Google Analytics, Understanding Visitor Behaviour book review
written by craig, 28 September 2010
Google Analytics revolutionised the web tracking industry. Before it’s launch in 2005, organisations could spend thousands on log analysis software. Few systems offered (near) real-time reporting or in-depth visitor information. Amazingly, Analytics is free and almost everyone uses it. It doesn’t matter whether you have a single-page hobbyist site or a large-scale corporate operation: Google Analytics is the tracking tool of choice.
Few programmers have an interest in conversion analysis or marketing reports. Many add the basic tracking code and think no further about it. Similarly, few marketing experts have the technical knowledge to exploit behavioural analysis. “Google Analytics” from O’Reilly is a 190-page book which could help those from either discipline.
The first couple of chapters introduce the process of measurement, analysis, change and creating an implementation plan for your company. The reader is forced to jump in at the deep end; there is too much jargon, too many assumptions, and several off-hand references without further explanation. It’s tough going, but persevere — the content improves and becomes easier to understand.
For many, chapter 5 offers the first practical hand-ons advice and it describes how to configure your Analytics account, profiles and users. The author recommends creating multiple profiles for the same website. It’s an interesting thought, although potential benefits are not discussed in detail. Integration with ecommerce and search were facilities I’d not appreciated and the book encouraged me to adopt them immediately.
Chapter 6 provides details about a much misunderstood topic: filters. Filters allow you to alter incoming data, e.g. removing traffic generated by internal employees. Cutroni describes the options with an in-depth explanation of strings and regular expressions. I suspect many filters will be defined by programmers who already understand the concepts, but some will appreciate the detail.
Chapters 7, 8 and 9 explain campaigns, funnels and goals. For me, this was the core content and the author explains the concepts and usage clearly. However, further real-world examples would have been appreciated.
One quarter of the book is devoted to chapter 10 — advanced tracking techniques. It’s essential reading for web developers who need to monitor users across domains, sub-domains, frames, or when client-side events occur.
The final three chapters finish with enterprise considerations, CRM integration and tools. Few developers will be affected by these issues, but they are explained quickly and concisely. Two appendices follow which list Web Analytics Association (WAA) metric definitions and regular expression syntax.
I have a few complaints about “Google Analytics”. It can be incomprehensible to new readers, AdSense integration is glossed over, there’s little about comprehending statistics, and the chapters would benefit from real-world implementation examples. However, Cutroni is obviously passionate about the topic, the book is well-written, and it reveals facilities and best-practise techniques which few organisations have successfully adopted.
If you’ve only scratched the surface of Google Analytics, this book will change your understanding of visitor behaviour. Developers can master implementation and marketeers can leverage the data. Ultimately, it’s a low price to pay for the potential improvement in your conversion rates. Recommended.