The Internet Marketing Driver: Glenn Gabe's goal is to help marketers build powerful and measurable web marketing strategies.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Web Analytics and Tracking Your Online Marketing Campaigns, Why Starting With a Basic Analytics Foundation is a Smart Way to Go

Web analytics, basic setup and strong foundation.You woke up earlier than usual this morning, eager to start the day. This is not your typical week... You’ve got a new product launching and you are having some final meetings to make sure everything is covered with your online marketing campaigns. In one of your last meetings before the launch, your CMO walks in and says, “Great work on developing the campaign and I’m excited to see the results. When can I expect to see some reporting detailing how each channel is performing?” Crickets chirp… {Since this is my blog post, I have the power to freeze time for 10 minutes so I can explain more about web analytics and help you craft your answer to your CMO. Please continue reading.}

There’s no reason that tracking online marketing campaigns should be an issue, although unfortunately, many times it is. There is a lot of talk about bleeding edge web analytics, and believe me, I’m excited about those advancements. But I would be careful with how you implement your web analytics package, or more importantly, how fast you move to an advanced tracking setup.

I think everyone would agree that it's never a good thing when campaigns go live without the proper tracking and measurement in place. It actually pains me to see that occur…especially knowing how some basic reporting can provide powerful and actionable insights. That's right, I said basic reporting and actionable insights in one sentence. For example, wouldn’t you like to track each aspect of your campaign to see which ones perform best? You can use this data to help you determine how to proceed in future campaigns (or even how to tweak current campaigns that are live). Is paid search generating the most revenue, which categories of keywords within paid search are driving that success, is email marketing generating high click throughs, but low conversion? Are your product pages ranking in natural search, how much traffic is coming from Google, and what’s the conversion rate for specific categories of keywords from organic search? If you think that these questions are hard to answer, you are wrong. I’m here to tell you that with some relatively basic tracking in place, you can find out answers to all of these questions, and more importantly, you can pass those insights to senior management at intervals during the campaign. As you can imagine, having campaign data is extremely valuable (even when it's negative). And, that information is easily digestible by all levels of the organization.

Start with a stable and accurate web analytics foundation and build upon it…
Here’s a quick analogy. You just spent thousands of dollars buying state of the art windows for your home. In addition, you decided to put in hardwood floors throughout the house. That’s great, but you’ve got a small problem. Your foundation is badly cracked. Considering that you need to spend a lot of money trying to fix your foundation, now how do you feel about adding all of the extras? You suddenly don’t seem to care, right? Web Analytics is the same way. What good is jumping to advanced levels of tracking when you can't even get basic performance data?? That's why I always recommend starting with a relatively basic implementation. Then, make sure your reporting is accurate and providing you with actionable information. Once you have a solid web analytics foundation in place, you can enhance it and test the new functionality in bite size pieces. For example, advanced segmentation, event tracking, tracking visitor engagement, implementing an advanced testing platform, etc. I don’t recommend jumping into the most advanced analytics setup right out of the gates. I can tell you with almost 100% certainty that you won’t be in a good place. There will be confusion, disappointment, frustration, and then you’ll probably revert to the basic setup like I recommended in the first place! By that time, you might have wasted countless hours, days, and months trying to get the advanced setup working. Even worse, there may be people in your company that have been using the reporting to make decisions... and decisions based on poor data is not good, to say the least.

What type of information can you get from relatively basic reporting?
Let’s go through a hypothetical campaign so you can see what I’m referring to. Maybe you have a new version of a product launching soon. You’ll be running paid search, display advertising, email marketing, and then optimizing the new section of the website for organic search. You’ve decided to use Google Analytics to track your campaigns and have installed the tracking code on each page of your website. For our example, there are two conversions, an e-commerce sale and an email list signup. You will be running paid search in Google and Yahoo, your display advertising is running on a number of industry-specific websites, you will be blasting out several email campaigns to your segmented in-house list, and you’ve optimized your new pages based on keyword research for natural search. With Google Analytics in place (a package I’ve written about often), you will be able to track each aspect of your campaign to determine the effectiveness of your efforts. With the proper tracking in place, you won't be surfing your web analytics reporting aimlessly for hours. Instead, you will be able to drill into GA and pull relevant information that can help you understand what worked and what didn't.

But Glenn, how do I track my campaigns?
That’s a good question and one I hear often. You’ve already added your GA code to your website, which is the first step. The next step (for our example) is to make sure GA tracks conversions and then revenue. You can learn how to set up conversion goals in Google Analytics here. After you learn how to set up conversion goals, you can read about how to set up e-Commerce tracking. It’s not hard to do and should take your developers a relatively short amount of time to set up. When that’s completed, you will be able to see conversions and revenue by channel (Paid Search, Natural Search, Email Marketing, Display Advertising, etc). Even better, you can drill into your campaigns to see which ad groups are driving the best performance, which keywords, which email creative, which creative elements are working best, etc. For example, you might find that one version of your email creative outperformed other email creative by 65%. That’s the type of powerful information you can glean from even a basic setup like this.

Now, GA natively tracks your AdWords campaigns so you are covered there without any additional tagging. For your other campaigns, you will need to tag your creative using GA’s tracking parameters. You can learn more about how to tag your links here. They are basically querystring parameters that enable GA to identify specific campaigns, and then will enable you to run reports on what those visitors do on your site. So for our example, you would want to tag your Yahoo paid search campaigns, your email marketing campaigns, and your display advertising so they can be uniquely identified by Google Analytics. BTW, I’ve written a post about how to tag your email marketing campaigns so you can track each element clicked in your emails. I’ve also written about tagging YSM campaigns using dynamic variables. Once you tag your campaigns, you can access your reporting within the Campaigns tab in Google Analytics (under Traffic Sources).

But can I really track valuable information with this setup?
You bet, but I’ll let you be the judge. Take a look at the bullets listed below and mark down how many you think would be valuable or important when tracking your campaigns:

*Visitors from each channel and then each campaign within that channel. i.e. Paid Search campaigns, email marketing campaigns, banners, etc.
*Conversions and conversion rate by channel, by campaign, search engine, keyword, email creative, banners, etc.
*e-Commerce revenue by channel, campaign, search engine, keyword, email creative, banner, etc.
*Bounce rate of all campaign landing pages.
*Exit rate of pages within your site and campaign section.
*Conversion Funnel analysis, or where people drop off when trying to complete a conversion.
*Trending over time per channel (and per campaign within each channel.)
*Top products and revenue during the campaign time period.
*Referring websites that are driving traffic to your campaign landing pages, including conversions and revenue from those traffic sources.
*Which geographic regions generate the most revenue or conversion.

I can keep going, but I’ll stop there.

How many bullets did you identify as valuable? I hope all of them (or at least most of them). Once you have this data, you can easily compare the reporting to previous campaigns, you can use it to refine the current campaign (on the fly), or use it to improve future campaigns. It’s actionable data. For example, you might find that display advertising cost you $50,000 and generated only $10,000 in revenue. Drilling into your display advertising, maybe two websites outperformed the others by a huge margin. Maybe you’ll find that paid search generated a 350% ROI. Drilling in further, your brand keywords accounted for most of the revenue and you already rank in natural search for those keywords, so do you need to run brand terms next time? Maybe your email marketing generated a lot of click throughs, but almost no conversion. You also notice a 90% bounce rate from email. Why?

OK, I think you get the picture. You will gain all of the information I listed above, and more, by using a fairly basic analytics setup with some minimal tagging. Can you see why it’s frustrating to some people in web marketing when campaigns go live without the proper analytics setup or tracking in place? Now, would I love to track even more than this by using an elaborate web analytics setup? You bet, but compared to having no tracking in place or unreliable tracking, I would be happy with this level of reporting! Wouldn’t you?

Back to your CMO for a second:
{Now I will unfreeze time so you can answer your CMO.} Earlier in the post, you were ready to answer a question from your CMO about campaign reporting by channel. Now instead of crickets chirping, I hope you’re chomping at the bit to answer his question. Maybe something like this will do, “Tracking? Absolutely, you’ll receive reporting 48 hours into the campaign and then twice per week for the life of the campaign. Then we’ll create a presentation detailing our findings once the campaign ends.” He smiles, and then walks out with a confident look in his eye. You turn around and open Outlook, create a task, and enter “Send Glenn a quick thank you.” ;-)

I’m going to leave you with one last question. If you were the CMO and had 2 senior marketing managers provide you their campaign reporting and one provides you the level of detail that I listed above (from a relatively basic analytics setup), and the other provides you with almost no reporting, or sketchy reporting at best, which one would you allocate more budget to next year?


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  • At 9:49 AM, Anonymous mike mason said…

    Amen, Glen. I'm happy just having basic analytics at this point from our site. GA was disabled (due to the code getting wiped from a template) for the month prior to me starting on the job. You can bet that getting GA back online was my first priority. I'm sure you know the frustration of trying to trend some form of KPI when there's a giant hole in the data. That said, having basic analytics beats the alternative nearly every time. As you wrote, even basic data to explain why something happened (or didn't) really makes a huge difference when speaking with C-levels. Thanks again for another informative and entertaining read.

  • At 10:00 AM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    You're absolutely correct Mike. Starting with a solid foundation is critical. Then you can build upon it. I think many companies jump to an advanced setup only to be confused about the data (and if it's actually correct!) In addition, having the data is one thing, but analyzing that information and gleaning insights is a completely different story. Glad to hear you have GA back up and running.

    On that note, I just noticed that Custom Reporting and Advanced Segmentation went live today in my GA account. Sounds like an idea for another post. :)


  • At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Matt Lillig said…

    Hi Glen,

    Nicely done. You make some excellent points. It's so valuable for organizations to set up tracking for all of their online advertising channels. Otherewise, they're flying blind with their ad budget's, right? And you don't know what you don't measure.

    To take your post one step further, advertisers can now measure how many times one ad or campaign contributed to the conversion of another ad or campaign. So rather than trying to make budgeting or bidding decsions on the total number of visits and conversions your display campaign received, the advertiser can see how many times the display campaign contributed to the conversion of other campaigns.

    Advertisers who use Yahoo's Sponsored Search advertising have the ability to get this information by using the Assist report from using Yahoo's Full Analytics.

    Take a look at this recent post I put up on Yahoo's Search blog:

  • At 12:38 PM, Anonymous Wil Reynolds said…

    Great post Glenn! I think breaking things down for the c-level execs is one of the things we are constantly pushing towards at SEER. Many times they aren't even aware of the data that they can get and when they do ask for this data, its too late because the campaign is over and analytics was never put in place!

    We are still amazed at the amount of people who don't know their conversions, but are asking us about links and hits and traffic.

  • At 12:54 PM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Thanks Matt. I definitely agree with you. Attribution is an important topic in web analytics and one I wrote about when Coremetrics launched attribution in their analytics package in 2007. It was eye-opening to see more than purely last click attribution! We especially saw how paid search interacted with email and natural search. It absolutely changed our way of thinking…

    Regarding Yahoo Full Analytics, I’m going to dig deeper with it soon. In addition to the current analytics tracking on sites that I monitor, it would be extremely useful to see this information.

    Last, since the URL didn’t render correctly in your signature and the link wasn’t active in your comment, I’ve listed them below for anyone interested.

    Matt Lillig’s Blog

    Matt’s post about using Yahoo Full Analytics to measure Search and Display Advertising.


  • At 1:30 PM, Blogger Glenn Gabe said…

    Hi Wil.

    I couldn't agree more. It pains me to see campaigns go live without the proper tracking in place. Or worse, jumping to an advanced setup that's not tested, which typically yields unreliable data.

    Sometimes even a basic setup can give you valuable and actionable data. The goal is to track, measure, and refine to improve your results. Starting with a solid foundation is a smart way to go.



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