It’s that time of year when we start to image our new selves. We set goals for the year and think about all the things we want to achieve.
We of course do the same. In a business context, we think about what Red Stag Media is and how we can continue innovating for the benefit of our clients. The world of PR and digital marketing never stands still so it’s important to really evaluate the campaigns that you run and the value they add to your business. The starting point of doing all this of course is data, specifically the fundamentals of campaign tagging and tracking. To most, it’s not shiny or sexy (we of course disagree) so is something that’s put to the bottom of the pile.
Good analytics data though could be the difference between a mediocre 2020 and a fantastic one for you and your business. I this post, we detail the fundamentals you need to know in order to start improving the quality of your marketing data. Yes, there are plenty of other fancy things you can do beyond this but if you implement everything in this post, you’ll be off to a great start and will be collecting data to help you get the best out of your online marketing activity.
The Importance of Tracking and Having Reliable Data
The starting point for any digital marketing activity is to ensure that everything is being correctly tracked. One huge advantage of digital is that everything is measurable and any underperforming campaigns have nowhere to hide.
In this section, we’re going to cover what we feel are the absolute essentials of tracking and some of the tools you can use to ensure that you have maximum visibility of what’s happening with your campaigns. Best of all, the solutions covered are all free, industry standard platforms with lots of support available and powerful out of the box functionality.
If not implemented already, we will always implement these things for our clients because to optimise campaigns correctly, you must have the data you need to help guide the activity and achieve maximum ROI.
The fundamentals of correctly measuring digital marketing activity is to choose and implement an analytics platform. We recommend Google Analytics to our clients as it’s straightforward to implement, user friendly, well supported by third party apps and best of all is free. An enterprise version is available in the shape of Google Analytics 360 but the vast majority of websites don’t require it.
Some of the most useful insights you can get from Google Analytics include:
- Sessions, users, goal competitions and revenue data broken down by channel
- Demographic data of users that are visiting your website
- Best performing content including user engagement metrics
- Conversion funnel analysis to help you understand bottlenecks along the path to generating a lead/sale
- Device usage and how your website is performing across desktop, mobile and tablet
- Site search data which can help you to identify gaps in your website’s navigation
- Multi-channel data and how visitors are coming back to your site over a defined period of time and completing different actions
Another powerful feature is the ability to segment traffic from the different campaigns you’re running online. This requires URLs to be tagged which takes us nicely onto the next essential.
You’ve probably seen tagged URLs everywhere on the web but never taken much notice. They look something like this:
The tagging is achieved with parameters after the URL. The URL in this case being https://www.example.com.
We can see from the parameters that this URL is being placed in an email newsletter and specifically, one which is about a harvest sale event. For the sale, it may be being promoted across different channels and every URL associated with it should be tagged. For example if, along with the email newsletter a Facebook ad was being run, the URL that the ad links to might be tagged up like this:
In Google Analytics, we can then look at all the metrics associated with that campaign in a single view. Likewise, we can also look at the performance of all the Facebook ads we’ve been running or all the email newsletters we’ve published regardless of the specific campaigns.
Some advertising platforms such as Google Ads have an auto tagging feature which makes things super simple but for some other platforms as well as tagging up URLs used for things like email newsletters, you will need to manually tag them. This is also straightforward using Google’s URL Builder tool.
Whether you’re selling products online via an ecommerce website or generating leads in a B2B environment, you must be able to track any conversions you receive. This will allow you see where those conversions have come from and work out how much each conversion has cost. Armed with this data, you can then critically review your channels and campaigns which may end up with you budgeting differently or working to optimise the under performers.
If you do sell products online, ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics is essential. For lead gen B2B, goal completions are more relevant and very straightforward to setup. Marketing teams can easily setup goals in Google Analytics but implementing ecommerce tracking will usually require developer input.
Outside of Google Analytics, advertising platforms will have their own conversion tracking solutions. This is great for optimising campaigns and setting bid adjustments but do be aware that the attribution models they use are likely to be different from Google Analytics so where possible, aim to use GA as the ‘single source of truth’ for reporting purposes. Major online advertising platforms such as Google Ads, Microsoft Ads, Facebook and LinkedIn all have conversion tracking tags that you add to your site along with instructions on how to do it. Our preferred solution for this is covered next.
If you end up running ads on more than one platform, you’ll have a number of different conversion tracking codes to manage along with retargeting pixels (covered later) and tags for other parts of your tech stack which may include tools for conversion rate optimisation, email marketing, affiliate management and more. Adding all these pieces of code manually to your website may end up unmanageable but could also slow you down if your requests to have them implemented on your website are having to sit in a development queue.
Our preferred solution to this is Google Tag Manager. GTM is a free tool provided by Google which allows you to add a one time, single piece of code to your website and then from that point on, manage all your other tags within the GTM interface. Although some knowledge is needed of how to use GTM, this can be a big time saver for dynamic marketing teams who need to move at speed to execute their campaigns. Another benefit of a tag management solution is that you can fire different tags without negatively impacting page speed as only the single GTM tag will fire on page load.
Out of the box, GTM supports tags from many different tools and platforms and offers many resources online to make implementation as pain free as possible. You can also implement Google Analytics via GTM which we always recommend that clients do.
Advanced Tracking and Data Analysis
With the basics in place, you’ll be able to gain valuable and potentially business changing insights into how your campaigns are performing and where your budget should be spent. The more data you have though, the more informed your decisions can be. In this section, we’ll look at how to take your tracking to the next level.
In the B2B world, not all conversions happen online. This is true for many agribusinesses so a way of being able to assess what online marketing activity is driving offline sales is of huge importance. To make this possible, a common identifier is required between both the analytics platform and the CRM, this is known as a join key. This is generally a numerical code but it must not contain any personally identifiable information. If it does, it goes against Google’s terms of service for using Google Analytics and you could also face potential GDPR issues.
The actual steps needed to integrate CRM data into your analytics platform is outside the scope of this report (a resource by Google is provided here if you want to learn more about it) but once done, you will have access to data such as refund data, the channels and campaigns which are resulting in actual sales as opposed to just leads, and customer lifetime value. You can also build retargeting lists from the data which would then allow you to show different ads to different segments of your CRM which is very powerful in helping your prospects move down the funnel and closer to a purchase.
We’ve found that only the most advanced and forward thinking companies are leveraging this sort of functionality because getting it implemented correctly can be challenging. A lot can be achieved though through periodic analysis with GA’s data import function if a fully automated solution cannot be implemented.
Attribution modelling is the process of assigning value for a conversion to the different touchpoints which have contributed to the conversion at some point during the user journey. The default and therefore most commonly used model in digital marketing right now is ‘last click’.
Last click attribution assigns 100% of the value of the conversion to the last touchpoint. This means that if somebody first discovered your company via organic search and then came back to the site via social media and then a display ad before signing up to your email newsletter and making a purchase from there, 100% of the value would be attributed to email. In this scenario, organic search wasn’t given any credit for the purchase even though it was the channel that first created the relationship with the now customer. Also given no credit was the display ad which took the person from a website visitor to a lead ie an email subscriber.
Attribution modelling is important because it can help you to make more informed decisions. When using a last click model, it’s easy to look at some channels as under performers and dramatically reduce the budget being spent on them. If the model was different though and you were using first click attribution for example, you may find that the channel in question is a fantastic introducer of the brand and starts many prospects on the path to becoming customers. In this scenario, should you really be turning off the tap at the top of the funnel?
In reality, all models have strengths and weaknesses and coming up with a model to suit your business takes time and knowledge to get right. Out of the box, Google Analytics allows you to look at channel performance using different models of attribution and also includes a comparison view so you can see how different channels perform when different models are being applied to them. Armed with this information, you can make smarter budgeting and resourcing decisions.
There’s so much more that we could have covered such as KPIs, reporting, calculating ROI and correctly setting budgets but we wanted to keep it focussed on getting the foundations for success laid. Getting all of these building blocks in place before you start to invest in any channel activity. Once done though, the exciting stuff can begin.