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Ask the Pit Crew: What Is the Best Way to Get Started with Google Analytics?

Ask the Pole Position Marketing Pit CrewMembers of the Pole Position Marketing pit crew answer your web marketing questions from their unique perspectives with a “bonus lap” by a guest industry expert.

Have a question you’d like answered? Ask the pit crew!

This Week’s Question: 

What is the best way to get started with Google Analytics? 

Stoney deGeyter’s Answer from an SEO Perspective:

People often correlate SEO with “getting rankings.” That’s part of it, but it’s not the whole story, or even the most essential part of the story. Top search engine rankings do not equal business success!

Let’s say you sell motorcycle batteries. You come to us and tell me you want to rank #1 for “batteries.” Let’s also assume you have the budget necessary to succeed in ranking for such a term.

Once you get your top ranking, how’s business going? Well, probably not all that great. You’re ranking for batteries, getting tons of traffic, but very little sales and conversions. Why? Because you don’t sell just any kind of battery. So the top ranking for that term probably costs more to achieve than you make back in sales. SEO fail.

Now, let’s go the other way. Let’s say I am working on your rankings I come to you bragging about the number one ranking we achieved for “best hayabusa motorcycle batteries.” That’s a win, right?

Well, not exactly. That phrase, even in the number one spot, isn’t going to produce a lot of traffic. Standing alone, it’s mostly just a waste of effort to go after.

Rankings alone don’t matter a whole heck of a lot. What matters is business growth. Of course, that can be measured by direct sales, but there are a few other metrics we can look at in order to make sure our SEO campaign is producing the results needed to help grow your business.

The two metrics I like to look at are traffic and conversion rates. Either one of those by themselves is almost as useless as looking at rankings alone, but together these metrics can be quite telling.

If your SEO is increasing your traffic, but the conversion rates fall significantly, then you know that the keywords you are ranking for are really not producing the kinds of returns you want. However, if traffic starts to increase and conversion rates stay steady, well, then you know business is on a growth trajectory.

Increased conversion rates are almost always a good thing, but you have to keep the traffic coming for the improved conversion rate to pan out. A 100% conversion rate is pretty useless for long-term success if your traffic is reduced to single web visitor! But if you can increase conversion rates while holding traffic steady—or better, increasing traffic—then you know you have a winner, and the SEO is doing a great job.

And looking back from another successful business year, who really cares what your rankings are? As long as the SEO continues to produce increased traffic with an improving conversion rate, you don’t need to worry about where you are ranked for what. If business keeps growing, rankings become non-essential.

As long as traffic and conversions are growing, you can plan to be in business for a long time to come and never have to worry about where you “rank” again.

Mike Fleming’s Answer from an Analytics Perspective:

The data to collect

You’re probably asking yourself this question because the truth of the matter is, there is more data and more reports than you could possible know what to do with or have time for. You’re swimming in data, and unless we know how to focus, you will soon get tired of treading water and give up.

So, to get started, you want to have a clear understanding of the reasons your website exists. Is it to sell something? Is it to provide information? Is it to help customers decide to contact your sales department? Once you lay this out, the most important data you want to make sure you are collecting is that which is going to tell you how your site is doing with helping your customers accomplish those tasks. When you do, make sure you assign an economic value to each of them for the increased revenue or reduced cost they bring to the business. This will help you make the right decisions with your website marketing budget.

If you sell motorcycle batteries online, then you will clearly want to record the sales and value of those sales. But, there are some actions that could happen on a site that aren’t as obvious, but are still valuable. For example, if your website helps a visitor find an answer to a question, that may reduce cost by decreasing call volume to customer service reps.

What data to report

Now to the next level of businessthe metrics to focus on. First, the question. Which metric is it most important to improve at this point in time for the business to meet its current goals? These are your KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). If you choose wisely, your metrics will be focused on outcomes that tell you whether or not you are performing positively or negatively for those specific goals. If you have more than 3 to 5 KPIs, you are not focusing intently enough.

When you do take a look at how your KPIs are doing, always make sure to answer the question, “Why should I care?” This is important because unless you understand the business impact of the metrics you look at, you are unlikely to act with a sense of urgency to change it. For example, I could report that my conversion rate is 2%. Just seeing that number doesn’t do anything for anybody. It doesn’t make anyone care. But, if I report that my conversion rate is 2% and if we increase this conversion rate to 3%, it would mean an extra $2 million dollars to the business, that is likely to get things moving.

How data should be analyzed

So, what do you do with your KPIs once you find them? You benchmark, trend and segment. What do I mean? First, what is the realistic goal for success within a specified time period? If you don’t have a benchmark to shoot for, it’s harder to estimate and carry out the amount of time, money and energy it will take to get there. Second, you trend the data over time to identify when and why you moved the dial. What specific actions may have helped or hurt reaching the benchmark in the specified time period? Last, make sure to segment your data into meaningful groups so that you can identify the specific channels, locations, pages, etc. that may have helped or hurt the trend you are seeing.

Once you lay this all out, you will be able to come up with adjusted strategies that can be implemented to move the dial of your KPIs and grow your business. 

Kathy Gray’s Answer from a Social Media Perspective:

The amount of data available in Google Analytics and figuring out what it means can be completely overwhelming at first. Determining what to track in regards to social media is an age-old, well, toddler-aged question. If you’re just getting started with tracking social data, you might want to take a look at my previous blog post, Yeah, But… Social Media Can’t Be Tracked.

For a few basic metrics available in Google Analytics, start by going to Traffic Sources -> Social -> Overview. On the Social Overview page you’ll be able to see the total number of visits to your website via social referral, and the breakdown of which networks are referring the most traffic. This can be eye-opening. You may be getting a ton of likes on Facebook, but may be getting more referral traffic from Twitter. By clicking on each network, you’ll be able to see which content was visited most from that specific channel.

Once you’ve moved up a grade in your Google Analytics education and have set up some conversion metrics, you’ll want to look at Traffic Sources -> Social -> Conversions to see how many conversions are coming from social media. When you’re ready to get really fancy with your tracking, you can add custom tracking codes to the links you share on your social channels for specific reports and create custom reports, or have Mike create your reports like I did. :)

Annalisa Hilliard’s Answer from a Link Building and Local SEO Perspective:

Why use Google Analytics?

Google Analytics is a free tool that measures many different metrics. Without analytics it’s hard to track what’s happening on your website. This is problematic when you’re trying to set goals, measure success or find opportunities for improvement. Using Google Analytics will aid your efforts to set tangible goals and prioritize your marketing efforts by helping you visualize your ROI.

What metrics should I look at for link building?

I think there are two main areas you’ll want to pay attention to. The first is the click-through-rate (CTR) of your backlinks. This gives you an idea of whether or not a link is effective at driving traffic to your site.

In addition, look at the percentage of those clicks that follow through on a call-to-action on your site. In other words, did they convert? If you have a high number of click-throughs, but a low number of conversions, you might see if the website linking to you is a proper fit. For example, if you’re an attorney’s office and the link is coming from an online retailer, this could be a good indication of why the conversion rate is low. This is why links should be sought after from websites logically associated with your industry (but that’s another post). On the other hand, if the website linking to your site is relevant, other metrics may be needed to determine a proper plan of action. For instance, maybe your call-to-action is difficult to find. Before you jump in and make changes, it’s important to implement testing. Don’t believe me? Just ask Mike.

For link building, it’s also important to look at your social metrics. There are a flood of social networks and prioritizing the amount of time you spend on each, can be helpful. Looking at your metrics for social media can help your prioritization. Knowing which social network provides the greatest opportunity for your business is an important factor in setting your goals for engagement. Finding the best place to share your thoughts, give feedback and connect with others is a key component to building online relationships. If done properly, fostering relationships and offering value to a community will build your brand as well as links to your site.

Bonus Lap with Bill Sebald:

Bill Sebald is the founder of Greenlane Search Marketing, LLC, a Philadelphia SEO company. He can be found on twitter @billsebald.

Google Analytics is big. Where it may not be able to do deep correlations or have a data warehouse like an Omniture, and may interpolate some data, it’s a huge tool with no price tag. It’s good for basic website, customer or marketing analytics. Plus, it’s always being improved with new features, from real-time, to usability, to a/b testing. Before being overwhelmed by custom filters and segments, attribution and complex visitor flow reports, the best place to start is with the basic, out-of-the-box “standard reports.” Get a feel for them and GA’s usability. Add to that advanced segments (simply a button at the top of your standard reports with a checklist of possible carvings), and most marketers will have the majority of what they’re looking for on a quick-view basis. Add them to your dashboard if you want to create an executive summary.

Once you have that figured out, ask yourself what goals you have. Jot down each piece of data or metric you’d like to pull, and work through it one at a time. Let this be your education. Use the Help menu, or just Google your question (someone, somewhere has asked the same question on a forum). Turn a blind eye to the features and abilities you don’t need to know at the moment (you’ll get to it another day). Don’t try to boil the ocean. The more you try to solve for each metric or goal, the more you get to learn the deeper abilities of Google Analytics, and the more beneficial it will be to your current marketing initiatives. Before you know it, you could actually have 80% of the tool figured out without even trying.

That’s my approach to any complex software, from Photoshop and video editors to the music recording software I use. There’s a ton I don’t know about Google Analytics, and simply don’t need to know (yet). That’s perfectly fine with me. The best way to get started with Google Analytics is to really know why you want to be using Google Analytics in the first place and start digging in accordingly.


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Stoney G deGeyter

Stoney deGeyter is the author of The Best Damn Web Marketing Checklist, Period!. He is the founder and CEO of Pole Position Marketing, a web presence optimization firm who's pit crew has been velocitizing websites since 1998. In his free time Stoney gets involved in community services and ministries with his bride enjoy and his children. Read Stoney's full bio.

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