Episode 2: Google Analytics

In the second episode of our podcast we discuss a topic very close to our hearts here at Digital Ninjas – Google Analytics tracking. A vital component of any organisations digital marketing mix, if you’re serious about driving digital growth then you need to be measuring the things that matter most.

Brendan (host):

Welcome to episode two of the Digital Ninjas Podcast. We’re back by popular demand. Episode one, it went viral, Google Ad Grants. So here we are today talking about another digital marketing topic, website tracking. So I am joined by Head Ninja and Founder of Digital Ninjas, Jonny Dawson.

Jonny:

Hello.

Brendan (host):

And I’m also lucky enough today to be joined by the head of digital success, Kat.

Kat:

Hello.

Brendan (host):

So Digital Ninjas is Australia’s leading agency for nonprofits and they’re on a mission to maximise their results from digital. So today we’re talking about, some might say an exciting topic, some may say a bit mundane, but I’m sure you’re going to put an exciting spin on it. Just like episode one, we’re going to get into the weeds and find out how we can make website tracking work for our business.

Brendan (host):

So first off, what is website tracking and why is it important?

Jonny:

I would definitely say it’s an exciting topic, but it is one of those topics that can be a bit tricky to deal with. I think it bogs a lot of people down potentially, and this is why it can become a bit of a dull topic because you can end up going around in circles trying to fix your tracking. But tracking is all about making sure you’re measuring your results. So it’s why we’re working, it’s why we’re doing what we do for a cause or within a business. You want to know what results you’re getting.

Jonny:

So, the reason why it excites me is you’re looking at what people are doing on your website. When they come, you can see where people are going, what they’re looking at, how long they’re looking at it for, where they go between pages. But importantly, whether they convert. So by conversions, we mean things like sign up for newsletters, inquire about products or services, or make a donation, buy a retail product from your shop. So all this data is stored in the tracking solution. We heavily focus on Google Analytics with our clients, but there’s lots of other solutions out there as well.

Brendan (host):

Kat, why is website tracking important?

Kat:

Well, I think Jonny just hit it on the head. Without it you don’t know if your campaigns are successful or not. It is one of the things I think a lot of people forget about because maybe as you said, some people find it dull and they don’t even think about it to the last minute when actually, it should be thought about from the start.

Brendan (host):

Yeah.

Kat:

As Jon mentioned, it’s not just what people are doing on your site, but it’s who are they? The more insight you have on that, the more you can tailor and target your campaigns effectively.

Jonny:

It’s just not dull, it’s really exciting.

Brendan (host):

I mean, it is exciting to see people interact with your website, you may see what the roadblocks are to conversion. What type of tools besides Google Analytics are you guys using to increase conversions and see what the roadblocks are for your clients?

Jonny:

Yeah, there’s a number of tools out there. We default to Google Analytics and there’s a number of reasons behind that. The main one is a lot of our clients being nonprofits are using the Google Ad Grant. So as we touched on in episode one, one of the requirements with the Ad Grant is you’ve got to be tracking conversions. You’ve got to be proven to both yourself and to Google that you’re using the available grant well. The default integration for our grants is to integrate with Google Analytics.

Jonny:

You can measure through other ways, by the way, with Google Ads, but the simplest way to do it is Google Analytics. Most people are using it already and you can import the conversion data from Analytics into Google Ads. But other platforms like Facebook Ads, which we’ll probably cover in a future podcast, they have their own tracking pixels, which are super important for passing campaign performance data into Facebook.

Jonny:

Increasingly, platforms like Facebook and Google will use conversion data to help you automatically optimise the campaigns that you’re running. So tracking is really important, not just from providing you with data and insights, but also the advertising platforms in delivering performance and giving you the best return on your investment.

Brendan (host):

So after people use Digital Ninjas, they all have an avalanche of traffic to their website. I mean, it’s a lot of data. I mean, a lot of people coming to the website. How do people know what to look at when they’re tracking?

Kat:

That is a very good question because I think you can set up your tracking, go, “Great. I’ve got no idea what I’m doing with this and how do I decipher that?” Often you need to segment and layer. What we tend to do for our clients is actually use Google Data Studio to pull in and customise reports, so it’s keeping things simple for them. So we can put concisely in setting up reports for what they need and what really matters, I guess.

Kat:

We’ve all heard of vanity metrics. Sometimes, just looking at the top layer as to, yay, all this traffic has come from this particular channel, isn’t really going to give you that much insight, you need to layer it with that ‘what are they doing on page’. What was the journey it took them to get there and did they drop off at any key point, which helps you identify maybe that’s the part of the puzzle that’s the weak link, and how can I improve that? Which, in return, will improve conversions.

Brendan (host):

So you mentioned vanity metrics, Kat, and it’s often hard to … I mean, a lot of people that I’ve worked with, they love vanity metrics.

Kat:

Who doesn’t love a good vanity?

Brendan (host):

So, I mean, how do you sell into these people that might be focusing too heavily on the vanity metrics? How do we let them know that they’re not the thing to look at?

Kat:

Yeah, I think always going back to your very basic starting point of your strategy of what’s your overall goal, what are you trying to achieve? That should be where your eye is on the ball, like what conversion are you looking for? Nobody really goes, “I’m going to do …” Unless you’re doing brand awareness or something like that, where it might be the reach that you’re looking for. But often, there’s some other part of the puzzle, like engagement rate.

Kat:

But really, if you’re trying to sell something or gain a donation from your website, how many people liked it on Facebook, your particular ad is not really going to give you any clues or insights. It could just mean that you’re wasting a lot of spend targeting the wrong people who aren’t able to make a donation.

Jonny:

Definitely. I think that’s really important, is going back to your objectives as an organisation. It’s amazing how often that gets lost and we see so often not-for-profit boards focusing on asking their digital team or their fundraising team or whoever’s doing their digital activity to focus on metrics like bounce rate, website bounce rate. It’s like, really, who gives a shit about bounce rate? It should be what is the website delivering in terms of donation revenue if you’re a fundraising focused organisation or engage users if you’re there to deliver content and help for people coming to the site.

Jonny:

So bounce rate might play a part in ascertaining the quality of traffic, but it should be way down the pecking order, in terms of what are your top line reporting metrics. This is where you mentioned an avalanche of users when you’re promoting the site, but you do seriously get, even if you’ve got a few users, an avalanche of data.

Brendan (host):

Right.

Jonny:

It’s picking the bits of data to use and make decisions based on, rather than trying to look at everything.

Brendan (host):

Are there any specific methods that you guys use to select this data that we should be looking at?

Jonny:

I think Kat’s point on using something like Google Data Studio. So having a reporting dashboard suite, where you can pull out the important management metrics. So you’re not constantly having to immerse yourself in Google Analytics on a regular basis, you can just get out that top line performance from a simple dashboard, is a really powerful way of looking at things.

Jonny:

Going into the tool yourself and looking at the data can be really useful if you’re trying to diagnose issues, challenges or find ways to improve performance. But from a day-to-day or week-to-week performance reporting standpoint, having a standalone, I call it a management dashboard, so it gives you your top line view, is really important. Yeah, we use Google Data Studio. There’s a bunch of other tools out there that you can do the same thing with, but the principle is just having a top line view of your data regardless of the tool that you use.

Brendan (host):

Yeah, I definitely can’t recommend Google Data Studio highly enough. I get the report in my inbox on Monday morning, never have to log into Google Analytics. It’s fantastic. Saves me hours and hours of time. So speaking of saving hours and hours of time, how do you actually get your website up and running with tracking from scratch and saving hours and hours of time for your clients?

Kat:

I’d say make sure someone who knows what they’re doing is doing it and sets it up. Because it’s something you can learn, there’s lots of, I think, kind of free tools out there. You just got to go and jump on Google to find a site that can walk you through the process, but it can be quite fiddly at times, depending what you’re wanting to track and convert. If you’d make the minor of mistakes and maybe it’s to do with capitalisation or the placement of a dot, then maybe your goal’s not going to track what you think it’s tracking.

Kat:

So I think the other key thing is testing. Once you’ve set up your conversion tracking or your just site tracking in general, make sure that you understand what’s recording, where it’s recording, and make sure you’ve labelled things correctly and nice and easily so that it makes sense when you go into your Google Analytics or looking at your reporting. It’s clear what that person was doing on the site if it was a particular event that you’re trying to look at.

Jonny:

Yeah, I think the biggest mistake we see when it comes to setting up tracking is lots of people treat it as a pure play technical task because there is a big technical component to where you’re installing JavaScript code on every page on the site. Which isn’t as bad as it sounds, because typically you do it in a template that loads across every page of the site. So it’s one piece of code in one bit of the site. But quite often, that’s brief to developers, which is fine. Developers often need to be involved in the process.

Jonny:

But then without the marketing eye on it, you end up missing things that should be tracked that are important and not properly configuring the tracking. So just throwing out the tracking code and not thinking about whether you need to be measuring donation volume and value or type of donation, interactions with certain page elements. You’ll end up missing data, which is a worst-case scenario.

Jonny:

The best way to do things is to think about the data you need to collect in order to fulfil your objectives and understand whether you’re hitting your objectives, and then work back from that and figure out which bits of the tracking you need to implement. Depending on what your goals are, that can come with varying degrees of complexity.

Jonny:

So quite often, we find the developers will have the technical know-how to put the code on the page. What they often lack is the detailed understanding of how analytics works, along with that marketing insight and understanding what the organisation’s trying to get from the tracking. So quite often, there’s a process there of working with the tech team to unravel that and make sure things are implemented properly.

Brendan (host):

Yeah.

Kat:

I’m just going to jump in and say on that note, it’s not a set and forget either. I think often people update their website, so they make changes and forget that that might have an impact on the tracking. You’ve got tracking in place and you’re running a campaign that’s paid, you want to make sure you’re spending your dollars wisely. But there’s suddenly something has thrown off that tracking, then maybe you’re not recording the actual actions taking place.

Brendan (host):

Yeah.

Kat:

So it’s always good to note if some things are updating in your site, go back and double-check that you’re configured and your tracking is working correctly.

Brendan (host):

I know Digital Ninjas have many fantastic clients. I was having a look on your website later and some really awesome, awesome non-for-profits. Have you got any stories or can you tell us a time when you worked with one of these nonprofits, implemented tracking and the changes that you saw from that?

Jonny:

Definitely. I mean, I’ve seen it all through my marketing career, from even working for small businesses where they didn’t have tracking in place, and then you put it in place. Quite quickly from the data you get from it, and this is where it becomes exciting, you can build business cases to increase investment. So my first experience of doing it in a nonprofit was with UNICEF Australia. They used to invest heavily in lots of traditional media. So Prince Advertising was one of their mainstays in the annual fundraising budget.

Jonny:

But quickly by setting up the tracking properly, so we’re looking at revenue figures, as well as conversion numbers, we’re able to very quickly invest, first of all, a small amount of money, but then when we proved that that was successful, go back to the board, back to the key decision-makers and ask for more money. Because we were able to prove all the way back to the channel that we were invested in that was being successful, we were able to get that investment from the decision-makers.

Jonny:

But without the tracking, it wouldn’t have been as easy. It would have been virtually impossible, because we would have been throwing money into different channels, not knowing which channel was working and not able to refine the activity that we’re investing in. But the tracking enabled us to do that, so that was really important.

Jonny:

It’s a similar story for many of the nonprofits that we’ve ended up working with. These days when we start working with a client, we’ll often find they have Google Analytics set up on the website, so they are tracking some basic traffic metrics, but quite often they’re missing some key data points. Quite often, that’s things like the volume value and type of donation that’s coming through. It might be the number of newsletter signups or the number of interactions with key pieces of content. So, helping them refine that is always a key part of the process.

Kat:

I’d say on that note, I think a lot of organisations we’ve seen, they may have, as Jon said, budgets or traditional marketing methods or other things or maybe they spent a lot of money on design of the site, or they’ve got a lot of say money towards putting into paid ads or something else, but they can’t quite seem to set up the tracking and measure what matters, which is how many donations are you receiving and how much is that donation worth? Is it a regular gift or is it a one-off gift?

Kat:

If you can’t measure that and monitor that, why are you spending so much money to create a site to drive people to not be able to say what the full outcome was? I think that’s important to make sure you can measure what matters. I think some people find it a bit time-consuming or it’s just not been something that they considered from the offset. So they go, “Oh, we’ve got budget to do X, Y and Z, but we can’t set up our tracking.” I would say re-prioritise, set up your tracking as one of your key tick lists and then look at, to invest and grow in other channels and areas.

Jonny:

Yeah, I agree with that. One of the worst examples I’ve come across was with a business, and I won’t name the business, but they had invested serious money in building a website on the premise that it was a build it and they’ll come type business. So that the person who set it up had quite a high profile and what they’re not thought about was, well, we’ve got this website and we’ll get some organic traffic from people knowing me by name. But then when it comes to promoting and scaling on the business, we need to invest in doing that. They’ve not thought about that piece of the puzzle.

Jonny:

Consequently, they’ve not thought about any tracking or understanding user behaviour. So they were missing all the data they needed to refine the product they were offering. It was a subscription service. So they’re in a really difficult situation where they’ve spent all their money, all their capital investment on building the site. They’ve got no tracking, they’ve got no marks in budget. So it’s kind of the worst-case scenario. Real old school, build it and they will come, which we just know doesn’t happen unless you’re extremely lucky.

Brendan (host):

What are the common struggles or barriers for nonprofits setting up website tracking?

Jonny:

That’s a good question, Brendan, thank you. So, the biggest issue we come across with setting up tracking for nonprofits is quite often we’re dealing with fundraising as one of their core objectives. Quite often, that will be generating regular givers or generating one-off donations or maybe sales in some kind of online shop. Quite often, charities will be working with a specific payment provider and the biggest barrier is always generally working with that payment provider.

Jonny:

Especially if they’re working with one of the big players like Blackbaud, they’re using tools like Blackbaud NetCommunity or Online Express. They can be a little bit tricky to support some of Google Analytics eCommerce tracking. So we’ve worked a lot with Blackbaud in the past. The challenge, the team at Blackbaud and these are the big companies like DonorPerfect, et cetera, Harvey’s, they’re all working with Legacy systems that were generally designed before digital marketing was really a big thing.

Jonny:

So they don’t come without the box support for things like eCommerce tracking, where you can see there’s a serious detail that you want in Google Analytics. So, there’s a few workarounds and a few ways of working with these platforms that we’ve learned over time. The platforms are getting better at offering support for these, but still, there’s some really big ones, really popular ones that don’t offer support.

Jonny:

You can hit technical barriers as well and security barriers with things like hosted payment pages and PCI compliance and security. So all those things we’ve worked with, different organisations to different extents to make sure that they can get the data they need. But the bottom line is with these things, sometimes it can complicate the process of setting up the tracking, but there’s pretty much nearly always a solution. So it’s worth working out because the data at the end of it is so rewarding.

Brendan (host):

I think you guys have changed my opinion on website tracking.

Jonny:

Are you excited by it?

Brendan (host):

I’m excited.

Kat:

You can’t wait to learn more now, can you?

Brendan (host):

I’ve got a lot of work to do over the weekend, fix my tracking. But if there’s one key takeaway you could give to anyone listening now before we wrap up on website tracking, what they need to do, how to get started, what would that be?

Jonny:

I would go into your tracking tool today. Make sure that you can look at your organisational objectives and your team objects within the organisation and commentate based on the data that’s in there on how well you’re doing against those objectives. So if you’re investing money in advertising, what is the return on your ad spend? What is the return on investment? How are you tracking against your overall KPIs for the year? So that’d be my thing. Go in and do a quick audit and see where you’re up to. Are you tracking all those key goals? Kat might have a different view.

Kat:

No, I think that’s a very good goal. Key takeaway, go and have a look, see what you can actually discover how well you’re doing against your KPIs, as you said. Also, am I tracking some goals set up that I’m not using that are completely redundant? Also, other things. Have a look. I mean, we didn’t mention in tools earlier. Google Tag Manager is a great tool, we use that a lot. So if you don’t know about that, go and have a look in that too. Are you using it? If not, maybe you should be.

Kat:

But yeah, I’d just go and dive in. Actually, I mean, if you’re a bit like me, you might get a bit geeked out by data and love it. It’s fun to see how all the people, who’s coming from wherever and what and what did they do, how long did they spend on a page? So learn to enjoy it, Brendan.

Jonny:

Yeah, Google Tag Manager is a really good shout as well. We should probably do a separate podcast on that one day, but we’ll leave that to the listeners to decide and vote on what they want to hear next.

Brendan (host):

Yes. Well, guys, Kat and Jon, thank you very much for your time today.

Kat:

Thank you.

Brendan (host):

Anything you’d like to say to listeners before we go and how can they get in touch with Digital Ninjas?

Jonny:

Nothing from each, get tracking. If you want to get in touch, click the Contact Us button on the website or email Jon or Kat at digitalninjas.com.

Brendan (host):

Awesome. We’ll have all the resources that we mentioned today in the show notes that you guys can find at digitalninjas.com/podcast. Kat, Jon, it’s been fun.

Kat:

Thank you.

Jonny:

Thank you.