Developing a Story with Google Analytics

Next Tuesday I’ll be taking the Google Analytics IQ test, and I’m currently experiencing a mix of anxiety and excitement.

The anxiety is originating from my perception that the GAIQ is really, really hard – 90 minutes for 70 questions about somewhat daunting topics like the difference between first and third party cookies, aggregating data, and more. That gives me about one minute and sixteen seconds to overanalyze each and every question. But more importantly, I’m actually very excited to take the test. Mastering the GAIQ means I get to differentiate myself from many other applicants during my post-graduation job hunt, and work my way towards having a well-rounded marketing resume. It also means I’ll know how to not only analyze data, but telling a story relevant to business and marketing objectives with it. Google Analytics is the most widely used website analytics software, and I’ve been blown away learning just much it can do. Knowing all the tools provided by Google Analytics is especially useful for marketers (marketing is storytelling, after all), and hopefully will help me land a job after graduation (fingers crossed).

The GAIQ was recently updated to include both the Digital Analytics Fundamentals and Google Analytics Platform Principles. I’ve spent the last several days learning all the content from Platform Principles, and there’s quite a bit of information covered. There’s four main components of the Google Analytics platform:

  1. Data collection
  2. Processing
  3. Configuration
  4. Reporting

Google Analytics uses either a Javascript tracking code (for websites) or a software development kit (SDK, for mobile apps) to collect data from each page a visitor sees. The tracking code in a webpage uses first-party cookies to create unique identifiers for each user, and finds information about the user such as OS, browser, and language. SDKs work similarly in mobile apps, and are different depending on the OS. SDKs actually batch data they collect (called dispatching) and send these dispatches to Google Analytics after a set period of time, not right away like tracking codes. The reason for this is that mobile devices often lose network connectivity (which is annoying for both the user and Google), as well as to conserve battery life of the device. As I mentioned earlier this week, 2015 is the year of mobile, so it’s absolutely necessary for marketers to track and analyze mobile engagement along with website visits. Google Analytics also has a tool called measurement protocol, which allows for tracking of other web-connected devices as well by manually building data collection hits.

Platform Principles combines processing and configuration into their own lesson unit, as the two steps in Google Analytics go hand-in-hand. There’s four major transformations that occur during processing and configuration:

  • Google Analytics organizes the hits it’s collected into users and sessions
  • Data from other sources (like AdWords or non-Google systems) can be combined with Analytics data via the tracking code
  • Data processing will modify the data according to configurations (filters, goals, and groups) you’ve set
  • Analytics will then aggregate the data by organizing it in meaningful ways and storing it in tables for quick report generation

I think a major thing to note here is how Google Analytics will actually combine the data it collects with data from other sources like AdWords. This is done through dimension widening (using either a file or APIs to import data) or cost data import, which imports data to show the amount of money you spent on non-Google advertising. Combining all your data means you can analyze the success of things like marketing campaigns all in one place, and lets you see what’s driving engagement with users versus what isn’t. With this tool, you can see what platforms and content your audience prefers, where they’re coming from, and more.

The final step in the Google Analytics platform is the reporting process. All reports are based on combinations of dimensions and metrics – characteristics of your data like page name or traffic source, and quantitative data measurements, respectively. Dimensions and metrics are typically reported in a table, but note that you can only combine the two based upon the scope (which level in the analytics hierarchy they fall). The hierarchy is simply users, sessions, and hits. Analytics uses application programming interfaces (APIs) to automate reporting tasks to integrate its own data with other data you specify. After all this, report sampling may or may not occur: it depends on how much data you want Google Analytics to use. Sampling occurs when you’ve given Analytics a large subset of sessions to analyze, and have gone over the maximum number of sessions that can be used in a report. This isn’t a bad thing, but you can stay below the limit by simply shortening your date range if possible.

Google Analytics, although formidable, is useful in more ways than I can count. I’m planning on spending my entire weekend locked in my apartment taking practice tests and going over study guides, and I seriously recommend taking the time to watch all the Analytics Academy lessons and then taking the GAIQ. Digital media provides us with so much data, and being able to transform that data into a story relevant to your business objectives and audience needs is what Google Analytics (and digital marketing) is all about.

Next step: getting AdWords certified.