Today, incorporating data and analytics is a marketing imperative, and many marketers turn to Google Analytics (GA) to help cull customer information and generate actionable insights.
However, a lot has changed since Google first launched the program in 2005, and even if you’re familiar with its basic functions, it can be difficult to keep up with best practices.
“GA is the eyes on your digital ecosystem and on your customer,” says Caleb Whitmore, founder and principle consultant at Seattle-based Analytics Pros. “GA is a platform that lets you restore some of that gap that’s grown between businesses and their customers in the digital age. It measures all of those digital interactions in an aggregate, anonymized way, but in a way that still can paint a very real picture of who your customer is and what they need or want from you, and how you can better serve them.”
According to Alan Morte, co-founder and analytics director at Roseville, Calif.-based digital marketing agency Three Ventures, marketers should be using Google Analytics for two main reasons: “The first is to understand the performance of marketing: which ads or campaigns are converting or not converting, for example. The second is understanding which content on your site is leading to conversions and the behavior behind that.”
Here, experts provide tips for refreshing your GA knowledge, and how to make the most of the tool in 2016.
1. Take a refresher course. Morte advises going through the tutorials on Google’s Analytics Academy website and watching GA’s intro videos of how the platform works. Re-learn the basics, such as how to install tracking tags on your webpages, setting goals and working with reports.
2. Update your objectives. Just as GA has evolved over the years, most likely your organization’s goals have, too. “If you’re not tracking that end goal, you really won’t have any data to analyze because you won’t know which portions of that data or which specific users are actually doing what you want them to do on your site, whether that’s creating a sales lead, purchasing something from you or reading your content.”
3. Link Google AdWords and Google Analytics. If you still haven’t linked your Google AdWords account with GA, make it an imperative in 2016 since the two will automatically feed and inform each other, Morte says. “Make sure you have an account that’s associated with both admin privileges. … That’s very important because it gives you a much deeper dive into campaign performance.”
4. Be a tagger. Morte suggests visiting GAChecker.com, which will crawl your corporate site and create a spreadsheet with all of the tags, or bits of code, added to webpages that allow marketers to track webpage traffic. “That’s a checkpoint to make sure pretty much everything that you have with your account is set up, to some degree, successfully,” Morte says. He also recommends UTM tagging, which modifies Web links to tell GA exactly what drove a particular user to your site: a campaign e-mail, a paid search ad or a cost-per-click ad, for example.
“For marketers, your best friend is tag management,” Whitmore says. “If you’re going to be using Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager is a really good companion tool. It makes you much more agile in your data quality, to the kinds of data you collect and to how you collect it. … How quickly you can react to changing circumstances, new technologies, and having the data about what you’re doing is often dependent on your ability to manage that data, and that’s where tag management comes in handy.”
5. Know your reports. Make 2016 the year that you understand and utilize the many different reports that can be created through GA. Each one culls and presents data sets in order to glean specific information about your Web traffic.
- Source/medium report: “This report tells you about all of the types of traffic that are visiting your website and their behavior in terms of how long they spend on the site and how many pages they view, but also whether or not those pieces of traffic are converting,” Morte says.
- Content report: “The content report gives you an overview of all the pages on your site and shows you the performance not only with how long people are spending on those pages, but also whether or not those pages are leading to conversions,” he says.
- Audience acquisition reports: “The audience acquisition reports are where you can see what channels are bringing you traffic, and you can start to look at the qualitative metrics,” Whitmore says. “If you’re running two different ads on Facebook, Google and Bing, instead of just looking at the total amount of traffic, look at qualitative measures like time spent or bounce rate. … That’s the No. 1 place to go as a marketer. How much traffic are you getting, where is it coming from and how is it performing?”
- Goal conversion reports: “Goal reports are more specific and focus on a point of conversion, like viewing three or more pages, spending more than five minutes [on a page] or filling out the contact form,” Morte says.
- Funnel report: The funnel report, also known as the goal flow report, lets you look at how users flow through a process, such as how they view pages and in what order, Whitmore says. “You can see where on your site you’re losing people. Combined with marketing insight about ROI, it lets you know how to fix the funnel before you go and start spending more money on marketing acquisition.”
6. Get serious about the Internet of Things. In 2015, marketers started to scratch the surface of the Internet of Things (IoT), including which applications it might have for different aspects of a business or product suite. In 2016, experts say that marketers will have to not only implement IoT devices into their arsenal, but will have to incorporate the data gleaned from the connected devices into actionable insights. Google Analytics is shoring up its IoT data analytics offerings in an effort to stitch together data created online and through devices used in the real world.
“Instead of just measuring a website or mobile app, extend measurement to include your IoT because that is yet another area where your customers will interact with you more and more,” Whitmore says. “If marketers want to paint a clear picture of and understand user behavior and marketing effectiveness, then they will have to measure all consumer digital touch points, which will increasingly include IoT devices. More data points means a more precise understanding of your digital platforms and a greater ability to understand your customers. GA users can do this through integration of the Google Analytics measurement protocol into IoT devices.”
When used well, GA is predictive and prescriptive rather than retrospective, Whitmore says. “That’s a good benchmark of whether you’re using the tool the right way: Are you using GA to look out the rearview mirror, or are you looking out the windshield and using it in ways that drive you, inspire you to change the future and make decisions that will impact things down the road?”