Google Analytics: How to Make Smart Marketing Decisions

Do you want to know if your content and social activities are supporting your business?

Are you wondering how you can use Google Analytics to track your progress?

To learn how to use Google Analytics to help make smart marketing decisions, I interview Andy Crestodina for this episode of the Social Media Marketing podcast.

More About This Show

Social Media Marketing Podcast w/ Michael Stelzner

The Social Media Marketing podcast is a show from Social Media Examiner.

It’s designed to help busy marketers and business owners discover what works with social media marketing.

The show format is on-demand talk radio (also known as podcasting).

In this episode, I interview Andy Crestodina, author of Content Chemistry and co-founder of Orbit Media (a Chicago-based web design agency). Andy has also written for Social Media Examiner and he’s a Google Analytics expert.

Andy shares how to use Google Analytics to help you make informed marketing choices.

You’ll discover why analytics are so important to your business success and step-by-step instructions on how to get started.

Share your feedback, read the show notes and get the links mentioned in this episode below!

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You can also subscribe via iTunes, RSS, Stitcher, SoundCloud or Blackberry.

Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this show:

Google Analytics

Why go beyond the basic metrics of blog comments, social share numbers and page views?

Andy explains that these basic metrics will not give you return on investment (ROI) information. The formula he uses is traffic × your conversion rate = success, which can be leads, subscribers or ecommerce customers.

The more you’re aware of how things are connected and the deeper you look down the funnel, the more equipped you’ll be to make better decisions. It’s just like the dashboard of a car.

car dashboard

Google Analytics allows you to monitor your site, just like a car’s dashboard. Image source: iStockphoto

You’ll hear what happened when I looked a lot deeper into the analytics of a Social Media Examiner article that ranks number one in Google search, and why it made me realize that it wasn’t doing as well as I thought.

google search instagram apps

Just because one of your blog posts is ranked high in Google search doesn’t mean that it’s meeting your business objectives.

As a marketer, you need to reprogram your mind to what really matters, and it’s not what immediately meets the eye.

Listen to the show to find out why it’s so important to pay attention to the conversion rate.

Do you need to be a data nerd to benefit from all of this?

Andy says that you don’t have to be a data nerd. The only math you need to know is that anything times zero equals zero.

Andy relates it to a Magic 8 Ball. You can ask a question, shake up the analytics and find the answer. As a marketer, you need to know how to look at these numbers. It gets easier over time. For every action you take, you can measure it and see if it works, and then make improvements.

Listen to the show to find out why Google Analytics is similar to using Photoshop.

Common mistakes marketers make with Google Analytics

According to Andy, it always comes down to the setup of Google Analytics. There are two or three basic steps you need to take in the Admin section of Google Analytics that make your data much more meaningful.

One of the first things you need to do is filter out the traffic from your own IP address. Until you do this, your analytics will be polluted by your own activity. Within the Admin section, you can create an IP address filter.

ip address filter

Filter out your IP address in the Admin section of Google Analytics.

To find out what your IP address is, just type “What is my IP?” into Google search, and it will give you the number. You’ll discover what to do with this number in the dashboard to ensure your results are more meaningful.

The next step (which is important) is goals. Until you set up your goals, you’ll only have half of the picture.

Listen to the show to find out what’s important if you are a relatively low-traffic site or you’re into content or social media marketing.

The definitions of goals and conversions

A conversion is when a visitor takes an action on a website. There are different types of conversions and analytics that you can set up, which are based on the amount of time users have spent on a site or the number of pages they visit.

A goal is when someone makes it to your thank-you page. For example, when they subscribe to a newsletter, buy a product on an ecommerce site, become a lead on a lead generation site, apply for a job or register for an event. In total, there are approximately 13 different types of actual conversions.

orbit media thank you page

An example of a thank-you page.

People only get to your thank-you page if you have a form on your website or blog. Once the visitor has arrived at the thank-you page, Google can recognize it as a conversion.

Listen to the show to hear the other advantages of having a thank-you page.

The importance of these goals and conversions

You first need to set up a goal in Analytics for each different type of conversion. For most businesses, it will be for lead generation or email newsletter subscriptions. Once you do this, you’ll get a lot of reports and can start to make better decisions.

For example, if you’re a social media consultant, it’s possible that you could have three different actions that you want your visitors to take:

  1. Sign up for the newsletter.
  2. Complete a contact form.
  3. Purchase a product.

Each of these actions will have a different process. You’ll have a form on the website for each one, and you need to make sure that the actions are simple. It’s easy to set up each thank-you page in the Admin section of Google Analytics as a different goal completion page.

goal completions

The analytics for each goal completion.

Once you’ve set up your analytics, you’ll see your traffic sources, visitors who saw each piece of content, repeat or new visitors, how long people spent on your site and which of these correlates with the visitor taking your most desired actions.

You’ll hear Andy explain why some marketers go overboard when they create goal completion pages and why you shouldn’t have too many of these on your website.

Listen to the show to find out why it’s important that each action has a unique page.

How to find your most compelling content

From the goals you’ve set up, you can start to understand which of your pages are the most compelling and the most magnetic. This is extremely useful information.

If you have a blog that people can subscribe to from any page (like Social Media Examiner), you’ll need to follow all of the steps below.

First, find the number of subscribers per post.

Step 1: View: Conversions > Goals > Reverse Goal Path

Step 2: Set Advanced Filter: “Goal Previous Step” contains /blog/ (This is necessary only if your posts are all in the same directory.) Here’s what it’ll look like:

goal completion location

Set Advanced Filter.

Step 3. Sort by “Goal Completions.” It should look something like this:

reverse goal path

Sort by goal completions.

Step 4. Now export these numbers to a spreadsheet.

Next, you’ll need to see the page views for all of your posts.

Step 5. View: Content > Site Content > All Pages

Step 6. Set Filter: show only /blog/. The report will look something like this:

google analytics page views

You’ll be able to see each page’s views.

Step 7. Within the spreadsheet, divide the number of total subscribers by the number of page views. You now have the conversion rate per blog post.

spreadsheet for analytics

This is what Orbit Media’s report looks like.

You’ll notice that the pages with the highest page views are not always those with the highest conversion rates. Once you know what your top converters are, put on your traffic-driving gloves!

Listen to the show to discover what date ranges work best, depending on the type of business you have.

How to use Google Analytics to inform your decisions

Now that you know which content is more compelling, you can start to promote it in different ways. For example, put your best content on the front lines, use it in heavy rotation for social media or link to it within other blog posts. You might also choose to produce more content along the same lines, as the topics obviously appeal to visitors.

You’ll also find out what other opportunities are available for this type of content.

To check traffic sources, Andy likes to look at the Referral report. However, if you look at Acquisitions/Referrals, it’ll show you the referring websites—a lot of which are social networks. Once your goals are set up, on the right-hand side you’ll see what people are doing.

For example, people who come directly from Facebook to Orbit Media’s site to subscribe to the newsletter almost never become leads.

orbit media

Orbit Media’s website.

The insights you gain will help you gauge and optimize your activity to make better decisions.

Listen to the show to discover the type of analytics we track at Social Media Examiner.

The importance of looking at rates versus quantity

Andy explains why it’s misleading just to look at the total raw numbers. For example, if 5% of your visitors from a particular network take an action, you think you’ve hit the jackpot—but in reality, if there are only 20 visitors, you don’t have enough data to make an informed decision.

If you want to dive down to a specific tweet/link and track its conversion, Andy advises that you use the Google URL Builder.

This will turn out a different report in Analytics called the Campaign Report. It’ll show you the specific number of people who clicked on an individual tweet or anywhere you used the Google URL Builder to create that link.

google url builder

Use the Google URL Builder to dive down to a specific link or tweet.

You’ll hear Andy explain in step-by-step detail how you can find exactly where people came from to get to a specific page. This gives you insight into what content is performing well and poorly on each platform. You’ll also discover what the Social Trackbacks category has to offer.

If you don’t want to go deep within Google Analytics, then Andy shares an easy way for you to add reports to your dashboard, and have the report emailed to you. He also shares a pro tip.

You have to use Analytics to measure your progress. It’s the only way to know what’s working.

Andy Crestodina Podcast

Check out the full podcast episode with Andy Crestodina.

Listen to the show to learn about the Google Analytics Solutions Gallery, and how it can help you gain more insights.

Discovery of the Week

Recently our extremely high-end servers at Social Media Examiner were used as a weapon to attack other servers all over the world. We didn’t notice because it didn’t seem to have any impact on the servers’ performance.

If you have a WordPress blog, there is a chance that you might have some malicious code somewhere on your blog, which can sit latent for years. It only takes a troll to activate something, and then use your domain as a weapon.

As we weren’t prepared for this and it obviously came as a shock, I want to share some advice with you, so hopefully you won’t be in the same position someday.

To make sure that your servers are clean, I would recommend that you use a plugin called Anti-Malware by GOTMLS.NET.

Once you have it installed, you can carry out a scan. It’s like running a virus checker on your computer, except it’s inside of WordPress. You can tell it what directories to scan, and then you run the campaign.

anti malware goms

Use the Anti-Malware plugin to make sure your servers are clean.

They have definition updates that are regularly released. It’s free to use, but donations are encouraged. We ran this on all of our websites and malware was found—even on old blogs that we haven’t used in a very long time.

This is very important. So if you’re having performance issues on your blog, it might be that your blog is being used for outbound attacks. I hope you check it out.

Call in and leave your social media–related questions for us and we may include them in a future show.

Listen to the show to learn more and let us know how this works for you. 

Key takeaways mentioned in this episode:

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What do you think? What are your thoughts on using Google Analytics to help you make smarter marketing decisions? Please leave your comments below.

Image from iStockPhoto.

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About the Author, Michael Stelzner

Michael Stelzner is the founder and CEO of Social Media Examiner, founder of My Kids' Adventures and author of the books Launch and Writing White Papers. He's also the host of the Social Media Marketing podcast. Other posts by »




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  • David Szabo

    Great article & podcast Michael, thanks! Tracking the conversion rates of different social sources can be a tricky though. What about the social referral traffic, that doesn’t appear in “referral traffic” section due to being “dark”. Around 40-60% of direct traffic are actually referrals untraceable by Google Analytics. This can result in heavily biased reports and causing suboptimized decisions.

  • http://www.gabrielneuman.com/ Gabriel Neuman

    Grate Podcast; I have a recommendation for those people who don´t have a fixed IP address; they can add a DyNDNS account in their computer, and send you the address (It will need to download an app and automatically convert the IP address to a text address) and from there you can add this address to your filter; and if the Host Change address it will automatically change it.

    Best regards.

    Gabriel Neuman

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Thanks for your comment and this idea Gabriel

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Hey David – Looking at my Acquisition / Social report in Google Analytics provides data on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, StumbleUpon, Reddit, YouTube, Digg, SlideShare, Tumblr, and about 50 others. I think that covers all the big ones

  • David Szabo

    That is right. I’m thinking about when I share this article with my coworker by sending the URL (copy+paste) via WhatsApp or FB chat, and he clicks on it and reads the article. He came from a referral, does that appear in these reports somehow? Or does this traffic remain dark?

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    With Facebook all links shared are redirected from within Facebook and should track. Not sure about WhatsApp

  • Andy Crestodina

    This is correct, David! GA has a lot of trouble tracking social traffic. I’m looking at the Acqusition > Channels report and social traffic is all over the place: social, referral and (other).

    The best hope for marketers is to add GA Tracking code using the URL builder (or similar tool) and set the “medium” to be social. Now you can see all traffic from these links in one place. Of course, it’s not everything, but it helps…

    Thanks for the comment, David. Glad you liked the show!

  • Andy Crestodina

    Yes, great tip! Especially for those who work out of a home office, which may be less likely to have a network with a static IP address.

    Thanks for contributing to this, Gabriel. This kind of helpful input is my favorite kind of comment…

  • http://www.likebulbs.com/ Eugene Than

    Thanks Michael for sharing the details.

    Do you came across any other items to track for conversion other than newsletter, contact form and purchase product?

  • http://cindyking.biz/ Cindy King

    Good question, Eugene! Those are the obvious ones to track. But I can imagine someone wanting to track something that’s not related to a product, contact form or newsletter. It really depends on your specific business goals, doesn’t it?

  • http://www.simplyangies.com/ Angie Sivori

    Awesome interview Working on Google Analytics has been on my to-do list for a long time. I feel ready to tackle it now!

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Hey Eugene – We talked about some of those in the audio interview. There can be many metrics, like X number of minutes on web site and so on.

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Glad you enjoyed it Angie

  • http://www.quanahzimmerman.com/ Quanah

    Thank you for yet another great episode. I found this interview of Andy Crestodina about Analytics very interesting: a ton of valuable insights and really useful tips!

  • http://www.socialmediaexaminer.com/ Michael A. Stelzner

    Glad it helped Quanah

  • Ashley Doyle

    Hi Michael. Great episode, and it’s good to get some more insight about the finer points of Google Analytics – so big thanks to Andy for taking the time to be on your show. I work for a very niche company, and as such the traffic to our site is very small. My question is – is it more beneficial to create “goals”, or would it be better to create a campaign for each piece of content that is added?

    For example, the main “goal” we have is the contact us form submission – which is fairly standard. But a lot of our clients prefer to contact us by phone so this doesn’t really give us much information on how they’re getting to the site.
    On the other side of this, I update the site content fortnightly, so I could create a campaign for each piece of content added and then track internally how many people call up about a particular service we provide (of course I’d be relying on other staff members in passing on the number of enquiries to me, but this shouldn’t be too difficult).
    I could then track how many views/ clicks each campaign received and then work out the conversion rate based on this figure/number of calls.

    What are your (or anyone else in the audience/s) thoughts on this?

  • Andy Crestodina

    Hello, Ashley.
    Good questions! Here are a few thoughts:

    - Goals: Yes, create a goal for the thank you page of your form submission. Even though lots of things happen offline (like phone calls) it’s still important to set this up so you can at least get some conversion information. The bucket leaks, but it’s better than no bucket…

    - Campaigns: I don’t recommend creating a campaign for each piece of content, unless each piece of content is also promoted with email. A campaign is a source of traffic. Content is the destination. So when you send an email newsletter, you’ll get data about it’s effectiveness at bringing in visitors. But the performance of the content will be slightly different, taking into account the activity on the page, regardless of the source of traffic.

    - Conversion Rate: If you can, it may be interested to combine offline tracking of phone calls to calculate the specific conversion rate of each campaign, but you may start to approach the point of diminishing returns. Some callers may not remember how they heard of you.

    It may be easiest to just not worry about exact numbers, and instead just assume that there is a consistent ratio of online and offline conversions. Then you can focus on the relative effectiveness of campaigns and content and start making smarter decisions!

    Hope this is helpful, Ashley!

  • Ashley Doyle

    Excellent points Andy, thank you for the response.
    A fair bit to consider, and as we’re going to be reviewing our current marketing process I’ll need to hold off on making any decisions for a couple of weeks – but I’ll definitely keep it these in mind.

    Thank you again for your quick response.

  • http://www.shop.graciousstore.com/ Gracious Store

    Thanks for this post, I have just created a filter to exclude my IP in the analytics

  • http://gilmichelini.com/ Gil Michelini

    Thank you for pulling back the curtain on Google Analytics!

  • http://www.likebulbs.com/ Eugene Than

    Thanks Michael, that’s a good one.

  • http://launchingcreative.com/ Nik Parks

    This is fantastic, guys! Thanks for sharing your expertise, Andy. I’ll probably go back and listen to this episode a second time but I already have SUCH deeper understanding of my analytics.

  • Jay

    Thank you very much for the tip on creatiing filters! Very helpful and something I hadn’t thought of.

  • http://www.graphicexpertsbd.com Steven S. Zumwalt

    Wow! It’s awesome
    blog post here…. really very interesting for reading…..







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