Google Analytics Premium vs. SiteCatalyst: Now and in the Future

It seems there aren't many complicated tasks that can't be boiled down to pushing a button or reading a pie chart, these days. Automatic transmissions make shifting gears effortless. Point and shoot cameras eliminate the need for interchangeable lenses and aperture adjustments. And, in the web metric analysis world, Google Analytics makes evaluating site traffic easier and more intuitive than it's ever been. But what about those of us that want full manual control? What about those of us who know what we're doing and don't want to be constrained by ease-of-use features? Where do we turn when we want maximum performance, not just a pretty interface?

Until now, the answer had been SiteCatayst, an Adobe product. It's the manual transmission, the single lens reflex camera of web analysis tools. It offers powerful customization and unlimited control to educated users.

But things are changing, as Google Analytics Premium suggests you can have it both ways. The paid version of Google's uber-popular Analytics platform allegedly boasts superior functionality to SiteCatalyst, without sacrificing the intuitive usability found in free Analytics.

We all know something has to give. If stick shifts were easier to use, everyone would drive one. If consumer cameras could do all of the things pro cameras can with a single button, photographers would go out of business. So, the question is, where do you draw the line? Is the user-friendly Premium the stronger platform, as Google claims? Or does the raw power of SiteCatalyst remain unmatched?


Google Analytics Premium purports to make web analytics available to all users. SiteCatalyst, on the other hand, focuses on providing in depth, completely customizable experiences. What this means to anyone who isn’t an Analytics Specialist is that Premium’s data can be interpreted and intuitively understood without specialized training, and that SiteCatalyst requires an educated user to understand anything beyond the most basic metrics. The ‘complex versus usable’ theme extends through all aspects of the comparison between Premium and SiteCatalyst. From setup, to user interface, to reporting, Premium is intended to be an instinctive, user-friendly system, and SiteCatalyst is not.

Data Manipulation

Where SiteCatalyst does have the advantage is in its customization. While, Google Analytics Premium matches SiteCatalyst’s 50-customized-variable feature, SiteCatalyst’s custom variables administration is far more straightforward than its competitor’s. Custom variables, or eVars, allow you to create segments in real time on your site, as the action happens, and can provide immediate, detailed insights into user actions. Inside SiteCatalyst, each eVar is named deliberately in the admin panel rather than on the page in the javascript. With SiteCatalyst eVars, set the allocation and expiration as you see fit. For example, additional precision can be achieved by setting the eVar to expire after some custom event takes place. Metric application is more straightforward, as well. Metrics in SiteCatalyst are named according to function in reports rather than identified by number, as they are in Premium.


In terms of pricing, both tools have high standard costs. Premium comes in at a $150,000 flat fee per year, and SiteCatalyst can cost even more depending on traffic volume and service level. Of particular consideration here are the additional costs in SiteCatalyst for implementation support (which you will need), inclusion of CRO testing through Test and Target, and AdWords integration. Although these are options in SiteCatalyst, it would be foolish of any company attempting to fully leverage their online presence to neglect any opportunity to increase conversions.


There are two aspects to consider when examining the relative reporting capabilities of Premium and SiteCatalyst: First, the amount of data used to generate reports, and, second, how the reports are generated. The first consideration is based on the amount of traffic your site receives. Monthly visit limits for Premium stand at one billion, and reports offered are on unsampled data. However, the reports shown in the user interface are still based on sample data. To view the complete data, reports must be exported for further analysis. Although SiteCatalyst looks at all data collected, it remained at a distinct disadvantage in terms of reporting until the release of Version 15. The inclusion of custom and preset segmentation, bounce rate, and updated dashboards has given SiteCatalyst the edge in contemporaneous comparisons. The updated version of SiteCatalyst has made Adobe’s metrics available for production of reports relatively similar to those of Google Analytics Premium. Regardless of the parity of metrics available between platforms, the ease of use in creating unique and customized visualizations of data (pie charts, comparisons, etc.) in Premium remains a distinct advantage for greater distribution and support of the achievements of marketing initiatives.

Overall, Premium is nimble, intuitive, and user friendly. SiteCatalyst is intensive, data heavy, and highly customizable. An ultimate conclusion on which option is superior presupposes factors that could sway a decision either way. What does seem clear is that SiteCatalyst is a powerful tool that requires at least one dedicated specialist to set up, measure, and analyze data. This places a great deal of responsibility on one interpretation, and can create bottlenecks when reports are needed quickly. Premium allows anyone to examine traffic data and offers an ease of use that allows dynamic and immediate interpretation of results.

Where It's Headed

We all know how quickly things can change.

In any mature market, competition drives innovation and continuous product improvement. It's interesting that SiteCatalyst's latest release, for example, included the launch of some features that have been part of Google Analytics for a long time, like unique visitor data for any timeframe and Bounce Rate as a built-in metric. Future SiteCatalyst updates will likely include full attribution modeling and multi-session path analysis, which are currently offered by Google Analytics Premium.

Still, while both products are likely to evolve as the competition plays out, the big picture will remain relatively static. Google and Adobe have different revenue models: Google's revenue comes from digital advertising, while Adobe's comes from selling licenses and software. Google Analytics will continue to stress its user-friendly interface and ease of use, while SiteCatalyst will continue to offer powerful analysis that requires great effort to access. Google will continue to keep costs relatively low, while Adobe will continue to charge for training and complementary products like SearchCenter and Test & Target.

For now, Adobe may struggle to maintain users as Google Analytics Premium gains momentum. SiteCatalyst will be forced to evolved if Google proves successful in taking away market share, but the ensuing competition will only result in stronger versions of both SiteCatalyst and Premium for users to choose between.

However, I suspect the winner of this matchup will be whoever wins the multi-device battleground. The current battle has largely been waged around a single-device, cookie-based world, although that world really doesn't exist anymore. Whoever best evolves to suit the new landscape will likely come out on top.

Written by Brian Easter on October 23, 2012


Add A Comment

Ted - Phone support has been available for Google Analytics Premium clients since the product launched. However, they don't offer phone support for the free version of GA.

Ted Anderson says:

When did Google start providing support? Can you call support on the phone?

Ulrik says:

Adobe provides more than an analytics tool. You can also use the data to create segments that you can target onSite with content through factorial fractional MVT. In other words GAP does not allow you to do anything with your data, other than reporting and remarketing.
And it still samples data.

Robert J says:

We are in the process of switching from SC to GAP. The one deceiving thing is the GAP cost is approx. $490k at it's top tier. $150 is the entry-level tier.

Great post, really clear break down. I think before choosing any enterprise level analytics tool, you have to understand ultimate goals and requirements for data tracking you want to achieve. Ultimately, any analytics tools can provide great data and marketing insights, but matching your company/site to the best tool can be tricky. Michael Loban wrote a post about some evaluation criteria when determining which enterprise level tool to invest in:

David says:

Very interesting post and some valid points.
In terms of the custom variables, in version 14 it was actually 100 (50 props and 50 evars) plus you get a further 100 events.
Nobody seems to be talking about data ownership. Google owns all the data you push into it, whereas with SiteCatalyst, it is your own data.

Great post.

It would be interesting to see the switching costs of moving to/from these tools and how that would impact an enterprise client in choosing either of these solutions. Also with the emergence of TMS solutions such as Satellite ;) the initial implementation & ongoing support of either of these tools becomes less of an issue or differentiator for either tool.


Great post! I'm surprised there haven't been more Adobe defenders weighing in and bashing it!

I don't quite follow Matthias's "150 variables" comment. When saying "75 for segmentation/eCommerce and 75 for traffic," is he referring to 75 custom conversion variables (eVars) and 75 props? If so, then saying "150" is misleading -- the fact that the conversion/traffic distinction is exposed to the user at all is unfortunate. Adobe is slowly trying to blur/remove those distinctions, but it's silly that they're still there -- requires more "learning how the sausage is made" than should be required.

Great job on the post -- the chart and the write-up seem spot-on!

Matthias - Thanks for taking the time to read our post. The comparison between two enterprise level platforms such as GA Premium and SiteCatalyst in a blog post, will be of necessity, quite succinct. We appreciate you pointing out the error about the custom variables, we were writing this blog post as version 15 was being released, so some of the information wound up being legacy data from version 14 (we've updated the chart accordingly). We also carefully considered you other comments, as we want to put out the most accurate information available, but we think the chart's overall message is meant to compare the "out of the box" approach Google Analytics allows to the complex set up required by SiteCatalyst. While one of the greatest attributes of SiteCatalyst is the flexibility and customization that allow work arounds, we've left the other areas of the chart as is to preserve the overall message. Thanks again for the insightful comments, it definitely gave us an opportunity to take another look.

Nice article and interesting to see how Google is positioning itself with the premium version of analytics. Brilliant idea also to compare it to SiteCatalyst from Adobe as the current leader in the premium webanalytics market. But unfortunately some information in the table on SiteCatalyst is not correct:
- SiteCatalyst allows a number of 150 custom variables (75 for segmentation/eCommerce and 75 for traffic with no additional costs
- with the right setup you can also have multisession paths to conversion
- custom attribution model is also available (but you have to set it up via adobe => extra costs)
Concerning the license fee: Google is selling analytics premium for a blanket amount of 150k/year, to reach the same pricing level at SiteCatalyst it takes some several hundred million pageviews/month
There is no doubt that the usability of Google Analytics is unmatched (for standard users anyway, but if you have to dive deeper into your analysis it's not as easy to get the right data and you have to do some digging)
At the end it depends on the customer needs what might be the right webanalytics tool for their business.

Mehdi - thanks for the compliments and for the comments.

Brandon - I agree with you, and data reconciliation isn't something people take as seriously as they should - at least in my opinion.

Yoshee - I think SiteCatalyst will clearly win the integration battle. Google's privacy policy prohibits sharing much of the information most CRMs and marketing automation tools want & need to be fully integrated.

Blair - maybe our next post will be a battle between Coremetrics and Google Analytics Premium. This post only included GA Premium and SIteCatalyst because it's been a frequent discussion at the office.

Kate - I agree, we've definitely seen a trend towards Google of late. I must admit I'm a bit biased because we love Google Analytics and we're also a Google Analytics Certified Partner.

Kate says:

Great article. My analytics team has been debating whether to continue with SiteCatalyst or switch to GA Premium (we've been using the free GA in conjunction with SC). This has been a topic of debate for a couple of years, and at first I was in favor of SC. However, I'm increasingly becoming convinced that GA Premium would be better for our organization.
We've had a consistently awful experience with SC support. They're slow to respond and don't always follow through (at least not without lots of prodding). Their mobile app solution requires 50 hrs of consulting time and will take 3 months to implement: not an option for our development timeline. Having helped our engineers implement both SC and GA tags on our website, I know first-hand the wide gap in in-house implementation time.
More importantly, most people in our company default to using GA because of its intuitive interface. And the vast majority of decisions don't require super in-depth reporting. Data is not meaningful unless it is properly digested and powers better decision-making.
The product managers at GA have been responsive and are clearly taking our feedback into consideration. With GA's API, we'll be able to get just about everything we need (though I would miss SC's data warehouse exports).
We have more to investigate before we make a final decision, but I wouldn't be surprised if we end up with GA Premium.

Blair says:

Surprised to see no mention of the other big competitor in this area: IBM Marketing Solutions, built on the legacy Coremetrics platform. Any particular reason?

Yoshee says:

This is great insight into these tools. I would love to know whether you think either tool has strong integration into other systems like marketing automation and CRM systems. Many organizations tend to drive their marketing from these tools, and use the analytics packages as the backend for all of their web behavior data. Who wins the integration battle?

Brandon says:

Data reconciliation between the two sources has made phenomenal shifts over the past few years. We used to see 10% differences when using both SiteCatalyst and G.A. on the same sites. Now, we are trending between 0 and 3%. Google Analytics has really done it's due diligence to become a robust corporate tool.

A very nice and perfect article to understand the weaknesses and the power of each premium tool.
I would add the fact that Omniture is more powerful for the tracking because of a lot of technical workarounds to get what the tool doesn't propose directly (as example the way to manage the canal multitouch using eVars)

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Brian Easter