time.

Meanwhile, old shortcuts that were familiar to existing users, like recent referrals, popular pages, and summary data, no longer worked, and clickable links were instead replaced with a series of pull-down menus. Essentially, form was chosen over function, and the form wasn't really all that good.

Coming Soon: A SiteMeter Scoreboard?

Should they get more comfortable with their new look and feel at any point in the near future, it's clear SiteMeter is also not only going after Google Analytics, but there was a new feature called "Sitemeter Scoreboard" that showed your site's ranking in terms of total visitors or page views, relative to the service's nearly 1 million installations. Maybe the idea is that we would start showing our SiteMeter ranking on our blogs as many do for Technorati or other services. But it looks like we're not going to know for a while. Today's botched roll-out is another black eye for a company that most recently gained headlines for blocking access to Web sites via Internet Explorer, and has had the occasional outage or two without company comment.

If this is the best SiteMeter had to offer against Google Analytics, Google's really in no trouble at all.