How to Learn Web Analytics

Like most webmasters I know, I used to think the way to learn analytics was to just dive in and do it. That simple method works amazingly well in most other areas of webmastery. Moreover, since the statistics one generates using a tool like Google Analytics are so impressive, it’s got to just be a matter of spending a little time with them, right?

Wrong. That way madness lies — or at least eyes-crossed by a sea of numbers. The usual pattern is you get your analytics tool to work, you’re enchanted by what you see, you poke around in the numbers, you show your supervisor, she is impressed too, and then what? You return a month later, and the numbers are up. That’s great, but you have no idea why and you’re smart enough to know that if you don’t know why, it won’t be too long before they go the other direction. One month later, the numbers are plateauing, and you still don’t know why. The next month you don’t go back. You’ve got better things to do with your time.

It seems to me (in retrospect) that it’s like trying to teach yourself finance by looking at ledger sheets with no one to explain them to you. Chances are you will see some things, but not enough to make it worthwhile. It will be an exercise in frustration.

And then the day comes when your boss says: “What about those statistics? Do you have something I can share with the Board?”

You could continue to give her the big picture numbers and be done with it. But I would suggest there’s a better way that will be a great investment of your time not only for your company, but also for your career. And it doesn’t even take that long.

I took one day each week in April to learn analytics. Specifically, I took the University of British Columbia’s online Introduction to Web Analytics course. It’s the first in a series of four, leading to the UBC Award of Achievement in Web Analytics, a certification recognized by the Web Analytics Association.

The result? To my surprise, with just this one course, I am (for now) Vanderbilt’s foremost expert at web analytics. That won’t last long. Several others are interested, and as soon as one of them takes the second course, my moment of analytics glory will end. But more important than that, I’m already finding easy ways to apply analytics. Best of all, as promised in the course, these simple things are already making management happier. And as you might imagine happy management makes a very happy web diva.

Of course, there are other ways to learn analytics. There’s an excellent book by Avinash Kaushik: Web Analytics: An Hour a Day. And there are plenty of tutorials on line. Just search YouTube. However, I’d caution you not focus too much on any one analytics application to start with — not even Google Analytics.

The first step is to learn the fundamental principles and practices. After that, the tools will make more sense, so you can use them more effectively. If you possibly can, take the UBC course. It’s first-rate.

2 Responses

  1. Another great post, AB, and quite timely. Have setup GA for a number of clients but want to know more, and was actually perusing some of the results when I checked yr blog’s live link . . . alas, the UCB course is not inexpensive at approx 620 US $ or 675 in CA dollars. Think I will go get the book you recommended 🙂 — did check with the HTML Writers Guild – they offer a class in SEO but not specifically Google Analytics. Thanks for all the good info!

  2. Thanks, Judy. It is expensive. You’re right, but (like all good education) well worth it if you can afford it. For what it’s worth, SEO is related, but different. Same goes for usability. Meanwhile, I’m planning to post some more substantive info on analytics soon.