How to choose between Urchin or Google Analytics

There are two Google products for web analytics – Urchin Software and Google Analytics. Which one should you choose? This article describes what criteria to use for deciding between the two and is a follow up to my recent article “What is Urchin 6“.

As a general guide, Marketers prefer Google Analytics, IT departments prefer Urchin

This statement is reflected in the user-base for each product. Urchin is mainly used for measuring intranets (an area of the business that Marketing is not involved in), and used by web-hosting providers where deployment scalability for a large number of websites is important.

On the other hand, Google Analytics, apart from being a free service (Urchin requires a purchased license), is used by organizations that wish to have greater control of their individual web analytics implementation.

Those are not mutually exclusive rules or requirements, so lets look at some criteria.

When GA is the best fit

Select Google Analytics if you are measuring the success (or not) of your website, its ability to convert, and the effectiveness of online marketing. Google Analytics is much easier to implement, has stronger AdWords integration, and by comparison is maintenance free. Site overlay and internal site-search reports are only available in GA.

Google Analytics also has AdSense integration, which Urchin does not, and has the greatest potential for other Google product integrations. This is because Google Analytics is SaaS (Software as a Service) solution running on the Google network. Essentially, it is much, much easier for a vendor to integrate data within its own network, rather than an external stand-alone system.

These are key reasons why marketers love Google Analytics.

When Urchin is the best fit

Select Urchin if:

  • You have an intranet site behind a firewall that blocks internet activity. Google Analytics is a hosted solution that needs access to the internet in order to work.
  • You are unable to tag your pages*.
  • You are a hosting provider wishing to offer visitor reports to thousands of customers. Urchin has a command-line interface that can be scripted to create and modify multiple website reports at once. That is, Urchin has greater flexibility when it comes to large-scale, multi-user deployments.
  • You wish to track individual visitors (anonymously). Google Analytics does not track individuals as it is against Google’s privacy policy. Hence GA data is both anonymous and aggregate.
*Note: Some third-party hardware solutions can automatically insert Google Analytics page tags for you on the fly, that is, as the page is requested from your web server. They achieve this by using proxy servers that sit within your network (in front of your web server) and insert the code for you. See, for example,,

When you need both

Select both if you need the flexibility of maintaining your own visitor data, for example, for third-party auditing purposes. Combining Google Analytics with Urchin Software gives you the best of both worlds—the advanced features of Google Analytics (free) and the flexibility of Urchin (data control). This article: Backup your Google Analytics data and use Urchin describes how you can configure your page tags to stream data both to Google Analytics and Urchin simultaneously.


My recommendation is to use Google Analytics wherever possible. It is easier to implement, has a slicker user interface (with best-in-class geomap overlay reports), and is primarily aimed at Digital Marketers. Urchin Software should be used where there is a specific technical need that Google Analytics cannot fulfill. Urchin currently lacks some marketing features that GA has, though it can track individual visitors anonymously. if you can, use both tools.

Are you considering the merits of Urchin v GA? Please add your thoughts with a comment.

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  1. Kevin

    There’s a new software product called Angelfish that will allow you to migrate your data from Urchin. Many people are looking for an Urchin alternative now that it has been discontinued.

  2. Rokabear vps hosting

    We have been very happy with Google Analytics. It has really helped us determine who is interested in our various vps products. It helped us learn where to spend more time marketing.

    Urchin is great, but I though google was much easier to setup and use.

  3. Brian

    i found google analytics better than urchin…

    all google things are very good… ( not the translater 😀 )

  4. Shiperton

    Correct me if I’m wrong but ine BIG problem with GA seems to be that you can not generate new reports across historic data. For example, if you suddenly decide that you need to do a report on all traffic to a given directory for last year, you cant do it in GA.

    But you can on Urchin because it gets all its data from its own logs.

    Or am I missing something?


    • Brian Clifton

      Shiperton: You are correct in that GA cannot reprocess data for individual accounts – see my post What is Urchin 6? for this feature of Urchin highlighted. However, the example you give is not relevant for data reprocessing – just apply an advanced filter to look back at historical data to a specific dir.

      Data reprocessing in Urchin is really there to help sys-admins with managing logfiles that can get moved, corrupted, updated etc. Yes, Urchin can look back at old logfiles, but if the page tag is not present i.e. prior to the install of Urchin’s hybrid data collection mode (the recommended setup for Urchin), then you have to track visits by ip+useragent. While that can of course be useful, such reports cannot then be compared with page tag reports.

      So to sum up, I don’t consider data reprocessing a BIG issue for GA. But perhaps you have other requirements…?

  5. N

    We are going over this question ourselves. does analytic have a url limitation? Like if your site is 1 million pages it’s too big?

    In using analytics one question we have is does Google then furhter process the stats they get from our site or do they just ignore them?

    I used Webtrends a long time, then Nettracker and a few others. Webtrends became so bloated after it was sold that an Urchin report that ran in a few hours would take a few days in webtrends. thus we migrated to Urchin.

    urchin 5.x is better geared to our needs. It has an easily viewable summary of pageviews, visitors, and referer info that is completely missing in 6.x while I have both products, I am now hesitant to use 6.x and am thinking of just dropping it and moving to analytics. 6.x seems to be geared only to cost per click customers. And that makes it not a great intranet or internet solution for us. And if one searches google for Urchin help, one will most likely end up on an analytics site and not an urchin site. I think that is a good hint.

    Urchin 6.x had some bad installation issues. Installing the demo license was a bad idea for it and it prevented us from installing the production version for about 30 days. The slave scheduler in Urchin 6.x on a windows 2003 platform fails to stay running by default. There is some bloat creeping into Urchin.

    on the plus side Urchin 6.x is priced better then 5.x Just one module instead of 4 and more licenses. 5.x was hard to license correctly for a diverse and growing web site.

  6. Michael Dickey

    Although it may not be as well documented as GA’s export and query APIs, GA’s Javascript page tags essentially use a REST-based API for web browsers to send data into your report suites. Pion uses packet sniffing to capture traffic within your data center, and then uses this same API to send your traffic data to GA.

    • Brian Clifton

      Michael: thanks for the extra info. I am going to clarify for others that there is *no* official import API for GA at present. Most likely one day there will be, but at present the Pion method is a hack – a clever one at that, but a hack that uses an unsupported method. That means any changes in the the GA workings could break the method without warning – behind the scenes, GA is updated a lot (weekly release cycle) these days…

      That said, if it solves the page tagging issue, Pion is certainly worth a try in those circumstances where there is little alternative. Its free, so why not?

      Have you made contact with G to show them your method? I am sure they would be interested to hear your approach. Contact me direct if you would like an introduction.

  7. Michael Dickey

    In addition to the hardware options you mention, Atomic Labs’ Pion Lite is FREE software that you can either install on your web server(s) or on a separate server. Rather than inserting tags into your pages, it uses packet sniffing to passively capture your network traffic and deliver it to Google Analytics directly using their web services API.

    • Brian Clifton

      Michael: Thanks for the mention of Pion as an alternative to page tagging. However there is *no* data import API for Google Analytics. Could you therefore explain more or provide a URL for the solution to use with GA.

  8. Wendell Waldron

    The ability to track individual users is a big positive for us. Based upon your post, this would be the main reason why we would need Urchin. We currently use Mint to track individual users but the capabilities of this platform don’t compare to Urchin for this application.

    We definitely are considering using Urchin 6 for one of our clients.

    Thanks for the further explanation. Very insightful.


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