This article is meant for senior level marketing VP’s or enrollment managers at businesses that have websites, but are not currently using any sort of tool to help measure their traffic and online marketing success. It is also for you if you are using an in-house hodge-podge of mysterious “reports” that are not easily accessible and customizable by your staff or that make no sense to you.
As a marketing leader for your organization, you are responsible for developing effective strategies for meeting your goals. The reports you use in monitoring your progress need to be simple to create and easy-to-use. We’ve written this piece so you can cut through the clutter and begin getting a handle on the numbers that drive your web traffic.
What is Google Analytics and Why Should I use it?
Most managers and chief marketing officers know that Google Analytics is a service that allows you to track the traffic to your website and the behavior of your visitors. There are a number of tools on the market that will allow you to track more detail than Analytics or give you greater flexibility in creating reports, but the basic version of Analytics is a superior first choice for the majority of marketers because:
It is easy to set up. Creation of your google analytics account can take as little as 15 minutes plus the turn around time to have your IT staff install a small piece of code on your web pages.
It is free. The basic version of Google Analytics is incredibly powerful and meets all of the tracking needs of companies up to $50,000,000 per year in revenue (or more if the firm has a relatively high cost of goods sold.)
It is powerful. You can easily set up Google Analytics to track specific marketing goals like lead capture, ecommerce sales, event registrations and more. You can also use it to analyze facets of your web traffic like time of day patterns, referrals, social media traffic (facebook, twitter, etc.), and geographic as well as demographic trends.
It is customizable. As your staff gains confidence in using Google Analytics, you can customize high level reports for leadership/management as well as extremely detailed reports for use by your advertising managers and partners.
The Two Most Important Things Marketing Managers Need to Do When Setting Up Analytics
We have found that creating multiple views so you can protect your data and making sure you can filter internal visits and robots so you can have a more accurate picture of your traffic are the two most important elements of setting up Analytics properly.
1. Always have at least three “views” on your data
Analytics data is stored in what are called “views”. This is an old database programmer’s term that has survived through the various versions of Analytics because it neatly captures the idea of a “window” onto the data generated by your web traffic. A view contains rules about how Google will store your data and allows you to do things like create filters that eliminate certain data (like web visits from your offices or internal staff), or perform certain actions when the data is recorded (like making sure all variants of a web address show up as being the same site in your reports).
When you create a view, Google begins storing website data according to the filters you’ve chosen from that moment forward. Once you have created a filter for a view, Google effectively ignores data that is filtered out. This has two important consequences: You can’t have any data in a view that predates that view’s creation and once you filter something out of a view, that data is lost forever.
So, the first thing you need to know about views is that you need to create at least three of them in order to use Analytics effectively. Here are the three views you need to have your IT people implement. (If you would like some help in getting these views set up or your IT staff would like to speak with someone, feel free to give us a call or drop us a line.)
A.) The Raw Data View: Chances are, if you already have an analytics account, you have a single “view” and are not filtering your data. If that is the case, then rename this view the “Raw Data View” and make a note in the title that this view is not to be altered or messed with in any way. This will be your historical repository of basic web traffic and will allow you to run basic reports in the event that your other views get messed up or you need a longer term view of traffic trends.
If your current view is filtered, we recommend creating a brand new view with no filters and calling it your “Raw Data View”. Then rename your current view “Historical Data” and make a label telling people not to mess with it. This means you’ll have four views by the time you are done implementing this part of the program.
B.) The Master Data View: This is the view that you will use on a daily basis and that your advertising and marketing team will use to generate reports for leadership and daily management tasks. This view should have a number of filters applied to it at a minimum (if you like, contact us and we will give you a worksheet that explains step-by-step how to apply these filters to your account so you can give it to your marketing managers or your IT staff). These filters will: exclude internal web traffic from your reports, make sure that variations of the same website name will show up as a single domain, alert you to changes in your site’s page speed/load time or if you have huge traffic spikes or drops, and several other handy features that will help you make sure that the “pulse” of your site is being measured daily.
The Master Data View is also where all of your standard reports and dashboards will be implemented. Over time, you will become more and more familiar with the powerful features offered by Analytics and will want to have standardized and well tested reports available on demand. Those reports will be part of the Master Data View.
C.) The Sandbox View: This is the view where your marketing support staff will be able to experiment with new features of Analytics as they are made available or to try out different types of reports or filters without fear of corrupting your traffic data. The Sandbox gives your staff room to try out new reporting ideas and dashboards. When you are satisfied that their efforts are worth preserving, you can authorize moving these reports into the Master Data View for use by the organization.
You can have any number of different views, but we recommend doing most of your work with a Master View and minimizing the number of other working views you have in order to insure that you focus on the big picture and don’t get mired down in the huge amounts of data you can pull from Analytics.
2. Filter out your internal traffic and known robots
In the event that you get pushback on creating different views or are not in a position to edit your account at that level, at the very least you need to make sure that your IT department is filtering out all internal traffic and known robots from your reporting.
For a small business or a college, internal traffic can greatly skew not only the overall traffic numbers for your website, it can also give you an incorrect picture of where most of your relevant traffic comes from. Robots are programs that “crawl” your site and report back to search engines and can have the same effect – especially for sites that do not generate many visits in a day. Analytics makes it incredibly easy for most websites to filter this traffic out of their reports (as in click-a-single-check-box easy.)
Don’t worry. Filtering robots out of your Analytics results won’t block them from searching and crawling your site.
Think of analytics as being a bit like sailing. When you are close to land, you need to know the depth of the water. When you are well out to sea, you need to know your current position and heading. When you are looking to change direction, you need to know the speed and direction of the wind. To figure out where you are going and how long it will take to get there, you need a chart or a map. That’s five numbers and a map that can get you pretty much anywhere you need to go.
As one of your organization’s marketing leaders, you only need a handful of numbers from analytics to know if your website is doing what it needs to do.
You know what it’s like to be in a meeting and get handed a mountainous pile of tables and spreadsheet. You also know how quickly grinding through all of those numbers becomes unproductive. While detailed, low-level data is important for small, daily decisions by your support staff, you need a regular daily or weekly snapshot of your web traffic that tells you whether or not you are still on course.
There are several fantastic reporting and tracking tools out there. Google Analytics in its basic form is free, easy to use, and highly customizable without a ton of effort, so that is why I suggest you start with it. Google also offers a paid version that is more robust and comes with high level support. You might also look at a fantastic tool called “KissMetrics” created by Neil Patel and Hiten Shah. It is very marketing focused and easy to use. It also costs money.
Whichever path you choose, as a marketing leader for your organization you MUST use some tool to get a high level overview of how your site is faring and whether or not it is helping you meet your marketing goals. In a future installment, I’ll go over the 9 key numbers you need to know in order to tell how well your website is performing.