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Google Analytics vs. Adobe Site Catalyst for Hotels


Marketing is evolving, especially the Internet kind. Website analytics have come a long way in the past decade. We have access to more information than ever before. You can now monitor in detail how people are interacting with your website, where they are coming from, and where they are going.

Google Analytics vs. Adobe Site Catalyst (previously called Omniture) is one of those questions that I  get asked regularly, so here are my thoughts.

I have been an ardent user/supporter of Google Analytics for a while. I am amazed at the power and value it provides for free. On top of that, almost every year Google Analytics rolls out product updates and features that are a huge threat to the world of organized ‘enterprise analytics.’ To me, the choice is clear: Google Analytics gives hotels everything they need to excel at online marketing.

Not convinced? Let’s take on some of the superiority myths about Site Catalyst.

Analytics Tools Are Not the Issue

It really doesn’t matter what tool you are using to measure your online performance. A lot of agencies will tout Site Catalyst as a superior tool because they want you to think it matters. But it doesn’t. Why? Because you are not launching the next Mars Rover mission or performing neurosurgery! A few extra points of accuracy do not make a difference in the world of online marketing. As a rule, spend less on analytical tools and focus on hiring the right talent. Get people who can translate the data into insights for you. Remember, those touting the superiority of their analytics tool usually have a hidden agenda (ie, please work with our agency, we have Site Catalyst).

Sorry, Nothing Beats Free

Google Analytics gives you all the answers Site Catalyst does. The difference is that Google Analytics gives you everything for free, and Site Catalyst comes with either:

a) An agency marketing contract
b) A big monthly bill

If I can get all my basic statistics (traffic, clicks, conversions) and have the capability to set up custom dashboards, goals, behavior and visitor flow for free… I’m going to take it and run with it. Why drive a Ferrari to the grocery store? A Jetta can get the job done, minus the parking hassles and dirty looks you are going to get. The edge is not your analytics program; it’s the person logging in and giving you actionable insights.

Buzzword Alert!

The first thing Site Catalyst fans will throw at you is the super awesome level of customization  that it offers versus Google Analytics. Buzzwords like custom event metrics, site sectioning and hierarchy, and custom variable attribution will make your eyes glaze over. What they are really trying to say is: Site Catalyst can do some crafty things 75 times over that Google will only let you do 20 times over. I cannot even begin to explain how ridiculous this is. After working with hotels for a decade, I have yet to see one that tracks or even remotely cares about more than 5 “custom variables.” Try not to be seduced by buzzwords; focus on what you really should be tracking. What a hotel needs, Google Analytics delivers.

Shiny Custom Reports & Dashboards

If I had to pick the #1 reason agencies love Site Catalyst, it would be reports. Shiny, shiny reports! These can be generated, scheduled and emailed like nobody’s business. The sad thing is that nobody at the hotel is actually looking at these reports. If they are, they are likely are not trained to properly interpret them and deliver insights. You can’t really blame the agencies. They need these reports to justify their existence. (It’s a vicious cycle involving the ROI monster.) The reports and dashboards Google Analytics provides are pretty close to the ones you are going to really use with Site Catalyst. Features like ‘report collaboration’ are completely useless. How about collaborating on insights instead? Dashboards and reports are not going to magically give you those. You will need to take time to understand the numbers and what they are telling you about your marketing efforts. Too much focus on reporting can paralyze, and take so much of your time that you never take action. Last click attribution is killing hotel online marketing, and reports are not helping.

R.I.P. Data Accuracy

I’ve said it before: data accuracy is a fool’s errand. You can spend a ton of time chasing accuracy across your analytics platform. For example, you can run 20 reports on mobile devices that are sending you traffic, to look at top keywords, top pages etc. A lot of agencies love to tout the accuracy with which Site Catalyst showcases the contribution of branded hotel keywords vs. generic keywords to each booking. Guess what? We are now in the era of “not set, not provided.” Google has dropped the curtain on the keyword-based marketing show. No matter what analytics program you use, you are going to see the same thing. It’s time to look at the data you have and use it to make a plan of action, rather than endlessly debating the accuracy of one analytics program over another.

Data Ownership

Agencies love to say how Analytics you do not own your data. The fact is that unless your hotel is directly subscribed to Site Catalyst, it’s your agency that owns your data anyway. Not you. So, when you decide to move on from their services, they are taking their world-famous “data warehouse” with them. Now imagine your agency getting abducted by aliens, or just being upset that you fired them. You are not going to be getting direct access to anything past or present from Site Catalyst. Now with Google Analytics, you actually have a fighting chance. If you are the owner of your account (please be the owner of your account), you can switch agencies every 1-2 years and still have ALL of your data in your control and available for analysis. How cool is that? You become agency-agnostic with Google Analytics. Besides, who wants to store data in a warehouse? Warehouses are for storing grains, arks and alien stuff. (Source: Professor Jones.)

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In Conclusion

Site Catalyst is something that is much loved in the agency world and for good reason. It ties into Adobe Digital Marketing Suite, Test & Target, Digital Pulse, and Search Center. This makes agency life easy. They can: 1. Automate your marketing and save precious time spent per client; and 2. Inundate you with fancy reports to justify their existence every single month. Google Analytics, on the other hand, requires you to think. I love that feature. Insights happen when you get your hands dirty with analytics. Google Analytics is giving every business in the world, no matter how small they are, access to a world-class, enterprise level analytics platform. They are not asking you to spend anything or get into any contracts. Take the money you save on Site Catalyst, and invest in smart people who can tell you what to do with the information.

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