I own a number of websites; there are actually close to a dozen that I’m at least semi-actively working on. Many of them are monetized with Google Adsense, so I would naturally like to find out how people are finding my site so I can optimize for those searches. (For details on search engine optimization, see my previous review of SEO Warrior) To that end, I’ve been installing Google Analytics on my sites.
However, GA (as it’s commonly known) is a fairly complex program, and it’s not immediately obvious how to use it properly. That’s why I was happy to see the new book from O’Reilly, titled Google Analytics: Understanding Visitor Behavior. The book is, shall we say, extremely detailed; it covers the following areas:
Chapter one is an overview of web analytics: what it is and why you should be using an analytics program. It also explains why GA is a good choice for most websites.
Chapter two talks about planning: what do you want to achieve by gathering data? This lets you design your analytics program effectively.
Chapter three gets into the technical aspects of how Google Analytics works.
Chapter four talks about using cookies to track visitor behavior once they’re on your website.
Chapter five is on setting up accounts and profiles in GA so that you (or your employees) can get different views of the data.
Chapter six is about setting up filters to see only the data you’re interested in.
Chapter seven is about using goals and funnels. For example, if I was setting up a plan for this website, my goal might be for someone to click through one of my Amazon affiliate links. I would then track what entry pages give me the best success rate in doing that and see what’s special about those pages. On a more complex site, a funnel might be a series of pages that the user goes through before completing a transaction; for example, on an eCommerce site, the user needs to add a product to the shopping cart and complete the checkout. By looking at where users drop out in the process (after putting an item in the cart, when entering credit card information, etc) the website owner can determine where changes need to be made to improve the conversion rate.
Chapter eight discusses some profiles that the author thinks everyone should be using.
Chapter nine is about tracking marketing campaigns: you’re getting traffic, but where is it coming from? By using tags, you can set up GA to divide up your traffic based on how it’s getting to you, whether that be from email campaigns, PPC, or organic traffic.
Chapter ten is more advanced (read: specialized) material: tracking across multiple domains and subdomains, tracking for eCommerce, etc. This section is mostly useful for those who have large or complicated websites or who will be sending visitors from one website they own to another.
Chapter eleven is about enterprise implementation: in other words, using GA in a large business.
Chapter twelve is about using GA data with a customer relationship management (CRM) system.
Chapter thirteen is about various third party reporting, analysis, and debugging tools that use the GA API.
Finally, there are two appendices, on GA compliance with WAA standards and using regular expressions.
Did the book meet my needs? Not really; I specifically wanted something on integrating Analytics with Adsense, which isn’t covered. But if you want to understand where your visitors are coming from and what they’re doing, and if you want specific step by step instructions on how to set up Analytics, this is probably a good book to get.