Digital Analytics Fundamentals
pujoljulia March 16, 2016

Has been a long since I started on digital analysis world and to be honest, has been a funny but hard path. Most of people start to get in touch with digital marketing environment through media, optimizing and improving online campaigns, trying to impact the proper audience and therefore trying to save unnecessary costs (yes, by trying I mean trying). There is another group that tries to adapt websites to be more readable by searchers and so reach at top level positions in searchers result pages aka SEO, or also those guys that take care of social networks, improving brands reputation, dealing with user complaints with aim to induce them to return/go to website brands and convert.

Realize that above groups basically have one goal, which is attract traffic to websites and… is it enough? Obviously not, this traffic has to buy things, send forms or whatever goal the website has, and for it, media folks started to play with audiences (yes, such preferences that we are leaving while we’re navigating, aka cookies), SEO people looking for those keywords that generating more traffic and social media guys segmenting and personalizing their messages. That’s great, I mean it’s fantastic as each time we’re reaching more proper audiences so probably our conversion rates will raise and our bosses will be very happy with it.

Now the main point and sadly real is that traffic attraction represents at most 50% of work (I’m generous with that figure…) that has to be done for users to convert. I’ve met lots of marketers that only knew a one simply logic: “More traffic, more conversions” and… from a certain point of view it’s true (again, a 50% of times), but nowadays with the existent hard competition in terms of media, this poor strategy will lead undoubtedly to increment media’s cost per conversion, which mean we gonna pay more for get a sell, therefore we reduce our margin which evokes to earn less money (probably the bosses will be uncomfortable with this situation… sorry, I said probably?).

Alright so far, but where is the rest of 50% of work? simple, is into the websites. Websites are like malls, clothes stores, supermarkets, bars, restaurants, gyms and whatever traditional business we know. Is important to get people? Sure, without customers there is no business but what would happen if they get in and realize that our products’ distribution it’s a mess? The simple logic says that our sales will fall. In that situation we could invest more money in attracting more people and probably getting more sales, but at the end if the store and hence the employees fail to sell more, business is not profitable.

Time ago, when I was at university (what times those!) I was working at the same time on a clothes store and there I had my first experience on customer behavior. When there was some clothes impossible to sold, I was trying to relocate them, changing their position or putting a mirror near to them and in fact, the sell of these products was rising. That leads to ask myself that, if it happens on physical stores where company knows exactly which is the main customer path, where are the privileged positions and what is the customer behavior, why many websites do not care about ‘what is going on’ in their sites? Again, because until nowadays, the useless strategy explained above has been working more or less successfully. If I would never have tried to relocate products, or the store managers would not have adapted the product expositions depending on season, or they would not have added posters to inform about new product releases, or neither would hired a proper workers, or would not have added mirrors, as much as they would invest in TV, radio or whatever channel attracting customers, probably that store had never obtain the good results that obtained.

If you has read my example carefully, you realize the importance of web sites structure as well as user experience and is precisely here where the Digital Analytics comes. We are those guys who care about the user journey, keeping an eye on his experience, extracting insights from it and finally test them with aim to improve the web experience, and that my friend, becomes the most pleasurable job you probably have ever done. If nowadays you’re working on it, you know what I’m talking about, but if you don’t, before you take this way, there are some topics you have to keep in mind in order to get successful as fast as possible without pain (well, in fact there will be pain, I’ll just try to reduce it!).

Technical skills are required!

Yes, that’s it, even if you only want to analyse data, a minimum technical knowledge about analytics implementations is a must, that means you have to handle cleverly JavaScript programming language as well as the analytics platforms particularities. Is important to be mindful that: The way the data is collected, is the way the data is correlated between itself. It’s a very important topic, you simply cannot analyse data without knowing how an implementation has been done, and if you try, you’ll fail.

I know, I know it sound a bit radical, but believe me when I tell you I’ve seen lots of brave marketers opening their analytics platforms and starting to pull incorrect data, crossing variables without any sense and take conclusions from them like a rabbit eating carrots. To avoid this situations, there is three main steps to follow:

Learn javaScript programming language

Don’t be panic, it’s like to learn a new language but a little more easy. There are a lot of sites that will help to get it and I recommend to start with codecademy, is a programming learning site that contains many courses, one of them is about javaScript which gonna prepare you to understand the basics for then be ready to surf across internet and becoming a pro.

I also strongly recommend to learn jQuery, it’s a library based in javaScript that simply makes more easy and intuitive coding in javaScript. Some people try to be pragmatic and learn only jQuery, but it’s not the proper approach, you cannot understand how analytics implementations work without knowing javaScript, so you have to take jQuery as a simple help.

Take me to codeCademy!

Learn Google and Adobe Analytics implementations

There are a lot of analytics platforms but sincerely only two are on the top, covering almost a 95% of market, these are Google and Adobe Analytics.

Google Analytics has two versions the free and the premium one (now as a part of Google Analytics 360 suite), the last one has some interesting features and less restrictions compared to the free one, but I’m going to talk a bit more about them in next posts. The tool is easy to manage as well as to implement and also, thanks to their free version, there is lot of information out there.

Google Analytics Implementation

Adobe Analytics has two versions as well, but both are under payment and obviously the premium one has more capabilities than the other. The tool is complicated to use and also to implement and there isn’t much information, so only medium/big companies have access. The advantage respect Google Analytics is that is much more powerful and customizable.

Adobe Analytics Implementation

You have to learn both Google and Adobe platforms, otherwise you will never see the big picture and you will be unable to compare them and so build your own opinion.

Learn GTM and DTM deployments

Tag Management Systems aka TMS, are tools that serves to manage where, when and how the javascripts/pixels (almost all marketing tools works with javaScript, which means them can be deployed by TMS) have to be fired. As with the analytics platforms, there are a lot of tag management systems as well, but I’m gonna focus on Google Tag Manager from Google and Dynamic Tag Manager from Adobe. Both of them are free, you just have to create a GTM account here or requests DTM access here.

Google Tag Manager from Google is the most used Tag Management system, like as the platform, thanks their free condition. It has some weaknesses like the ability to fire synchronous tags, which means none A/B testing tool can be fired through it neither using bubbling on events detection from an easy way.

The best way to learn about GTM is to start to read Simo Ahava’s Blog, he is the most reputable GTM expert and each one of his posts have something interesting to learn.

Simo Ahava Blog

Dynamic Tag Manager from Adobe is the most used TMS from Adobe clients although it’s free for all. DTM is able to dispatch all code snippets and its user interface allow to deploy Google and Adobe Analytics very quickly. From my point of view DTM is better than GTM in different aspects, but let’s postpone this discussion for next posts.

To learn to handle DTM I would recommend you to visit Jan Exner’s Blog, where you will find a lot of information about DTM and how deploy Adobe Analytics through it.

Jan Exner Blog

Data collection and variables relation

Once you feel comfortable from a technical point of view, the next challenge is understand how data goes from the website to the analytics platform and how data is processed by themData travels from browsers to platforms through HTTP request along with lots of variable values about web behavior which eventually  are stored at the analytics databases.

data-journey

This distribution and how then we can visualize data on the platforms is what is known as variables relation which basically means that not all variables can be crossed between them and here’s where lies the key: to know what variables can be crossed, makes the difference between the ‘analyst’ and the ‘good analyst’.

What almost all analytics tools have in common is the kind of variables them use to show data: Metrics which represents some user actions (page viewed, form sent, searcher used, button clicked,…) and Dimensions, which describe something where the action happens (page name, button color, form type, user type,…).

Google Analytics for example, groups its dimensions by value expiration (hit, sesion, user or product) and only the same scope level variables can be crossed between them, while Adobe Analytics allows to group them by value expiration (hit, session, user, product, event fired or time period) and by value allocation (original value, last value or linear value) and just variables activated during a matching period of time can be crossed.

I assume that if you didn’t know that, you start to realize how complicated can be to make an analysis without this concepts well assumed. Is not the goal of this post that you understand all of it right now, let’s do it on coming posts but by now, you can start reading the Adobe Analytics master Adam Greco, Avinash Kaushik’s Blog which needs no presentation and Justin Cutroni’s Blog, Google Analytics product evangelist.

Adam Greco BlogAvinash Kaushik BlogJustin Cutroni Blog

Setup Analytics Platform

Analytics tools can fit to every websites thanks to their internal control panels with many options such as upload external data, configuring traffic channels, setting up dimensions and metrics or cross domain configuration and… it’s far to be easy to understand, especially when there is no background on the matter. To get an idea about how complicated it can be, let’s take a look at below picture:

Adobe-Analytics-data-path

In case of Adobe Analytics, all points between the first and the last image are configurable into admin panel and these only represents the 20% of all features. Admin panels have to be studied carefully so any mistake here could potentially corrupt your data and could leading you to take the wrong decisions. You can check the admin panels’ options on below buttons:

Google Analytics Admin PanelAdobe Analytics Admin Panel

Last thoughts

When I started my career I would have liked to read a post such this, like all the beginnings, when everything is new become difficult to know where put the focus and sometimes this lack of direction becomes stress and extra hard working hours.

No one will avoid you to make efforts, but believe me, these efforts will give you in return a deeply analytics knowledge that will make you feel more comfortable to cope the coming challenges with which you’ll probably face to.

Coming posts will be more technical, delving into those key points that will help you to progress faster and make you stand out in your work. Finally I want to share with you a video that represents those marketers you don’t want to be. Enjoy! ;)

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