SBS Mailbag: Who Owns Your Analytics Data?

Filed in SEO by Matt McGee on February 8, 2009 23 Comments
who owns analytics

It’s been forever (okay, about four months) since I’ve done a mailbag, but there are a few questions in my IN box that are waiting to be turned into a blog post. I’ll start with this one from a reader who asked not to have me post his/her full name; the first initial is “M,” if you need to know.

It’s actually a few different questions about Google Analytics, and ultimately about how to work with an SEO consultant. Here we go:

My SEO company owns the Google Analytics, and recently allowed me to sign on their account to see my reports. I think it should be in my name and not theirs because the research collection of data becomes their property. Should I tell them I want my own Google Analytics and invite them to see it? Why do they need to see my analytics? Aren’t they just supposed to be working on the optimization of my keywords, or do they just like to see the improvements?

Okay. Sounds like an interesting situation, “M,” and probably not altogether uncommon. It seems to me like there are some issues here that may be undermining the overall relationship between you and your SEO consultant — namely, they apparently didn’t do a very good or complete job of explaining to you what exactly they’re doing, and you seem to not trust them too much (probably because of that).

Let me start with this — Why do they need to see my analytics? Aren’t they just supposed to be working on the optimization of my keywords, or do they just like to see the improvements?

They need to see the analytics because that data is infinitely more valuable and informative to an SEO consultant than any other piece of data. All the links you get, all the content you create, all the SEO work you do on a site, all the rankings — it’s all useless if it doesn’t translate into traffic, conversions, and ROI. And analytics is where you learn about those things.

When I start working with a client, the first thing I request when the campaign begins is access to their analytics. And I usually ask them a million analytics-type questions before I’ll even agree to work with them. I couldn’t imagine working with a client without having access to the web analytics whenever I want or need it.

But, the bigger issue is what you described earlier in the question: My SEO company owns the Google Analytics….

That, to me, is a problem. You, the web site owner, should own the analytics and you should decide who can access it and who can’t. Frankly, I can’t imagine what kind of an SEO consultant would put a client’s analytics under their own account and only let you access it when you ask. Actually, I can imagine what kind of company would do that, and it’s not the kind of company I’d recommend anyone work with.

You asked, Should I tell them I want my own Google Analytics and invite them to see it?

Yes, I would tell them you want your Google Analytics data under a Google account that you own, not one that they own. You can setup the account yourself very easily and even email them the new Analytics tracking code to place on the web site. I don’t know if there’s a way to merge data from two accounts, so you may end up starting from scratch with your own new account, but over the long haul, I think that’s better than having your data be under someone else’s account. It’s like you’re tied to this company, and they’re doing this so that you can’t (or won’t) leave them.

You might be setting yourself up for what could be an ugly scene and a possible unfriendly split from this company. But I’ll say this: Any SEO consultant who objects to you owning your own web site data with an analytics account in your name, not theirs, is not the kind of SEO consultant you want to be working with over the long haul, anyway.

Your turn: Do you agree or disagree with my reply? How would you answer “M”?

(photo courtesy of pupismyname via Creative Commons)

Comments (23)

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  1. The consultant should be able to add them to the Analytics account as an administrator.

    Then as an administrator, the client should be able to change the consultant’s access to read-only. Never done it, but it’s worth a try.

    I’d be worried about a consultant that didn’t want me to see the analytics data but then again I’d be worried about a client who didn’t want me to see the data either.

  2. Totally agree. I would not turn over my analytics account to anyone for any reason. She should start all over with a new company. She should hire you Matt.

  3. Stever says:

    Same goes for AdWords Accounts, IMHO. Client should own it. Bigger SEM agencies of course do the opposite and to some degree hold the client hostage to continue to spend PPC through them vs. starting from scratch if they want to take it in-house or move to another SEM provider.

    That said, I do both with Analytics for my clients. Many have their own account and just add me as a user so I can access it, if they don’t have one I’ll sometimes set them up with gmail, igoogle, LBC, and analytics accounts (add me as a user), show them how it all works then get them to change the password to keep me out. But for some of my very small clients who have little interest in all things technical and/or lower computer skills I just set up Analytics in my own account.

  4. Matt McGee says:

    Interesting idea, Robert – sounds like it could work, but I’ve also never gone through the process that way. Good suggestion, regardless.

    Steve – thx, but I’m not taking on any clients at the moments. :)

    Stever — I have a smaller client right now who didn’t have any analytics at the start, so I had the client create a new Google account and then did all the Analytics set up for them, but through their new account, not mine.

  5. giedrius says:

    Robert : I guess there might be problem, as you assign administrator for the whole account, so you can not move single website out… At least that’s how I understand user management in analytics.
    I still have one website I would like to get rid off from my analytics account, but I do not want to loose the data. At that point Analytics accounts weren’t readily-available.

  6. giedrius,

    There are two options for adding a new website in analytics, you can either add a new website profile (new domain to be tracked) to an existing account, or you can add a completely new account (with just one domain or many).

    Adding a new account doesn’t require you to create another actual Google account, it just requires a name and a phone number.

    Sharing access with your client will depend on how you set up the domain in analytics in the first place.

    If it was one website profile among many, then the data for the one domain can be shared with the client–but to grant admin access will grant access to all the domains under that account.

    If the client’s site was created as a new ‘account’ in analytics, then there should be no problem transferring ownership.

  7. Julie Kosbab says:

    My gut would also be to have concern about long-term reliance on Google Analytics as well. The client is concerned that the data research becomes their SEO’s property. Unless the GA terms have changed recently, that’s absolutely true of the data and Google, regardless of who has login access.

    Now, maybe this client doesn’t mind if Google has their data, and the concern is just a part of a slightly antagonistic relationship with his SEO. I can’t be sure.

  8. RKF says:

    Robert is correct: as long as the site is tracked under a separate GA account, not just a profile, you can add the client as an admin.

    We will typically create the GA account under one of our Google accounts, then add the client as an admin as well. If we part ways with them, we can at any time be removed as an admin by the client. They are protected and we get the admin access we need to their analytics data.

    A perk from having all the clients as separate GA accounts under one Google Account is that once we have created an advanced segment it can be applied to any profile under any account we have access to. That saves a lot of annoying repetition.

  9. Kerry Dye says:

    I tend to find that the setup of clients analytics under a general account is often one of ignorance rather than deliberate attempt to “own” the data. Once there is a few months of data in there it is a hard call to set up a new one and lose that history, because there is no way of migrating it.

  10. Miriam says:

    I’d hesitate to say the provider has done something wrong without better understanding whether this is a hands-on or hands-off client. Some clients want to be involved in the SEO of their site…others are so busy they don’t even want to know what you’re doing…they just want the results that come from what you’re doing for them. So, in the latter case, there wouldn’t be anything amiss in the provider setting up an analytics under their own name, right?

    Obviously, though, if M wants to see his analytics and has now told the company that, he should be given full access.

    Miriam

  11. Jeff Baas says:

    I agree that the main problem here seems to be with managing client expectations. Either that or the client is becoming more hand-on in the involvement they want to have with the SEO.

    Either way, it’s going to be hard to resolve this so that the account remains easy for the consultant to use, while satisfying the client’s need for ownership.

  12. JuneM says:

    What I see not mention in regards to “who owns analytics” is

    The consideration of the working relationship or contract entered into by the SEO provider and the above mentioned “Client”.

    Analytics admin through google does not create a client hostage situation it is just a measurement tool used by the service provider in this case. Where owning their domain or site hosting log in would create a hostage situation.

    As domain name owner, she has full control over any app or service connected to that, she could even run a secondary analytics service if she is not trusting or seeing results that are expected. Many hosting companies have analytic tools built in or available.

    Again I think this misunderstanding between provider/client is most likely a terms of the agreement misinterpretation and could be cleared up with a simple conversation.

  13. Ryan Rose says:

    Matt,

    I think you’re spot on in your explanation. I also agree with Robert. In a manner of doing “what’s right”, the SEO or marketing consultant needs to give their client ultimate control of the site and analytics. Any SEO who doesn’t do this creates an adversarial relationship from the start.

  14. S. says:

    I guess it depends how much you trust your consultant, either way there should never be a problem with a client owning his own analytics account.

    A good consultant has nothing to hide and as you say analytics are the most important aspect of SEO.

  15. Jami says:

    I always put my clients analytics accounts under my main account in Google Analytics– that makes it much easier for me to check in on my clients analytics, run reports, etc., without having to login and logout 15 times a day.

    However, I give all of my clients full access to view the reports anytime they want. (They just need a Gmail account) Often they do not have the time to analyze the reports or figure out what it all means, but they trust me to send them reports and give them accurate accounts of increases in traffic. I think they trust me because I explain to them precisely what I’m doing, and explain that if I were to drop dead, they would still have access to their account.

    The other reason I do this is because a lot of my clients also use pay per click services, which I keep under Adwords — this enables me to be Google “certified” — but it also makes it easier to track both “paid” and “unpaid” clicks with several different client accounts.

    If, however, I did have a client who only wanted me to have access to their analytics and not put it under my account, of course I would comply — there is no real reason not to.

  16. David Camma says:

    I agree, the account should be in the client’s name. I also agree that PPC accounts should also be in the clients name. They are basically paying you for a service, if they leave they should get to keep the work they paid for.

  17. Matt McGee says:

    Thanks for all the great comments, folks. Jami — your approach seems plenty reasonable, esp. since you mention there’s a foundation of trust involved in your relationships. It sounds from the original email I received that there’s not so much trust between “M” and the SEO company, which makes it a difficult situation.

  18. Ms Aca says:

    I too think the account should be on the clients name. With Google Analytics one can have the account on the clients name while the SEO can access it from his Google account. This setup would be ideal and the client can easily remove the SEO from his project when he/she stops using their service.

  19. Rebecca says:

    We are having problems with our PPC agency claiming they have intellectual property rights of our google adwords account and will charge 5K to hand it over if we move agency. Can they really do this?

  20. Stever says:

    @Rebecca, they probably can do that. Read the fine print of your initial agreement with them.

    This is the type of hostage taking I was referring to in my comment above. There is nothing “illegal” here, it was simply your mistake too not ask those kinds of questions before hiring an SEM agency.

    When you DO leave them, it’s your decision on the cost-benefit of paying 5k vs. starting from scratch, seek out an agency that provides more transparency.

    You should have YOUR OWN Adwords account. You can then share the account with a marketing agency. They get access to the account to set up and test ads, but the account is still yours, and so is all the data. Not happy with you PPC team you can simply shut them out, hire someone new and then share the account with them.

    At the very least your current agency should have been sharing their account, the one with your campaigns in it, with you. If only so you can review and audit their work and performance.

  21. Shailendra says:

    Yes I agree. Only the web site owner should own the analytics account and he or she should decide who can access this data. If any seo consultant is creating an account on the behalf of a customer it should be in the name of customer not the seo consultant.

  22. karen says:

    Hi,

    I’m browsing on this and found your site. Having similar difficulties with a PPC company.

    I found this page too that gives some good advice.

    Does anyone know what the legal position is with Adwords accounts?

    http://www.breezemedia.co.uk/has-your-google-analytics-data-been-ring-fenced-by-your-seo-company/

  23. Ted Odonel says:

    Why don’t you add an extra google analytics script on their website + google webmasters tool and that will be enough I think, you don’t need to replace the existing one, it will work good with several scripts.

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