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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 Benefits

Data

Data available

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.

Compatibility

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!

Speed

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.

Accuracy

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!

Combinations

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. 

Personalisation

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):

GA Data Grabber

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

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

Analytics canvas has a good choice of options available when you're setting your dashboard up, making it easy to segment and visualise data. 

Excellent Analytics

This free tool gives you a simple interface for choosing the data you would like to import and it is quite easy to use.

SEO Tools for Excel

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.

Conversion rate heatmap by hour & day of week in Google Docs

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. 

DIY APIs

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.

Image source: JDHancock

Anna Lewis

Published 6 December, 2012 by Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis is a Digital Marketing Executive at Koozai and a contributor to Econsultancy. Follow Anna on Twitter or connect via LinkedIn.

6 more posts from this author

Comments (11)

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Nick Stamoulis

Anything that can help save me time when it comes to reporting is worth giving a go! It's especially complicated different clients want different information presented in different ways. Better yet is when they make last minute requests to change the reports entirely...usually after I just sent it off.

almost 4 years ago

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Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum.co.uk

which API tools do you use right now Nick?

almost 4 years ago

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Ketharaman Swaminathan

Great article. Thanks a lot. I've already downloaded two of the tools - they're great!

almost 4 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

Thanks for the comments, I'm glad you find the APIs useful too. If you have any good recommendations please feel free to add them to the comments.

almost 4 years ago

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Alex Hazell, Digital Marketing and Comms at ScopeEnterprise

There are a couple of good scripts within Google Docs - just look in the script gallery. These seem a little bit trickier to set up than the Excel plugins - but you avoid having to ask IT to install things on your machine! Currently trying out "Google Analytics Data Fetch Functions".

almost 4 years ago

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Andrew Strickland, Consultant at Havas Media

Hi Anna,

Good article - also think GA Data Grabber is excellent

Regards,
Andrew

almost 4 years ago

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Claudiu Murariu

Hi Anna,

My favorite API application is built by one of the Google Analytics team leaders, Nick Mihailovsky, and connects magically Google Analytics data to Google Docs.
It saves me a lot of time when analyzing data and building dashboards. Here is a tutorial on how to use it: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyb7yw_PNZs

almost 4 years ago

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Andrew Howard

Hi Anna,

I do really appreciate you for paying our attention towards API's. I really liked your stuff..We do work or use tools every time but do not bother to share thoughts like you..Thanks..Keep it up.

almost 4 years ago

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Tim Leighton-Boyce, Analyst at CxFocus

I'm with Claudiu on this point. Although I also pay for the great Next Analytics, I find that I am currently doing a lot with Nick Mihailkovsy's Google Docs script.

An important concept to understand is that you can add multiple queries to the same G Docs gaconfig sheet. I have sheets with 30+ queries. When working with this many it can also be useful to make the queries themselves dynamic -- create an entry area for configuration details which are then repeated in the various queries.

almost 4 years ago

Anna Lewis

Anna Lewis, Google Analytics Analyst at Koozai

@Alex, Claudiu & Tim - I agree, using Google Docs for APIs is really good, there are so many ways to use them. Thanks for the link to Nick's video it's great, using an Apps script saves us non-coders a lot of hassle! I also like the sound of creating dynamic queries, time for me to bury my head in Google docs for a while :)

almost 4 years ago

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AlanHall

Very informative post indeed. Google Analytics is a big tool, loaded with lots of features.

almost 4 years ago

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