Book Review: Google Analytics
dave at dave.org.uk
Sat Sep 30 15:48:39 BST 2006
(Feel free to use this on the london.pm review site)
Title: Google Analytics
Author(s): Mary E. Tyler & Jerri L. Ledford
Publisher: Wiley (2006)
Reviewer: Dave Cross
I run a number of web sites and I've been running Google Analytics on
many of them for several months, but ever since I started using it, I've
been sure that I could probably get a lot more useful information out of
Analytics than I am currently doing. Currently I'm only looking at a
handful of the huge number of available reports. So when I was offered
the chance to review this book, I hoped that it would really open my
eyes to the power of Google Analytics.
Reading the book has largely met those goals for me. I now make far
better use of Google Analytics. But getting that information out of the
book hasn't been a particularly enjoyable experience for me.
I'm pretty sure that part (if not most) of the problem is that I'm not
in the audience that the authors had in mind when they were writing the
book. I'm an IT consultant who has been building web sites for over ten
years. I've been monitoring web site usage using systems like Webaliser
and AWStats for a lot of that time and I've picked up quite a bit of
knowledge of web site measurement technology over the years. So when the
"Who Should Read This Book" section of the introduction says "Do you
have a web site or blog that you'd like to track? Can you control the
HTML on that site? If that's you, you've got the right book" then I
think that I'm the kind of person that the book is written for.
Unfortunately, what that section doesn't say is that if you already have
reasonable level of knowledge about how this all works, then you're
probably going to find a lot of the book a bit tedious and pointless.
The book seems to actually be aimed that the large number of people who
have a web site but aren't web industry professionals. I can't complain
about that really. That's obviously a much larger market, but I wish
that the book's marketing made that a bit clearer. A lot of this books
reads like Google Analytics for Dummies and that's not the book that I
was looking for.
That's not, of course, to say that it's a bad book. Just that's I think
its marketing might be mistargetted.
Having mentally reclassified the book as a "for dummies" book I had to
try hard to recalibrate my expectations of the book and ignore the
classic "for dummies" style of the book. For example the whole book is
written in a very "folksy" voice that I find irritating and completely
inappropriate for most technical books.
The authors also seem to be under the impression that some of the
material that they cover will be too hard for their readers. For
example, when talking about regular expressions they say "Regex can be
pretty confusing, even for experiences users". As a trainer and writer,
I know that if you tell someone that a concept is really confusing then
you can almost guarantee that they will be confused by it. As a teacher
it's your job to make sure that the concepts aren't confusing. Regular
expressions are complex, but they follow regular rules (the clue there
is in the name) and you really shouldn't need to teach them using an
attitude which discourages people from trying to understand them.
But actually I suspect that the reason the authors take this approach
with regular expressions is that they themselves don't really understand
them. I think this because their examples are all a bit confused and not
very well explained at all. For example they have an example which uses
the regular expression 690=([^&]*) and nowhere do they take the time to
explain what it means or how it works. After reading this section, I'd
be surprised if anyone comes out with a clearer understanding of regular
expressions than when they went in.
However, the section on regular expressions is by far the most technical
part of the book and in the rest of it the authors are on far more solid
ground. When explaining all of the reports that you can get from Google
Analytics then their explanations get much clearer. This is where the
value of the book is to be found. Google Analytics has dozens of reports
and the authors clearly understand the data that they all contain and
what each report can be used to show about your web site visitors. I
found a number of useful reports that I hadn't previously been using and
that are now giving me far better information about who is visiting my
In summary, the descriptions of the Google Analytics reports are very
useful if you can ignore the over-familiar language, but the sections
that contain deep techical detail are patchy at best.
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