You’ll find a lot of information on this website and on similar websites across the web with instructions for how to analyze digital marketing analytics. For instance, here’s a comprehensive guide on this website covering a beginner’s guide to analytics. Today, I want to go beyond simply analyzing digital marketing data, despite its importance, the the rationale for analyzing data in the first place. That’s turning insights into action so you are leveraging digital marketing analytics to drive performance. Leveraging digital marketing analytics goes beyond simply assessing your performance using tools like Google Analytics and other sources of data to using that analysis to make strategy decisions that result in higher ROI, sales, and future performance improvements. As you see in the image below, analysis is a key step leading to actionable decisions that create value but if you stop at the analysis step you don’t see any change in the value of your digital marketing campaigns and have wasted resources without generating a benefit.
A step-by-step guide to leveraging digital marketing analytics
As I said at the beginning of this post, you can find a number of excellent resources with instructions on how to do digital marketing analytics and some might even offer some resources for leveraging digital marketing analytics to improve performance. The distinction is that this post provides a step-by-step guide for leveraging digital marketing analytics. So, let’s jump right in.
What is digital marketing analytics, you might ask and why does it dominate many discussions of digital marketing? Well, with traditional marketing tactics, except for direct marketing, marketers had few opportunities to make data-driven decisions about deploying resources to maximize their return on investment (ROI). Think about it. Let’s say you run an advertising campaign on TV and radio. How do you know the amount of lift (increase in sales due to your marketing efforts) you received from the campaign? You might think that any increase in sales is a direct result of your advertising campaign and you might even be right. But questions remain. How long will the results of your advertising campaign generate increased sales? A week after the campaign ends? A month? A year. You just don’t have the data to make that determination.
You also can’t say whether the lift was a result of something other than your advertising campaign such as a major negative story about a competitor’s products or a gaffe made by an executive of a competing company.
In digital marketing, we have the data to make these determinations. We can track social media posts to visits on our websites (with the correct approach to tagging individual posts) to determine which social platforms perform well and which types of content posted generate positive results. We can track each click on our search ads to online purchases to determine an accurate ROI for the campaign. There are some limitations to our insights of digital marketing campaigns but we still have sufficient information for leveraging digital marketing analytics to improve performance.
So, let’s begin our guide to leveraging digital marketing analytics.
1. Setting clear objectives:
Digital marketing analytics, to an extent, suffers from the opposite problem as traditional marketing tactics. It produces TOO much data. It’s easy to become overwhelmed with the plethora of data available from analytics platforms like Google Analytics and paid platforms like Moz (SEO analytics), Trackur (social media analytics), and the many other free and paid sources of online data. That’s why it’s important to start your quest for leveraging digital marketing analytics by setting goals and objectives.
Other posts on this site offer suggestions to help you build SMART goals that help you improve your performance. See the image below for a definition of SMART goals.
Objectives flow from your goals. While goals tend to be broad and long-term, objectives tend to be specific and short-term. Hence, a goal might involve increasing sales by 10% over the next 12 months, objectives related to this goal might include something like increasing ad spend by 8% over the next quarter. In other words, objectives refer to specific actions designed to achieve your goals.
2. Choosing the right metrics:
The next step is to choose which metrics directly reflect progress toward achieving your goals. Companies sometimes waste resources assessing and improving vanity metrics. While these metrics may have some loose relationship to achieving your goals, the relationship isn’t strong. For instance, the number of followers is a vanity metric. Sure, improving the number of followers MAY result in higher sales but the correlation isn’t certain and likely isn’t strong (a slightly stronger correlation exists with assessing the trend in followers over time). In contrast, engagement of your social media community DOES reflect progress toward achieving your goals because engaged users are more likely to purchase your products and their engagement amplifies your messages to their connections.
So, which metrics are the “right” metrics? Here are a few suggestions from your Google Analytics reports.
Another source for critical metrics comes from Avinash Kaushik, a guru from Google Analytics. He suggests assessing metrics from across the conversion funnel since consumers don’t just see your brand and buy it. They go through a process starting with awareness (he calls this see) and ending with a purchase (he calls this do). You can extend this further to consider a continuation of the funnel to loyalty and evangelism, which benefit the organization beyond the initial purchase. He calls this his see-think-do framework and he provides critical metrics you should assess at each stage of the conversion process. I highly encourage you to visit his website as you build your list of key metrics (called Key Performance Indicators or KPIs) to consider adding them.
In addition, I curated a list of KPIs to assess social media since the above discussion dealt primarily with metrics from your website. You can access the list using the link and feel free to add to the list or vote up elements on the list you think deserve more attention from future users.
3. Data collection and integration:
One of the biggest challenges involved in leveraging digital marketing analytics is integrating data collected across a variety of sources including social media, website analytics, email marketing, and paid advertising. Google Analytics made this much easier when it released GA4, which integrates across your website, app store, Google Ads, and the Google Search Console (SEO) to make it easier to interpret your data. GA4 also defaults to event tracking to ease the burden of tagging sources of clicks to marketing campaigns. This move brings many disparate sources of data into one place.
Of course, that still leaves social media and email marketing data out in the cold, although you can track these campaigns once they reach your website, which may be enough to leverage your data into data-driven decisions.
Of course, you may now find yourself in the throes of analysis paralysis with too much data. That’s where dashboards come in. GA4 offers superior handling of your metrics to form custom dashboards, where you can now access your KPIs interactively to ease your analysis burden. For instance, here’s a GA4 report containing standard metrics. It’s easy to modify this dashboard by eliminating some elements and adding others.
It’s also interactive. I can change the dates covered by the report and can even compare across time periods so I can see how my campaigns did this month versus last or this month versus the same month last year. I can switch from assessing visits by country to visits by region or city. I can even change the visualization used to ease interpretation. Of course, this again leaves out some marketing campaigns.
IBM offers a dashboarding tool called Cognos that’s easy to use and does integrate across any data source. It’s not free, however.
4. Tools and technologies:
You can find any number of tools for analyzing digital data and most come with a pretty hefty price tag. However, some provide data that you will find really valuable. The task is to assess the tool to ensure it meets your needs before you purchase anything. Fortunately, most tools offer a free trial. Unfortunately, most free trials involve a significant time investment to set them up so you can evaluate your performance.
I’ve curated a list of possible digital marketing analytics tools to test out including tools for every digital campaign you might consider. Feel free to update the list with your favorites or upvote those you found particularly helpful. I recently updated the list to cull out those that no longer exist under that name (you find a lot of mergers and failures in this market space) but I appreciate the efforts of others to keep this valuable list up-to-date.
5. Data analysis and interpretation:
When we talk about analysis, we need to understand the different types of analysis as well as the benefits and drawbacks of each type. In general, we have 4 types or levels of analysis.
The metrics and dashboards we showed earlier all fall within the descriptive end of the scale. They’re easy to use and provide some value. That said, many businesses, especially small businesses either don’t use digital analytics are aren’t getting any value from it. In my experience, that’s because the tables filled with numbers intimidate them to the point where they simply ignore data rather than deal with the frustration efforts to interpret it generate. And, that’s supported by a study conducted by Villanova University and Gartner in 2020 that found 100% of marketers understood the value offered by digital marketing analytics, only 53% were using them, and only 9% had a good understanding of how to use them. And that’s for the simplest, easiest type of data analysis. Using data visualization makes it much easier for marketers to use and interpret metrics produced by their digital marketing campaigns.
Another thing to consider is trends. Some businesses involve cyclical purchase cycles, like lawnmowers that people normally buy as summer approaches and throughout the summer. These fluctuations are normal. Other businesses tend to grow somewhat unevenly but in a general upward progression. It’s very hard to know when a trend line indicates a problem and when is part of a normal fluctuation. Making adjustments for normal fluctuations is like getting a ball to go in the hole when playing golf. It’s a waste of effort to adjust your swing when you keep undershooting the hole or overshooting it. You need to worry when a trend continues in a downward direction over some period of time.
The key to leveraging digital marketing analytics is to identify the root causes of the values you see for your metrics and identify factors contributing to those changes, not just noticing a change. You must use this analysis for data-driven decisions. If your trend line in engagement on social media is downward, you need to look at the kinds of posts that were getting good engagement to create more posts like those that worked. If that action doesn’t work, you might explore competitors’ posts that get good engagement now to see if that provides any insight you can use to improve your performance.
In this way, metrics are the beginning of a critical thinking process to help focus on things that aren’t going as you expected so you can evaluate changes that might help improve your performance.
In the next section, we’ll discuss how to build predictive insights for leveraging digital marketing analytics for data-driven decision-making.
6. Segmentation and targeting:
Segmentation is a way to up your game when it comes to digital marketing analytics. Instead of building an understanding of your marketing campaigns, you can gain a more nuanced view of your performance to improve targeting and conversion. For instance, this shows a breakdown of visits to your website based on age and gender and is a standard report in GA4. It’s interesting but not particularly valuable for leveraging digital marketing campaigns.
Now imagine you construct an analysis comparing conversions to these demographics (not a standard report but easily constructed using Explorations in GA4) to find that those 55-64 have a higher conversion rate than other age groups. Maybe you target that age group in future advertising campaigns and digital messaging. Or, you find one gender produces a higher AOV (average order value) than the other. Now imagine the value of understanding how your social media posts contribute to conversion or any other goals.
Now you can predict which actions will improve your performance the most because you have data to back up your decisions. Instead of knowing that a post on Facebook produces a higher conversion rate, you know that using a message that appeals to users 55-64 will generate the highest ROI when compared to other platforms and other target groups. While you may not operate an e-commerce site so you can directly assess sales, you can assess surrogates of sales such as accessing the contact information that might indicate the visitor plans to call or shop at your store. Or, collect email subscribers on your website then ask for email addresses from shoppers to connect a website visit to a purchase in the store.
Consider that visitors don’t always buy on the first visit. Sometimes a visitor comes back several times before making a purchase. Do you credit the conversion to the last source that sent the buyer to your site and ignore the marketing value of prior visits? That’s the default in Google Analytics. However, the platform allows an option to distribute credit for a sale across all the platforms sending the buyer to your site over a period of time up to 90 days. It’s called multichannel attribution modeling and it’s easily accomplished with a few clicks on the platform.
7. Continuous Improvement:
Recognize that leveraging digital marketing analytics is a continuous process, not a one-time activity. I recommend you check your dashboard on a daily basis to see how you’re doing while not overreacting to every small change in your performance. I have a colleague who only looks at her metrics once a month. A lot of damage can happen in that month and it may be too late to implement changes to reverse a downward trend.
Today, we developed a step-by-step guide to leveraging digital marketing analytics to make data-driven decisions that improve your performance. If you’re not using digital marketing data in this way, I encourage you to explore ways to implement this process one step at a time. Recognize that, unlike other digital marketing strategies, this isn’t an either-or proposition but a systematic process. Your goal should be to implement the entire process and master your data to derive insights.
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