How to step up your game to learn analytics implementations and debugging

One question I get asked time to time goes something like this “I’m Web Analyst and good doing lots of things with collected data, but I lack the skill for implementing and debugging analytics codes on the site, how could I take the next step to learn more about technical analytics stuff?”. I have been in this situation (and still learning all the time!), so I might have some tips and tricks to share. I have always given some short answer, but promised to write a blog post about this topic with more detailed tips, here we go.

Nowadays, my experience is that it would be difficult to make reports and give insights with analytics codes that you haven’t implemented yourself or at least haven’t done some debugging and find out can you trust the collected data. When you can trust your implementation process and data, after that you can have the right confidence to make insights based on data. Real audition for data would include much more steps, starting from cleaning your data from bots etc, but let’s not focus on that at this post.

I have some common tips, but some are only Adobe Analytics related, because usually analyst who have asked this question are using Adobe Analytics. Since you are Analyst, I assume you have basic knowledge of html coding and css styles.

1) Learn to make tagging map aka solution design requirements for analytics tool

I’m lucky and I have very experienced coders hardcoding analytics variables to the site, but they might have very little experience how and what to track for Adobe Analytics. It is my responsibility to do and manage tagging documentation that I give to coders and they implement the things I need. This is probably the best first step to master analytics implementations, because you have to learn and understand how to collect data for the tool you are using, but without need to worry about the complexity of your site how to really implement the codes on the site that could be full of javascript codes etc. Read more how to do “tagging documentation“.

2) Learn to validate analytics codes on your site or as we analyst like to call it, it’s time for debugging.

Even if you have superior coders implementing your analytics codes, don’t believe when they say “done”. It is your responsibility to make sure that everything is implemented correctly. Your superior coders are human and they make mistakes, or maybe they didn’t understand your tagging instructions or they might interprut something totally wrong because they might not have the basic understanding of your analytics tools. And no matter who makes implementation, even if it is already you, then you still need to double-check everything with debugging process. Even if you don’t have coding skills at all, you can still use easy browser tools to validate your analytics codes.

Usually every browser has “developer tools” or you can download some plugin to help with debugging process. I personally use Firebug for finding errors and httpfox for checking what is sent to my analytics tool. If something is wrong and you are not getting the data you wanted, then discuss with your coders about the issues you found. If you are chrome lover, then you could do everything with Chrome’s default developers tools. Again, I’m not going to write too detailed process for debugging, but hopefully you get started with these tips.

If you are old school like me and using e.g. Adobe Analytics s_code script on your own server and not using any TMS tools, then your favorite tool could be Charles Proxy Tool. Charles is an HTTP proxy / HTTP monitor / Reverse Proxy that enables a developer to view all of the HTTP and SSL / HTTPS traffic between their machine and the Internet. Using Charles you could “map” your s_code file to our own computer and safefully test different javascript hacks or whatever before updating changes to your real site. This goes bit off-topic, but you should check this tool.

3) Explore Document Objet Model  – and learn to save data to analytics variables using DOM on the browser

DOM, say what? Read more on Wikipedia.
If you are not comfortable enough to dive directly to the world of hardcore javascript, then DOM is easy place to start. I guess the line between DOM and javascript is quite thin, because you can use DOM in javascript to capture different data to your analytics variables. Anyway, it is much easier to just open firebug or dev tools and start to investigate and play around with different DOM “objects” on your page. This way you get the simplest ideas how to collect data to your analytics tool just using DOM, e.g. small example would be to type “document.location.href” on to console and it gives you url-address and you could save that to your page name variable.

Web is full of information about DOM, but one of my favorite one is DOM Enlightenment.

4) Not about money, but it’s all about JavaScript

Variables, data layers, objects, and don’t get me started about tag management systems! Somehow everything seems to be releated to javascript. If you really want to master analytics debuggins and implementations, you need start to learn javascript. The rise of TMS tools have given more possibilities to us analysts to get involved more on implementing analytics taggings on our site and always better to code everything yourself and not to wait when the hardcoder coders have the time. I’m not going to start discussion about the responsibility you also have when you have got more rights to do pretty much anything on your site, that would be another post.

Thanks to Simo Ahava, I don’t have to write too detailed stuff about javascript. Here is a link to very good post written by Simo: 10 JavaScript Concepts For Web Analytics Implementation. I prefer codecademy.com which is awesome place to start to learn javascript, I have also bought few books, but at least me, I learn by doing and that’s why these free online courses are awesome!

If you are using Adobe’s tools and want to learn more technical stuff related to Adobe dynamic tag management and Adobe Analytics then Jan’s website webanalyticsfordevelopers.com is your new favorite blog.

There are other good niche blogs about javascript, but if you just want to use one website to ask and learn, Stack Overflow is the place to be. Stack Overflow is a community of 6.5 million programmers, just like you, helping each other. There is even lots of available for Adobe related products, which was nice surprise.

Want to get famialiar with other analysts? Measure Slack has different channels where you can discuss almost about anything related to analytics, join in here: http://join.measure.chat/

5) Sounds good, but how to really get started?

The first step is always the hardest one. You can’t take any risks with your company site, so best tip I can share is to start your own blog/site. You don’t have to really write anything, except few silly articles or pages and there you have it, your own playground to test your tools and new implementation and debugging skills. With company sites it is risky to start testing your first javascript codings etc, but with your own site you can do anything without any risks. The next step would be to implement your learnings to small company site which doesn’t have much real business impact and this way you can build your skills before you have the confidence to raise your hand when boss asks “who wants to make javascript changes to our bank’s website?”.

Find a mentor, maybe some colleague/boss/coder who has better technical knowledge. If this is not possible, then start to follow and discuss with people that has the right knowledge you want to learn.

Just do it. I and I’m sure you will also learn just by doing. If you don’t want to ask any help, go to codeacademy.com and start to learn.

Are you feeling that this sounds bit too much? Let me tell you, I’m far from excellent when it comes to javascript coding or anything API related or any technical stuff, however, I’m damn curious and I hate if I don’t know or understand something. With the power of passion towards analytics, I have learned a lot, just by investigating, testing stuff myself and always asking and searching answers to questions that I don’t know the asnwer. Be passionate whatever you doing, you will learn, even to manipulate DOM and coding javascript.

About Antti

Antti

Digital Analytics Manager specialized in Adobe Analytics, Online personalization, SEO, CRO...

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