The (Long) Road to Becoming an Analytics Expert

The (Long) Road to Becoming an Analytics Expert child page title

When I began at Pace, it was as if I was thrown headlong into the icy pool of Digital Analytics with a cellphone in my pocket and wearing my nicest leather clothes. Having a background in statistics, research, and economics, I believed when they told me I was a great candidate. But I quickly realized what my superiors called a “gearing up process” would be more difficult than I had first anticipated. Now, a month into my position as a digital analyst at Pace, I have started at step one and am on the road to becoming an analytics expert. The steps Pace has taught me to learn analytics thus far are advantageous for anyone interested in becoming an analyst.

Step One: Critical Thinking

Learning to think critically is the first step to developing an analytics expertise. Some speak of critical thinking as if it is an innate personality characteristic, but critical thinking is a learned, teachable skill. Critical thinking means recognizing that the truth is always deeper than it appears.

Analytics at Pace taught me to begin by making a checklist of the tasks I need to perform each time I analyze the data. A couple of these items in my checklist include:

  • state the assumptions I hold about the data … and then drop those assumptions
  • look for trends … and then find exceptions to the trends
  • see what has changed recently … and then explore what has changed slowly
  • review every fact logically

For instance, when looking at data, I ask why the metrics may be increasing and what could be causing this growth. Reporting an increase in a metric without insight is a painfully incomplete story. Analytics at Pace requires analysts to persist in looking for an interesting story even when it seems there are only dead ends on the surface. That’s where the digging comes in.

Step Two: Microsoft Excel

Excel is a beautiful tool, and it’s potential is under-utilized by most analysts. Pace has taken time in teaching me to become fluent in the language of Excel and to learn the nuances of this basic tool in order to find the best insights for a client. Excel pivot tables, functions, lookup tables, and formulas are all tools I was taught to become fluent with immediately. When using Excel, I have pushed myself to uncover the best way to do something, rather than just grinding it out the way I knew how. When needing to drag a formula, I save myself time in the future and learn how to lock the column/row. Additionally, learning how to pivot data instead has made insights stronger and able to be uncovered quickly.

Step Three: Google Analytics

My first week, I was immersed in Google Analytics (GA) tutorial videos. Bookmarking the GA help website and referring to it frequently helped me to gather a full understanding of how GA computes/gathers their data. For instance details about how GA reports average time on page is important when comparing results from a program, like Omniture, which calculates this value differently.

Analytics at Pace calls for a complete understanding of the analytics and more than an automated report. Learning to create custom segments in GA allows the data to be sliced to create stronger, actionable insights. GA automatically aggregates, and custom segmentation gives the control to decide how I tell my story.  Pace is always pressing to use GA and other programs in ways that go deeper than just basic reporting.

Step Four: Self-learning

Finally, I have found it very helpful to read analytics blogs online. This is a daily routine and necessary. My favorite is Occam’s Razor by Avinash Kaushikl. He has a list of “unmissable” articles that I was told to read before doing anything. The best part is that Kaushikl has a simple and engaging method of explaining analytics. Committing to reading these blogs daily and learning the newest techniques and program updates has been extremely valuable in my analytics journey. The field is moving quickly, and as a result expertise expires just as fast. Pace analysts are in front of the trends and are learning more everyday.

Continuing Down the Road

The steps Pace has taught me have started me on the road to becoming an expert analyst. With more demand from clients to better understand the traffic and numbers behind their sites, Pace expects more from their analysts and more from each report. These steps have helped me to meet these expectations. More than just analytical practice, these steps contribute to a method of thinking deeper and advancing faster.

Photo by UCF openSpace via CC License