Google Analytics Assignment in the Communication Research Class. Lab Guide Included!

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A Google Analytics Assignment in the Communication Research Class? Yes!

The question of teaching Google Analytics is part of the larger conversation of what we can manage to get in amid the many skills we want our students to learn.  Beyond that, we’ve been talking a lot lately in the social media community about what certifications we should require our students to complete. The Google Analytics Individual Qualifying (IQ) Exam, which evaluates knowledge about Google Analytics, is commonly brought up.

But how do we tie the certification into the classroom? How do we teach our students to navigate Google Analytics in a hands-on manner?

In the below post, I share my journey in teaching Google Analytics in my Communication Research class. I’ll also share an assignment and lab guide (what’s a lab guide?) I put together that you can use to teach your students.

Past Attempts to Teach Google Analytics

Truth be told, I’ve wrestled with how to get my students exposed to Google Analytics. I could never quite figure out where to fit it in. I teach an array of courses, and still then it was a struggle. There is just so much to teach.

So I started by offering the certification as an option in my Communication Research class. It was a way to test the waters. In short, students interested in attending grad school were encouraged to complete an academic research assignment and students interested in going into industry were given the option to choose Google Analytics certification. That worked out well for several years – it was better than nothing. But I never felt satisfied with this approach. It failed to give my students any hands-on experience and it also failed to give them a chance to really discuss Google Analytics in a classroom setting.

As long-time readers of this blog know, one of the projects in my communication research class contains a portion that requires students to do social media analytics. Unfortunately, with the closing of the Meltwater university program and the discontinuation of the Microsoft Social Engagement software, I did not have access to an industry social media analytics software platform for my research class this semester.  I know this has been a point of struggle and frustration for many of us.  But alas, in every situation there is an opportunity.

This semester I decided to replace the social media analytics portion of the project with Google Analytics. This project is part of a larger project that also looks at Netlytic.

Teaching Google Analytics


Here’s how I approached teaching Google Analytics this semester.

First, I assigned my students to take the Google Analytics IQ test and earn certification, just as I have in the past (though this time I dropped the alternative assignment and required everyone to complete the certification). I share the information on this page to help them prepare:

I also encourage my students to look at the types of jobs that list Google Analytics in the job description to give them a sense of the ubiquity of Google Analytics. This is one way of showing students just how valuable gaining these skills is. I share this URL of recent job postings on Indeed:

My students were required to complete the certification before we started talking about Google Analytics in lecture and before we started working with it in class. My thought process here was to get all of the students up to a consistent level of familiarity with Google Analytics. Then, I would have a base level of knowledge to work with. When working through the Google Analytics learning materials, I encouraged my students to play with the demo account information from the Google store (available to anyone working through the Google Analytics educational content).

I partnered my class with an organization on campus so we would have real data for my students to analyze. I sat down with a student leader of the organization one morning before the start of the semester and we installed Google Analytics on their WordPress site and we also connected their account with Google Search Console so we could see search queries (if you’d like a future blog post on Google Search Console, please let me know via the comments or via Twitter). I then went into Google Analytics and gave a dummy email account I have access to this organization’s analytics. That way, I could share the login to the email address with my students so they could all access the data.

For purposes of this project, I focused on skills that can be attained through the Google Analytics for Beginners courses.

The Google Analytics Lectures and In-Class Lab Time

On day 1, I assign the project. Students work in teams on the project (it is discussed further down this post). I provide a lecture reviewing why Google Analytics is important, how it works, and a number of ways we can use it to gather actionable information.  I also highlighted a few key metrics. Additionally, I showed this video which provides an overview of how Google Analytics works. Then, I provide students with a lab guide I created and go around the computer lab helping students work on their projects. I will discuss the lab guide below. The goal of day 1 is to get through question number 4 on the lab guide.

On day 2, I go over more key metrics (i.e., source and medium) and show 2 of the videos from the Google Analytics for Beginners course that are relevant to what we are working on that day. Then, I talk about interpreting the data and how students can start to think critically about reading metrics and arriving at conclusions. For example, some questions I posed were: 1) what may be contributing to a site’s bounce rate? 2) Why might the bounce rate be higher for a mobile visitor than a desktop visitor? and, 3) Why might we be getting a low return user rate? Then, I let the students loose to continue their work in the lab on their assignment. Again, I point the students to the lab guide and go around during class to help.

After this day, we transition to discussing Netlytic. So student teams need to work on the remainder of the Google Analytics side of things outside of class.

The Google Analytics Lab Guide

google analytics step by step assignment lab

I like to create lab guides to help my students work independently through assignments that require the use of software. I

Here is the Google Analytics lab guide:

You will note that the lab guide corresponds with the project itself, which is discussed below. Said another way, all of the research questions for the Google Analytics section of the assignment (below) correspond with the questions in the lab guide.  Thus, the students can work through the lab guide to help them answer the questions in the project.

The Google Analytics Assignment (with Netlytic, too)

You can see the full assignment below or on my Slideshare page.

Each project in my Communication Research class proposes a hypothetical situation that students are required to address. You’ll note that I have written up an overview of the hypothetical, including problem, campaign goals and objective, research objective, and more in the assignment. In the below version of the document, I have gone in and removed the client’s name and obscured some information. Of course, you can modify the project to your own needs or scenario. But I like to provide this information to tell a story to the students so they have a clear direction of why we are doing this project. This context really helps students quickly get into the project.

With the loss of social media analytics software (as noted above), I merged the web traffic data with social network analysis. It isn’t as clean as a fit as the project was in the past when it was focused entirely on social media. But, I was able to construct a scenario that allowed me to cover both Google Analytics and Netlytic.

After students complete all the data collection and interpretation for the project, they then have to write up their study. The research paper format I use in this class is inspired by Don Stacks book, Primer in Public Relations Research. As this is the second project in the semester, students are learning about writing up a brief methods, results, and discussion section. The rest I provide. I do not require a literature review for this project. The format is sort of a hybrid between an academic research paper and an industry report. I do this because I am trying to teach a bit of both in this class (learn more about the approach I use. See a different project I use in this class using the same approach). The RQs, as you will see, are fairly straightforward and descriptive, offering an approachable way for students to learn these concepts. Note that you do not need to follow the more in depth report style I use if time or other considerations are a factor.

You’ll note that the lab guide and assignment ask for the last quarter (3 months) of data. I chose this simply because I knew that we wouldn’t have data earlier than that given that I had just set up Google Analytics to capture data before the spring semester started.


There are a number of things I would like to develop out with this assignment, class time permitting. First, I do not have many of the demographic data available for students to analyze due to the additional data collection needs and permissions that this data requires. Also, because the organization we are working with is focused on providing information and is a small university organization’s website, more advanced features such as goals were not available for analysis.

All told, I am excited to see how this new project goes this semester. Finally, I am working with Google Analytics in the classroom! I hope to build on this assignment in the future and possibly get into more advanced skills.

How are you teaching Google Analytics? What tips and ideas do you have for improving this project? Please drop a comment or send me a tweet.

Next Steps

See the original social media analytics project that this project replaced. Note that the Netlytics portion of the project is still intact but I removed pivot tables and social media analytics software.

Check out the Communication Research syllabus.

Thank Yous and Notes

Thank you to the many colleagues who have given me insights into how they teach Google Analytics in the classroom. You’ve been a tremendous help in creating the agove assignment and activities (Shout out to Carolyn Kim, Melissa Adams, and many other awesome #SMprofs for their insights and help!).

(Note: We’re actually changing the name of the ‘Communication Research’ class to ‘Media & Audience Analytics’ to better reflect the focus of the class. This will go into effect in the fall of 2020.)


– Matt

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