Monday, August 22, 2016

Understanding digital analytics

In the past few months, two different projects gave me the opportunity to spend quite some time working on Google Analytics. The projects were different in scope: in the first, I was asked to review the use of Google Analytics as part of the monitoring and learning system of a think tank; the second project was part of a larger evaluation of development information services, to understand the reach and use of different websites. Overall, I was able to review how 6 different development organizations are currently making use of Google Analytics to track web traffic and users’ interaction.

digital analytics

This is the first post in a three post series where I’ll share some of the learning from this recent work. I’ll start with some key points for efficient use of Google Analytics (GA). Then in the second post I’ll present examples of how different organizations are using GA. Finally, in the third and final post in the series I’ll zoom in more into Google Analytics metrics - and measuring what matters to you.

Google Analytics - from basic to advanced use 

GA has developed a rich and sophisticated toolset over the years. It is now one of the most commonly used tools to monitor website traffic and engagement. It’s probably the industry standard for web analytics across different business domains, such as e-commerce, government, education, and development, too. While some have questioned the accuracy of Google Analytics and there’s no shortage of alternatives tools out there, in my opinion Google Analytics remains one of the most powerful tools (for everyday use, especially in smaller organisations). One of the aspects I like most about Analytics (besides the fact that it’s free…) is its continuous improvement - in terms of its own features and functionality as well as integration with third party tools (such as Supermetrics), and integration with Google Sheets add-ons.


I recognize GA features can be overwhelming: with all the information GA can track it’s easy to drown in a sea of data. Luckily, a simple search in Google will return a lot of results pointing you to tutorials, guides and training videos that will allow you to go well beyond a basic knowledge of Analytics. If you’re new to Google Analytics, or want to take it to the next level, I suggest you take a look at these resources:

As a minimum requirement, your correct installation of Analytics should include:

Analytics measurement plan

It’s relatively straightforward to get your Analytics set up properly and tracking data. But this is just a small part of the job. In fact, even before you get going with Google Analytics (or any other web analytics software), what you need is a measurement plan.

A measurement plan is a document that:
  • Defines your business objectives and outcomes you want to see; 
  • Presents the strategies and tactics to reach these outcomes;
  • Illustrates the metrics you need to monitor and the tools and processes to collect data; and
  • Includes goals and targets for your selected measures. 
In this sense, Google Analytics is only one of the different tools that you have to measure your objectives and outcomes. If you’re active on Facebook and Twitter or publish video on YouTube, these should also find a place in your measurement plan.

There’s a lot of good resources out there on digital analytics and measurement planning. You can check Google’s own guides or this post from analytics specialist Avinash Kaushik. Finally this guide presents a great intro for non-techie on how to create a measurement plan for Google Analytics.

So as essential as a measurement plan may seem, my recent work experience tells me that this is probably more the exception than the norm in development organizations. I’ll discuss more about this in my next blog post. In the meantime, how would you consider your current use of Analytics? Are you using it to its full potential? Do you have a digital measurement plan? Let me know in the comments below!