The Pros and Cons of Learning R for Digital Marketers

For me, it is worth the time I have spent (and will continue spending) to learn the R programming language. I work in the digital marketing space and while I do not believe it is necessary for everyone to learn R, I would recommend giving it a go if you are already interested.

Here are some of the pros and cons as I see them:


  • It’s difficult to deal with very large data sets in Excel, so R is a language and environment where you can analyze large data sets in a relatively fast and powerful way
  • There’s so much you can do — from connecting to APIs to statistical analysis to forecasting to word clouds to modeling to clustering to creating interesting visuals (I could go on)
  • It’s not THAT difficult to learn and there is a tremendous community of people just like you and me who are contributing daily so that we can more or less copy and paste their work in order to apply it to our data


  • It does take some time and dedication to learn what you need to know in R
  • Excel is pretty great. It works well for most things like reporting and data analysis. It’s only when we are talking about using extremely large data sets or doing analysis outside of Excel’s capabilities where R is necessarily needed.
  • Even if you figure out how to use R, you should still practice responsibility when it comes to forecasting, regression, etc. In other words, you really should learn the nuances of those disciplines as well in order to make sure your analysis is accurate.

Anything I am missing? Please feel free to leave your thoughts below and continue the conversation!

Some Basic Thoughts on Data Visualization

Data visualization is the art and science of clearly communicating data in a way that is easily digestible to the end user. It goes without saying that there is so much data available now. But effectively making sense of that data is critically important. That’s when data really becomes useful information.

Excel can do some things. You are all likely familiar with their built-in line graphs, pie charts and other visualizations. But it is limited in the amount of data you can work with and the customization of visuals. For many scenarios it just fine.

But there are times when one might have more data to work with or perhaps does not have a great way to get data to Excel in the first place. There are tools out there like Tableau that can connect to APIs (or you can import the data) and have a rich library of visualizations and ways to customize them. Tableau in particular has a free “Public” version available however the output will be placed on their website for anyone to see. If you are a business or agency that wants to keep your data private, a paid version is out there as well.

Recently Google announced their version of Tableau — Data Studio. There is a free version here as well and I think you can choose to keep your data private. However, at least as of June 2016, it only connects to other Google platforms. If you want to pull other data into the user interface, it is possible, but you first need to get it into Google Sheets or Big Query, which is a Google SQL database more or less. Big Query is its own topic for another day.

I have only scratched the surface on what is out there. For R users, you can download and work with libraries like ggplot2; QlikView is another Tableau-esque tool; and on and on. Check out this website for a few more examples, which are cleverly broken out tools for developers and non-developers:

How to Pull API Data Into Excel

Pulling API data into Excel is quite a bit easier than what I expected. The most difficult part is understanding how to build the URL you will use to request the data.

In my case, I have been working with the Sportradar API to analyze Husker football data. The first step for me was to get an API key that allows me to get back data from Sportsradar.  Once I had that, it was simply a matter of taking these simple steps:

  1. Open a new Excel workbook
  2. Click on the Data tab in Excel
  3. Click From the Web
  4. Enter the API URL

It’s as easy as that. Unless you have come across an error you should have your data tables listed in Excel.

If you are interested in using the Sportsradar API, checkout