This post is going to be a deviation from the “normal” content on this blog. Its purpose is to address one of the questions I received most often from a lot of people reading my posts. The title might already give away what that question is: “In your opinion, should companies buy Adobe Analytics or Google Analytics?” And I think there is something fundamentally wrong with this question.
I think the above question can only be answered through some absurd level of generalization that does injustice to both tools. There are some agencies or consultants who end up doing this comparison to either seem neutral and independent, or drive traffic to their own sites. This annoyed me to a point where I started writing this post to have my answer ready at hand in the future.
Bear with me on this one. To make my point, I first need to go over what annoys me so much about existing comparisons, only to then fully ignore the title and compare what kind of tools we are really talking about and what the real question should be. Buckle up!
Web reporting is not web analytics!
Let me start by showing you my favorite comparison of Google Analytics and Adobe Analytics on the QA2L Blog. I like it so much because they really go into great detail about the differences between both tools on multiple levels. While that comparison strikes me as the most complete I’ve seen in a while, it does not cover the most important point: If and how those tools are comparable and should actually be compared at all.
What do I mean by that? It might seem nitpicky, but for me GA and AA just don’t fall into the same category of tools. In my view, there is a distinct difference between tools that can do web analytics and tools that can only do web reporting. Those two categories are not the same for me, and I will go into the difference a bit later. While tools like Google Analytics might be good for web reporting, Adobe Analytics does not only support reporting but also analysis. That has not always been the case, so let’s look at the history of both tools.
To start our little comparison off, I want to show a very old screenshot from Google Analytics. In fact, it is from 2012:
That looks quite familiar, doesn’t it? It should, because this is how GA 360 looks like today, in 2020:
They certainly did a great job keeping the interfaces consistent. Besides a bit of layout reorganization, someone who has been working with GA eight years ago would feel right at home today. This interface has been influencing how web reporting has been conceived for years now, setting standards and expectations for our whole industry. That also didn’t change much with GA4, where Google now tries to establish a new set of things website owners should be focusing on instead of the rather old reports we see above.
Let’s see how the past looks like for Adobe Analytics. Luckily, we don’t need to google for any old screenshots, since the past is just around the corner in Adobe Analytics today with the Reports & Analytics interface:
That looks similar to GA, but a bit more bare-boned. This bareness is also something I gave Adobe feedback about back in the days, since GA always offered a lot more information on every report. At the same time, the choice of which information is shown when made GA a lot more standardized than AA. Both GA and AA felt indeed quite comparable at that time.
But even back then, there was something more to AA: My beloved Ad Hoc Analysis (formerly Discover). This is how it looks like in 2020:
We see something that feels quite familiar to users of today’s Adobe Analysis Workspace: A flexible Workspace with a drag-and-drop interface, unlimited breakdowns, attribution, and very flexible tables. Building Segments and Calculated Metrics was super quick to do. I have been using this interface since day one of working with Adobe Analytics, because it provided so much more flexibility. It was also considerably faster than the Reports & Analytics interface. Due to all of this, it allowed me to deep-dive into the dataset in a way Reports & Analytics did not support. I even used it for dashboarding, since I could just rearrange the tabs and even segment them separately:
With this interface, I could also evolve the way I work with my business stakeholders. Instead of preparing sophisticated analysis in R&A or Report Builder and presenting the result in a long-planned meeting, I could just invite them over to my desk and work on the data together with them. And we were thrilled: The results were much better than anything I’ve done before. Not only was I able to really understand what the business is trying to achieve, but the stakeholders also really understood what is possible with the data and how we can work with it. I loved it!
But there was one issue: Ad Hoc Analysis was a dedicated Java application that had to be downloaded separately. In addition to that, it was not meant to be used by everyone, so collaboration and democratization in the tool was not really a thing. But then something big happend: Adobe brought Ad Hoc to the browser with Analysis Workspace.
Analysis Workspace now allows every user to dive deep into the data without the need for an analyst on their sid. There is no distinction between the tools an expert analyst would use, and what we would train our business users on for their daily usage. Because of how the interface works, there also is no distinction between reports, dashboards or deep dives any more: Any of the three could be used in any of the other two ways, or could be evolved into them. We can schedule projects to arrive in our mailbox exactly how they would look like in a browser. And since we can share them and edit them collaboratively, there is no limit to how deep any user can engulf themself into their data.
That is what I mean by the difference between web reporting and web analysis. Reporting tools require expert users to set up defined views on data for a specific use case. Any changes to those reports would require those experts to come in again and change the report. Then, multiple reports can be combined to dashboards, which is exactly what GA does and AA did with Reports & Analytics. Self-service in this context means access to pre-built reports and limited options to create dashboards on top of existing reports. On the other end of the spectrum, analysis tools can do reporting just as fine, but don’t limit the user on how that data should be presented or analyzed. Those tools allow to fluently move between reporting, dashboarding, and deep-diving for every user. Because both experts and novices work in the same interface and can collaborate on data, there is no limit on how far each user can go as long as they have someone to continuously enable them further. What that of course means: to make the most of a real analysis tool, companies need to spend significant resources on tools, people, and dedicated time for analytics. If those are not available, the complexity might even make a reporting tool the better choice.
This leads us to the point where a lot of comparisons go wrong. They claim that Big Query and Data Studio would make Google Analytics comparable to Adobe Analytics with Analysis Workspace. But by doing that, they completely ignore the implications on workflows, collaboration, and democratization. In my eyes, Big Query and Data Studio make GA more comparable to data in a Big Data datalake with a BI tool like Tableau or Power BI as frontend. They require experts to build reports or dashboards for users, increasing the barrier of entry to a point where almost no business user can pick it up without going wrong along the way, making the analysts the bottleneck for the whole company. We can see this in the job descriptions for GA companies, where SQL is often named as a necessary skill. This is not comparable to Analysis Workspace at all! And in addition to that, Adobe now has a similar offering with Experience Platform and Customer Journey Analytics.
The right tool for the right company (at the right time)
So it’s important to understand that both tools have value, but still are very different types of tools. Up until Analysis Workspace was a thing, Adobe Analytics was little more than Reports & Analytics, making a comparison possible. But since those days Adobe Analytics has evolved into a different type of tool: An analysis tool that really deserves it’s name due to the type of process it allows. Google did not evolve much, leaving it at the web reporting stage.
But wait, wouldn’t that mean that Adobe Analytics is the better tool if it allows all those fancy analytics capabilities to be used by the whole company? Not necessarily. Look at the GA screenshots again. GA is very good at giving the user an instant overview and the feeling they know what is going on with their website. It’s a separate question if any of those numbers are relevant to them, but at least they are better than nothing, and they can be sure some of their competitors are looking at similar metrics and reports. That’s the value of standardization.
In addition to that, Google Analytics unsurprisingly is very well integrated with the rest of the Google set of tools, like Google Ads. This is why many people see GA as an extension on the Google marketing stack, since it’s very easy to integrate with GAds’s remarketing features. That is another clue as to which companies would prefer GA: If they are more interested in what happens outside of their website, GA might be the right tool, and probably their marketing team will be the ones to use it primarily. This is something that a lot of companies, which have historically grown without an online business and have only recently started adopting digital practices, go through: They already know how to do marketing from their offline channels, so it’s natural to focus on marketing when going online as well.
We can further stress this last point by considering the tax that comes with a tool like Adobe Analytics. AA requires businesses to plan their implementation to a much higher degree, have their analytics team work full-time with the product, and their business users to eventually use all those features on their own. Its tailor made implementations and democratized workflows are meant for companies who are focused on their online business and their customers’s digital journeys. If this precondition is clear and understood, then AA has the potential to create far more value compared to the potentially faster time-to-some-value with an reporting-only solution.
I hope I could make my point. Instead of claiming that Adobe Analytics and Google Analytics are basically the same type of tool, we should start to acknowledge that they are very different in terms of which companies they can provide value to. If a company is digital-first by nature and truly data driven, Google Analytics (or any other reporting-only tool) will feel way too limiting to their endeavors. But if a company is new to digital and does not see it as a priority yet, Adobe Analytics might seem overwhelming and even too complicated to get started.
So if you are in the market for an analytics solution, first ask yourself where your company is right now in terms of digital maturity and where you want to be in a few years. Do you need a tool that should be a quick solution and is only required to do reporting or do you need a real, full blown web analytics solution? Are you ready for building an intimate relation to your customers in which you permanently care for them? And of course, if you are considering GA, are you ready to sacrifice all your data to Google or do you need a different reporting solution? Your choice of tool must be in line with your business strategy to generate the most value. Also, if your business strategy evolves, it might be right to reconsider previous choices in regards to analytics as well.
As always, let me know what your personal experiences are. Do you agree with my views? In any case, have a nice day!