Author: Mary E. Tyler & Jerri L. Ledford
Reviewed by: 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 sites.
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.