Prior to viewing the platform principle units of Google Analytics and really jumping into that content, I questioned what more there could be to learn about web analytics. I thought back on the six units of digital analytics fundamentals that was fairly comprehensive and pondered the gaps in that content; what did Google leave out that lead to this further instruction? While it was good that I was critically analyzing the previous content and wondering about the new content, my questions were quickly answered as I began reading and watching the platform principles material. To summarize the difference amongst the two sections and clearly state why it is important to complete both, I will say this; Google Analytics Platform Principles is a deep dive into the mechanics of Google Analytics and how the program collects, processes/configures, and reports the data. Where as Digital Analytics Fundamentals is an overview of the tools that Google Analytics offers to a business and what kind of material the program can generate. In other words, platform principles was the “how” of Google Analytics and digital analytics fundamentals was the “what can be done” with Google Analytics. The four units of platform principles covered several informational topics including the different tracking codes that are used for websites and mobile apps, users, sessions, interactions, configuration settings, filters, grouping, aggregation, structure explanation of reports, API’s and more. As a side note and before diving into the material I found most useful, I wanted to identify today’s most interesting fact: Google Analytics uses tracking code for both website and mobile app data collection, however Java Script is used for websites and SDK is used for mobile apps. How come and why you might ask? Dive into platform principles here to find out. Hint, one reason has to do with saving battery on mobile devices.
As a marketer thinking about how I will use Google Analytics in my future, I originally thought that the fundamentals and learning all the uses of Google Analytics would be the most prominent lesson. However, as I went through the units of platform principles I found it very helpful to learn the actual mechanics of how data is collected, processed/configured, and reported. As I was going through the units there were two main explanations that helped me to better grasp the intimidating tool that is Google Analytics: building reports with dimensions and metrics, and API reporting.
Building Reports With Dimensions and Metrics:
In order to be proficient in Google Analytics and be able to utilize the data in any sort of efficient manner, it is crucial that one know how to read the reports that Google Analytics will generate for your organizations account using the aggregated data. Google says, “the building blocks of every report are dimensions and metrics.” However, if your like me and have had little experience with analytics, these two words probably mean very little to you and do not provide any insight on how to read or interpret a report; not to fear because these are both fairly straight forward ideas presented in platform principles. Dimensions are “characteristics of the data” such as the traffic source that brought a visitor/user to ones website or mobile app. Metrics simply add to these characteristics by backing them with “quantitative measurements” such as the number of users that were brought to the site or mobile app by a specific traffic source. When looking at a report in Google Analytics, the first column is the dimensions and the rest of the columns display the coordinating metrics; notice in this sentence the key word “coordinating.” One very helpful and insightful tip that Google offers is to make sure that your metrics are coordinated and aligned with your dimension. For example, it would not make sense to align the metric “time on page” with a dimension such as traffic source because it is a “session dimension.” I found this deep dive into the structure of reports and their characteristics very helpful and crucial to marketing because the analytics are virtually useless if you do not know how to read them. Google Analytics offers marketers and organizations an incredible opportunity to analyze all things data related on digital touch points, and starting with the basic structure of the reports proved to be very useful for myself as a novice in web analytics.
The other deep dive that platform principles took, that I found very useful as a student just learning Google Analytics, was the explanation of “Reporting API’s.” API stands for application programmable interface and they can be used to, “integrate your own business data with Google Analytics and build custom dashboards.” The part of this definition that I found most intriguing from a marketing perspective was that API’s could be used to build customized dashboards beyond the standard ones that Google Analytics reports to your account. That being said, the explanation of reporting API’s given by Google was very complex, yet I was still able to capture some main ideas that will prove useful when working with API’s in the future. From my understanding, to use API’s to create custom reports/dashboards you must send a query to the “reporting API” and the query must contain the following: ID of the view that you want to access, start and end dates, metrics, dimensions, filters, segments, and more. At this point, I know some of you are probably thinking that it is not helpful at all to know that API’s are done via queries because not many of us are quite technologically savvy enough to develop such a query. Google Analytics agrees with you as they acknowledge, “Writing an application that can access Google Analytics data can be a complex process and requires an experienced developer.” That being said, from a marketing perspective and the reason I found this explanation so useful and wanted to share it, was because it is still important to know what goes into the query that gets sent to the reporting API. It is critical to know that within the query you can specify filters and segments that you want applied to the data; you can then communicate these needs to the developer that will be building the query. In a marketing position, I will probably contact someone from IT to write the query for me, however IT will not know what information needs to be accessed and filtered for me to effectively analyze a marketing campaign; this is the job of the marketing department.
Within the last week and after deep exploration of Google Analytics, it is clear that tracking digital touch points with web analytics provides huge insight into marketing campaigns, usage characteristics, troubleshooting problems, and more. While exploring the web for success stories on Google Analytics and looking for further confirmation of the programs worth, my childhood came full circle as I stumbled upon a story about Formspring and their use of Google Analytics. Formspring is a social media sight that, in my high school days, was popularly used to disrupt people’s lives by providing an atmosphere of anonymous question and answering. Formspring was used as a convenient way to anonymously post a slam about an enemy on their page, and that person would have no way of finding out who it was; hence disrupting the lives of teens. Granted this was not all Formspring was used for, occasionally it was simply used as an interaction site for people to ask others questions and simply get their response. As much grief and headache as Formspring may have given me in highschool, they are now a testament to Google Analytics and the customization that it allows. Formspring said, “As traffic and time on site increased, the need to see the whole picture became increasingly urgent.” They then continued to talk about how via Google Analytics they, “use multiple custom variables to collect general demographic information and user properties that help segment traffic and increase growth amongst specific user groups.” To read more about Formspring’s successes with Google Analytics and to enjoy a brief blast from the past click here.