Adam’s Analytics Adventure: Week 1
Upon alighting from the bus as I arrived for my first day of work, I found myself crossing the road next to a group with whom I immediately felt a degree of kinship – casually dressed (but not overly so), a scattering of black-plastic-rimmed glasses – the sort of people who, upon immediate visual inspection, you might peg as the employees of some kind of dotcom, web 2.0 startup. Such proved to be the case, in fact, as they all funneled into the shared office space where I was about to start work. After entering myself, I was taken into an open-plan office, and offered the use of a desk with a balance ball to sit on. Aahhh. Here we go.
After a cup of tea and a few minutes enjoying bouncing on the ball, Mark and Dara (my paymasters) arrived, handed me a box of business cards (subtle off white colouring, tasteful thickness, &c.&c.&c.) and took me out for coffee to explain what will be occupying my first few weeks here at Measurelab. A brief aside: this probably isn’t what Mark was expecting when he tasked me with recording my first few weeks on the job, familiarising myself with the tools of the digital analytics trade; however, I feel there’s a degree of value – and entertainment, hopefully – in including a narrative account of working for a small tech business as employee #1. With any luck, in a few years Yahoo1 will buy us and I can become a British Marco Arment and spend my time writing long posts about burr grinders or whatever. On the other hand, if it all goes to pot it’ll be something I can draw on for what will no doubt be a cracking post on Medium a couple of years down the line.
Ahem. Digital analytics, then. My background is more in the ‘analytics’ side of things – I’ve just finished a mathematics degree with quite a heavy statistical component – so the heavy lifting for me here will be familiarising myself with the tools and the lingo of the trade. Google Analytics appears to be the tool of choice for us here at Measurelab and (as near as I can tell) the digital analytics community as a whole, so I’ve been cracking on with the courses Google so thoughtfully provides, starting with the baby-steps basics of Digital Analytics Fundamentals. I’ve also been familiarising myself with some of the client work – seeing the company’s workflow, how everything slots together, and all the different tools and systems at we use – Google Docs for client-facing stuff, Trello for project management, Harvest for tracking time spent, and so on. Fortunately, I’m already familiar with these tools to a greater or lesser extent, which speeds things along somewhat.
Eventually, I’m going to have to take the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (turns out even if you think you’ve left full-time education behind you can never escape tests) but that’s not for a few weeks yet. So far I’ve completed the first few units and gained some basic grounding in the concepts of digital analytics.
Measurelab is a growing company – growing too large for the office space it currently shares with sister company Playlab, and moving to a new space at the beginning of September – which is to say I’m only in the office a few days a week. The rest of the time I’m working from my delightful home office (tr: ‘the part of my bedroom not occupied by bed or discarded clothes’) with support from Mark and Dara via Skype (talking to employers on Skype is a lot more chill than you might imagine). It seems like I stopped at quite an appropriate point on Day 1, as when I started again there followed a transition from the theory stuff to the process – ‘how do you get Google Analytics to do this’ rather than first principles ‘what is a dimension, what is a metric’ kind of stuff.
Before I started work,I said to a friend of mine that I suspected the job was going to get inside my head and end up changing the way I thought about the internet, and such is proving to be the case. For instance, have you ever looked up at the url bar and instead of a clean ‘.com’ or ‘.co.uk’ at the end of the address, seen some mess like “/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=email_signature&utm_campaign=email_adam&utm_content=email_signature_text”? I know what that means now2! It’s like being able to see the Matrix3. I find myself browsing to flashy dynamic websites that don’t paginate things and wondering just how they’ve got their event tracking implemented.
The courses are fairly straightforward, and I got ~70% on the final assessments, which, coming from an academic environment, is very good, but apparently I’m going to need to get 80%+ on the GAIQ. Erk. In my defense, the questions I got wrong were along the lines of ‘which of these are ways you can do x’, which I don’t usually think about in those terms, I just kinda do them. Still, have a bit of work to do before I’m ready for the GAIQ.
Having completed the courses, I was given access to some data and told to go hog-wild see whether I could draw useful conclusions in certain areas. I was also introduced to the Analytics addon for Google Docs, which is a godsend to someone like me because it allows me to drag the analytics data into the comforting environment of a spreadsheet, where I can make it jump through hoops.
Exploring the data was an interesting exercise. Some things are very immediately obvious – “you’re not getting any hits at all from Adwords”, for instance, really jumped out, but you have to drill down a bit more to get other insights. Introducing a new feature may look like it boosted goal conversion in the short-term, comparing it to the previous month, but it’s actually a decline compared to the same period last year… however, at that time, the goal might actually have been different, rendering such direct comparison useless.
There’s a lot to take in, a lot to think about. But it’s interesting, and sitting here on a balance ball, a gentle breeze coming in through the window to the sun-drenched brick courtyard outside, I can’t help but think I’m probably going to enjoy it here. Join me next week for the next thrilling installment of Adam’s Analytics Adventure. I might even can the chattiness and talk about some actual analytics stuff4!
1. sorry, Yahoo!↩
2. I stole this one from my email signature. It says it’s come from an email I sent, specifically the text in my email signature (there’s a separate url for the company logo picture).↩
3. well, sort of.↩
4. nah, it’s not happening↩