iTunes entered the market in 2003 with the idea that people will actually pay for music after getting it for free through Napster and Kazaa. As many remember, a flood of free downloadable music poured into our computers, safe or not, and it turned into an early gold rush of pirated content before people really even thought there was something wrong with it. iTunes came in that aftermath of that stampede and surprisingly it worked and people trusted it more than streaming from an unknown computer, and they paid for it.
Anyone over 18 at the publishing of this post has probably used iTunes before, and even more so knows how to use it to meet their needs. But how many of those users have ever studied the program or could claim to know almost all there is to know about it power and capability? Probably less than 10%.
Google Analytics is deceptively similar. It came onto the scene as a high powered, reliable, free, and deeply integrated tool to measure more than just the basics of website traffic and other search metrics. You can use it without reading and in depth manual and there are valuable results that pop out immediately, making a tutorial seemingly pointless. The problem is the easy to find stats can be distracting you from deeper stats and analysis. The unfortunate consequence of this is that there are probably tons of people out there using the program yet are operating nowhere near its potential.
The misconception then is that all because a person has used it, even for years, it doesn’t mean that they could pass a test measuring proficiency in the tool. You used iTunes for years to do what you needed it to do. This is the usual approach to technology. It’s almost like 20-50% of a program’s capabilities will be ignored. This is fine if the user wants to keep it casual or has just one use for a program, and if that’s how you use GA, then I don’t suggest studying or taking the test. It’s not worth your time.
This leads me to the first point about this test: know if it’s worth your time and the effort required.
If you use GA for only measuring traffic, such as counting one or two metrics, then you don’t need to take the test. Setting up campaigns and events is not on your radar and that’s fine. You don’t need to dig much deeper and take the test.
This leads me to my first bit of advice which will seem obvious:
Install Google Analytics and use it. I say this to rule out the possibility of never really using the program and pulling answers from a tutorial to pass. For one thing, I don’t think you’ll pass and for another, why do you really want to get certified in the first place? If it’s to get the certification to make yourself or your company more marketable and competitive, then your problem isn’t your lack of certification, it’s that you’re selling Website Analysis without ever using one of the most popular tools on the market. You’ve been warned. Don’t give SEOs a bad name by pulling this stunt. Take the time to learn the basics of our trade, you’ll benefit more in the long run and you’ll definitely give a better service to your clients.
How much experience do you need before you could be comfortable with it? I’d say multiple uses with varying purposes using a diverse set of tasks on GA would be a solid base. If you don’t have clients yet, then try it on your own site and give yourself small goals and tasks to complete.
Don’t learn only the dashboard, get to know the engine. See what I did there? A deep knowledge of how Google works, how it crawls, when it crawls, and how Google Analytics integrates with the search engine and how it works on your site is necessary to passing the test. Put it this way, if you don’t know the difference between first party and third party cookies and which category GA falls into then you need to develop this area of knowledge.
You need a developed website you’re tracking. This is somehwhat easy but what’s really needed is a good set of data dating back at least three months and with campaigns and event tracking enabled. I’m talking the works.
Study tutorials about Google Analytics. Luckily, they exist and in high quality. Here’s a quick scan of necessary places you need to visit to study outside of Google Analytics:
Those three will do. Cover each as many times as you need to get a grasp on what GA is about. The presentations Google provides are obviously a must-see, but personally I rate them as the least interesting out of that list. The presentations seem awkward and rushed. You’ll have to stop at certain slides and definitely take notes. The disadvantage of that one over the others is that they’re hard to search once you’re in them. The Slingshot questions as well as the Jens Sorensen tutorial is searchable.
*Note. Avoid going to this website as a resource: http://www.googleanalyticstest.com. I found the test to be long, exhausting, boring, out of date, and buggy. If you want to cover a lot of ground and practice your skills, you’ll spend 5 hours going through all the questions that are way more difficult than the test itself. I only experienced a hit in my morale when I took it and it broke halfway through.
You don’t have to know the information, just know where it is….mostly. One advantage of the GAIQ test is that you can pause the test at any time. Use this to your advantage. And by that I mean know where to find answers that you’re unclear on. The test is open book so play into that. However, do not lean too much on this aspect of the test. You’re more likely to pass it if you have a more intrinsic understanding of GA rather than merely knowing information about it.
What tabs should you quick reference? Here are a few must haves for the occasion:
Once you have all of that in place, you should be ready to go.
I want to reiterate at the end of this post the need for both experience with GA and intensive study to pass. If you’re green with GA and have studied the tutorials a lot, I would highly encourage you to spend more time with it and play around with aspects of it to give you an idea of what it can do. If you’ve been using GA for a while but haven’t studied, don’t think you can go in there an wing it without expanding your knowledge. The test will pull from areas you haven’t used before.
Also some minor points to keep in mind about the test itself: