Web analytics has always been an important aspect of digital marketing, but only recently has it been considered critical to success. The data mined through savvy analytics tracking can maximize any marketing budget by driving conversions and results; however, this only comes to pass if you understand what the data are telling you.
Web analytics is critical to measuring the success of your website as you identify opportunities to improve your business and marketing initiatives. Most marketers are confused with business implications of analytics reports, so it ends up being simpler to track what you know.
Web analytics has made great strides in the past decade, from when hit counters were the most sophisticated metric trackers in use. But there is still a long way to go before analytics is used to its full marketing potential. In this article, I hope to articulate ways that marketers can maximize their analytics solutions. To do so, I will discuss the top 10 signs that the power of analytics is still eluding your company.
Sign 1: You bought the tool a year ago, and you're still not measuring your business objectives.
You were sold on the lure of data. You bought a web analytics tool, have dashboards sent to you every week, and have no idea what they're supposed to be telling you about your business. You know there is great information contained in these reports and dashboards -- but you cannot decipher how it helps achieve your goals. Don't worry, you're not alone. The overabundance of data makes it difficult to sync graphs with meeting agendas.
There are several avenues marketers can explore to align analytics with business objectives -- not the least of which is your analytics teams. Keep everyone in the loop as changes occur and reevaluate reporting on a regular basis to ensure marketers have the ammo they need to create educated strategies.
For example, one business objective for a B2B website is to increase the number of qualified leads that come through the site. Measuring the total number of leads is one relevant measurement of this goal, but it's more revealing if compared with comprehensive traffic numbers. Additionally, if campaigns are driving traffic, monitoring conversion rates will track whether website visitors reflect target audiences.
Sign 2: You still have to remind the executive team what your company's KPIs are (hint: key performance indicators).
It is understandable that analytics jargon is not mainstream yet. As more CMOs ask for reports and sound reasoning behind digital marketing decisions, terminology will become more commonplace, and this point will be inconsequential. Until that day, keep framing campaigns, objectives, and goals within key performance indicators. This will keep everyone on the same page. It will continue to drive home the importance and value of grounding decisions in quantitative data. You can start one person at a time -- and the sooner you begin, the sooner you can make a difference. Prove that web analytics and KPIs mean something by suggesting sound improvement opportunities based on data. Your executives will be impressed and memorize any acronym you throw at them.
Sign 3: You create these beautiful dashboards, and no one knows what they mean.
Ah, the infamous dashboards that have been defined to include only the most important key metrics, yet you manage to cram in every possible minute detail, making it impossible to read. Pause a campaign, write more blogs, or increase an SEM budget? You still feel like you are flying blind.
The answer: Throw it away and start over.
Refine and redefine your business objectives, and assign a KPI to each. Understand what influences your KPIs, and how fluctuations affect the success of your business objectives. Once this is established, dashboards start to look different and useable.
Sign 4: Your boss is always asking about the number of "hits" your company's website is getting.
This has not been a valuable success metric since the '90s, and it is like nails on a chalkboard to any analytics professional. Potential consumers are not "hits" -- they are people who expect valuable content and a quality user experience when they visit a website. This goes back to point No. 2. Education is needed if we are to evolve beyond basic metrics and start unearthing valuable user insights.
The next time your boss asks how many "hits" the website is getting, simply respond with a smile and say, "I don't know, but since we began optimizing the checkout process, our conversion rate has increased X percent, resulting in an increase in $X dollars last month. Do you want me to look into those 'hits' for you?"
That will likely be the last time you are asked about a hit count.
Sign 5: You're still scratching your head wondering what you should segment and how it will help.
A great place to begin is to differentiate between new and return visitors. How do they behave differently, and how do they convert differently? What are some insights that you could glean to help increase conversion rates? Analytics can also help segment out users who are not looking for your website. To do so, create a segment that does not include your target audience and learn what your true conversion rate is -- and optimize from there.
Continuing with the example from point No. 1, segmentation also provides value in measuring your business objectives. I mentioned that the conversion rate can help assess if the target audience is who is arriving on a website. Segmentation can help provide insight into identifying new and returning visitors. New visitors may not fill out a lead form; however, they may download a couple of white papers, and returning visitors may fill out the lead form on their second or third site visits. All of this information can help marketers target their audiences appropriately.
Sign 6: Even though your homepage has an 80 percent bounce rate, your boss doesn't want a change because he/she likes the way it looks.
This is a classic push-pull battle. The difference is that one group is comprised of potential consumers who are the key to a company's success. To convince decision makers to trust their data, run tests to prove that the reports reflect consumer preference. Remain persistent on the implications of what not changing it could do to your business goals. If bounce rates improve, there will be little left to debate.
When evaluating a homepage for performance and deciding what needs to change, there are a few things to keep in mind: What is the value proposition? Why should a visitor engage further with the site? What is the call-to-action? Where are you trying to drive visitors within the website? Does the homepage have a clear navigation path for various user types? If the answer is "I am not sure" to any of these questions, you've found a great place to begin testing.
Sign 7: You're running multiple online marketing campaigns, and you have no idea which performs better.
For the first time, marketing campaigns can be measured to show their direct correlation and impact. Start from the beginning and tag online media campaigns so that you can measure how well each drives traffic to your site and how it converts. Knowing where to move your marketing dollars will become obvious once campaigns are tracked individually.
Google Analytics provides a URL builder for those who are not familiar with tagging campaigns. However, analytics solutions vary, so it would be best to check your implementation guide to clearly understand the requirements. The following is a hypothetical example of a campaign parameter using Google Analytics:
The "?utm" portion of the URL lets Google Analytics know that a variable is being passed from a campaign. The source ID will let Google Analytics know where the visitor is coming from, the campaign medium, and other useful statistics. These variables can be established to reflect whatever data make sense for a particular campaign.
Sign 8: The one time you ran an A/B test, a winner was chosen -- but no improvements ensued.
Testing is only one part of optimization, the next -- and most difficult part -- is implementation. Optimization is a continual process to make sure you are putting your best foot, ad creative, and messaging forward. What improves conversion rates today may not be as effective three months from now. With analytics, marketers are equipped to do more than just keep up with their consumers, and doing so will help attain goals and drive business.
A/B and multivariate testing are widely used in search engine marketing to determine the most effective ad creative. If most of your sales are completed offline, run testing with ad copy including phone numbers/store locations versus creative without it. Track conversion rates to see if prominently displaying this information on search engine ads makes a difference.
Sign 9: You still can't figure out why total site visits don't add up in all the reports.
It's important to understand that web analytics is not perfect, and sometimes 1 plus 1 equals 3. This does not mean that the information is inaccurate, but with an infinite number of variables and moving parts, numbers do not always match up. Web analytics data are still extremely valuable and important in gauging how a website performs. Remember to look at trends and major changes in key metrics. Continue to investigate what may have caused drastic changes until you have an answer.
A metric that is often used to measure audience mix is a comparison of new versus returning visitors. This metric is calculated as the total amount of new visitors divided by the total amount of returning visitors. A small number (0.3) indicates that the website has a healthy retention of visitors, while a higher number (5.2) indicates that the website has an abundance of new visitors. Marketing strategies that are in place determine the optimal rate for this metric. If an acquisition campaign launches and the goal is to drive qualified traffic, you should expect to see the ratio increase -- hopefully not too much, as you want to see the new traffic return.
Sign 10: You still design with HiPPO (highest paid person's opinion) standards in mind.
Great design drives conversions, so it needs to be strategically crafted to contribute to marketing goals. What worked on a previous project or competitor's site does not necessarily translate to your company. I am not advocating that you discount people's opinions or blindly follow analytics -- it is important to take both into account. Data are a great unifier and can help keep people on the same page in board meetings. By combining objective and subjective points of discussion, it is easier to come to sound marketing decisions. Even if the topic on the table is outlandish, cutting edge, or uncharted territory, at least data can be a place to initiate the conversation.
In conclusion, combining marketing insight with data is an extremely powerful and successful strategy.