Are Your Analytics Telling the Right Story?

Posted by Bill.Sebald

A process can easily become a habit. A habit may not change without awareness or intervention.

Before it becomes a habit, a process should be adjusted to change along with new goals, constant learning, experimentation, and so on.

Considering your time in analytics, are you engaging in a process, or in an outdated habit?

That’s a real question that digital marketing practitioners should ask themselves. Inherently, marketers tend to be buried with work, reusing templates to speed up results. But many agencies lean on those templates a little too much, in my opinion.

Templates should never be written in stone.

If your company is pumping out canned reports, you’re not alone. I do the business development for our company and regularly ask prospects to explain or share the reports they’ve received in the past. Sometimes it’s truly discouraging, outdated, wasteful, and the reason businesses search for new SEO vendors.

Look—I’m all for scalability. It’s a huge help. But some things can’t be scaled and still be successful, especially in today’s SEO climate—or, frankly, marketing in general. Much of what was scalable in SEO prior to 2011 is now penalty-bait. Today’s analytics tools and platforms can slice and dice data faster than anything Ron Popeil ever sold, but the human element will always be necessary if you want your marketing to dominate.

Find the stories to tell

I like to tell stories. I’m real fun in the pub. What I’ve always loved about marketing is the challenge to not only find a story, but have that story change something for the better. I like adding my layer based on real data and experimenting.

Analytics work is all about finding the story. It’s detective work. It’s equal parts Sherlock Holmes, Batman, and Indiana Jones. If you’re lucky, the story jumps out with very little digging. However, it’s more likely you’ll be going on some expeditions. It’s common to start with a hunch or random click through reports, but you need to always be looking for the story.

A great place to start is through client conversations. We schedule at least one monthly call with our clients, where it’s truly a discussion session. We get conversations going to pull intel out of the key stakeholders. Case in point: Recently, we discovered through an open discussion that one of our clients had great success with an earlier email campaign targeted to business owners. There was specific information customers positively responded to, which was helpful in recent content development on their website. It’s amazing what you can learn by asking questions and simply listening to responses.

We should be true consultants, not report monkeys. Dive into the discussions started and enjoy the ride. I guarantee you’ll take note of a few ripe areas to review next time you log into your Google Analytics account.

An impromptu survey says it’s a time issue

Most SEO engagements are designed around a block of purchased hours. Hopefully the client understands they’re not only buying your time to complete SEO tasks, but also your expertise and analysis. If someone on your team were to say, “I don’t have time to do analysis because all my tasks used up their budget this month,” then you really need to question the value of the chosen tasks. Were they picked based on front-loaded analysis, or were they simply tasks pulled out of guesswork?

A few weeks ago I pushed a quick Survey Monkey survey out on Twitter and Linkedin. Thanks to a few retweets, 94 people responded (please consider the following results more directional than scientific—I’m well aware it’s a shallow survey pool). I asked two questions:

  1. If you work in-house or have clients, how often do you log into your clients’ analytics? (Multiple choices ranged from several times a day to a few times a month).
  2. Do you, or do you not, get enough time in Analytics to interpret the data?

The responses:

answers2

While some do make a habit of logging into analytics once or more times a day, more do not. Is it required to check under the hood every day? Personally, I believe it is—but your answer may vary on that one. If something went south overnight, I want to be aware before my client tells me. After all, that’s one of the things I’m paid for. I like the idea of being active—not reactive.

More notable is that most respondents didn’t feel they get enough time in analytics. That should absolutely change.

There was also a field for respondents to elaborate on their selections. There were several comments that jumped out at me:

“In house, day to day tasks and random projects prevent me from taking the deep dives in analytics that I feel are valuable.”

“It’s challenging to keep up with the changes and enhancements made in Google Analytics in particular, amongst other responsibilities and initiatives.”

“Too many things are on my plate for me to spend the time I know I should be spending in Google Analytics.”

“Finding the actionable info in Analytics always takes more time that expected—never enough time to crunch the numbers!”

“I log in to ‘spot check’ things but rarely do I get to delve into the data for long enough to suss out the issues and opportunities presented by the data.”

These results suggest that many marketers are not spending enough time with analytics. And possibly not because they don’t see the value, but simply because they don’t have time. “Either you run the day, or the day runs you (Jim Rohn)” is apropos here—you must make time. You need to get on top of all the people filling your plate. It’s not easy, but it needs to be done.

Get on top of those filling your plate. Kind of like professional crowd surfing.

Helpful resources

Dashboards are fantastic, but I rarely see them set up in analytics platforms. One of the best ways to get a quick glimpse of your key metrics are with dashboards. All good analytics platforms provide the ability to make custom dashboards. Get into work, grab a coffee, fire up the computer, click your dashboard bookmark. (I recommend that order!) Google Analytics, which most of us probably use, provides some decent options with their dashboards, though limited compared to enterprise analytics platforms.

However, this basic dashboard is the minimum you should review in analytics. We’ll get deeper soon.

Building these widgets are quite easy (I recently created a tutorial on my site). There are also websites that provide dashboards you can import into Google Analytics. Dashboard Junkie is a fun one. Here are some others from Econsultancy and Google themselves.

It’s not just analytics platforms that offer dashboards. There are several other vendors in the SEO space that port in analytics data and mesh with their own data—from Moz Analytics to SearchMetrics to Conductor to many, many others.

SEMrush has a unique data set that marketers should routinely review. While your traffic data in analytics will be truer, if you’re targeting pages you may be interested in monitoring keyword rank counts:

Are backlinks a target? Maybe you’d find Cognitive SEO’s dashboard valuable:

cognitive

RankRanger is another SaaS we use. It’s become way more than just our daily rank tracking software. The data you can port in creates excellent snapshots and graphs, and strong dashboards:

rankranger1

It also offers other graphing functionality to make pretty useful views:

While some of the bigger platforms, like SearchMetrics and Conductor, make it easier to get a lot of information within one login, I’m still finding myself logging into several programs to get the most useful data possible. C’est la vie.

Analytics is your vehicle to identifying problems and opportunity

Remember, dashboards are simply the “quick and dirty” window into your site. They help spotlight drastic changes, and make your website’s general traction more visible. Certainly valuable for when your CMO corners you by the Keurig machine. It’s a state of the union, but doesn’t focus on subsections that may need attention.

Agencies and consultants tend to create SEO reports for their clients as a standard practice, though sometimes these reports become extremely boilerplate. Boilerplate reports essentially force you to look under the same rocks month after month. How can you get a bigger view of the world if you never leave your comfortable neighborhood? A new routine needs to be created by generating new reports and correlations, finding trends that were hidden, and using all the tools at your disposal (from Analytics to link tools to competitive tools).

Your analytics app is not a toy—it’s the lifeblood of your website.

Deeper dives with Google Analytics

Grouped pages lookup

A quick way to look at chunks of the site is by identifying a footprint in the URL and searching with that. For example, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages or Landing Pages. Then, in the search bar right below the graph, search for the footprint. For example, take www.mystoreisdabomb.com/blog/2015/ as a real URL. if you want to see everything in the blog, enter */blog/ into the search bar. This is especially useful in getting the temperature of an eCommerce category.

Segment sessions with conversions/transactions

So often in SEO we spend our time analyzing what’s not working or posing as a barrier. This report helps us take a look at what is performing (by leads or sales generated) and the customer behavior, channels, and demographic information that goes along with that. Then we can identify opportunities to make use of our success and improve our overall inbound strategy.

Below is a deeper dive into the conversions “Lead Generation” segment, although these same reports can just as aptly be applied to transactions. Ultimately, there are a lot of ways to slice and dice the analysis, so you’ll have to know what makes sense for your client, but here are three different reports from this segment that provided useful insights that will enhance our strategy.

  • Conversions

    One of the easy and most valuable ones! Directions: Under any report, go to Add a Segment > Sessions with Conversions > Apply.

  • Demographics – age, gender, location

    For example, our client is based in Pennsylvania, but is receiving almost as many request form submissions from Texas and New York, and has a high ratio of request form submissions to visitors for both of these other states. Given our client’s industry, this gives us ideas on how to market to these individuals and additional information the Texans may need given the long distance.

  • Mobile – overview, device type, landing pages

    For this client, we see more confirmation of what has been called the “micro-moment” in that our mobile users spend less time on the site, view less pages per visit, have a higher bounce rate, and are more likely to be new users (less brand affinity). This would indicate that the site is mobile optimized and performing as expected. From here, I would next go into mobile traffic segments to find pages that aren’t receiving a lot of mobile traffic, but are similar to those that are, and find ways to drive traffic to those pages as well.

  • Acquisition

    Here we’re looking at how the inbound channels stack up for driving conversions. Organic and Paid channels are neck and neck, although referral and social are unexpected wins (and social, glad we’ve proven your viability to make money!). We’ll now dig deeper into the referring sites and social channels to see where the opportunities are here.

Assisted conversions

There’s more to the story than last click. In Analytics, go to Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted conversions. Many clients have difficulty understanding the concept of attribution. This report seems to provide the best introduction to the world of attribution. Last click isn’t going to be replaced anytime soon, but we can start to educate and optimize for other parts of the funnel.

True stories from analytics detective work

Granted, this is not a post about favorite reports. But this is a post about why digging through analytics can open up huge opportunities. So, it’s real-life example time from Greenlane’s own experience!

Story 1: The Forgotten Links

The client is a big fashion brand. They’ve been a popular brick-and-mortar retail destination since the early 80s, but only went online in 1996. This is the type of company that builds links based on their brand ambassadors and trendy styles. SEO wasn’t the mainstream channel it is today, so it’s likely they had some serious architecture changes since the 90s, right?

For this company, analytics data can only be traced back about seven years. We thought, “Let’s take a look at what drove traffic in their early years. Let’s see if there were any trends that drove volume and sales where they may be slipping today. If they had authority then, and are slipping now, it might be easier to recoup that authority versus building from scratch.”

The good news—this brand had been able to essentially maintain the authority they launched with, as there were not any real noticeable gaps between search data then and search data today. But, in the digging, we uncovered a gem. We found a lot of URLs that used to draw traffic that are not on their tree today. After digging furthur, we found a redesign occurred in the late 90s. SEO wasn’t factored in, creating a ton of 404s. These 404s were not even being charted in Google Webmaster Tools, yet they are still being linked to today from external sites (remember, GWT is still quite directional in terms of the data they provide). Better yet, we pulled links from OSE and Majestic, and saw that thousands of forgotten links existed.

This is an easy campaign—create a 301 redirect matrix for those dead pages and bring those old backlinks to life.

But we kept wondering what pages were out there before the days where analytics was implemented. Using the Wayback Machine, we found that even more redesigns had occurred in the first few years of the site’s life. We didn’t have data for these pages, so we had to get creative. Using Screaming Frog, we crawled the Wayback Machine to pull out URLs we didn’t know existed. We fed them into the link tools, and sure enough, there were links there, too.

Story 2: To “View All” or Not To “View All”

Most eCommerce sites have pagination issues. It’s a given. A seasoned SEO knows immediately to look for these issues. SEOs use rel=”next” and “prev” to help Google understand the relationships. But does Google always behave the way we think they should? Golly, no!

Example 2 is a company that sells barware online. They have a lot of products, and tend to show only “page 1” of a given category. Yet, the analytics showed instances where Google preferred to show the view all page. These were long “view all” pages, which, after comparing to the “page 1” pages, showed a much lower bounce rate and higher conversions. Google seemed to prefer them in several cases anyway, so a quick change to default to “view all” started showing very positive returns in three months.

Story 3: Selling What Analytics Says to Sell

I have to change some details of this story because of NDAs, but once upon a time there was a jewelry company that sold artisan products. They were fond of creating certain kinds of keepsakes based on what sold well in their retail stores. Online, though, they weren’t performing very well selling these same products. The website was fairly new and hadn’t quite earned the footing they thought their brand should have, but that wasn’t the terminal answer we wanted to give them. Instead, we wanted to focus on areas they could compete with, while building up the entire site and turning their offline brand into an online brand.

Conversion rates, search metrics, and even PPC data showed a small but consistent win on a niche product that didn’t perform nearly as well in the brick-and-mortar stores. It wasn’t a target for us or the CEO. Yet online, there was obvious interest. Not only that, with low effort, this series of products was poised to score big in natural search due to low competition. The estimated search volume (per Google Keyword Planner) wasn’t extraordinary by any stretch, but it led to traffic that spent considerable dollars on these products. So much so, in fact, that this product became a focus point of the website. Sometimes, mining through rocks can uncover gold (jewelry pun intended).

Conclusion

My biggest hope is that your takeaway after reading this piece is a candid look at your role as an SEO or digital marketer. You’re a person with a “unique set of skills,” being called upon to perform works of brilliance. Being busy does create pressure; that pressure can sometimes force you to look for shortcuts or “phone it in.” If you really want to find the purest joy in what you’ve chosen as a career, I believe it’s from the stories embedded within the data. Go get ’em, Sherlock!

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