Urchin vs. Google Analytics Comparison of Differences

December 1, 2009

Editor’s note: Google ceased new development for the Urchin Software product line and ended purchases or upgrades on March 28th, 2012. Read more about Urchin’s retirement here.

What’s the difference between Google Analytics and Urchin?

Updated for Urchin 7

I’m often asked this question, and yesterday was on the phone with someone interested in our Urchin Hosted product and decided that I should write this up rather than explaining it over an over again without anything documented.  So, here’s the result: a quick and simple list of the have’s and have-not’s of Urchin Software vs. Google Analytics.  I promise someday that I will create a beautiful table with nice colored boxes for this comparison, but until that day arrives you’ll have to accept my humble list of bullet-points on the matter.

What Urchin Provides that Google Analytics doesn’t:

  • Re-processing of historical data
  • Full data ownership (GA says you own the data too) and control (this is more important – with Urchin you can delete, move, re-process, etc…)
  • Unique visitor analysis (unique visitor history reports, API export of visitor history)
  • Processing data on your schedule – monthly, weekly, daily, even hourly
  • Username/password assignment – create user accounts and hand out passwords (no more Google Account madness!)
  • Multiple authentication levels and user groups (i.e. account admins vs report viewers vs. report access only)
  • Tag-based & log-based tracking in one report set
  • Ability to import other CPC cost sources, such as Yahoo and Microsoft along with AdWords for complete SEM ROI analysis (this does require some custom work, though)
  • Easy Day of Week analysis
  • Completely customizable reports – add/remove report sections, re-structure and rename report groups and names, and more
  • Server-side error analysis (when server logs are processed) like 404, 301, 500’s, etc…
  • Report permalinks
  • Bypass authentication for easier report access in internal networks
  • Lifetime value analysis

What Google Analytics provides that Urchin doesn’t:

  • No software costs
  • Easily customizable dashboards
  • Easy custom report building tool
  • Site Search reports
  • Five Custom Variables (set by the script)
  • On-demand and on-schedule report emailing from the reporting interface
  • Intelligence reports (algorithmic analysis of all your data providing alerts of important changes)
  • Custom alerts (set a threshold for a dimension and metric and get an email when that change happens)
  • Dual-dimensions (two dimension columns on one report)
  • In-tool Pivot Table reports with three dimensions and two metrics simultaneously present
  • Advanced in-tool report table filtering (set thresholds such as “find all keywords with a brand term that also had more than 10 visits” and weed out outliers, or do long-tail analysis more easily)

What’s NEW with Urchin 7

  • New user interface
  • Event Tracking
  • Advanced Segments
  • Report permalinks
  • Tons of back-end changes and technology improvements (see Urchin 7 info for more)

Will Urchin become more like Google Analytics?

Urchin 7 update: Urchin 7 moved to change the User Interface to look a lot more like Google Analytics.  With the advent of the “new” Google Analytics interface in March of 2011 a new gap can be seen in the user interface of each tool.

Overall, I think Urchin an GA will continue to share the common past, but we will continue to see Google Analytics evolve apart from Urchin, and see Urchin keep up to some degree, though a few steps behind GA.  I expect it will continue to have features that GA doesn’t support, like data re-processing and Visitor History analysis.

Bottom-line, Urchin fills a different role than Google Analytics.  I’m finding more and more that dual implementations (GA with Urchin) are the way to go.  That way, you get the best of both tools available at your disposal.  And, it’s not too hard.  Our Analytics Engine and Urchin Hosted platforms are one way we’ve sought to help companies accomplish this without the complexities associated with traditional on-premise installations.

We all know how famously Google doesn’t talk about what’s to come, so my speculations here are not based on any shred of fact.  However, given that Google resurrected Urchin from what many thought was a permanent grave and has a team actively developing the software, I think it is reasonable to expect Urchin will slowly more of the Google Analytics features or ones similar to what Google Analytics has, however I doubt it will ever be on-par with whatever the current GA feature set is.  That would be redundant anyway – I like that Urchin has some unique qualities and GA has some from Urchin.

The Best of Both Worlds

My favorite approach is to use Google Analytics and Urchin simultaneously.  In this configuration Urchin provides the comprehensive, complete reporting platform and ensures you have complete data ownership and control.  Urchin serves specific functions for unique visitor analysis, advertising analysis, and logfile data analysis alongside tag-based data that  Google Analytics cannot do.  Meanwhile, Google Analytics serves as the everyday tool for most users, allows deeper data mining with advanced segmenting of data (and complements Urchin – say you discover an interesting factoid from a unique visitor report – go into GA and build a segment based on that behavior and see what the aggregate pattern looks like), create custom reporting, setup alerts, email reports easily, etc…

Tying it all Together…

As much as I love writing unbiased and impartial information that won’t feed my two hungry children, so I have to throw in that our Analytics Backup and Urchin Hosted products are, in my opinion, the perfect solution to achieving this “best of both worlds” – avoid the hassle of setting up your own Urchin Server with Urchin Hosted, or get assurance of data owership and limited data reporting with our simple and low-cost Analytics Backup and Data Warehouse solution for Google Analytics.