A Question of Analytics

For some of us, analytics can be a frightening word. We know it's a crucial aspect of online marketing and yet shy away from talk of measurement, data and everything else that reminds us of maths class.

So this week we thought we'd demystify the subject by interviewing two of Distilled's resident experts: data journalist Volodymyr Kupriyanov (VK), and analyst Tom Capper (TC).

Volodymyr KupriyanovWhat does data journalism involve, VK?

VK: Being a data journalist means combining conventional journalism with spreadsheets, data visualisations and, increasingly, interactive elements. Being a data journalist at Distilled means doing lots of research to help create content for our clients, as well as find meaningful insights in all kinds of data.

Give us an overview of your average day. 

VK: I spend about 80% of my time figuring out how to make things work: where to find data, how to organise it, how to pull it quickly and efficiently, how best to display it, etc. The other 20% of my time I spend looking for patterns and pulling out insights from the data I work with.

TC: The majority of my time is spent reviewing analytics Tom Capperaccounts and delivering my findings to clients. This can be identifying problems and opportunities with sites or offering implementation and reporting advice. I also research how we can make better use of analytics and offer statistical oversight for our CRO and R&D teams.

What is the hardest thing about your role?

VK: Finding that angle, that “story” in data that makes it interesting, ties everything together, and delivers an insight.

TC: Pushing our measurement and insight capabilities to the next level – the unknown unknowns.

What do you enjoy most?

VK: I really enjoy spotting patterns and getting that “a-ha” moment of realisation, when all of a sudden you see things come together and start making sense.

TC: Similar with me – I enjoy solving problems.

Got any advice for someone wanting to become a data journalist/analyst?

VK: Get good at the data stuff. Not maths, not stats, but data. Take some online data journalism courses. Learn where to find data and how to collate it. Learn Excel and the basics of scraping. I spend most of my time finding things on Google and making them work in Google Spreadsheets or Excel. And always visualise the data you work with, it’s the quickest way of knowing you’re doing something right.

TC: You need to be able to look at things in an analytical way and enjoy doing so. Be that annoying guy that always says “not necessarily”.

What do people most often misunderstand about analytics? 

VK: I think a lot people think that “data” means “insight” and having more data automatically means knowing more. What I’ve seen happen a number of times is people being overwhelmed by massive spreadsheet reports not knowing what to make of them. This is often the case with Google Analytics – there is so much data in there that people are often not sure what they should be looking at. 

TC: The most frequent mistake I see is never looking at or trying to understand the data in the first place. Beyond that, a common error is having parts of the site on a subdomain and not handling that properly in analytics – either the same tracking ID is used and there’s no way to separate subdomain.example.com/index.htm and www.example.com/index.htm in reports, or a different tracking ID is used.

How can your role help those working in the digital industry?

VK: I believe my role is instrumental in our content creation at Distilled. Having a hunch for data and being web-savvy allows me to find and mine data quickly and efficiently using APIs and Google Spreadsheets with an occasional bit of JavaScript. Data mining not only helps with creating content, but also with streamlining some reporting that would normally be done via GA, Moz tools or similar. Finally, being data-savvy and embracing best practices of journalism allows me to make sure that the data and information our content is based on is verifiable, credible and, where necessary, statistically sound.

TC: I help people identify, quantify and test opportunities to get more out of their websites.

Which resources are useful for people wanting to learn more?

VK: Start here http://datadrivenjournalism.net/ and see if this is something you might enjoy in the first place. Follow the New York Times News Graphics team, because they are probably the best in the world at data journalism. Also, check out Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight – these guys do a lot of cool data journalism that’s well worth your attention.

TC: No cool websites from me I’m afraid. Google’s Digital Analytics Fundamentals course is a good place to start, but it’ll only teach you definitions. Beyond that, you just need to get stuck in, and if you can’t figure something out, Google it.

We hope you found the interview insightful. For more posts about analytics, take a look at this section of our Resources page.


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