Top positive review
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Phenomenal-- but there is one big caveat.
on April 22, 2008
Brian Clifton's Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics should, for all intents and purposes, have the term "Advanced" in bold, possibly in a gigantic type font with fun colours and exclamation marks.
The first 3-5 chapters start innocently enough, and if you have been involved in web analytics or read any other material on the topic you will find it largely rehashes what you already know with a few nuggets of gold throughout. For instance, Brian's discussion as it pertains to Google's tracking of data and its privacy implications offers a wonderful metaphor relating to personal identifiable information, though his emphasis curiously seems to be trying to convince the reader, rather than positioning it as a tool that one can use to assuage stakeholders or individuals who are not sold on analytics.
Chapter 4, which aforementioned is innocent enough, gives one a glimpse of what is to come when Brian delves into a discussion on regular expressions (in order to filter data via GA's inline filter). If you are unfamiliar with a command line interface, advanced search expressions or anything of the sort, good luck. Even if you are, this section comes WAY out of left field and perhaps could have been saved for later, but the information itself is useful and I've been utilizing a number of the expressions ever since.
Chapter 7 is where this book really begins, and Brian starts it off by giving an in depth explanation of how Google tracks pages and summarily applies that logic to show how one can track things like dynamic URL's (rewriting them along the way), tracking file downloads, partially completed forms (cool stuff), and E-Commerce settings (with some neat tricks and workarounds for frequent issues and problems), Flash, and a whole host of things. All of this is done very clearly, but if you don't have some technical aptitude/background, you're going to struggle.
After the largely technical Chapter 7, Brian shifts back into a less technically focused discussion on best practices, including a fantastic write up on goals and funnels (including excellent examples for both). His knowledge and ability to write in a clear form is particularly visible when he discusses segmentation, which, while other authors have done a good job championing, Brian, at least to me, easily blows them out of the water. If you're not technically inclined, this is a great section, though you may still be a bit perturbed by the depth of the filter settings.
Chapter's 10 and 11 are also excellent, and one does not need to be overly technical to understand them. The former discusses KPI's in an extremely clear, helpful manner and even discusses creating reports based on specific job roles. In the process, Brian reveals a bunch of custom KPI's that he has created that are fantastic--which is to say, if you are reading this section do not skip a job role just because it's not applicable, there's lots of gold to be mined.
Chapter 11 focuses on real world tasks, such as diagnosing problem pages, delves deeper into funnels and how to use Google optimizer and is a great read that, no matter who you are, I promise you will learn something from.
In summary, if you are technically inclined and can follow some of the more esoteric topics, this book is an absolute must have--buy it right now. If you are not so technically inclined, there is still lots of value in chapters, 8, 10 and 11 which in my opinion still would merit a purchase, but of course, you are not getting the same value. So, as I said to begin this admittedly long review, this book is phenomenal, but there is one big caveat. You need to have some technical knowledge to truly appreciate how much valuable information it provides.