Suggestions and resources: Teaching web metrics and Google Analytics to communication students

Many communication instructors do not have prior expertise in web metrics, which is a new and increasingly important skill for today’s communication workers. Here’s some advice and resources that may help an instructor prepare, structure and teach courses in web metrics and Google Analytics.

Instructors need working knowledge of metrics

If you are really new to web metrics, start with the web itself – search for various topics related to web metrics and develop a thorough knowledge of metrics: what it is, how it works, why it matters, what tools people use, etc.

You also need to have ready access to Google Analytics account of a working website. Note that a free personal blog will not work, because popular blog sites such as does not support the implementation of Google Analytics; a self-hosted site is what you need.

FYI: there are various web metrics tools available; Google Analytics is a free tool developed by Google and probably the one that is most widely used.

I highly recommend that a communication instructor start his or her own self-hosted blog, and experiment everything he or she teaches: writing about a niche topic, marketing your contents, implementing SEO, monitoring traffic and much more.

An even greater benefit of a self-hosted blog is that you can implement Google Analytics tracking, and use your Analytics account as a teaching tool – you can set up guest accounts for students to practice everything they learn in class.

Resources for self-study of Google Analytics

Two resources from Google, one is free and one charges fees, can get you started learning your way around Google Analytics.

The free resource is the open courses by Google Analytics Academy. One such course, Digital Analytics Fundamentals, has some well-produced video and text lectures and you can use them to prepare your own lecture. Topics in that course include:

  • An overview of today’s digital measurement landscape
  • Guidance on how to build an effective measurement plan
  • Best practices for collecting actionable data
  • Descriptions of key digital measurement concepts, terminology and analysis techniques
  • Deep-dives into Google Analytics reports with specific examples for evaluating your digital marketing performance

Another resource is the Google Analytics Training and Certification program. Google designs three courses in analytics: intro (101), intermediate (201) and advanced (301); each course comes with a fixed set of topics and is designed as a one-day seminar. These courses are offered by several training companies certified by Google, and the training companies have a yearlong schedule to offer training seminars across the country. You can check this schedule for upcoming seminars in a place near you.

The training companies usually charge $500 for one course and offer discounts if you sign up for multiple courses. I attended one Analytics 201 (intermediate) seminar in New York City and my suggestion is that Analytics 101, the intro course, is more helpful for purpose of teaching web metrics; much in the 201 course is a bit advanced for beginners.

By the way, below is the certificate I received from that GA 201 seminar I attended:


How to structure a web metrics course

You may not be teaching a semester-long course dedicated to metrics – chances are web metrics is part of a course such as “Intro to Digital Journalism.” Either way, there are a few key areas that need to be covered; the following teaching goals thus will dictate the course structure.

Students will be familiar with key concepts and terms. You need a session or two talking about what metrics is, how it works, why it matters, etc. You also need to explain essential terms such as visit, bounce rate, pageview, organic, referral, etc.

Students will have working knowledge of Google Analytics. You need to teach students how to move about the complex Google Analytics workspace, how to pull specific reports and how to read different reports.

Student will be able to interpret metrics. Knowing how to pull the number is one thing, knowing how to interpret and act on the number is a completely different area. You may want to invite guest speakers from ad agency and news media to talk about what metrics they look at, and what they do with the metrics. Different institutions look at different metrics; for instance,

  • a news media may look at visitors, pageviews and time on site so as to help with selling commercials.
  • an e-commerce site may look at how many visitors convert to customers by making a purchase.
  • a PR worker may be interested in audience acquisition, that is, which marketing channel is more efficient in bringing in visitors.

How to evaluate student performance

You can design three types of materials to test students’ knowledge of the subject matter.

Test of concepts. You can borrow ideas from the class activities in the Digital Analytics Fundamental course – at end of each section, there are multiple-choice questions such as:

Which of the following are true about segmentation? Check all that apply.

  • Segmentation allows you to combine data from multiple web properties in your reports.
  • Segmentation allows you to isolate and analyze subsets of your data.
  • Segmentation is a technique that should only be used by experienced analysts.
  • Segmentation can help you find the underlying causes of changes to your aggregate data.

Test of skills. You can tell students to log in to your Google Analytics account and ask them to perform various tasks; for instance, you can ask “What is the percent change of new visitors to the About page month over month this year?” “How many visitors from San Francisco in February were using Internet Explorer to access my site?”

Test of problem solving. You can have students working in groups to develop web tracking proposals for various projects. Students can analyze performance of your blog and suggest improvement plans, or students can choose a nonprofit website, pretending to prepare a campaign for them, and propose what to do and how to track results.

If you are an instructor and have been teaching metrics and analytics, please share with us your experience and resources that will help other instructors better prepare their courses. You can leave your comment in the “Leave a Replay” box below. Thank you.

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About Mu Lin

Dr. Mu Lin is a digital journalism professional and educator in New Jersey, United States. Dr. Lin manages an online marketing company. He also manages MulinBlog Online J-School (, a free online journalism training program, which offers courses such as Audio Slideshow Storytelling; Introduction to Social Media Marketing; Writing for the Web; Google Mapping for Communicators; Introduction to Data Visualization; Introduction to Web Metrics and Google Analytics.
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