“[Data] has important stories to tell and only we can give them a voice.”
Data. Is. King.
Data is everywhere and, where the Internet is concerned, easily captured. Google Analytics (GA) is the most widely used web analytics service on the internet. Since its launch in November 2005 it has constantly evolved with more data elements being added all the time. The information this free tool provides is broken down into three broad categories:
- Audience – who is on your site
- Acquisition – how they got there
- Behaviour – what they did while there
Combining it with Google Tag Manager (GTM) makes it possible to track on-page activity. At Edinburgh Napier we use GTM to track a range of events including clicks on main menu items, homepage elements, prospectus downloads and site searches.
As Stephen Few suggests above, information is only useful if you have a data analyst who can interpret it effectively.
My role at Edinburgh Napier has shifted focus in the direction of data analysis over the last few years. Amongst other things I produce a monthly report on usage of the corporate website, provide ad hoc advice on campaign monitoring and deliver training on GA to staff with editing rights on the University website.
Based on my experience in this role, here are my three suggestions for keeping a data analyst on side.
Be specific about what you want to know
It is important to know before starting a web project or campaign what the desired outcomes of your activity are. These might include increased course enquiries or raised brand awareness in key markets. Knowing what you want to achieve will better inform the analytics data you want to collect.
SMART objectives (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-oriented) are a good way to focus on what would be considered a success. These can tie in with the overarching objectives of organisations or other key performance indicators (KPIs).
One common example within the higher education sector is a demand for increased numbers of International students, a key source of income. Web data can assess how users in foreign countries arrive on your site and which content is most popular in those regions. This in turn informs decisions on allocating money for online ads and placement of information on the website.
Analytics data is also used to provide a benchmark for content performance. Information from previous years can be used as a comparison. Where content is new on the website, GA’s built in benchmarking reports can be used to compare performance with stats from similar organisations.
Edinburgh Napier recently introduced the Browse interests section. This was designed to assist users in finding the right course for them. It was designed based on the results of focus groups and qualitative user testing and resulted in our courses being categorised into 10 distinct groups.
We implemented GTM tracking on page modules to assess user behaviour in this section and developed a Google Data Studio report to show this data in an accessible way.
This data informs decisions on the placement of CTAs on pages and compares the effectiveness of each page in that section. Pages can then be tweaked as part of a continuous improvement approach: assess, plan, do, review.
Challenge your data analyst to dig deep
Google Analytics is a veritable treasure trove of information. Reporting on page views and bounce rates, while useful, is nothing more than scraping the surface of its potential. A good data analyst should seek to delve deep into the available data, interpreting it for the client in an easily understandable way.
GA information can be segmented using its built in feature. Data can be filtered by qualitative data such as user demographic information (age and gender), location or content. This allows for easy website performance comparisons between distinct audiences.
The challenge for analysts is to find the maximum amount of information with the minimum amount of effort. Using segments and data filtering with regular expressions is the most common way to achieve this. Custom reports and Data Studio can be used to present this information to the client in a succinct way.
Listen to and act on what your data analyst tells you
Consulting your data analyst when planning a campaign or project is a must. Nick Blackbourn argues the case for having a copywriter at every meeting; I would suggest this invitation be extended to an analyst too.
Analysts can ask probing questions that can encourage clients to be more specific about the information they want to collect. They can also work with them to ensure campaign tracking URLs are set up correctly from the off, ensuring higher quality results in the final data.
If your content is ready to be added to your website, a data analyst can advise how best to track user interactions, generally with GTM tags. They can help to ensure that the data collected is precisely what you need and can identify potential gaps, preventing incomplete data in the long run.
Having an analyst at every meeting also facilitates an ongoing review of the data being collected. During the recent #DestinationEdinburgh competition we used a Data Studio dashboard to show the level of user engagement. This allowed us to assess the most effective adverts being posted and informed decisions on where marketing spend should be allocated.
Get in touch if you’d like to find out more about data analytics.