Google Inc. on Sunday added a free traffic-tracking feature to its advertising system, known as AdWords, as the Internet search giant tries to keep pace with advances by rivals.
Google Analytics, as the new feature is called, details the activities of visitors to a Web site, including the number of visitors at any given time and how long they remain on the site. Most importantly to advertisers, the feature also reports on how often their ads are noticed.
The feature helps Google keep pace with advertising-related strides made recently by rivals Yahoo, Inc. and Microsoft Corp.s MSN, the two other leading Internet portals, revenue-wise.
Googles move is sure to have a big impact on advertisers that couldnt otherwise afford the analytical features, said Bryan Wiener, president of 360i, an Internet performance marketing firm.
But larger firms may balk, given that under Googles scheme, the same company is supplying the ads, publishing them and then supplying performance analysis. "It strikes some large advertisers as rather Orwellian," Wiener said in an e-mail.
All three companies continuously add new features to their own publishing systems to make ads more effective and to keep advertisers happy and returning for more.
For instance, Microsoft Corp. in September introduced adCenter, which helps advertisers target customers based on their location, sex and age.
Google Analytics hopes to one-up its rival with a feature that helps Web operators tracks the number of times an advertisement is seen.
"Googles objective here is to help ads and publishers to drive more business through their Web properties," said Paul Muret, a co-founder of Urchin and now a Google engineering director. "And the more successful publishers and advertisers are, the more successful Google is."
The free feature is also an example of how Google often aggressively cuts the cost of products from companies it purchases, and in so doing disrupts the market these companies were in.
What Google started to make available Sunday is an improved version of software from Urchin Software Corp., which Google purchased in March.
Google has already slashed 60 percent off the price of Urchins premium services, which contain a much deeper analysis of Web traffic or Internet advertising campaigns.
With its move Sunday, many elements of the $200-monthly Urchin service are now free. The price slashing by Google is sure to draw a response from Omniture and other makers of Internet traffic analyzers.
Editors Note: This story was updated to include analyst comments.