Ideas for Effective Analytics Strategy

Many websites have Google Analytics setup, but the majority are not making the most use of these resources. Often, analytics is an afterthought or is dismissed as merely a way of tracking the number of visitors on a given day. But there is so much more actionable data to be had with a little time and forethought.

In this post, I am going to talk a bit about analytics strategy and then provide examples of actionable data that can be tracked and how it might be useful.



At a very high level, start by considering the goals of your site and how those map to your analytics tracking. Most eCommerce and Software as a Service (SaaS) businesses, for example, want to generate a purchase transaction. Services businesses such as consultancies may be looking to generate higher funnel leads that will eventually lead to contract for service offline, at a later time. Still others, such as news content sites, might define a goal as keeping a user on the site for a minimum amount of time or having them return a specified number of times within a month. Whatever your goals are, it is imperative to define those clearly – ideally before you even create your website, but certainly before setting up an analytics campaign.

Each of the above goals is possible to track using custom events, goals, events, and funnel tracking in Google Analytics. There’s even a way to setup custom widgets on the dashboard and have reports and alerts emailed to you on a schedule as well, making it easier than ever to access highly meaningful performance metrics. There really is no excuse to still be using a tool as powerful as Google Analytics to merely track your page views day-to-day.

Define Your Goals

What should we be tracking? Let’s take an eCommerce site as an example, since it has the most sophisticated and well-defined conversion funnel, and we’ll demonstrate the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) at each major step of the funnel that we might consider tracking. This should give a good idea of what’s possible and get the creative juices flowing a bit. There are three major steps to the typical eCommerce funnel with an optional fourth step. Let’s walk through each one:

i. Acquisition

We start by looking at how traffic was acquired. How were users sent to your website and from where? Although you may never attain 100% visibility, you’d be surprised just how much visibility you can achieve. You probably already know this through the standard analytics reports: that you can see keywords that were searched and on which search engine. Google also makes it very easy to integrate AdWords data to see exactly which AdWords campaigns are generating traffic and which are converting. Google also owns Feedburner, which provides yet another trackable channel for which you can directly attribute traffic.

Tagging is possible for anything outside of the Google-sphere, making it possible to add (utm) tags to the querystring of any URL you embed into an email campaign, social campaign, or banner marketing campaign. For many people, that’s the point where the light really goes on, realizing that you can tag and thus achieve almost complete visibility of traffic sourcing, and factor all of this into your integrated analytics campaigns.

An example of using UTM tags to track external click events:×250-banner&utm_campaign=myproduct

With all of these tactical tracking opportunities in mind, imagine the possibilities. Here are just a few examples of valuable KPI data points you might consider tracking as part of acquisition:

  • Organic Search (SEO)
  • Paid Search Marketing (SEM)
  • Social Campaigns
  • Banner Campaigns
  • Links from External Sites
  • Links from Online Videos
  • Email Recipients
  • RSS Subscribers
ii. Engagement

Once you’ve got the attention of your users, are you effectively driving that traffic toward your funnel or toward micro-conversion events that help to keep them engaged? Even if the visitor does not purchase something today, it can still be extremely useful to capture an email address, get them to subscribe to an RSS feed, or any number of other activities that will keep the communication channels open and continue to educate and qualify them in preparation for a later purchase. This is particularly true of larger purchases or services, which require longer time for transactions to mature.

To begin thinking of KPI data points in the engagement segment of the funnel, consider what sort of user activities you could be implementing and the corresponding micro-conversion goals you could be setting. This may also help you realize that you could be doing more to engage your users. Here are a few examples of good engagement goals to track:

  • Account signup
  • Email signup
  • RSS subscription
  • Saving product to wishlists
  • Adding item(s) to cart
  • Contributing product ratings or reviews
  • Watching video
  • Content interactions (e.g. photo zoom, faceted search attributes, etc.)
iii. Conversion

You’ve made it from acquiring to engaging, and now you’re finally converting that prospect into a paying customer. This is the point at which you’re finally able to attribute cost and value to all of your efforts and begin making some decisions.

If you’re spending money on paid search campaigns, you can see the precise value of each ad campaign, if you’ve integrated conversion tracking. You’ll also be able to see percentage of conversions for other non-integrated channels such as SEO, social, and banner re-targeting. Plus, other details such as average order value and average time to complete a purchase, and you can segment those macro statics by channel to derive insights such as paid search converts with better velocity than social.

The KPIs to consider tracking at this funnel step are:

  • Return on ad spend (ROAS)
  • Return on investment (SEO, Social)
  • Revenue
  • Average order value
  • Average time to complete order
  • Average visits before conversion

* Consider segmenting all of these KPIs by ad channel

iv. Loyalty

All of the above analysis can be very valuable, but is a bit myopic if take in isolation, particularly if you have return visitors or a more sophisticated sales and marketing operation that involves multiple touches prior to conversion.

Consider the more complex scenario of a prospect who visits your site, then sees retargeted banners on other sites (reminding them of you), so they sign up for your newsletter and eventually convert into a customer. And what if they come back a second or third time thereafter and purchase again. How do you attribute the sales? Does it all get attributed back to the ‘first touch’ interaction with one of your ads?

The new version of Google Analytics (v5) introduces the idea of a multi-channel funnel, which helps to address this issue. With a series of new reports, you can finally see which touch triggered the transaction, but you can also see the path and which other touch points may have assisted with that transaction. This can go a long way toward helping to understand the less tangible value of the early-stage-funnel ‘assist’ campaigns. For example, the social channel has notoriously low direct conversion attribution… But with multi-channel attribution, you can finally begin to see its role in setting up other activities later down the funnel to trigger a transaction.


Putting it all together

Hopefully, you are seeing the sort of user behavior and ad campaign performance insights you can mine from Google Analytics, if you take the time to define a strategy and properly implement the tracking and reporting. And that really is the key take away: analytics is a powerful tool that will provide substantial actionable data and enable you to make much smarter marketing budget decisions; but it requires clarity for your goals and how you drive traffic and engage your users. Without that clarity, you do not have a road map to setup a meaningful analytics campaign. Clarity and discipline is where many businesses get stuck and why so few practice meaningful analytics, outside of the major enterprise. But if you have clarity around your traffic generation and engagement activities and goals, you can generate highly informative and actionable data to super charge your marketing efforts, and that is a real competitive advantage.

Article originally published at SEOMoz:
Actionable Ideas For an Effective Analytics Strategy


3 Business Model Personalities

In a recent post, I did an in-depth discussion of 3 primary business models online.  I think that probably needs a little more fleshing out.  Anyone astute in this topic would surely object that there are only three models, so let me explain a bit more what I mean.

I spent a bit of time reviewing and pondering business models for myself and came to the realization that they they all generalize down to three basic personality types:

i. Creators – A creator is someone that makes stuff for the World. They are the inventors and product creators of the world.  This could be anything from software development to manufacturing.  Examples might include an iPhone app developer, or a creator of a new line of yoga products or an artist.  Ironically, creativity has largely been distilled to the design subset of tasks and a big chunk of what use to be deemed part of creation, is now a service. As a result, as we outsource and offshore the actual development of our inventions.

ii. Connectors – These are the people that connect sellers with buyers.  This is ultimately about networking and distribution.  Examples might include sales, business development professionals, brokers, merchants, and import/export operations.  These are the traditional business roles in society. They do not create or service anything; they’re simply focused on connecting people and getting things to where they need to be.

iii. Services – The technicians of the world.  These are not the creators of products though they often do generate creative works for hire, at the direction of a client.  The servicers keep things running, and help others to achieve their goals.  Whereas a creator of a product attempts to touch many people lightly (customers), a servicer has a very deep touch relationship with fewer people (clients). Examples include many white collar professionals such as consultants, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and also includes more physical labor intensive areas such as child care or house cleaning.

My point in the previous blog post in which I claimed there are essentially three business models, was to provide a tactically implanted example of each of these.  I think every entrepreneur will find that one of these fundamental business model personalities will resonate with him/her.  Now let me illustrate how so many of the commonly acknowledged online business models roll up into these three personalities.

Business Models

At the end of the day, I think it is helpful to acknowledge the generalized personality that is at the heart of each business model, since all that really separates most of these models otherwise, is tactical implementation, which may only be relevant for a couple years; those underlying model personalities will however persist and can lead you from one tactical model to the next, as the market shifts.

AdSense Monetization Tricks

If you’ve run a content website, there’s a good chance you’ve used AdSense.  Google created the AdSense network as an extension of their popular AdWords advertising platform, enabling them to sell ad units on websites all over the Internet, not just their own search property.  Getting started and generating revenue with AdSense is relatively easy, but there are a few subtleties that exist and can impact how much you earn with AdSense, that might not be obvious to the casual user, or to someone who isn’t familiar with how the AdWords product works.  In a recent post I already discussed the fundamentals of AdSense optimization, so in this post I’m going to explore a few of the finer points worth considering:

1. Placement Reports – In AdWords, if an advertiser has opted into the Display Network, they will have access to a Placement Report, which tells them the websites their ads appears on, and how they performed.  With Conversion Tracking enabled, an advertiser can determine Return on Ad Spend (ROAS) quite specifically, for each site and can remove sites that are not performing.  Conversely, they can also choose to sponsor and target a site directly, if they find it is doing well. They would do so by setting a cost per click higher than any other competing ads to essential get a “road block” setup and dominate the ad units of your site section or page. Think about the implications of this for a moment if you own a publishing website.

While the majority of small spenders will never even look at this report, many of the top spending brands will, and they could very well sponsor your site.  If they do this, your get a significantly higher eCPM than you would without it.  So it is worth considering how to brand and effectively position your site to be appealing as a sponsored site. Think in terms of appealing to their target demographic and beginning to align your content better with what would appeal to them.  Also, sculpt your content message in this direction.

2. Targetable Channels – Did you know you can show up in a directory that AdWords advertisers can browse while looking for sites to target?  When you create a new channels in AdSense thematically, you can begin to see which themes are generating the most revenue for you.  But you can also opt in for these channels to appear in the AdWords Placement Tool. Below you can see the dialog box that appears when I setup a new channel.  Be sure to check the box at the bottom to enable targeting. Now, when an AdWords advertiser begins looking for sites to target, your channels will appear here for them to select from.  Because targeting requires higher CPC bids, receiving these channel selections effectively means recruiting higher paying advertisers.

2. Device Targeting – By default an AdWords advertisement will not be limited by device, though it is possible to limit these based upon effectiveness or compatibility.  Now think about how this might effect you as a publisher, if you don’t have a mobile-friendly version of your site?  If you don’t have a mobile-friendly version of the site, you could be un-targeted for certain content, and if a big enough portion of your viewers are mobile, this could really hurt your eCPMs!  Every vertical is different but if you’re in an entertainment vertical for example, mobile would be a pretty big deal for you.  Anyway, the point here is to consider what could harm you and account for it.  Device targeting is an obvious vulnerability for many website owners.

3. Rich Media Targeting – AdWords allows advertisers to upload videos, Flash and other types of rich media. This is separate from the traditional text only or text / images ad types.  Many older sites will be set to only allow text or images, but not rich media.  Consider that rich media will have higher placement cost than test or images in many cases and so you should seek to provide this option when you can. You can also stand out from the crown in the Placement tool by allowing Rich Media, for those who are seeking to buy media for a Rich Media campaign.

4. Ad Unit Positioning – I’ve already discussed this in-depth on another blog post, but the position of your ad units on the page can have a substantial impact on your eCPMs.  Place any ad “below the fold” will have a negative impact, as will placing an ad in that fits nicely into your sidebar, in a place that is obscured by other features or sidebar info. It is better to place image banners in the top and left of the site, and ideally below your navigation bar.  Text ads are ideally embedded inline with your content, with similar coloring so that it is not ignored by the reading/scanning eye.

5. Smart Pricing – And finally, have you heard of Smart Pricing?  Its probably something most AdSense users are aware of but it is a significant factor on the AdWords side of the market place.  Basically, SmartPricing watches out for the performance of an AdWord ad on the Display Network. It tracks the click from an ad on your site is determined to be less likely to convert into an actionable event (conversion) then AdWords will lower the prevailing CTR cost for that ad unit on your site.  This can have implications in how you design your site.  There are many Made For AdSense (MFA) sites out there that are essentially just junk content surrounded AdSense ads.  Because there is no value in the content, users are more likely to click to leave and thus higher CTRs. But that doesn’t mean these are prospects who are about to take action toward a goal, they just want to leave.  So, think about what you can do to better prepare a reader to purchase or take action if they click on your ad.  Don’t think in terms of simply getting them to click.  Otherwise, in the long term, you’ll just damage your eCPMs and won’t be making much money anyway.

Maximizing AdSense Revenue

I’ve seen first hand just how much money some blogs can make from AdSense while others struggle to make anything.  A lot of this is driven by how much traffic you get to your site, but there are a number of other factors that you may not have considered, if you are not a content monetization guru.   Here are a few things to consider:

i. Keywords – AdSense is contextually relevant advertising, meaning the Google bots will come to read your content and place ads accordingly.  Are you writing content that is aligned well with the high money ad opportunities?  Hint:  You’re a lot better off writing an article about cars than about organic food.  Why?  Check out sometime and just spend a little time testing out various keywords. You’ll quickly start to see where advertisers have bid up the cost of ads in a space.  The basic idea here is to write product-focused articles. If you don’t see a lot of high profile products in a given topic, you may be wasting time writing an article on that topic, if you goal is to drive profits with that article.  I’ve seen AdSense eCPMs range from $0.40 to $40.00,  so the niche you chose can be absolutely crucial to making any money with AdSense.

ii. Disrupt – The name of the game with advertisement placement is disrupt.  People have become pretty good at subconsciously passing right over our ads and blocking them out – its called ‘Ad Blindness’.  The reason Pay Per Click ads did so well for so long while the rest of the CPM banner industry was doing poorly in the early 2000s, was because these ads looked like content and readers hadn’t developed blindness to them.  They’ve become less effective over time as could be expected, but can still be profoundly effective, but keep in mind why they’re working and place them accordingly.  Look for opportunities to insert the ads at less expected places and where you can insure user’s maximum attention is being focused.

iii. Layout (borders/size) – There has been a lot of talk in discussion forums about which ad units work best.  I’ve generally heard a consensus that link units fail, and those 336×280 ad units do the best.  Anything like a 160×600 tower or a 728×90 banner will generally not do that well because it looks too similar to a typical ad, for which many have developed ‘ad blindness’, meaning they have been conditioned to just gloss over them.

iv. Placement – The location on the page where you place your ads can have a big effect. There are places where you’re use to seeing advertisements such as at the very top above the navigation page and the upper-right corner of the sidebar. Because we’re so use to seeing those there however, we’re less likely to click. Thus, these are good locations for CPM-based ad banners, but not pay-per-click AdSense ads.

In fact, consider the wireframe below, courtesy of Google themselves. This shows exactly where you should be looking to place test-based ads – the darker the color, the more potent the ad unit location. Notice the most effective is right in the middle and at the topic of the content.  And of course the worst is below the fold in the footer and lower sidebars.

v. Cannibalization – You’d be surprised just how effective a single well-positioned ad unit can be.  Try testing a 336×280 ad unit by itself, and then try surrounding it with a couple other ad units.  Did you see significant improvement? It won’t always be what you think; sometimes other ad units within the same viewable area just cannibalize one another.  By particularly careful of this when blending in other ad networks.  There’s no hard and fast rule here, just have to test and see what works, but do keep it in the back of your mind as you optimize.

vi. Colors  – The goal here should be to have blended colors with the rest of your website…sort of.  If you use gray tones for most of your layout but have reserved red for callouts, use that callout red color for your title.  The point is to blend with your current color palette but still use colors from within the palette to draw attention to the ads.  You want to draw attention to the text of the ad, but not draw attention to the fact that its an ad.  Its a subtle but important difference.

vii. Something Missing – Believe it or not, you can actually make MORE money by leaving a reader unfulfilled at the end of your article.  Consider that you get paid from AdSense because someone clicked. And someone is going to be more open to an advertisement that matches what they seek and click away from your article, if they didn’t find their answer in your article.  This of course needs to be balanced with a longer-term goal of building a following that will return to your site, but its a near-term truth, not to be overlooked.

viii. Setup Channels – Finally, be sure to setup your channels!  In AdSense you can create arbitrary groupings for your ads, and can organize them either by ad unit type (x axis), or content vertical (y axis).  Personally I like to group by content vertical as I feel this best drives content creation, but if you’re in the middle of monetization optimization, you may want to track by ad unit placement instead for a while.  In either case, this can be hugely helpful for helping you to see what is working and what is not, to begin your optimization efforts.


Google Policy Update (December 2011)

Updated Google AdSense LayoutsShortly after this article was written, it has become evident that Google is now penalizing websites that are considered to be too heavily advertised, in a way that negates user experience.  Ironically, some of the sites that make good money for them are now being penalized.  Early rumors were that this was a possible factor in the Panda update but it has since become clear this is a separate algorithm that has been introduced.

Google AdSense best practices have even been updated and the following layout recommendation diagram is provided.  The general rule of thumb is that you should NOT be pushing content below the “fold” of the screen, and showing only ads above the fold.  Instead, try to find a balanced layout that will not have such negative impact on a users likelihood to continue on with your content.  That little quirk aside, everything else is still valid.