It’s a pretty well-known thing around the office that I’m the “numbers guy” on the team. I have always enjoyed analyzing data and producing findings that help our clients better understand what’s really going on with their marketing both online and offline. While there are many different analytics tools available in the market, far and away the most popular and widely used is Google Analytics. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I have a serious love-hate relationship with the tool. The thing is, it’s not the tool’s fault, as it’s extremely feature-rich and can be extremely powerful when it’s used correctly. However, more often than not it’s not being using correctly by many businesses. This creates avoidable problems such as trying to use faulty historical data as a benchmark to evaluate future performance of a campaign, whether it is SEO, SEM, Email Marketing or any other marketing initiative, digital or otherwise.
My goal in writing this post today is to point out some of the most common misconceptions and mistakes that are made when using Google Analytics and how you can avoid them. This will allow you to better understand how your campaigns are actually performing so you can stop making important business decisions based on faulty data. This is by no means a comprehensive list, so please feel free to leave a comment and join the discussion. We would love to hear about situations that you may encounter with your business when it comes to your data collection activities. Feel free to leave a question and I will be happy to discuss further!
Mistake #1: My traffic has gone down since the last quarter, my campaign isn't working!
The Reality: This is too simplistic of a way to look at a complex question, and there could be many factors at play. To use just one example, ask yourself if you have taken into account the seasonality of your business. If you are an online merchant selling products that are popular during the holiday season, it’s likely that Q4 of any given year will be a busier time of year for your business, whereas Q1 of the following year will probably slow down as far as searches, traffic volume and gross sales (even taking into account your early January clearance sale).
The Solution: The most honest way to gauge the performance of a specific campaign is to do a year-over-year analysis. How did your site perform this year compared to the same month last year? That will be a much more accurate picture of how your SEO or SEM vendor is doing.
Mistake #2: I am sending emails regularly but I don't see any traffic in Google Analytics from that channel. Is my email marketing channel really this ineffective?
The Reality: This is one of the most common problems that we encounter when we first start a project. Let’s call this client "ABC Company." ABC Company has been managing their email marketing in-house for the past three years. When we start a campaign to help them improve their conversion rate and gross revenue from Email Marketing, we immediately notice that there is no data for the EMAIL channel in their Google Analytics account! They have been doing email marketing for the past THREE YEARS and have no idea how it has actually been performing for them! In fact, they have been attributing Email conversions to their DIRECT channel the entire time, giving their offline marketing credit that it did not deserve! Absolutely maddening… amirite?
The Solution: Bookmark this super helpful Campaign URL Building link ASAP! This free Google URL builder tool is a very easy way to construct your own tracking URLs that will properly segment your traffic into its correct channel in Google Analytics. This is absolutely critical if you want to clearly see how each of your campaign is performing. In a simple, step by step process you can label the source, medium, and name of each campaign to remove any guesswork about how they are working. Used effectively, not only will you know how your Email Marketing is performing overall, but you can know how each individual email blast performed. You can then extract valuable information from each email you send and learn what works and what doesn’t and employ those items in your future emails.
Mistake #3: I see a few different spikes in my traffic last year but I can't figure out what caused the increase in my traffic!
The Reality: There are a lot of moving parts when you're marketing a business online. Seasonality, virality, launching new campaigns, new competition, shifting your marketing dollars, testing new channels and tools, etc. Whether you're a one-man shop or a full team, there's quite a lot that is going on. It's easy to forget to take note of initiatives and secondary information that could help in telling the story of your web traffic. When you don't make note these initiatives, you miss out on making important correlations and possibly attributing success or failure incorrectly due to lack of information.
The Solution: One of the simplest things you can do whenever you start a campaign or make changes to your marketing is to annotate it in Google Analytics. It can be tough to remember, so do what works best for you, but adding an annotation takes about 10 seconds (depending on your internet speed) and can save you a ton of headaches in the future. Annotations can help fill in the gaps where Google Analytics can't gather information and can also help you make some pretty noteworthy connections about your marketing efforts. Here's another great blog with some Google Analytics admin tips.
Mistake #4: My bounce rate is so high, my web content is no good! Or... My site received less form fills this month, the site design must be terrible! Or... any variation of blaming a single data point for any particular traffic fluctuation.
The Reality: As I mentioned before, Google Analytics provides a ton of features with granular data and can be super powerful when used correctly. One of the biggest mistakes we see is when people become obsessed with one particular data point. Whether it's bounce rate or even conversions, that information is only telling you one side of the story. Here's a scenario for you, ABC Company's has a goal to increase traffic to their website so they hire an agency that specializes in SEO. ABC Company normally gets about five leads from their website a day, but usually, only one or two of them is qualified. Flash forward 6 months and ABC Company is getting a little less organic traffic to their site and they are upset about the investment they made in this agency. However, ABC Company is now getting six or seven web leads per day and three or four of them are qualified.
The Solution: Don't put all your eggs in one basket. In the scenario mentioned above, the ABC Company was focused solely on the amount of traffic to their site to determine the failure of their investment in the SEO firm. They did not pay attention to the fact that they were getting two or three times more qualified leads per day. They may initially think that their investment in the SEO agency was fruitless but in reality, the expertise of that agency they hired helped position them better with their target audience, therefore, garnering them more qualified leads than ever before. The solution here is not to focus on one data point when determining success or failure. In reality, a variety of factors will come into play in any scenario. It's important to be able to use all of Google Analytics' feature rich reports (and your annotations) to begin to tell a story about the website's traffic.
Let me reiterate my love-hate relationship with Google Analytics. I love the tool because of the power behind really granular data, plus it's free and it does some awesome stuff for $0/month. Hate, okay, hate is a strong word, but the thing that is a challenge with Google Analytics is when it's not used properly or analyzed thoroughly and it's telling an incorrect story and showing faulty data.
Do you need help decoding your Google Analytics and don't know where to start? Let us help you out, click the link below and get in touch with. Do you have another mistake you'd like us to add to our list? Leave it in the comments section below.
Patrick studied business at Northeastern University in Boston, MA where he received both Management and Management Information Systems degrees. Post college, Patrick gained knowledge holding different roles in sales and marketing and shortly after he decided to put that experience to good use and founded Page One Web Solutions.