“If it can’t be expressed in figures, it is not science. It is opinion,” says American science fiction writer, Robert A. Heinlein—and so says every data-driven digital marketer committed to delivering real results.
Analytics deals in fact, not fiction, and as such is absolutely indispensable to any serious effort made to market a product or service, or build a brand in the eyes of the public. How do you know whether your communications campaign is making any headway? Is it reaching the right people? Is it making them buy? Or are you simply throwing precious resources away on a hit-or-miss marketing strategy?
Analytics does away with guesswork, and makes it possible for businesses to identify which communications efforts are effective, and to either maintain or magnify these efforts for the good of a brand. It makes sense of data taken from these very efforts—an ad, a blog, a photo or a video—to enable business owners and brand managers—like you, to make informed, intelligent, brand-building decisions.
In this post, we’ll be taking a look at what tracking is, and what Google Analytics (GA) is in particular. Before we get down to the digi-details, we’ll review the most important Analytics terms, and the impact of each term on what is being tracked. Then we’ll get into the installation process of Google Analytics, goal-setting and goal-tracking.
We’ll also take a look at how data analytics can be used to boost ROI, used in e-commerce, used in conjunction with Search Engine Optimisation or SEO, and used for Google Ads campaigns. The process of creating and comprehending a report will also be covered, as well as how reports are able to help a business.
After this close-up view of Analytics, we’ll wrap things up with a recap of the big-picture view of the role played by Google Analytics in business, as well as the effect of GA updates.
Related 360° Views
What is Google Analytics? (And is GA all the Analytics there is?)
Once focused solely on web analysis, Google Analytics began tracking other digital marketing channels upon the emergence of other online trends. Today, website performance is not the only metric that GA tracks, as it also measures the performance of the other platforms you use to promote your website and your business. These platforms include Paid (such as Google Ads), Social, Direct, Referral and Organic (which pertains to SEO).
As online campaigns really do rely heavily on metrics, you can expect that the platforms used in digital marketing campaigns have some form of Analytics or Insights tool where important metrics can be viewed—enabling you to test and track your campaigns.
As Google is the number one search engine, most SEO campaigns have Google optimisation or its upper search results as their objective. It makes perfect sense, therefore, that Google Analytics remains the main, or go-to Analytics platform of choice for top SEO companies and digital marketers in general.
Facebook Analytics and Linkedin’s own Analytics tools show that pretty much any platform where campaigns can be run all have their own Analytics tools to keep you in the know. You’ll know whether you’re hitting your ROI targets, whether you’re spending too much, or whether there’s anything you need to change to make your campaign better.
Other popular Analytics platforms (that are still in use, as far as we know) include:
- Adobe Analytics
- Advanced Web Stats
- AFS Analytics
- IBM Analytics
- Open Web Analytics
- Parse.ly Dash
A is for Analytics
Reviewing the most important Analytics terms can remind us how each of these factors affect not just Analytics, but the performance of your brand and business online.
- Assisted Conversion is a Google Analytics conversion tracking feature that shows whether a channel or a medium helped someone convert later on. If someone who visited a website using a channel uses a second channel to get to the website and converts, that first channel is credited with an Assisted Conversion.
- Bounce Rate is a percentage reflecting how many people left your website and go back to Google to check the other search results because they found your website irrelevant, or the content does not solve the problem they need help with.
- Calculated Metric in GA allows you to define your own metrics (using the metrics found on GA) for making Google Analytics dashboards and reports.
- Dimension in Google Analytics is a characteristic of the people who visit your website describing who they are and what they do on your website or your app.
- Direct Traffic counts people who visit your website by typing a URL, using the auto-complete while they’re typing a URL, or by clicking on a bookmark. Whenever Google Analytics can’t seem to determine the source of website traffic, it automatically counts it as Direct.
- Events is a GA feature that tracks activities not covered by its Google Analytics tracking code, such as certain downloads, using tools or watching videos.
- First-Click is the channel that leads someone to visit your website for the first time. Knowing this is particularly helpful in making marketing decisions, even if the person converts during another visit later on.
- Hit is what Google Analytics sends your website every time GA collects data. Examples of Hits are Pageviews, Events and E-commerce transactions.
- Hostname is the part of a URL that tells you what website you’re visiting, as opposed to a single page on it. This is especially useful for Google Analytics users with multiple domains.
- Last-Click is the last place a person visited at the moment he converts, usually the channel or medium that led the person to your app or website.
- % New Sessions reflects how many people visit your website for the first time. This can be particularly helpful after site revamps or uploading a lot of new content.
- Page Value helps you compare the different pages of your website by measuring how much a certain webpage helped a person to convert or to achieve a certain objective.
- Referral Traffic counts people who end up visiting your website after clicking a link on another website, search engine, social media profile or elsewhere. Paid links in ads don’t count as Referrals.
- Regex is short for Regular Expression, which is how Google Analytics matches text and filters views. This is usually used in making reports.
- Self-Referral counts referrals coming from your own website, which is what usually happens when your site is on more than one domain—generally not something you want to see on your Google Analytics report.
- Unique Pageviews counts how many times a page was viewed during a single visit. If a person sees a page three times during a session, it still only counts as one unique pageview.
- Visitors Flow shows which pages a person viewed on website in order, as well as the last pages people see before leaving your site.
Ready? Install, Set, Track!
To set up your tracking system, you will need to have the tracking ID or the tracking-code snippet. This will be set up upon the creation of your Analytics Account.
Here is a step-by-step guide to installing Google Analytics:
- You need to have an email account, particularly a GA account.
- Sign in to your Analytics account.
- Click on “Admin”.
- Select an account from the menu in the ACCOUNT column.
- Select a property from the menu in the PROPERTY column.
- Under PROPERTY, click Tracking Info > Tracking Code.
Goals show conversion, which in turn reflects the success of a business. They show how well your website or app has achieved its objectives, and how effective your online business and marketing campaigns are.
Google Analytics gives you the number of conversions and the conversion rate of your website or apps, but you have you make sure that you set your goals correctly. These goals are imposed on the webpages and screens people visit, counting key performance indicators such as the number of views, the duration of a person’s stay on your website or use of your app, or the events that occurred during a person’s website visit.
Whenever a site visitor or an app user interacts with the webpage or the app, it counts as an achieved goal which GA records as a conversion.
Now, there are many types of goals, such as the Destination, or a goal’s specific location, and the Duration, which the sessions leading to a specific length of time. There are also Pages/screens per session, or the user views per screen pages or the number of screen pages; and any action you choose to define as an Event.
Google Analytics also has what it calls Smart Goals, which is used more by Google Ads campaigns that do not have enough conversions or optimisation tools to use. When you have smart goals set up on Google Analytics, they allow GA to instantly evaluate the visits to your website or app, and give scores based on the evaluation.
There are also Destination Goals which allow you to choose a certain way to track traffic. In so doing, you set up a Funnel which records where users enter and exit a certain path leading towards your goals. This data can be seen on Funnel Reports and in the Goal Flow.
Goal Value, on the other hand, is determined when you assign a monetary value to a conversion. When this goal is reached, the amounts are recorded, summed up, and seen as “Goal Value” on reports.
When you set a goal, you will also see Goal Sets and Goal IDs, which have numeric IDs from 1 to 20. You will also be able to categorise different goal types for your website. You can track downloads, registrations and receipts on separate goal sites.You’ll find this feature in the explorer tab in your reporting.
Take note that goals are limited to 20 per view. They cannot be dispatched, but you can stop the data recording process. You can also set names for your goals to help people understand your report more readily.
One more thing: goals do not apply to historical data. Whenever you change something within a goal you are tracking, this also changes your conversion data from the time you change it.
Data as ROI-boosters
Speaking of setting goals, the return on the investments you make should be, in itself, a goal. Once you’ve determined your ideal ROI, your digital marketing plan can orient each of your endeavours towards reaching that ROI. In other words, having your ROI as a target will help to make sure that financial goals and your analytics are in sync.
Now that you know the ROI goal you’re striving to reach, you can now focus on the data collected by Analytics. This data can do so much more for your business than helping you track the performance of your campaigns, and enabling you to adjust them as needed.
Analytics data allows you to personalise your marketing communications to suit individual customers. Today’s consumers are becoming increasingly sophisticated, which means they are are more likely to tune out when confronted by the “shotgun approach” of mass marketing.
Such an approach makes customers feel that a brand doesn’t care about their individuality or personal preferences. It also overlooks the fact that today’s customers are also more sophisticated in that they are more informed—thanks to content such as blogs and reviews. This level of sophistication holds true for both B2C and B2B clients.
Data collected in real-time can even show businesses the perfect time to make a sale, particularly if this data was collected from social media or social media marketing. This is because actions such as likes and follows reflect user intent, which is a powerful indicator especially when combined with demographics and purchase history.
An example of this data in action is retargeting after a person’s activity shows he has been looking for a product online. When data is used in this manner, a person becomes more likely to buy, consequently increasing a business’ revenue, and in turn, its ROI.
In Google Analytics, the ROI Analysis and Cost Analysis features enable you to measure ROI by factoring in Conversion Value and Channel Spend to come up with the Return on Ad Spend or ROAS. The Conversion Value is the revenue you make from e-commerce, and can be designated as a Goal Value. The ROAS, on the other hand, can tell you which marketing campaigns to invest more in.
Data as E-commerce Enhancers
Analytics data can also help e-commerce businesses enhance their customers’ user experience or UX, which is pretty much everything to a business that is serious about growing their customer base. Many regular online shoppers prefer the websites on which they do business to use their personal details as means to giving them more efficient, and even enjoyable transactions.
Using website analytics to improve a customer’s UX helps e-commerce businesses retain their existing customers, as well as to find new ones. Purchase history allows a business to offer someone products or services similar to those he’s bought before, to help keep that someone coming back.
And where marketers used to identify potential clients based on demographics like how old they are, where they live and work or whether or not they’re married, marketers now look to how potential clients engage with content. This is because the latter type of data suggests personal preferences instead of generalisations.
With Google Analytics and Google Ads covering its online communications data, a business will generally get an open source database for its operational data, and a Customer Relationship Management or CRM tool to handle its customer data.
A business can also use this data as the basis for product testing, which opens up opportunities for offering either a better product or product bundle; or for making improvements such as website optimization.
Data in SEO Optimization
E-commerce businesses benefit from data-driven SEO, even if the relevance or the relationship of data to search engine optimisation might seem obscure at first glance because of SEO’s focus on ranking in search results. Even so, the fact is that data-driven SEO can help direct potential e-commerce customers to a business’ website.
Recently, keyword mentions related to a particular product or service are not the only results that show up when someone looks for something on Google—data about the product, service or company that offers it, shows up as well.
That said, it becomes a good idea for businesses to provide this data (whether it produces a nice snippet or not) because then, they can be sure that the data that comes out about them is accurate. Examples of this data include your company name, address, contact details, product listing, product pricing and availability, your official website and all your social media accounts.
Giving search engines your data also provides opportunities for your data to be linked with other data. You can give Google and other search engines your data by annotating your webpages, making sure that the data is structured correctly. This in turn is done by using schema.org or the Open Graph protocol.
Correctly structured data can even help people using Google to find your data, even if they don’t happen to be actually looking for anything at the moment.
Note that search engines, in turn, aren’t the only platforms where providing your data benefits your business. Your own Analytics and website search, as well as your business partners and content aggregators and social networks, can make use of your data as well to your business’ advantage. If done properly, people will come to trust your data, and consequently, your brand.
In Google Analytics, it is possible to identify what kind of data people visit your website for, and whether your website is able to sufficiently provide it.
Google Ads Working With Analytics
While the power of Google Ads, as described in detail in our Ultimate Guide to Display Advertising, is formidable, Analytics is able to take that power and multiply it exponentially.
Analytics can tell Google Ads how your customers behave while they’re visiting your website—you’ll be able to tell how many people came to site via a landing page, for instance, and how they were able to convert. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. When you link your Google Analytics account with your account in Google Ads, you’ll gain insights into how both your ads and your site work together.
While the Google Ads Help Center provides great support, there are several videos that show how GA metrics can be used inside of AdWords itself. Generally, though, these metrics include Competitive Metrics (e.g. Search Lost IS, Display Impr. Share, Relative CTR), Performance Metrics (e.g. CTR, Avg. CPC, Engagement Rate), and Conversion Metrics (e.g. Cost/Conv, Converted Clicks, Total Conv. Value).
The most important Google Ads data, however, includes Campaigns, Display Targeting, Keywords, Search Queries, Shopping Data, and the data you can see in Treemaps, which gives you the behaviour of your customers at a glance.
Once you get the hang of how to use Google Analytics, you’ll see that there are several specific actions you can take and insights you can gain that can benefit your business, which include:
- Finding keywords that may not convert, yet direct a lot of traffic to your site, can help you to optimise your Google Ads campaigns and work on conversion rate optimization.
- Understanding your target audience better in terms of segments, can help you write copy, place bids and guide traffic.
- Finding out how people who have seen your AdWords ads, visited your website, and reacted to it, can help with website optimization by singling out which webpages make good landing pages for traffic.
- Learning which customers spend the most money on your website, and other customer groups, can help you see how each group behaves so you can plan your campaign accordingly.
- Finding out details such as customer behaviour on your website after getting there via an ad, what kind of keywords (e.g. exact match) work better in which campaigns and on which devices, can help you adjust your bids for ad location, placement, timing and device.
- Knowing how your website compares to those of your competitors, through Benchmarking, can help you discover new potential customers, adjust your goals as necessary, and stay up to date with industry trends.
Do note, however, that the data gathered in Google Ads and Analytics doesn’t always match up. What Google Ads counts as two clicks, for instance, might be considered as only one session in Analytics. This is because one session in Analytics is counted as a visit, while one visit is counted as a click in Google Ads.
What is important to remember, however, is that the point of letting Google Ads and Analytics work together is to find better ways to reach potential customers. This will give you or your Google Ads agency the chance to adjust your bids, the timing and the placement of your advertising on Google, and even your ad copy.
Reporting For Duty
If creating an ad is cooking, and Analytics is the taste test, then the Report is the verdict during which the entree is either pronounced a masterpiece, or the chef is called in for some constructive criticism. That criticism tells the chef what’s missing, or what might be added—too much salt, not enough pepper, for instance—to make the dish better, and boost the restaurant’s business.
Reports reflect the performance of campaigns: if a campaign is doing better than it was last month, you keep up the good work. Otherwise, you’ll have to improve certain things in order to get better results in the following months. That said, Reports help to boost revenue, find opportunities for improvement, and to maintain relationships with long-term customers.
Given the importance of Reports, you’ll want to make sure that your Report will have the right kind of information and that the person who receives it can readily understand what needs to be done in order to improve performance and grow the business. More often than not, that person will not be a technically-minded one and may not be as well versed in the language of graphs and website statistics.
Here are some guidelines for creating complete, easy-to-understand Reports:
- Show the date of the last batch of data that you are comparing the current batch to. This is the only way to tell whether a metric has gone up or down or whether performance has improved.
- Explain what the numbers mean—don’t presume that the person reading the Report understands them as well as you do. These explanations can be as simple as adding colour to your stats (green can mean “great for business” while red can literally mean “in the red”) or putting comments next to or under the charts or graphs.
- Include the different sources of your data, such as traffic, engagement, conversion, and channels. This will help the reader of your Report to understand which channels are performing well, for instance, or where conversions are coming from.
- Go beyond just showing how many people visited your website, and spell out the actual ROI of a campaign. To do this, you can include details such as the number of goal completions, conversion rates, submitted leads, purchased products and downloaded documents.
- Anticipate questions that the person reading the Report might have: if you know that he’s going to ask, “Where do new people visiting my website come from?” or “Is all the work we’re putting into our social media worth it?”, then make sure this information is included in your Report.
- Use Vanity Metrics with care—examples of these metrics include the number of sessions, website visitors and page views, all of which are great, but don’t really show whether a person converted or not.
If the person reading your Report is able to understand what needs to be done in order to grow the business, then you know your Report was well done. A good Report also includes suggestions based on the presented data for improving campaigns and ultimately, the business.
Google Analytics Reports come in several formats; the ones that follow are recommended for simplicity or ease-of-understanding for the reader:
- Conversion Funnel Visualisation Report: shows how effective your checkout funnel or process is
- Customer Acquisition Report: shows how customers visit your website via which channels
- Device Comparison Report: shows the difference between desktop and mobile customers
- Email Assessment Report: shows which email campaigns are the most effective
- Organic Traffic Landing Page Report: shows the best-performing landing pages for organic traffic
- Day of Week x Time of Day Transaction Report: shows what time and which days bring in the most sales
You can also customise Reports in GA, but you have to make sure that they are configured correctly, and contain the correct information (i.e. Users, Sessions, Hits, Dimensions, Metrics). To do this, the reason why you are creating the Report has to be crystal clear to you to begin with, as well as any questions you are trying to answer via the data contained therein.
This understanding also helps you to choose the best format or type for your Report (e.g. Explorer, Flat Table, Map Overlay). There are also Reports that reflect the performance of such marketing tools as your SEO, e-commerce, social media, and PPC campaigns and keywords, as well as indicators such as website loading speed.
Speaking of Report formats, you don’t have to stay within GA to create your Reports—online business dashboards such as Cyfe, Geckoboard and Sisense also give great, at-a-glance business analytics that show how well your marketing and other endeavours are performing.
Google Analytics: The Big Picture
“Measure. Measure. Measure.” This is has been the name of the game since the digital marketing industry came to life more than 10 years ago.
Google has made a name for itself as an industry leader not just for providing the the top search engine, but also for offering paid advertising channels such as Google Ads—both search and display for business owners who recognise digital marketing as the way forward against today’s marketing communications backdrop.
Google also provides the free Google Search Console (formerly Google Webmaster Tools) to help webmasters or your web development team to maintain and upgrade your web design.
As part of its increasing levels of innovation as an industry leader in a relatively young and thriving industry, Google understands the need for transparency and data measurement. This is the beauty of digital marketing: the marketers themselves understand the business and what it needs to grow.
Business owners who choose to venture into digital marketing without metrics to back up his campaigns are foolhardy, at best. Where traditional advertising has proven difficult to measure owing to the nature of its channels and marketing research, a digital marketing agency has several sophisticated tools at its disposal to help quantify campaign success.
The free Analytics from Google is one such tool, that helps website owners measure advertising ROI, as well as track social networking sites and applications. For the owners of small and medium enterprises, who might have new websites but might not know how to track their effectivity, GA provides both data and web metrics to help these owners see the big picture.
GA’s insights show them how to improve their site’s presence in search engines, social media, and paid advertising channels such as Google Ads, Facebook and Linkedin. In addition, they also provide a feature where you can track customer behaviour. The ability to look at data and see how customers respond to your offers, promotions and service pages never fails to amaze.
Since its introduction, there have been a lot of changes made in Google Analytics. There was a time when Google provided accurate lists of keywords used by people looking for your website on search engines. But in 2012, Google started to hide these keywords to protect users. Despite this major SEO setback, GA remains a must-have Analytics tool for website analysis.
Updates, such as improvements for the GA desktop user interface are always going to happen. And while it can take some time to get used to them, they are ultimately all about improving UX, and making sure that only the data which businesses consider important are readily available. Updates also get rid of the annoying (and sometimes scary) customer alerts for new users.
To get a comprehensive, overall view of their digital marketing campaign, business owners like you need one source of data that connects their search, paid, social, and even their automation channels. This is essential to data-driven decision making.