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When it comes to Web analytics, many of us today use Google Analytics. And with good reason because Google Analytics is a great tool. Powerful even. But for all the good that it does, there is one thing it doesn’t really do: it doesn’t give us answers. Now before you pop off and say “but wait a minute, Google Analytics collects lots of data and gives me great reports that I can use to understand what’s going on in my Web sites,” consider this: Google Analytics gives us data. Data does not always translate into answers. Intrigued? Read on and I’ll explain.

What Google Analytics Really Does For Us

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to deliver a presentation on Google Analytics to the Triangle American Marketing Association’s 2013 Funnel Fuel Conference. The topic of my presentation was “A Fresh Look at Google Analytics.” My intent was to cover some of the newer reports available in Google Analytics and show how they can be used by digital marketers to shape their digital marketing campaigns. During the course of my presentation, I mentioned something I’ve said for many years:

“Google Analytics doesn’t give us answers. Google Analytics gives us data, which leads to questions, which leads to more data, which leads to more questions, etc.”

I could tell right away that this comment caused a stir, so I needed to elaborate a little on what I meant by this comment. Consider this: Google Analytics is a tool that was designed to capture data. Data about visitors to your Web site, where they came from, what they did while they are on your site and whether or not they complete the actions you’d like for them to complete. It delivers all of this data in nicely designed reports that you can view in the dashboard, export as a PDF or extract to review within another data tool.

But Google Analytics doesn’t give us answers. The data it gives us is just data. That data has to be interpreted. That data has to be analyzed. And it is through this process of analysis that we discover more questions. For example, you may look at a report and find that you had a significant increase in traffic to your site from Twitter (which the data will clearly show). What was the cause for that increase? Did you post a lot more to Twitter during that time frame? Which time of day did your tweets deliver a better response? If you were pushing out multiple versions of your tweets (you do try multiple versions, don’t you?!), which version delivers better results. And from those different versions, which geographic areas seem to get more conversions within your Web site?

See what I’m getting at? A simple report in Google Analytics delivers data. But that data alone cannot answer your digital marketing questions. Google Analytics wasn’t built to do that.

How to Get Answers from Google Analytics

So, how do you get answers for your digital marketing campaign questions? Google Analytics can help, but the real answer resides within you. That’s right. You are the key to getting answers and Google Anlaytics can be your ally to gather them. Understanding how effective your digital marketing campaigns are requires thoughtful analysis and knowing how to use a tool like Google Analytics.

Here are three things I recommend to get you started down the path to getting answers to your digital marketing campaign questions:

  1. Have a clear idea of what your campaign goals are. I know, you’ve probably heard this one before. Well, it’s true and it’s critical. If you don’t have a clear definition of success within your campaign, then you’re simply going to be staring at data. And in my experience, when you stare at data, you can see anything you want to see.
  2. Establish a baseline performance for your campaign. You can’t really measure the success or failure of your digital marketing activities against someone else. You can only measure it against yourself and your own past performance. How do you do that? You establish a baseline. If you’re getting XX number of goals completed today by visitors to your Web site, make that a baseline and measure your future efforts against that baseline. Are your efforts improving your performance? Hurting it? That’s how you measure success. Google Analytics can supply you with the data; you have to interpret it.
  3. Meet regularly with your key stakeholders. This one is tough. No one likes meetings. It would be much easier to schedule an export of a report from Google Analytics and make certain that all the “right” people get the email. In reality, very few people look at reports unless they are prompted to. And that’s where you run the risk of failure. That nice report you exported may simply sit on the desk (or in the inbox) of the CEO/SVP/Department Head and rarely get read. And that’s not helpful. Instead, you need to meet in person with these key stakeholders and go over the data (from Google Analytics) with them. Remind them of the stated goals, show progress (or failure) as measured against a baseline and discuss what needs to happen next in your campaign. This last item is the key. You must discuss specific strategies of where to take your campaign to in the future. If you don’t, you’re just looking at data.

Google Analytics is great. I have used the tool for many years to guide lots of digital marketing campaigns. But you must look through at it through the right lens: Google Analytics is a data collection tool. Finding the answers to your questions requires more. More thought. More analysis. More effort. And when you grab a hold of that viewpoint, you will be on the path to success with Google Analytics.

A Fresh Look at Google Analytics: PowerPoint Slides

Below is a copy of my slides used at the Triangle AMA 2013 Funnel Fuel conference. The topic of the presentation was “A Fresh Look at Google Analytics.” If you have any questions about these slides, Google Analytics or digital marketing, reach out to me on Twitter (@jonparks), Google Plus (+Jon Parks) or on LinkedIn or by email at jparks@dijitalfarm.com and I’ll be glad to help you find out how to get more from Google Analytics!