A Marketer’s Guide to Google Analytics – @crestodina
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All good business decisions are based on crucial data. Knowing exactly what data will help you make the best business decisions is the key. But that sounds like a lot of work developing time consuming reports, right? Wrong. Google Analytics takes the guesswork out of it and can actually save you time and advertising dollars.
Google Analytics can easily tell you who is visiting your site, how they’re getting to your site, what they’re doing on your site, and if they are actually converting. By simply setting up your Analytics with a few key bits of information, you can find out all of this crucial data, and more. In essence, Google does the math for you, ensuring you more successful marketing campaigns and accurate measurability of what’s working and what’s not.
Andy Crestodina is a content marketing and Google Analytics savant. His knowledge, tips and advice on the topics of content strategy, search and analytics have made him one of the most passionate and sought after teachers in the marketing industry.
Rich: I am very excited today because we have Andy Crestodina back in the house. He was Episode 75 on what was then called The Marketing Agents Podcast, now the Agents Of Change Podcast. Andy and I have become good friends and I had the opportunity to hang out with him in Chicago a couple months back, and he showed me a tour of Orbit Media where he works. He was prepping for a great conference out in Chicago which just happened – so you did miss that for 2016 – but put it on your calendars for 2017, that’s called Content Jam.
In fact, Andy really is an amazing guy when it comes to content, and really he is one of the most knowledgeable people I know when it comes to Google Analytics. In fact, this is a little bit of a secret and I should even tell you this, but sometimes when I or my team get stuck in Google Analytics, we call up Andy for help. Andy, welcome back to the Agents Of Change Podcast.
Andy: Honored to be back, Rich. Thank you very much.
Rich: Awesome. Alright, so you talk and write a lot about Google Analytics, why do you feel it’s so important?
Andy: I don’t know how to do marketing without it. I don’t know how to make decisions without data. I think it’s risky for people to just do stuff based on their personal preference or based on opinion. I think that analytics is really how you know what you did worked, or how you know what you’re about to do makes some sense. I don’t think it’s safe to drive a car without a dashboard, so I don’t think it’s safe to do marketing without analytics.
Rich: Makes sense, alright. So one of the first things when it comes to Google Analytics is just getting it set up. What tips do you have for us in terms of making sure that we set up our Google Analytics to get the best possible results?
Andy: I often say that the two most important numbers in marketing are traffic and conversion rate. So traffic times the conversion rate equals success, whether that’s leads for a lead gen site, donors for a nonprofit, or event registrants for one of our event websites. So that second number – conversion rate – it only works if you tell Analytics how you measure success. So you literally have only half of the picture unless you finish setting up Analytics. And by that I mean setting up goals.
So, the easiest way to set up a goal in Analytics – although there are several – the easiest way is with a destination goal, which really just means telling Analytics what your “thank you” page URL is. Now that means having a contact form, because an email page doesn’t have a “thank you” page, it just clicks and opens an email and that sends an email and the visitor never went to any page at all. So you have to have a contact form for that event registrant, that job applicant, that nonprofit donor, that lead generation site, e-commerce check out process, whatever the goal might be. So there’s a process – the form – and then there’s the “thank you” page afterwards.
Now Analytics doesn’t know by default that the URL of your “thank you” page is, so it takes just a few clicks, it’s really easy to do as long as your site has a form and a “thank you” page, all you need to do is tell it under “goals” that this is the property settings. Go to “goals”, and then create a new goal, choose “destination goal” and under goal details, enter the URL of the “thank you” page, and then set a value. I set an arbitrary value, if you’re not really sure just make sure there’s some number in there, put “1”.
You can set the previous step as in the contact page itself – you don’t have to – but just that much of putting in that goal destination and telling analytics what success looks like lights up the other half of the reports that you really need to make decisions. That’s the key to setting up Analytics 101.
Rich: That makes a lot of sense. And one simple way I found to coming up with a value is if you take a look at all of the revenue you generated last year and divide that by the number of people who filled out your contact form. That’s certainly not a perfect number, but that is a way that you can assign it. So if you made $100,000 in revenue, and you had 100 people fill out your contact form, you might say that each one was worth $1,000. Now I’m not good at math, but that’s one way of doing it. I think those numbers are correct.
Andy: It’s better than putting a zero. If you leave it a zero, then there’s certain reports that just don’t show up at all and you get no value at all inside Analytics. So it’s really important to put some value in there.
As soon as you have goals set up and you put a value in there, now Analytics can tell you the value of visitors from different traffic sources – search, social, email – and to which pages. So, if a lead is worth $1,000 and if 1 of 100 people that visit this page turn into a lead then a visit to that page is worth $10. That’s the idea, so it can show the page value. The far right column on your “all pages” report, as long as you put in that value you’ll get that data in that column.
Rich: Now Andy, there’s a lot of reports in Google Analytics, and of course a million ways to slice and dice them. What are a few of your favorite reports, and how do you use them to become a better marketer?
Andy: We use them by asking questions and finding answers. So if you were just opening Analytics and kicking around and looked at 4 different reports and they made me happy or sad and you closed the browser tab and went and did something else, that doesn’t actually affect your marketing. And this is my main point. The biggest point that I hope people take away is that you have to make a decision based on the data. You have to take an action based on that decision or else nothing really happens. Reports themselves don’t affect marketing whatsoever. So we have to go in with that philosophy of answering questions and taking actions.
Now there’s two reports that probably are the most useful and that most people use most often, those would be the “acquisition report”, which show you where people are coming from, and the “all pages report”, that show you what pages people are looking at. So I think there’s different kinds of marketers that focus on different things. Most people I know are jumping into one of those two reports most often if they look for answers to questions, and they can do things for you.
For example, to answer the question which visitors from which source are worth the most to us, or do people who come from our newsletter – like our campaign traffic – are they ever becoming leads, or should we bother being more active in such and such social media network. You can actually see these things very quickly within just a few clicks, all of that is in the “acquisition report”. That is certainly one of the most important places to look and one of the best sources of insights in your Analytics.
Rich: So how do you use Google Analytics then? Because I know that you’re really into content – and you’ve got the conference called Content Jam – walk me through the process that you use Google Analytics to discover new topics.
Andy: So this is interesting, it all depends on what question I’m hoping to answer. I read a post recently by Larry Kim – champion marketer, PPC, SEO guy – and he’d written a post that said that it’s not just about ranking and search for SEO, it’s about getting the click. So what percentage of visitors are clicking from that search result. And I thought that was really interesting, let me take a look, I want to find out if people who search for these things are actually clicking on me when they see me in search results.
So to find that data, it’s in “acquisition report”, as in where people are coming from. So I go into “open analytics”, go to “acquisition”, and then in the section for “search console” there’s a report called “queries”. So I click on the “queries report” and it shows me all of the sources of every phrase we rank for and how high we rank and what the click through rate is for each of these search listings, each of these key phrases. It’s really interesting because some of these are much higher than I’d expect them to be, some of them are much lower than I’d expect them to be.
So what jumped out at me in the immediate insight and the action I’m taking now based on this data, is I’m actually seeing which of these has a higher or lower than expected click through rate based on that search position. So for example if when I rank #4, I should get around 10% of the clicks. Sometimes when I ranked #4 I’m getting 40% click through rate, and sometimes when I’m ranked #4 I’m getting a 2% click through rate. By looking at those under performers, I’m getting ideas on how to better optimize the snippet, optimize the search ranking, optimize the title and the meta description to maximize the click through rate.
That’s an example of an action that I’m taking based on data and analytics. Now granted, that one’s a little more complicated – I’ve got a shortcut later we can talk about – that’s a little more complicated to find the insight, but that’s an example of how I had an idea, I found the data, I made a conclusion based on that data, and now I’m taking an action. I’m editing title tags and meta descriptions to maximize the click through rate of those different search rankings.
Rich: Now I’m a little curious about this. So when you went in and you did that research – and I’m sure you went back to do the Google searches to see where you ranked and see what your competitors were like – some of this obviously you can control. Things like you mentioned, the title tag, the meta description to lure people to click on your link even if you’re not the top result. But did you find also that some of these results were based on the act that some of these searches may have had local results which would have pushed you down further, or some of them were very ad heavy which also would have pushed you down further? Did you see some of that in it? I know this is a little off topic, I’m just kind of curious.
Andy: No,it’s important. It’s a really interesting question, because how many different things can affect the click through rate. There’s all kinds of different factors. Sometimes you may be ranking for a phrase, but the post that you rank for really doesn’t align very well with that phrase and so it has a low click through rate just because the topic is not that well aligned.
Other times – like you said – it’s universal search results, and there’s 65 other things that are appearing adding a lot of visual noise. So in these examples, I didn’t see tons of other things like not lots of ads, there weren’t lots of products or images or other things, because these are mostly blog post rankings. What I did find and what I am able to optimize is, say I rank for a phrase like “website navigation best practices”, and the title tag just says “website navigation best practices”, and the meta description is kind of dry. I’m ranking well – it’s ranking #5 or #6 – but there’s no real call to action there, there’s no emotion hook, there’s no number, it’s not doing anything that it should be doing if I was really trying to get the visitor to click on that listing.
So what I have found is there are, of course, lot’s of factors and sometimes the ranking isn’t even what I’d expect it to be based on the report. Bit other times, like in that example “website navigation best practices”, there are definite actions I could take to increase the click through rate by adding an emotional hook, adding an adjective, a really kind of juicy immediate sort of something that implies an action to take, adding a number. So an example to that might be “website navigation best practices ten ways to set up your site”, or “5 easy fixes for usability”. Something like that that gives the visitor more of a reason to believe there’s value for them.
Rich: Alright, so that’s a pretty good example of finding some data and then actually responding to it to evaluate what it’s saying, and then making changes.
Rich: So how do you use Google Analytics to evaluate some of the other things that are going on your website? We talked a little bit about goals, click through rates, but how about things like setting up search and searching within your own website, what kind of things have you done with Google Analytics in terms of that?
Andy: There’s a great trick that not everyone uses, but it’s not hard to do, it does take a tiny bit of setup though. If your website has a little search box and it’s a tool that lets people search for your content and search your website. Everybody adds that little box as a courtesy to visitors to help them find what they’re looking for quickly. But what not everyone does is to use that as a listening tool to see what people on your website are looking for. So as a marketer, you can actually see what people are typing into that search box using Google Analytics, and then make decisions based on navigation, based on layout, based on content, what to publish, it gives you ideas for topics based on what people are searching for in your own search box on your own website. That’s called the “site search”.
So to do that, your website has to be programmed so the search term that they type in is pushed into the address bar on the search results page. So let’s say my webaddress.com and I search for widgets, the search results page that shows me all the widgets-realted pages on this website should have up in the address bar, “website.com/?searchterm=widgets”. So as long as that search term is pushed into the address bar, you can tell Analytics how to use this tool as a listening tool, you can tell Analytics what the query parameter is.
So as you are setting up Analytics, you just set up “site search” by clicking one box, and then typing in and entering into Analytics what that query parameter is. Now in the “behavior” section under “site search”, a report called “search terms” is going to tell you everything people searched for on your website. Amazing data, because now you can make decisions based on what to call your content, what content people are looking for, maybe what people aren’t finding, what topics people care about, what you should be writing about. So that’s a way to use a little search tool as a listening device to better inform your marketing based on what your visitors actually are telling you they really want.
Rich: Makes a lot of sense. Now earlier you mentioned that you had a shortcut for us, I don’t know if you remember that shortcut, but would you explain what Google Analytics shortcuts are for those of use that’ aren’t using them? And then is you do remember that particular shortcut, i’d love for you to share it with us.
Andy: Sure. So when you’re looking at a report in Analytics, you can change the date range to give yourself more or less data, you can filter to show you just certain things in the data view, you can add secondary mentions. You can do lot’s of little customizations on a specific report in Analytics. As you do those things and you navigate and look at a different report and then you come back, you sometimes have to create all those little customizations again. Kind of annoying.
So what a shortcut does is, if you add a filter, or an advanced filter, or a secondary dimension to a report in Analytics, or if you set a specific date range or a date comparison range, then when you create a shortcut the next time you come back to analytics, you don’t have to set all those things again. Just click on the shortcut and it’s going to show you those all at once. So it’s a way to save the view that you have into that report so that you can quickly get to it again. Very useful, it’s going to save you some time. It’s kind of like making a one report dashboard. Very handy.
The specific shortcut that I was mentioning earlier is if you want to see the expected…so a minute ago we were looking at the click through rate for each search position in your Analytics in the “acquisition search console queries” report, there’s a company called Klipfolio that made a special report that makes this very easy to analyze. What this report does is it shows you your actual versus your expected click through rate for every phrase that you rank for using the Analytics data. It does some math for you. And if you’d like to include that in the show notes, it’s like within a few clicks you can add this report – a Klipfolio report – that will show this for you. It’s a great shortcut that makes that analysis that I mentioned earlier, much faster.
Rich: That is very cool. Definitely share that with me after we get off the phone, and then we’ll make sure that we include those in the show notes.
So, I’m thinking all of a sudden like, “if this, then that”, where there’s all these recipes that people create. Are there just all of these shortcuts that are out there that we can download that are really effective whether we’re the marketers or the owners of a business?
Andy: You know, I don’t know of a great resource to just find a ton of them all at once except maybe the “solutions gallery”. Rich, if you haven’t seen this yet, you’re going to love it. Have you heard of the Google Analytics “solutions gallery”?
Rich: I don’t think I have.
Andy: It’s so cool. So it turns out there’s a big community of people who use Analytics and who create little dashboards and combinations of different reports, and then share them with each other inside of the community, inside the “solutions gallery”. So anytime that you’re making a dashboard, there’s a button in there to import from the “solutions gallery”. When you do that you land in this magical world where there’s dozens of different dashboards already made for you. And with just one click, you can import that dashboard into your data and see all these really useful reports that these analytics pros have put together. Some of them are just all about social media, some of them are all about SEO, some of them are all about site performance. There are lots of analytics experts that have created and packaged up and wrapped up in a bow these great combinations of reports in what’s called the “Google Analytics Solutions Gallery”. Any of which you can add to your Analytics with one click, and you can get to those just by importing from gallery when you go to create a new dashboard.
Rich: Very cool. Definitely have to check that out as well. Now what other ninja tricks – you’ve shown me a few over time – actually, I’ve got one specific I want you to walk us through. Is it called “annotations”, is that the right phrase I’m using?
Andy: Uh huh.
Rich: So tell me what “annotations” are and why I should be using them in my Google Analytics.
Andy: It’s a simple thing but people get kind of excited when they first learn it’s possible. There are lots of little things that happen in your marketing that help tell the story about why the numbers are high or low, or what happened on that date. For example, sometimes I look at a client’s Analytics account and they have some huge spike in traffic, or they have a giant blackout and there’s no traffic and you’re Analytics crashes for a week. So the problem is, when you work on a team or you’re accountable to someone else, if you share your Analytics with somebody they have to figure out what happened on these dates, unless you add notes, unless you add annotations.
So all an annotation is is a tiny note that attaches to the timeline of all your reports where you can type in anything. For example, “we set up a goal on this date”, or “we had a post go viral on this date”, or “we changed our website on this date”, or “we hired a new marketing team on this date”, or “we started pay per click on this date”. So all those things will dramatically affect your Analytics, but nobody else is going to know then but you unless you make a note.
So the way to add these notes under every report and every timeline – that trend line up and down, the blue line with the little dots – there’s a tiny arrow in the center of that report underneath the timeline, and when you click on that it slides out like a little drawer. In there you can just click to add a new annotation and then type in anything you want and make it public or private and click “save”, and it’s going to add on that timeline a tiny little word bubble under that date, that anyone who looks at Analytics can now see it. So it helps tell the story, helps make it clear, helps make it easier to collaborate.
And as soon as you start learning what these are, your Analytics is forever improved as long as you remember to put those notes in. So for us we always enter an annotation which says what the newsletter was that week, it’s a way for anyone to go in and look and say.”that one was great, that one was bad”. It’s just a way to keep your Analytics better organized and make you a better collaborator in your marketing.
Rich: Fantastic. A lot of good information. If there’s one more thing that we should consider – whether it’s something we should avoid or something that you strongly recommend we do – when it comes to Google Analytics, what would it be, Andy?
Andy: Well my main piece of advice is to beware of opinion, and beware of preference and subjective thinking. So anytime that you’re in a meeting and somebody says, “I think we should do x,y and z”, that might be a great idea, but be forewarned that’s an opinion, that’s someone’s gut, and even if you take action on that it should be an experiment. You should be able to go measure whether it made sense or not.
So I have conditioned myself to be very cautious around people who just express opinions in meetings, and my antennae go up and say, “Ok, interesting, why don’t we test that or try it or go look for some data that would support that or not”. So the idea is to embed Analytics into your culture where people aren’t just throwing out opinions, people are testing hypothesis. That’s when you begin to win, that’s when things really make sense, that’s when your marketing gets better and smarter and the actions you take have a bigger impact. That’s how to make a bigger difference in your marketing and advance your career.
Don’t just do things based on the “Hippo”. Have you heard this, the “highest paid person’s opinion”? There’s a “Hippo” in every room and they’re going to express an opinion. Be there with the data, because opinion versus data, the data wins. Opinion versus opinion, the highest paid opinion wins. Data versus data, the best data wins. That’s how to embed Analytics into your culture and get smarter over time.
Rich: That is a great place to finish up today, Andy. I’m sure people will want to learn more online about you, about Orbit, about all this Google Analytics stuff. Where do you want to send them?
Andy: Orbitmedia.com/blog, I publish a lot of Analytics content there. The newsletter is only every other week, so it’s not overwhelming. But if you just go to orbitmedia.com.blog and click on the Analytics section, you’ll find a lot of articles that we wrote, step by step instructions on how to do some of these exact tactics. My twitter handle is my last name, LinkedIn is probably my favorite social network for engaging and for answering questions. But I can be found at the same conferences that you go to, Rich, and pretty much anywhere online.
Rich: Sounds great. Andy, thank you so much for your time today.
Andy: My pleasure.
- Check out Andy’s blog for more great articles – including the topic of Google Analytics – or follow him on Twitter and LinkedIn.
- A few Google Analytics-related tools that Andy shared today:
- Have you snagged your tickets to the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference yet? You won’t want to miss this event, packed chock full of inspiring and informative presentations by thought leaders and experts in the areas of search, social and mobile marketing.