Must Read Book – Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics – Second Edition

This post is long overdue. I wanted to do a review of Brian Clifton’s book Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics (second edition) last month when it came out. For those of us in higher education, this book is essential reading. Period.

When it comes to web analytics and, specifically Google Analytics, Brian Clifton is at the top. The book is the second edition, but it is so much more than just an update of the first book – it’s almost a complete re-write. So much has happened since the first book came out. You can read all about it over on Brian’s blog.

Full disclosure: I was lucky enough to read the book before it was published and offer feedback and comments. I’ve never done that before, but what an excellent learning experience!

So, let’s get down to the book. The name of it says “advanced” but you don’t need to be an advanced user of Google Analytics to get a lot out of it. It takes you from the very basics of what web analytics is, how to get started with both web analytics and Google Analytics all the way to advanced topics and techniques.

Great content for higher education website owners.

Google Analytics vs. Urchin. There’s an entire section in the book about Urchin – the differences between Urchin and Google Analytics and how to choose which one fits best with  your organization. There have been a lot of questions lately about which one is better and what the differences are. This section spells out everything.

On Data accuracy. There is a large section that goes into data accuracy and implications. There is a great part about data misinterpretation that’s essential for newbies and really a good reminder for everyone. This section makes me think of when we deliver reports to leadership. We’re asked all the time why numbers don’t tie out, why unique visitors doesn’t mean “people,” why we don’t want to show hard numbers. This section has some great answers to those questions and much, much more. Photocopy the section and leave it on your boss’s chair.

Reports and implementation. The middle of the book goes into reporting and correct implementation. It’s here you’ll get the nitty-gritty of what each report means and tips about how to implement correctly – including advanced implementation techniques. There is an entire chapter dedicated to “best practices configuration.”

Key performance indicators and real-world tasks. My favorite part of the book talks about key performance indicators and goes into KPIs by job function – the marketer, the webmaster, the content provider, etc. This is where most people get stuck with web analytics – what do I measure? I have all this data to look at and I’m not sure where to start. Start here.

A couple of great KPIs that caught my attention:

  • % Brand Engagement – # of visits with branded search terms + # of direct visits/total visits from search engines+total # of directs
  • Conversion Quality Index – % goal conversions from referrer X/% visits from referrer X

From the book,

… the conversion quality index (CQI) is all about measuring how well targeted your campaigns are at driving conversion on your website.

Monetizing a non-e-commerce site. One of the things that is the key to getting leadership buy-in and getting things done is the ability to monetize as much as possible. Monetizing a non-e-commerce site is a section we should use to “kick it up a notch.” It talks about assigning goal values and enabling e-commerce reporting for our non-e-commerce sites.

I’ve been experimenting with the first technique (assigning goal values) and using average page value ($Index). This is a great metric that shows if a specific page is generating conversions. For example, if you go to the content report and sort by $Index, it will help you prioritize pages. What specific pages are contributing the most to your conversions?

But what if our *goal* is offsite? In higher education there are so many instances of our *goals* happening off our website. Sometimes they are on a sub-site within our domain. Sometimes they are on a completely different domain – a third party vendor or the like. How do we track to the conversion? There is a section explaining how to do it.

Those are just highlights. There’s so much more.


One thing I forgot to mention, which should have been front and center and I apologize , is the fact that this book goes deep into all the added functionality of GA in recent months and since the first edition of this book came out a couple years ago. The one new feature of GA that I’m most impressed with is their Intelligence section. I’ve worked with other tools that you can set up alerts with (if our visit rate goes below X, notify me), but I’ve never worked with a tool that will basically do that for you. Of course you can set up custom alerts, but this is different. It alerts you when things are *out of the norm* automatically. We’ve found this so useful. Brian goes into describing exactly how that happens how GA knows something is out of the norm – or how they describe – is a *significant change*.


For those of us in higher education who use Google Analytics, this should be required reading. Everyone knows that “web analyst” just doesn’t exist in higher education. We’re all jacks of all trades. This is probably the biggest reason this book is so relevant to us. Heard of a technique but just aren’t sure how to go about actually doing it? Brian talks about a technique and then steps you through how to implement it. It does tend to get a bit technical in parts, but for us, that’s a good thing.

5 Responses to “Must Read Book – Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics – Second Edition”

  1. Jess says:

    Yep. I read this last year. Very helpful. :)

  2. Hi Jess – yes, this book is fantastic. If you read the first edition, I still would recommend the second edition as well. GA has changed so much since the first edition came out. The second edition closes that gap. It goes into detail about all the added functionality, etc. Thanks for reminding me, though, I should have included the new functionality as a section in the post. Boy, I can’t believe I didn’t do that! Thanks!

  3. Hi Shelby – many thanks for your review.

    I was asked recently by Daniel Waisberg of the WAA about what has changed from the 1st ed. So thought I could include it here…

    Has Google Analytics itself changed that much since you wrote the first edition of the book?

    When I started writing the new second edition (last June), my intention was for a an update. A few week’s work—estimated to be ten weeks at most! However, within 3 weeks I was re-writing whole sections and then chapters. This was because once I sat down and gave it some serious thought, so much in the product has changed.

    In the past two years, Google Analytics has integrated with AdSense and Feedburner, launched event tracking, advanced segments, Intelligence alerts, motion charts, custom reporting, custom variables, the data export API and the new asynchronous method of tracking. I have probably also missed a few. In the end, the re-write took me 7 months.

    Full interview here:

    Hope this helps. Essentially, if you are more than an occasional GA user, the 2nd edition is a must read! Of course I am highly bias :)

    Best regards, Brian

  4. Yes! Thanks so much for adding this in, Brian! I should have done a better job in the initial post with adding in the “what’s different.” What I want to know is how the heck could I have forgotten to mention advanced segments? :) I feel like that’s all I write about anymore! One thing that I found really useful is that you went into using advanced segments vs. using profile filters. That’s also a question that comes up frequently.

    Besides advanced segmentation, as I mentioned in the update after Jess’ comment, I’m really getting some valuable information out of the intelligence reports. Feedburner is also huge. No more hacks needed (well, unless you don’t use Feedburner). :)

    Anyway. Thanks. I appreciate you adding this in.

  5. I am currently reading Brian’s book as well and it is a fantastic resource. It has very technical sections which build on the knowledge and understanding on Anivash’s books/blogs. If you really want to understand how GA works, and how to get developers to do what you want them to do this resource is fantastic.

    Good call Shelby!