As a self-confessed analytics geek, I was very excited when I first took a look at what the Google Analytics API can provide.
The best thing about it from my point of view is that it's about making the data more accessible to people who may not like digging around in figures.
So whether you are an analytics nut or whether you just want a simple way to see the numbers that matter to you, this post will help you understand why you should be considering the Google Analytics API.
Let's start by working out what an API is...
Application Program Interface definition
(API, or "application programming interface") The interface (calling conventions) by which an application program accesses operating system and other services. An API is defined at source code level and provides a level of abstraction between the application and the kernel (or other privileged utilities) to ensure the portability of the code. Source: dictionary.reference.com
In other words, APIs are used to take information from one place and present it in another situation, of the developer's choice. So what you can use it for is presenting the Google Analytics data exactly how you want it.
Do you think you were fine just using Custom Reports? Think again!
The majority of data available in the standard Google Analytics interface is now accessible through the Core Reporting API. Google have recently added functionality for social, mobile, geo and app data as well as a number of other detailed metrics.
Keep an eye on the Change Log to see new functionality.
There is also a specific Multi-Channel Funnels API that means you can see the conversion paths, interactions, assisted conversions and more for each marketing channel you use.
The Google Analytics API can be used both in web interfaces and programmes like Excel, mobile apps and more, meaning that wherever you want your data, you can have it!
It's not just about getting the data you want, it's about getting it quickly.
Through implementing an API export in to an Excel spreadsheet for each of the SEO clients at Koozai we have saved around 15 hours every month by reducing the time it takes for us to report Google Analytics data to clients.
If a standard method of reporting data involves copying or (worse) retyping numbers across in to your own report, chances are you will get typos or the wrong set of data will be used at some stage, purely through human error.
By replacing the data gathering with a computer you remove the risk of human error, saving you from having to explain silly mistakes!
APIs can be as simple or complex as you would like, but one way to make sure they contain everything you need in one place, is to also include non-Google Analytics data.
My spreadsheet contains a calculation for Conversion Rate based on the goals I choose, whereas in Google Analytics you only see the total conversion rate for all goals or the conversion rate for each goal individually.
You can also include data about profit margins or investment to enable you to calculate ROI for each traffic source.
Other uses include importing data from other APIs or sources. Just think of the possibilities, you could view HTTP Header status alongside pages with a high exit rate to identify problems or see link data for popular landing pages. Or you could pull in referring site traffic data to go alongside an outreach planning document you might have, thus helping you see which sites have good potential.
Data is useless if it can't be understood. By using the API you can choose exactly how you want the data to look, making it easy for you or your team to understand it.
Some people like graphs, some like tables, now you can pick and choose and brand it up to make it yours.
Pre-built API tools
There are a number of tools you can download and start using straight away, some for free and some paid. Google's resource with lots to choose from is here.
Below are a range of tools that might take your fancy, as well as an official description from each site and my thoughts (note: I am not affiliated with any of these tools, they are purely the ones I have come across through working with analytics):
This is a report automation tool for Google Analytics, AdWords, Facebook & Microsoft adCenter. According to the description, it's "the only analytics tool that makes it easy to combine metrics for lots of sites into a single view. Works in Excel".
This was one of the first Google Analytics APIs I tried out and I found it easy to use and edit to get the data I wanted. To top that, it's improved since then and the interface is now very well designed and provides a variety of graphs and easy to read data.
Next Analytics requires a bit of set up to get the data you want, looking exactly how you want it, but once you've set it up, it can be used without making any changes each time you access the document.
Analytics canvas has a good choice of options available when you're setting your dashboard up, making it easy to segment and visualise data.
This free tool gives you a simple interface for choosing the data you would like to import and it is quite easy to use.
Again, this free tool has a simple interface but also has a more than just Google Analytics data - it includes on page analysis, backlink data, web page scraping and social media data.
This is a one off Google Docs spreadsheet that shows your Conversion Rate (high and low spots) throughout the week very clearly so that you can work out the most successful times of day for conversions on your site.
Alternatively, you can build one that suits your specific requirements. All the resources you need to build your own API tool can be found here.
I recommend having a look over the existing tools for inspiration if you're doing this, there are already some very clever and well-designed tools around so you don't want to reinvent something that is already available. In essence, it is about finding what works for you and your Analysis Team.
I hope this inspires you to look in to using the API, or increasing your use of it. Speeding up reporting to leave more time for analysis and making improvements is a very beneficial action when you need to see results as quickly as possible.
The main thing to consider is what data you're looking for and how you want to see it, regardless of which method you choose. If you have any favourite Google Analytics API tools feel free to drop them in the comments for others to try out.