In late 2005, Internet behemoth Google purchased a leading web analytics firm, Urchin, and began offering the service free of charge to certain well-placed technology publications' web sites. Not long after that, Google launched the Google Analytics service based on the Urchin software, offering it to the general public as a completely free service. Response was incredible—overwhelming—and a quarter of a million new accounts were created overnight, with an estimated half to three-quarters of a million web sites tracked.

All of this caught Google unprepared, and people had to be turned away because there weren't enough resources to support everyone who wanted an account. Google began taking e-mail addresses for interested webmasters who couldn't be accommodated at launch.

How did this happen? How did Google so grossly underestimate the demand for Google Analytics? After all, at $200/month, Urchin did okay—it had good software and a relatively low price point for the industry, but it wasn't exactly inundated with clamoring customers.

Apparently, assessments based on Urchin's sales weren't exactly accurate. The demand for real analytics is huge, and the price tag of free is exactly the price tag that draws in the masses.

But what are analytics? Most webmasters know enough to realize that they need analytics. But do they know how to read them? How to use them? Are analytics just site stats on steroids, or can they be used by the average webmaster, who is a layman and not a ...

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