Google Analytics for Marketers, an Interview with Simon Pilkington from Technium
Interviewer: Tim Martin, September 2014. Episode #18 from the NET:101 podcast.
TIM: Hello, and with me today I have Simon Pilkington from Technium, which is a digital agency based here in Melbourne. They’re Google partners, and they specialise in Google AdWords and Google Analytics. Welcome, Simon.
SIMON: Thanks for having me on the show, Tim.
TIM: You and I are going to run a Google Analytics course here in Melbourne later in the year. What I thought it would be a good opportunity in this podcast, just to sort of get around some of the core ideas of Google Analytics in the run-up to that course.
Let’s start at the start. I think a lot of people out there know about Google Analytics. To the most part, it’s a free product, and a lot of people would have Google Analytics installed on their website already. But for those that don’t, how would we go about setting an account up?
SIMON: You’d go over to Google.com/analytics and you’d enter some basic information – your email address and your website URL, so the domain name of your website. It’s kind of as easy as that to set up a Google Analytics account. You might already have a Gmail account or a Google Apps account, so that’s when you have the Gmail account that’s associated to your website domain. But yeah, go along, put in your email address, tell them what your website domain name is, and then you’ll have an account straightaway.
TIM: Do we have to go through some sort of verification process? What’s involved with that?
SIMON: The verification is generally once Google have given you the analytics code, you need to install that on your website. That way, Google will know that you own the domain and that you’re basically being truthful that you own the domain. And that’s about all the verification that’s needed.
TIM: Would I need somebody with technical chops to put that code into my website for me, or can I just do that?
If you’re running, as many, many people do these days, you’re running with a content management system such as WordPress or you’re working on an e-commerce platform such as Shopify, then there’s generally somewhere in the settings there or a plug-in that you can use where you just put the little Google code in there. And that’s really easy; anybody who’s used to working with a platform or with the CMS can do that for themselves.
TIM: You can track multiple domains or websites from the one account?
SIMON: Yes, you absolutely can. Basically, your account can have multiple properties in there, so you can have properties which can be per domain, or you can even have multiple properties within a domain or sub-domains if you prefer.
But the basic setup is you just open your account, you get the tracking code from Google, and you implement it there at your account.
TIM: Okay. I do know that a number of people get third parties, consultants or agencies, to open Google Analytics up on their behalf. What are the dangers of that?
SIMON: If you’re using an agency, fantastic. I work at an agency myself. But make sure that they do the right thing and give you full control over your Analytics account. Really, the best way to do it is to associate the account with an email address that you own. So maybe an email address that’s actually on your domain and one that you have full access to. In that way, if you and the agency go your separate ways, you retain control of your data and you have control over your account.
TIM: Yeah, that seems to be a really important thing. So if the owner of the website has set the Analytics account up themselves, they then invite the consultant or the agency guest access?
SIMON: Yeah. There’s granular level of control that you can have in that. It can be as easy as you going along to Google Analytics, putting your email address on the website URL that you want to track in there; that opens up the account. And then you can invite other users to your account and give them different levels of control, and those levels of control can range from being able to just view some data and do reports to being able to add and remove different users on there. So you can invite your agency to your account, and in that way you’re sure that you’re retaining control.
TIM: Sure. Okay, so I’ve got Google Analytics set up; what would the next step be?
SIMON: You’ve got Google Analytics running on your website, everything’s installed, you’ve got the code on there. The next thing you need to do is make sure that you’re receiving data from the website, or that Google is receiving data from your website. You can do that by going into the Reporting tab and just making sure that you’re seeing some traffic come to your website and that the report’s showing that you’re getting visitors, whether they’re from search or whether they’re referral visitors from different websites.
Once you’ve got that, once you know that the data’s coming in, then it’s time to decide what you want to do with that data and how you can use that data to improve your business.
TIM: In terms of tracking conversions or goals, how do we go about that?
SIMON: Most business owners will have a good idea of what they’re trying to achieve with their website. A lot of the time, you want somebody to contact you through the website, such as using a Contact Us form. People who have an e-commerce website, obviously they’ve got a different goal and they want somebody to buy something.
But the simplest scenario is to set up a goal for something like a contact form. Now, goals are something that you can track in Google Analytics, and Google will count how many times you achieve your goal over a period of time. So if you want to know how many times you’ve been contacted through the Contact Us form on your website, then Google can count that for you as a goal.
TIM: How would I set that up, Simon? I’ve got a contact form; how do I actually physically track that someone has completed that form?
SIMON: In most cases, a contact form will be one page on the website, and the user will fill out the details in there and they’ll press a submit button. Then once that form’s submitted, you generally get sent to a “Thank you for your submission” page, and that “thank you” page can be considered to be the goal. So you tell Google Analytics in the goal setup that that is the actual endpoint of the goal. So once somebody gets to the “thank you” page, you count that as one goal.
TIM: Right. So that would apply equally to a newsletter signup, for example, in terms of putting your details in and pressing Submit and getting the confirmation page?
SIMON: Exactly that. These are the kind of things that you can measure, and you can use these as key performance indicators within your business. So if you have a digital marketer, whether that’s somebody on staff or whether that’s an agency guy, maybe you can measure how many email signups you get in a month. And if it’s 100 in the first month, then you might want to say to that person, “Hey, your goal for next month is to get 120 submissions.” In that way, you can use the metrics in your business to improve things and set targets.
TIM: It probably makes a lot more sense to be reporting, or monitoring at least, the conversion goals rather than maybe some of the top line data around how many visitors to the website, for example.
SIMON: Yeah, for sure. Personally, I’m not generally worried about the amount of visitors I get to my website. The things that I want are interactions with people. I want people to contact me about something or I want people to buy something. I want people to take action. That’s why we look at goals. So whether you get 1,000 visitors to your website in a week or you get 5,000, if nobody’s buying anything and nobody’s contacting you or calling you, then it really doesn’t have a value.
TIM: No, completely. How many goals can I have set up across the website?
SIMON: Oh, you can have as many as you like. And you can have different types of goals as well. These form submissions that we were talking about are just one kind of goal. We can get into more advanced goals where you might have a funnel of several steps that you have to go through to achieve the goal.
So if you have a multiple stage signup form, for example – I did one recently with six different steps, and people had to submit ID documents and verifications as part of the six-step goal – only once they got to the sixth step and everything had been verified and all the data was in did we consider it to be an actual signup.
TIM: Simon, once we’ve got these goals set up, we can actually go backwards and see where that journey started. What was the source of the visitor to the site that ended up converting through to the goal, right?
SIMON: That’s right. That’s really, really valuable information. You can see which things are working for you and which things aren’t, so you know areas that you should be focusing on and areas which maybe aren’t so valuable for you to focus on in your business.
TIM: Yeah. That would include making a distinction between page search, social, even your email newsletter, right?
SIMON: Absolutely. Analytics does a pretty good job of segmenting some of that stuff out by itself. So for example, you can tell it to connect to your Google Adwords account, if you use Google Adwords for paid search traffic, and it will clearly define which of the traffic is free and which is paid, which is natural, organic search and which you’re paying for through Adwords.
But there are ways for you to track other traffic sources as well. You can tag certain links and build URLs using something called the URL Builder from Google. And you can tell Google Analytics what the source of the traffic is; you can tell it what the campaign name is. So you can tell it, for example, if there’s a different medium such as cost-per-click or banner ads or email, those kind of things, you can build these URLs and publish them out with any of your marketing efforts, and Google will track that so you can see the results.
TIM: Absolutely fantastic. How do we get around this issue with trying to get rid of our own visits to our own website? Say a large organization has a lot of people going onto their own website every day, that’s going to contaminate your data, isn’t it?
SIMON: Yeah, it can do. You can certainly block certain IP addresses. That’s the address that your computer has on the internet. You can tell Google Analytics to ignore that in certain reports and sort certain parts of traffic out of that. So you might want to say “Okay Google Analytics, ignore traffic from my office IP address and ignore it from my home IP address,” if you work from home as well. Those kind of things are pretty easy to set up.
TIM: Great. What about people using my search box on the site? They’re running a keyword search; we can track that, yes?
SIMON: Yeah, we certainly can. We also looked at this on your website, didn’t we, Tim?
TIM: We did indeed.
SIMON: So that’s something you can track in there as well. You just need to basically tell Google how people are searching your website, so what the URL is that the search is performed at, and it will track the keywords.
That, again, is really, really useful information. You know if somebody’s searching on your website using your website search box that they’re not immediately seeing the information that they’re looking for when they come to the home page of the website, for example. Maybe they’re struggling to see the information, or maybe it’s a new service that they’re looking for that you can provide them with.
TIM: Ah, yes, yes, fantastic insight. What about reporting? We can go into Google Analytics and we can run a report and cross-reference it with goal data and various other segments. What about auto-generated reports?
SIMON: Yeah, you can set up a report. You can get a report that looks just as you want it in Google Analytics by segmenting the data or choosing the sources that you’re interested in and get your report together. You can save that report so you can go back to it at any time and see different timeframes in that report. And you can also have it emailed to you, like on a weekly or monthly basis. So you can tell Google to “make this report for me once a month and email it across to my address” so that you get prompted to look at it. So you can really automate a lot of this stuff.
That’s another thing you’ve got to watch these agencies for as well. I think sometimes they’ll set one of these reports up and charge people once a month when they come out.
TIM: Gosh, great work if you can get it.
SIMON: Tricky fellas.
TIM: Yeah. So look, essentially what we’re saying here is that we can look at any report, any granular report, and we can get that periodically to be sent to one or more email addresses as an attachment in a number of different formats, including PDF.
SIMON: Yeah. Google Analytics is such a great free product, and that’s almost doing somebody’s job for them as well, in a way. It’s almost like a free employee who’s reporting out on the metrics of your business for you every month.
TIM: Yeah, yeah. Which is fantastic, to come into work and you’ve got a report in your inbox, beautifully formatted, all ready to go.
SIMON: The other thing you can do there as well is you can set up dashboards. There’s widgets within Google Analytics, and you can arrange them in different ways so you can see different parts of your business that you’re really interested in or different things that are going on on your website that you’re really interested in, and you can arrange them in such a way, laid out on a webpage, that really suits you. And then you can save that dashboard and go back to it at any time.
TIM: Oh, great. That’s probably a nice segue into segments, generally. Do we have the ability to look at data across the site based on a specific segment? For example, mobile users.
SIMON: Different businesses obviously care about different things. If you’re a local business and you’re really interested in what people are seeing on their mobile phones as they’re in your local town, you might be really interested in that mobile segment. Google Analytics allows you to segment and report on certain subsets of data, so you can look at mobile traffic, as you pointed out as an example. Or you can look at things like you might want to set up a segment that is geographically based. You can slice the data in any number of different ways.
TIM: So once you’ve got that segment overlay in place, then all of the data that you’re looking at is just from within that segment, yeah?
SIMON: Yeah. Again, it’s pretty much the same as using filters. It works in a similar manner.
TIM: Speaking of mobile, I find that one of the most interesting reports, and I think it’s quite a wake-up call for people to drill down and look at the number of people, and the increasing number of people, that are accessing their site via a mobile or a tablet.
SIMON: Absolutely. It’s absolutely huge, and I think a lot of business owners would be surprised at the numbers of people that are looking on their mobile or tablet. In a lot of cases, people haven’t yet got around to making the responsive website, so it can certainly be used as a justification to make sure that your website is mobile-friendly.
TIM: Yeah, for sure. By default, the data that’s shown when you’re first looking at your analytics is the last 30 days, right?
TIM: But we can adjust the timeframe?
SIMON: Mm-hm. You might want to look at trends over a year; you might want to look at seasonal trends; you might want to look at weekly trends. Maybe you get more traffic on the weekend or on a certain weekday. Maybe your business is a seasonal business that really goes off in the summertime but wintertime’s a bit quiet, or maybe Christmastime is good for you. So there’s all kinds of different ways to look at time periods, as you say. It can be really, really interesting to do that.
TIM: What about comparing two different time periods?
SIMON: Yeah, that’s another option. You can overlay week on week, month on month, year on year, and compare. For example, 2014 traffic to 2013 traffic, to see how they line up and see the percentage of growth that you might have had. You can see in the month of July 2014, you had 50% more traffic than you had in the month of July 2013.
TIM: Fascinating stuff. Broadly speaking, I guess two ways to look at Analytics – obviously it’s a rear view of what has happened, the historical data. But do you find many clients are at the point in terms of looking at the data and using it strategically to work out what they need to do in the future to make improvements?
SIMON: Absolutely. That’s the value in it, right? To be able to inform within your business on how you can improve and what you can do going forward. I guess there’s different ways of using it, and it depends on the organization, but certainly a small business might look at it and go, “Okay, these are the areas that are really working for me. Let’s do more of that and let’s ignore certain areas.”
It can be also really useful within larger organizations, for if you want to put a case together or a justification to spend money on a certain activity. For example, with the mobile traffic, the example we were using before, if you’re a webmaster in a large company that doesn’t have a response website and you can show that 50% of the traffic is from mobile sources, then you’ve got a very strong case right there to have the website upgraded.
TIM: No arguing with the numbers, right?
SIMON: Yeah, absolutely. It’s all black and white.
TIM: It’s funny, because I see many marketers still I guess operating on a whim and a prayer. They’re trying to convince themselves or people that they report to that things are going okay, but they’re not building the case based around numbers as readily as they should. And of course, they’ve got a beautiful set of numbers, hopefully that is at their fingertips should they need to make that case.
SIMON: Yeah. For example, in one of the roles that I work in, I have a couple of people reporting to me, and their KPIs, their performance indicators, are based on what happens in Google Analytics. So yeah, it can be really useful like that, to say “Your objective is to increase the number of Contact Us form submissions” or something like that.
TIM: Yes, exactly. I like Google Analytics, obviously because it gives me great insight into my website, but I also find it fascinating in terms of its application for measuring the success of social media. If one of the goals is to get people within a social media platform to come back to your website, which is a good thing to do, then obviously we can measure people being referred from those sources. We can see what they do or don’t know in the site and get some idea as to whether our social media marketing is working.
SIMON: Yeah, absolutely. Same thing with email as well. With email, a lot of the time people will track – the classic is the open rate that’s tracked. And then some of the more advanced email software will allow you to track the amount of links that are clicked.
Where I think possibly the right way to look at it is how many actions result from the email send out. So how many people have bought something from your website or contacted you on the website as a result of that email send out? Looking at the numbers that really matter to your business.
TIM: Yeah, completely, completely. I actually found that process really easy to set up. I use Campaign Monitor. I know a lot of people out there use MailChimp. But in both instances, it’s a two-minute process to verify through that software what your Google Analytics account is, and then have Analytics track the links from your newsletter as coming from your email send outs.
SIMON: Yeah. You can even do that without the software; you can use the Google URL Builder we were talking about before, just to make a custom little link there. You can even incorporate that into a bit.ly short link and just include that in an email that you’re sending out.
TIM: Yes, yes. I guess in summary here, Simon, this is very strongly my view, and I think you share it, that Google Analytics is not really that technical. It’s a very easy user interface. It’s intuitive. It’s quite powerful. It’s designed for non-technical people, that maybe more people in control of websites, especially marketers and corporate coms people, should be spending more time in the Google Analytics and looking at those reports and working out what they should be doing to make things better in the future, yeah?
SIMON: Yeah. Once you start to use Analytics, I don’t think there’s really a going back, because you get hooked on the value that’s there. And it really doesn’t cost much investment in the way of your time to get it set up and to educate yourself a little bit about how it works. But once you get into it, you’ll see, you’ll have so many eye-opening realizations. The numbers don’t lie, Tim.
TIM: Become a data junkie.
SIMON: Yeah, for sure.
TIM: Not such a bad thing. Simon, thank you so much, and as I said to the listeners, Simon and I are putting a Google Analytics course together. It’ll probably be later on this year, and we’re looking to do some next year, too, so watch out for those dates.
Simon, before you go, let people know where they can find you.
SIMON: Yeah, sure. My website, technium.com.au. Or you can find me on Friday afternoons on the Yellow Click Road radio show, 3 p.m. Fridays. That’s from 94.7 The Pulse.
TIM: Excellent. Simon, thank you so much for your time.
SIMON: Thanks for having me on, Tim.