One of the questions we hear a lot about learning web analytics is some version of “Where do I start?”

It’s not an easy question to answer. Analytics combines critical thinking, lots of different ways to interpret data, and sophisticated tool use. To make things worse typical analytics packages are huge, with dozens of different reports and filters.

Because of this we recommend practical learning, where analytics is discovered by answering a real-world question. This allows you to:

– reduce the reports you have to consider.
– start to get real value out of the tool sooner.
– use the copious resources available on the internet to answer the question.

So how should this practical approach be executed? Just follow these five steps:


1) Ask a question that needs to be solved.

This should be formulated as a phrase, and should address, if possible, a general performance question. Examples include “How can I tell how many sales I got last month” or “what is the best landing page on my site”

2) Determine if/how analytics can do it.
This is where THE INTERNET takes you on a wild ride. There are literally hundreds of web analytics blogs, not to mention forums, user groups, and professional articles. By entering your search into your favorite search engine, you will find good answers to your question. A rule of thumb is to start by looking for cookbooks or tutorials.

3) Add to your skill set in the context of that question
It’s at this point that you might look at the documentation about the report or concept in the report to expand your understanding of how to look at the data. Try to use the documentation of your chosen tool for this step.

4) Determine if any other questions come up as a result of that effort.
These are the classic “I wonder ifs” that happen with reporting. Follow as many of these as you have time for in your current reporting cycle. Each one may turn into a new report to learn about.

5) Repeat for a dozen different questions.
With a dozen questions you’re starting to get real coverage into the range of issues that your company will currently face. Don’t worry if it takes a few months for you to get to that dozen questions. It’s okay as they unfold over time.

One of the best advantages to this approach is that you will actually be in a position to provide value and insight to your company from the analytics you do. After a while, you’ll want to get some actual training, but at that point you’ll know what you’re looking for and how to guide your study of the tool.

For those of you who are still insistent on getting some training or fundamental skills, I can think of three that will be useful to have. They are all related to spreadsheets:
1) Know how to look up function references
2) Know how to sort
3) Know how to filter data

These spreadsheet skills are all pretty basic, but they almost all get used at some point in data analysis.

So what are you waiting for? Formulate a question! Ask the Internet! Build your skill set! Explore follow-up questions!

And then, do it one more time! You’ll be amazed what you find out.

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