Passing the Google Analytics Individual Qualification

Last week I finally got around to taking the Google Analytics Individual Qualification and passed with 94%.  See my test records and certificate.

I reckon the test should be reasonably straightforward for anyone who uses Google Analytics regularly. The trickiest part for me were the multiple choice questions where you need to select “all that apply” and aren’t sure how many you have to tick. I think these were probably where I lost my 6%. :(

Tips for passing are:

  • Make sure you carefully watch the video lessons in Google’s Conversion University. Nearly all the questions I was asked could have been answered from the information there.
  • Pay especial attention to the sections on e-commerce tracking and AdWords integration if you don’t use these features yourself, as you’ll definitely be asked questions about them.
  • Also read an up-to-date Google Analytics book, as there were a few questions I wouldn’t have known the answers to just from the Conversion University videos. I read Justin Cutroni’s Google Analytics from O’Reilly during the week before the exam. This was only published in August, so doesn’t contain outdated information, and packs a lot of content in a concise form. (O’Reilly books also have an advantage at the moment of being available really cheaply in the iPhone App Store – if you can bear the finger-strain of all the page swiping.) Alternatively, you could try the second edition of Brian Clifton’s Advanced Web Metrics with Google Analytics. (See this review of the previous edition which I wrote a couple of years ago.)  The Google Analytics Channel videos and anything written by Avinash Kaushik are also very worthwhile for additional background study.

Below are a few links to “exam tips” posts in other blogs which I found helpful when preparing for the test:

Most unbelievable Dreamweaver bug ever …

I’ve been using Dreamweaver for nine years now and have put up with some pretty poor behaviour from it on occasion. However, since our last upgrade (to CS3) I’ve generally been pleased with the noticeable lack of random crashiness.

Until yesterday.

I was innocently editing a CSS file when stupid Dreamweaver crashed and wouldn’t re-open. I mentioned it to a colleague who went to open the site I was editing – and his copy of Dreamweaver crashed and wouldn’t restart either!

Many thanks to Mike Padgett who provided a detailed fix on his site last year.  Amazingly, Dreamweaver CS3 crashes when you edit a file to exactly a multiple of 8,192 bytes.  To fix it, you just need to open the offending file in Notepad and add some content to get it above the Dreamweaver Filesize of Doom.

Judging by the number of comments on Mike’s post, this can’t be considered a freakishly rare problem. With the current economic situation a lot of people may be putting off upgrading to CS4 (where the problem is apparently fixed), so this weird bug is likely to continue to victimise further unsuspecting web designers for some time to come.

UK Government boost for open source (hopefully)

The UK Government yesterday announced it wants to promote the use of open source software in the public sector. There’s a good discussion of this on the Guardian’s technology blog:  UK government puts open source software on equal footing for procurement.

From the point of view of improving value for money in public sector website development,  I think this is definitely good news -  particularly if it boosts the use of open source content management systems over their proprietary cousins. The policy also contains a welcome commitment to open formats for information published on government websites.

Andrew Donoghue has a funny take on the story at ZDNet: UK Government reckons this open source thingy could catch on maybe.

10 favourite web design books

As a break from reviewing new books, this is a quick list of older web design books which I’ve enjoyed a lot.

Web Design

Designing with Web Standards – I read the first edition of Jeffrey Zeldman’s book in 2003 when I was  pretty fed up with the unsatisfying business of learning endless display hacks for different browsers, which web design then seemed mainly to consist of.  I  liked the whole idea that web standards offered a more coherent future for web development and the author’s coherently-argued narrative and gradualist approach made it all seem more realisable.

The Zen of CSS Design – Really opened my eyes to what could be done with CSS. Lots of really pretty stuff.

Bulletproof Web Design and CSS Mastery: Advanced Web Standards Solutions – 2 very well-thumbed books on web design which I keep coming back to.

From a personal perspective, I’d like to include  The Art and Science of Web Design by Jeffrey Veen published back in 2000.  I borrowed this from the library at college in 2001 while doing an MSc in Information Systems. I read it through in an afternoon, totally caught up in it.  A lot of its advice is definitely outdated now, but it was well written and a great read at the time.

Usability

Don’t Make Me Think! A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability – Fun to read and re-read. A real-life feel to the examples and some great graphics and cartoons which you can use with clients or project team members to explain points.

Designing Web Usability– Another book which I read at college as part of a module on user interface design which focused mainly on web usability. I felt like I got more out of this book than from everything else in the module combined. It’s powerfully (if somewhat prescriptively) argued and made a great cover-to-cover read at the time.

Accessibility

Building Accessible Websites – Well written with a friendly authorial voice and a pragmatic approach to accessible design. Also had a nice selection of resources on the accompanying CD.

Search and navigation

Ambient findability – I always enjoy well-written stuff about search and this is one of the most satisfying reads on the subject.

Information Architecture for the Word Wide Web – I read the original (shorter) version at college and enjoyed it a lot – then read the second, much larger, edition a couple of years ago. A really comprehensive look at navigation and search which gives you a lot to think about.

Why aren’t RSS feeds more popular?

When I suggested adding RSS feeds to our website at my workplace over two years ago I explained the need to do so partly by explaining that “They aren’t mainstream now, but many more people will be using feeds once IE7 comes out.” IE7 came out, IE8 will soon be here and RSS still doesn’t seem to be much better understood by the general public – which doesn’t say much for my predictive abilities. I still have to regularly explain from square one to users how to access our feeds, since the vast majority of people still seem blissfully unaware about what they are and how to use them.

A Hiveminds article from a couple of years ago called 5 Reasons Why RSS Feeds are Not Popular still seems largely accurate today. It remains pretty much the case that only really keen Internet users subscribe to RSS feeds. Below are my 5 reasons why RSS feeds still aren’t popular today:

  1. RSS is still unknown to most people. As the Hiveminds article put it: “The average Internet user still has no idea what RSS is or how to go about using it. … To the average website visitor RSS feeds seem to be a geek toy requiring knowledge that they don’t have time to gain or just are are not interested in.” This is still very true and it can be tough to explain to non-technical users how to use feeds due to the variety of different readers available – browser-based, online services and stand-alone feed reader applications. People are stuck in their ways and like email alerts because they have plenty of experience in using them. Understanding RSS and the tools to use it is an effort for many people, as the concepts can seem fuzzy compared to the concrete experience of e-mail which everyone shares.
  2. Corporate IT types generally aren’t interested in RSS. A lot of regular IT guys don’t seem to have much of an idea about RSS, unless they’re specifically web developers. Corporate IT departments don’t tend to support RSS readers or promote their use. There seems to be much more enthusiasm for RSS among Information Management or library professionals in organisations, but they don’t usually have as much influence on organisational priorities.
  3. Marketing people generally aren’t interested in RSS. There also seems to be a lack of enthusiasm for RSS among marketing professionals. In large part, I think this is because there is a perception that RSS is a boring textual medium and that they will have more control over the look of an email than over how a feed will be received. Because a lot of feeds don’t even have basic styles applied to them, there must also be a lot of people who have clicked on them and been frightened by the fact that they look like code.
  4. RSS feeds still fail frequently. This was mentioned in the Hiveminds article two years ago and still seems to be a problem today. The idea that validating “doesn’t matter” or “is nice if you can do it” is still prevalent with web teams, but with RSS it does really matter. RSS feeds are also out of sight, out of mind – since a non-functioning feed isn’t as visible as a page which isn’t displaying properly. The fact that so many feeds are generated automatically by a content management system means that a lot of web editors / communications team running a website don’t understand the reasons why RSS feeds fail.
  5. When feeds fail they don’t necessarily get fixed quickly. This is in large part due to the low priority RSS feeds have in organisations or personal web projects – fuelled by reasons one to four above. The people who work in an organisation, who are often the first to complain if a page doesn’t display properly, are less likely to understand or care about an RSS feed. Because RSS is low in the priorities of business managers due to indifference or ignorance, it’ll be low in the priorities of the web team, who are likely to be preoccupied with stuff they find more exciting. This similarly helps to explain why RSS feeds are often not redirected when sites are redesigned and pages are moved around. Feeds are probably among the last thing people generally think about in redesigns, as opposed to visual elements and cool functionality.

The Hiveminds article concluded that “if web browsers included feed readers by default it would probably increase RSS usage 10 fold”. It now looks as if browsers providing built-in feed readers will not in itself make subscribing to feeds a mainstream activity, since IE7 has been providing a feed reader since its launch. RSS’s successes with the general public have been away from the direct subscription model – with services like MyYahoo where people don’t even know that they’re using RSS.

People using sites pulling content dynamically from feeds don’t need to understand what technology’s behind the content they’re browsing. Many people will continue to benefit from RSS without realising it in this way and it looks like the future for mass adoption of RSS lies in this less demanding model of feed consumption, where the underlying technology is invisible to a user who just has to decide what stuff he wants to know more about.

Web work in a recession

There have been a lot of interesting posts recently on the Sitepoint and Webmaster World forums speculating about how well-placed web professionals are to deal with the oncoming recession. After a bit of research (10 minutes on said forums), I can summarise some of the main points made as follows:

  1. In so far as websites are part of marketing and advertising activities, they are likely to suffer in a recession since these areas tend to be the first to have their budgets cut when economic times are bad. However, online advertising may have a cost advantage over more expensive forms of offline promotional activity and could well see its proportion of marketing spend increase over the course of a recession. There is an interesting discussion on Webmaster World about recent trends in Google AdSense revenues which has some people reporting big drops in October and others saying things have stayed pretty steady. UK webmasters are in the happiest situation here, as the pound falling against the dollar means their AdSense revenues can actually be increasing.
  2. People working on websites which are vital to an organisation’s activities – e.g. through e-commerce or the provision of core services online – are less likely to be badly affected by cuts in a downturn.
  3. Small and large businesses alike are likely to suffer from lack of available credit. Small businesses and freelancers have the benefit of greater possible flexibility, but could be in trouble if they lack cash reserves or are too dependent upon big clients who go under.

The most sensible remedial advice on offer seems to revolve around striving to offer the best value to your organisation or client, aligning your offer closely to their business plan and coming up with ways to save them money wherever possible. Of course, I suppose we are doing this all the time anyway, aren’t we …?