Google Analytics: Everything You Always Wanted To Know

August 21, 2007

Justin Cutroni will soon publish the Google Analytics Shortcuts book. And it will be the best ten bucks you will ever spend, if you care about advanced GA implementation. It’s hard to believe that the book is almost here – I remember standing in the lobby of a hotel somewhere in California just a few months ago, and Justin whispered, “I’m going to write a book about GA.”

I am not exactly impartial here. This is a book that I have read over and over and over again. I appointed myself Editor in Chief and rewrote parts of it. “Didn’t we fix this utmSetVar typo once already?” I wrote the author last week. When I read the penultimate (I hope) copy last week, I found out that this blog is in it. And did I mention that Justin is one of my best WA friends? Like I said, not impartial.

So I am a little like Bridget Jones. She loves Mark Darcy, even though his mother buys him awful gifts and she seriously believes he should rethink the length of his sideburns. I love the book, despite its imperfections.

Since this is a real review, let me discuss the imperfections. First, I think you need to be a pretty advanced GA user for Shortcuts. If you are already reading Justin’s blog, religiously, you have definitely taken a step in the right direction.

I think Justin goes to great pains to tell you why GA works the way it does, information that is badly needed. But I think he would be smarter to have put some of that in the appendix — it is just way too boring until you absolutely need it. (And then, of course, you are desperate for it.)

Periodically, Justin lapses into GA-speak. For example, he writes this about the Item line in the e-commerce hidden form: “There will be one item line for each distinct product purchased by the visitor. This usually means one item line per SKU or unique product ID.” When I read this I feel like I need to create the I: line 50,000 times if I have 50,000 SKUs. (And you don’t have to do that.) In a similar vein he says, if you have e-commerce tracking, you can just leave the goal value blank. But this drives users wild, because there is no way to leave it blank – GA insists on zero.

In a couple of (very rare) instances, I think he is wrong. But remember, I got a chance to point out problems all along the way, and he didn’t correct them – so maybe I am wrong. I am mostly thinking about applying AdWords cost data — you really don’t have to apply it to all the Analytics profiles that are linked to that AdWords account, you can choose, even though he says you have to link to all, and GA says so too. (Or maybe I am the only person in the universe who is always able to make this choice when I set up AdWords and Analytics.) And I am thinking about his Count Me Out! hack, which works fabulously to take yourself out of the data – but he also has a workaround in the book that doesn’t work. He says, use Firefox, go to the website where you want to be counted out, type this into the address bar, javascript:__utmSetVar(‘foo’), and you will create a utmv (a user defined cookie) called foo for that site. But it never works. Maybe it’s just this blogger who doesn’t know how to do it? (OK, I figured this out. When Justin wrote the book, he did it in MS Word, and Word assigns “Smart Quotes.” That’s how it knows when to turn the quotes to the right and the left, even though you only have one key on your keyboard. Anyway those special characters were gunking up the works.)

And wouldn’t it be great if the .pdf used the power of html? So that when he says, “I’ll be covering that later in my section on…. ” you could just click to it? (Maybe that will be in the final version.)

So when I write that you should drop everything and then keep dropping, i.e. drop ten bucks on this e-book as soon as it is available, it is not because I am starry eyed. I do see little imperfections, but still…. It is an incredible resource, and no GA analyst should be without it. I sure wouldn’t want to work without it anymore. That’s one of the reasons that I wanted to give away two copies to winners of the GA contest – I knew it was the perfect gift. The one you don’t have but absolutely need.

So salivate. It will be here soon.