The Problem With Google Analytics (and other web analytics tools)
Google Analytics tracks a lot of data – over 400 dimensions and metrics in fact – and these dimensions and metrics can be combined in countless different combinations in a range of default reports. Because of this, it can sometimes be very difficult to see the wood from the trees, and very often organisations end up overwhelmed leading them to either:
- Abandon Google Analytics (or whatever web analytics tool they have implemented); or even worse…
- Report on the most visible or “easy to understand” (they think) vanity metrics and making decisions based on these metrics.
I’ve seen time and time again clients monthly reports reporting on vanity metrics like sessions, bounce rate and average session duration. These metrics are readily available in most reports in Google Analytics so the tendency is to report on them and ultimately base business decisions around them. The problem with this is that these metrics do not necessarily relate to the organisations actual objectives at all.
So in short Google Analytics is essentially useless (or worse, misleading) when it’s not customised for an organisations own goals alongside what we call a “Google Analytics Measurement Plan”.
What Is A Google Analytics Measurement Plan?
A Google Analytics measurement plan is a document that outlines your main business objectives and aligns those real world objectives with metrics and dimensions you can measure on your website through Google Analytics.
This Google Analytics Measurement Plan document provides you with:
- A clear definition of your company’s objectives and metrics and goals within Google Analytics that allow you to measure progress towards these objectives
- A basis for a monthly report template that covers the key metrics that relate to your specific business objectives and ignores the “noise” and hassle of rooting through tens of different reports within Google Analytics and getting “lost in the data”
- A vital cog in your wider digital marketing strategy which allows you to judge which digital channels work best in achieving which objectives / KPIs (key performance indicators)
- Assistance in optimisations and improvements on your website (e.g. improved UX or Conversion Rate Optimisation)
Why We Need a Google Analytics Measurement Plan (an example)
So in a broad sense, we need a Google Analytics Measurement Plan in order to ensure we are able to report on information that provides us with information on whether or not we are meeting our business objectives, and allows us to make business decisions to improve performance (e.g. moving our marketing budget to a channel that results in our KPIs being met more efficiently).
Here’s a very simple specific example. Say I am running a marketing campaign in which I split my budget between Google Ads (google / cpc), LinkedIn ( LinkedIn / Sponsored Ad) and Twitter (Twitter / Promoted). The business objective of the campaign is to attract new leads from the Financial Services sector through downloads of a FinTech themed report.
There are two scenarios I want to compare:
- Scenario 1: I have not defined a Google Analytics Measurement Plan and I am relying on vanity metrics that are available to me by default within Google Analytics to inform my business decisions.
- Scenario 2: I have defined a Google Analytics Measurement Plan in advance and have configured my Google Analytics implementation to track specific metrics as “Goals” which align with my wider business objectives.
My objective in relation to this campaign is to drive downloads of the FinTech report as efficiently as possible. With this in mind, the question I want to answer is:
Which of my marketing channels performs best?
Scenario 1: No Google Analytics Measurement Plan
It’s 2 weeks into my campaign and I want to review the campaign data within Google Analytics and revise my marketing budget for the next two weeks, focusing the majority of my spend on my best performing channels. Here is the information available to me within Google Analytics:
So on the left hand side we see the Source/Medium dimension including all three of my paid marketing channels – Google Ads, Twitter and LinkedIn. From the limited data available to me, it would be understandable if I focused on which of those channels drove the most sessions to my site and focus my marketing budget on that channel.
So in response to my question “Which of my marketing channels performs best?“, I might feasibly suggest “google / cpc” and push the majority of my budget into that channel for the remainder of the campaign.
Scenario 2: Predefined Google Analytics Measurement Plan and Custom Metrics
Again, it’s 2 weeks into my campaign and I want to review the campaign data within Google Analytics and revise my marketing budget for the next two weeks, focusing the majority of my spend on my best performing channels.
The difference in this scenario is that I have undertaken a Google Analytics Measurement Planning workshop at the beginning of the year along with the other stakeholders in my organisation. We have defined our business objectives and came up with metrics within Google Analytics to measure these objectives.
One of those objectives is gather new lead data – we do this in exchange for the FinTech report – i.e. the user enters their data in order to download the report. We have added a custom tracking event to track downloads of the FinTech report and set it up as a Goal within Google Analytics.
In this scenario, here is the information available to me within Google Analytics:
With this additional information available to me, which is directly related to my business objectives, I am in a much better position to judge each of the paid marketing channels.
Sure, google / cpc drove the most sessions – but only 2% of all users through that channel actually downloaded the report with 10 downloads coming through that channel in total.
Twitter/ Promoted didn’t fare much better with 3% of users through that channel downloading the report.
However, this time around, it’s blatantly obvious that the runaway winner is LinkedIn / Sponsored Ad, through which 24% of users downloaded the report – 16 new leads in total!
What Does All This Tell Us?
The point is that Sessions i.e. traffic to the site is NOT a business objective – particularly if I need to pay per click (/session). What is a business objective is relevant traffic, or more specifically traffic that converts, or even more specifically users who download my resource in exchange for their lead data …. in other words “leads”.
In Scenario 2, I have given thought to my objectives in advance and defined a Google Analytics Measurement Plan in which I’ve mapped these objectives to metrics – I’ve then customised my Google Analytics implementation to report on those meaningful metrics so that I’m not distracted or mislead by vanity metrics e.g. Sessions, Users, Bounce Rate, etc. By taking the time to define our Google Analytics Measurement Plan in advance, and set up our custom metrics and goals in advance, I can make much better informed decisions, save money and ultimately pivot my approach in order to meet business objectives more efficiently.
How To Make A Google Analytics Measurement Plan
So hopefully by now I’ve convinced you that a Google Analytics Measurement Plan is a good idea. So how do you go about creating one? Well, the best way to go about it is to organise workshop with some key people, namely:
- Someone who understands your business objectives and strategy (i.e. your key business stakeholders)
- Someone who understands web analytics and what it can do (e.g. this guy)
- Someone technical who can set up your custom tracking configuration (I’ve heard this lad knows his stuff)
In this workshop, you should cover the following:
- Identify the business objectives upfront – we are not talking about technical metrics here, we are talking about actual broad business objectives.
- Identify online KPIs (key performance indicators) aligned to these objectives – in other words identify actions on the site that a user can take which indicate that the objectives we identified in step 1 are being met.
- Align this KPI to an actual metric within Google Analytics, then set it as a Goal. If a suitable metric doesn’t exist, we will need to create it (using custom events via Google Tag Manager)!
- Set the parameters for success upfront by identifying targets for each KPI. Organization leaders play a key role here, with input from Marketing and Finance. These targets can be revised up and down over time – very often it’s difficult to set accurate targets at this stage if no historic data exists.
- Decide on reporting requirements, tools and process – generally during the workshop, I also draw out an outline of what a monthly report would look like, in collaboration with the business stakeholders, based on the agreed objectives and KPIs.
To help with all this, I generally draw the template below on a whiteboard and fill it out step by step from 1-4 (as listed above). I also include a “Requires Event” row in which we distinguish whether or not our metric needs to be created through a custom event via Google Tag Manager. Click play below to see how this process pans out…
You can download this template here.
Once this is all down on paper, we are in a position to set up the custom tracking required to measure our objectives. We are also able to draw out a monthly report template on paper which includes all of the data critical to our business objectives and ignores all of the “noise” – we can recreate this report in Google Data Studio – a tool which integrates with Google Analytics and other data sources and is much more visually appealing and flexible than Google Analytics standard reports.
And there you have it, we have a Google Analytics Measurement Plan which keeps us working towards our actual objectives instead of getting distracted by the enormous amount of non-business-critical data within Google Analytics. We have also defined the custom event tracking requirements to allow us to track these business critical metrics. And we have a monthly report that allows us to keep a track of our progress in terms of meeting these objectives.
If you need some help with any aspect of the Google Analytics Measurement Planning process, feel free to get in touch!