Book Review: Yahoo! Web Analytics

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Yahoo AnalyticsThe use and reliance of web analytics tools for business decisions continues to grow.

Omniture and Webtrends are widely used as enterprise-level solutions. And of course, Google offers sophisticated analytics via its solution tool, Google Analytics. A lesser known player — but growing in customer base — is Yahoo! Web Analytics (YWA), a real-time solution offered with the Yahoo! Small Business package.

There’s now a how-to book about this offering,Yahoo Web Analytics: Tracking, Reporting, and Analyzing for Data-Driven Insights.

I have met the author, Dennis Mortensen, Director of Insights at Yahoo! and board member of the Web Analytics Association, through different entrepreneurial and analytics circles in New York. Dennis founded IndexTools, the start up and original name for Yahoo! Web Analytics before being purchased by Yahoo.  I wanted to review the book to see how it adds to the other body of analytics works that I have read.

As you might expect, the book gives readers a better understanding of the features of Yahoo! Web Analytics. But it  holds a secret: it is also a helpful book about advanced analytics for businesses selling merchandise online through multiple channels.

Advanced Subjects for Some. Good Explanations for All.

First things first. Yes, the book is a how-to on using Yahoo! Web Analytics.  So, naturally the explanations focus on features specific to Yahoo! Web Analytics like “Live Cost Analysis Troubleshooting,” a paid search verification tool. Mortensen broadens the subjects with asides to briefly explain metrics like “Return of Advertising Spending.”  Subjects with more elaborate explanations are covered in the author’s Visual Revenue blog.

Second, the early segments of the book are not for the Javascript challenged. Explanations do have script and coding examples, mostly on variables and tracking site occurrences. So if you have never written code for a website, your first inkling may be to shrivel into a ball of fear.

Well, shed that fear! The explanation on said variables are clear, so you won’t be too intimidated to understand what a YWATracker.setDocumentName(“xxx”) is. Also, this is a minor script-fest that clarifies their important context to data collection. So those who normally toss their website concerns to an IT person or team should beware of their profit margin folly if they don’t take time to read these first chapters.

Moreover, Mortensen offers terrific reminders of applying specific analytics examples and concerns into a larger picture of business operations, such as showing what a campaign management Excel table should look like after measurements are gathered. If you are used to Google Analytics or Omniture Site Catalyst, there are some differing terms, such as referring to funnels as scenarios. But nothing is so inexcusably wacked that an analyst would need a second-take to get the gist.

He also takes a lot of care to get the user to think of YWA (and analytics metrics in general) as more than what is seen onscreen.

“My critique of the Yahoo! Analytics dashboard as a collage is not meant to discourage you from using it. My purpose is for you to demand more and take great pride in the dashboard you build and for you to truly bend the technology as much as possible.”

His honesty and openness to a little self-criticism are very welcome. He backs-up what he writes with other sources as needed. There is a good balance of letting readers decide to study more information and concepts beyond a chapter subject or a product mention.

Great Way to Show the Best Way Analytics Can Work

As mentioned, the first chapters cover capturing data within YWA, reporting categories and tracking merchandising. The second segment of chapters concentrates on reporting tools and interface, while the last third are chapters on insights from optimization.

The book is not quite as general as Web Analytics 2.0, but does reference web analytics experts such as Avinash and Eric Peterson to make connections between the analytics and business worlds. Dashboard examples at the book’s center showcases Mortensen’s desire to provide readers “a source for discovery and inspiration” for analysis.

Who Should Read This Book

Readers who are retailing online should give this book a read, even if there is no immediate usage of YWA in your organization. The book was written with small merchants in mind (because YWA has a number of custom features meant for online merchandising). Discussion on segmentation and assigning tracking variables help those thinking of selling products online to consider the complexity of tracking goods, as well as managing various campaigns. Even if you are considering to retail online, read the book to get some insights.

While indeed specific to Yahoo small business customers using YWA, the approaches by Dennis Mortensen are welcome reminders to not accept the dashboard given and strive to make analytics-based business decisions beyond any keyword discussion.

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Pierre DeBois Pierre Debois is Associate Book Editor for Small Business Trends. He is the Founder of Zimana, a consultancy providing strategic analysis to small and medium sized businesses that rely on web analytics data. A Gary, Indiana native, Pierre is currently based in Brooklyn. He blogs about marketing, finance, social media, and analytics at Zimana blog.

12 Reactions
  1. Thanks. This is a short, balanced review of a niche that is of interest to the small business community. Though Yahoo’s search numbers so minor compared to Google, this is still a book that will help many to better grasp basic search analytics.

  2. Thank you for this review. Hopefully, the book will help Yahoo! gain a little market share. They need to, as they seem to be really behind the eight-ball.

    Great job on this review….

    The Franchise King

  3. @Joel — thanks for the thumbs up, really appreciate it.

    @Time Clock Software Guy — thanks for the comments. This is definitely a sleeper book with regards to analytics because of the title — it’s more of an overview, but with a bit more into coding and dashboards in focus than most, so it’s advanced in some ways. It also shows off YWA, but then again Dennis developed it prior to the Yahoo acquisition.

    There are still some misperceptions that analytics is more of a secondary action rather than a need to do, but many businesses are starting to see the need of some form of metrics to meet financial objective.

    Thanks for reading and posting!

  4. Martin Lindeskog

    Pierre DeBois: Thanks for pointing out that Yahoo has tools too! Which web analytics tool is your favorite at the moment?

  5. Hi Martin,

    Mostly Google Analytics (I run into that the most because of client base and questions associated), but I just added a free open source analytics tool Piwik to my site to learn more about how it is being developed, and to compare against the add-ins being used for GA. I think there is another open source as well, but don’t quote me on it yet.