I love marketing data — it’s like a huge sociology experiment. Can you get people to do what you want them to do? What did they actually do and why?
What makes digital marketing so cool is the data is extremely available. I think one of the reasons I love marketing data is because I know what it means, and I think the reason more business owners don’t look at their marketing data is they don’t. It makes them feel lost or out of control. I can totally relate. I don’t love my retirement reports, and not just because they’re tanking right now, but because I have no idea what they mean. Thank goodness for my Edward Jones agent who translates them for me and draws little pictures so I get what’s going on.
By writing this post, I’m hoping to give you that same luxury so you can look at your marketing data and understand if it’s working or not and make empowered decisions on how to improve it.
I’m doing a series of blog posts over reviewing your digital marketing data and taking an in-depth look at metrics to track for your website, your social media, and your email marketing so you’re not overwhelmed with all this goodness at once.
In each post, I’m going to cover:
We’re starting with your website on this data review journey — your website analytics offer a good level of checks and balances for online marketing activities. For example, you can see how many website visitors came from social media and how they behaved on your website once they got there. If you get a ton of website visitors from social media, but they leave the site immediately, your website might be crappy, or maybe your social posts have nothing to do with your service or product.
The things I look at for a website are:
Let’s get started by taking a look at what to review when you’re looking at your website performance.
In this step, we would typically go over the marketing data review— pyramid style! Considering this is a pretty lengthy topic, we’re going to save you the hassle and just give you a link to our blog post that covers this whole topic for later! Reviewing Your Digital Marketing Data to Make Decisions covers four layers of the digital marketing review pyramid and helps you connect your goals and actions.
Your toolbox for reviewing website traffic is Google Analytics, Google Search Console, and Google Data Studio. I use two tools most often: Google Analytics and Google Search console. Then I use Google Data Studio to pull it all together and make it easier for you to sort and get information at a glance.
Google Analytics tells you what visitors are doing when they are on your website. You have to install a code on your website in order to use it, but it’s free. It gives a TON of data to look through. Google Analytics is awesome.
Google Search Console tells you how search engines and browsers interact with your website. Well, not all browsers and search engines, just Google. But let’s face it, Google is probably driving 98% of the traffic to your website anyway— so you need to look at it. It’s going to tell you what keywords it shows your website for in search results and how often people click on your website when they search for those keywords. It will also let you know, approximately where you rank for those keywords in search results. Amazing, right?
Google Data Studio does not actually record things on its own. It’s a dashboarding tool that allows you to suck in data from other places and then display it in a meaningful way. When I found Google Data Studio, I was extremely pleased because it’s a very flexible tool where you can display data in charts, rearrange it, change fonts, and even color-code it. I’m telling you, you can do all kinds of stuff with this thing.
Pull it all together. Each one of my clients has this very nice, sortable dashboard we’ve created for them, it pulls in the information from Google Search Console and Google Analytics and allows them to filter through the information to see what they want to see.
Try it on your own.
You have to see how magical this thing is for yourself, so I made a copy of my Google Data Studio report and populated it with sample data. You can go out and make a copy of the report on your own. You’ll just switch out the data sources with your actual data sources and Google Analytics and Google Search Console. So that way, you can quickly and easily sort your information and find what you want instead of having to go through all of the steps in Google Analytics.
One of the very first things I suggest before you start digging in and trying to diagnose how your website’s behaving is sorting by geographic area. Restrict the data to just the states you do business in. The people who are in your service area are the people you want to do business with and they’re the people interacting with your website you can actually serve. The people over in Africa or India, if they’re not in your service area, don’t really matter. You can end up making false assumptions if you leave them in your data set. So narrow the geographic area down so you can really see how your potential customers are acting when they’re on your site.
Once you narrow down to your geographic location, the first thing you’re going to look for is sessions.
Sessions are the number of times your website was viewed. That’s not to be confused with unique visitors. Each session is not a unique person. It’s just a unique time the server displays your website. I look at this because I want to understand what my traffic flow looks like, at this given time.
Over time, if you are adding content to your website and marketing to your website and growing your business, the number of sessions on your website should always be going up. There’s going to be times of the year that your sessions will dip down, especially if you’re a seasonal business. But in general, sessions should be slowly but surely ticking up.
Now one thing I have noticed recently is as Google has improved its knowledge graph. The panel you see on the side tells people a phone number, address, office hours, and has a photo of the business. As it has improved display and as mobile traffic increases, that’s the first thing they see. They don’t see the listing on the search page, they just see the knowledge graph display. I find sessions have actually leveled off for some of my clients, but I anticipate they will go up over time.
The next thing I look at is percent new visitors.
Percent new visitors are the people who came to the website for the first time, during the time period for which you’re reviewing data. I could come to the website in December and then come again in November, I would be part of the new visitors’ percentage if you were just looking at the data for December because it doesn’t know I was there November too, it’s just looking at the timeframe.
Percent new visitors are important to me, especially if I’m running an advertising campaign or blogging. I want percent new visitors to be relatively high because I’m trying to get in front of new people. In retrospect, if I have a membership site and I give my members resources, I want a low percentage of new visitors because I want to see my members coming back to the website over and over again to look at the resources I offer them.
The next three metrics give me a picture of what user engagement looks like on the website. They’re average time on site, pages per session, and bounce rate.
Average time on site means how long is a user there per session, on average.
Pages per session is how many pages does a user go to on my site, per session, on average.
Bounce rate is when a person goes to the website and leaves the website from the same page. They don’t ever go to another page within the website.
If the average time on site is high, let’s say at least over a minute, anything over a minute is relatively acceptable. If it’s under a minute, you probably need to consider what you’ve put on the pages of your site and if they’re going to more than one page per session, then that’s great, too. It means the content you have is easy to navigate around, and you’ve given them a path to proceed through the website. Your page per session should absolutely be over one, should be closer to 1.5-2.
Now, if both of those things are looking good, then your bounce rate shouldn’t be overly high. Bounce rate is a tough one because it really depends on how you’re marketing your content. For example, if I do lots of email campaigns and I’m giving people links back to one page on my site, then I might have a higher bounce rate. Because people are going to go to that page on my site, get the information they want, and leave. Now you can lower bounce rate by giving them a great path to go to more information by offering them things like related posts, but a higher bounce rate is indicative of a website doing online marketing activities that would drive people into one page and then they might leave.
Bounce rate should be between 20-80%. If your bounce rate is really low, it probably means there is something wrong with tracking and it may have tracking installed twice. I’ve seen websites where bounce rate is 1-2% and it’s not because you have a low bounce rate. It’s because google analytic tracking code is installed twice, so every time a session starts on the website it starts as two page views—you have a bounce rate of zero. If you’re experiencing this low bounce rate make sure to take a look at it.
The next metric you’re going to review is Traffic Sources. This indicates how people are getting to your website. This is how to tell if your marketing is working.
Unless you’re doing online ads, for most websites, the highest type of traffic is organic search. If it isn’t the highest traffic source and your highest traffic source is say direct, then you might want to dig into that.
You may figure out every single person’s computer in your office has your website set as their homepage on their browser. So you’re not seeing real data. You can filter out data from your Google Analytics by IP address. So you can exclude the people from your office from being recorded into your reports and change it in your admin settings.
The next metric you’re going to review is demographics. If they’re enabled, you have to enable this in your Google Analytics report. If it’s not enabled, you’ll know because it will prompt you to enable it by clicking a button.
Make sure to take this particular piece of data with a grain of salt because the demographics report is only from a subsection of visitors going to your website. It’s not everybody. It’s only the people allowing it to be tracked.
The demographics tab will show you age and gender. And generally, I find it’s pretty well in line with what we think it would be for a company. However, just remember, you’re only looking at a subset of visitors you’re looking at.
Now to figure out what people are actually doing when they’re on the site, I look at the pages visited and the landing pages from which they enter. If you’re running a blog or if you have an e-commerce site, this is one of the most essential steps for you.
This is also super important. You want to know what products people are looking at and compare that to what products people actually buy. For your blog, you want to look at what pages people enter in, how many times they look at a certain blog post, and then from there, you can figure out what content is resonating most with people.I would also look at how long people are staying on each one of those pages. It’ll let you know if the content is not quite right.
For a website without a blog, your most viewed page will always be your homepage. And the pages people view the most will generally be the ones Google is serving underneath your homepage. When people are searching for your business name, they almost always correlate. So if you go on out and you search for your business name, you’re going to see a listing of your homepage with the description underneath it. And then you might see up to six little listings underneath it, aka the six-pack. So those are going to be the most visited pages on your site. If you only have three pages listed, then you would see those would be the three most visited pages on your site.
The reason is visitors have gone to those pages most often. So Google deems them the most valuable ones on your website and it will share them with your homepage listing in a search result because it thinks they will also find those pages useful. They almost always reflect in search engine listings and in your Google Analytics report.
Glance quickly at your referral sources.
Referral Sources are the websites sending your website traffic. One of the most important things about this referral report is all the websites seem normal. They seem like sites that would send you traffic. They might be organizations you’re a member of, maybe you have your website listed on their site.
They should not be things like XYZ.clickbait.crap.com. Those are crappy websites basically scamming the system and trying to achieve greatness through junk and they’re blowing up your Google Analytics report. You can filter this stuff out of your analytics report, you have to install something on your website to do it, but you should not see them there. If you do, you need to take the next step to clean up the data.
Likewise, if you’re paying for ads on another website, like a local news site, or even something like the Yellow Pages, then you should see traffic coming in from those websites. If you don’t see traffic coming in from those websites and those companies are giving your report saying they’re sending you visitors, they’re probably not actually sending you visitors. They might be sending visitors to another site they made for you. But it’s not your actual website you made for yourself, or they might not be sending traffic to you at all. And so this is a great way to do checks and balances.
The next one is device type. This is gonna let you know if people are looking at your website, on their phone, on their computer or on their tablet, you just need to make sure people are behaving approximately the same way on each one. If they’re behaving unfavorably on one or another, it might mean your website’s loading really low or it’s broken.
You can also filter website traffic by device. So you can look at how people behave on your website or mobile phone. You can look at what pages they see, how long they stick around. It helps you understand what people need when they get to your website on a specific device with their purpose while they’re there.
For example, if you have a ton of mobile traffic and you’re not getting as many conversions on the mobile shopping cart as you are in desktop, maybe you need to consider a mobile app or maybe you need to look at the load time or the display on mobile for your shopping cart. You know a ton of those people have an interest in your products, but why aren’t they buying? What can you change to make them have a better experience so they will buy from you?
And speaking of buying, the next thing is events.
So if you don’t have a shopping cart on your website, you might not just natively have events showing up in your Google Analytics report, you would need to set those up.
The most common event I set up for my clients that aren’t shopping carts is just a thank you page event. You go in, you set up a goal, and basically, it records every single time somebody submits a form on the website and views the thank you page. This allows you to see at a glance, how many people contacted you through your website.
Now you can set up events for all kinds of different things. But that’s the most common one I use. Event Tracking is a much more advanced form of tracking you can set up in Google Analytics. If you want to look further into it, you certainly can. It will give you a better picture if people are doing what you want them to do while they’re on your site.
Now, the last thing you would look at, and this is not in Google Analytics, this is in Google Search Console is what keywords are bringing people to your website.
What you should see is when people search for your name or a variation of your name, they are clicking on the link most of the time and you’re showing up in the top 10 search results. This would be normal behavior.
Better behavior would be if people are searching for a service you do and you’re showing up at the top of the first page in search results and people are clicking on it. That’s a lot harder to achieve if you’re not running an SEO campaign. But it is something to aspire to.
Everybody’s got to start somewhere with their keywords. The first step is just knowing what keywords people are using to arrive on your website.
When I first started looking at the keywords people were using to find my website, like 12 years ago, it was sidewalk chalk. Believe it or not, because I did this article on the lost marketing art of sidewalk chalk and it was one of my most popular blog posts. I also had an alt tag on an image I had named sidewalk chalk. So people were finding the image in search results and they were also finding the word sidewalk chalk. It was dragging them into my website, but none of these were people I wanted. Eventually, I just decided to take the post down because while it was driving traffic to my site, it wasn’t really helping me on my journey to sell websites.
This is just one of the pieces of information Google Search Console has to offer. Once you submit your sitemap to it, it will start generating this information for you. And you can just learn from it. It’s not the end all be all for an SEO Software, but it’s a great starting point for people who are starting to consider search engine optimization for their website and who care how people are finding their website. So take a look at it.
Another thing you might look at while you’re in there is if you have any errors. If you have mobile errors on your website, it will report to you as well. So just look for those error reports and then that can be another key indicator maybe something isn’t quite right on your site.
Make a commitment to your marketing, decide how often you’ll review. Not everything will need to be reviewed at the same frequency.
How often you review your website data and what data you review each time will depend on how much traffic you have and how many digital marketing activities you’re running.
If you’ve got a bunch of money tied up in an ad campaign for just 3 weeks for a sales push you might be looking at your data daily. But if you’re only taking in a couple of hundred visitors a month you may just take a glance at it monthly.
When you begin reviewing your data, it’s hard to know what’s good and what’s not. Look at a month-over-month comparison and a year-over-year comparison of your metrics when you review your website. You won’t always see improvement month-over-month due to seasonal services and fluctuation in marketing activities. That’s why reviewing your year-over-year is important. I also like to look at quarterly traffic or semi-annual traffic comparisons to find patterns. Unless you completely stopped marketing, you should generally see improvement year-over-year.
Pro Tip 💪
Now, as you go through and you see things that are going great on your website, or not, just make sure you’re diagnosing the strategy and the creative components of your marketing plan.
Strategy is the number of activities you do.
Creative is the way you do them.
Use your website data as an additional piece of insurance that lets you know your marketing is working. If Facebook tells you tons of people are interacting with something and it’s not sending a bunch of converting traffic to your website, then something on your website is probably not working, not your Facebook ad.
Now, if people are interacting with your Facebook ad, but they’re not clicking on it and you’re not seeing them arrive at your website, then probably your ad isn’t quite right to drive people to your website.
There are all kinds of different options it could be. It is all just one giant science experiment. But this website data will give you another resource with which to base your marketing decisions.
This blog post was a doozy, but a good information-rich doozy. Today, we talked about websites, what you’re going to review on your websites, the tools that make it easier, how to interpret those metrics, and how often you’re going to review them. Hopefully, you feel more confident to crack open your website data and start poking around. Make sure to keep an eye out for our next blog post in the series, Digging into Data Part 2 – Social Media Data. It is about social media data and how to review it to make marketing decisions.
Monica is the creative force and founder of MayeCreate. She has a Bachelor of Science in Agriculture with an emphasis in Economics, Education and Plant Science from the University of Missouri. Monica possesses a rare combination of design savvy and technological know-how. Her clients know this quite well. Her passion for making friends and helping businesses grow gives her the skills she needs to make sure that each client, or friend, gets the attention and service he or she deserves.
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