I work with a wide variety of clients across a wide variety of industries, and one of the most common issues I come across is what I call analytics forgetfulness.
What typically happens is that a company will devise a plan to improve their online marketing and will implement various changes as a result — but then, nobody remembers to measure the impact of these changes or otherwise conduct any sort of followup down the road. Email marketing pieces, AdWords changes, even new landing pages are added to a marketing campaign; yet the “when,” “how” and “who” are lost in the ether.
Below are some steps you can take to help you remember your activities, analyze their impact, and create a journal of your marketing efforts that will benefit you and even your successor for years to come.
First, the obvious: Google Analytics Annotations. I use these frequently to note things I changed on a website or within an AdWords account, as well as mark the dates of off-site (or even offline) marketing efforts that might impact traffic and conversions. Some of the things I advise all clients to note with Annotations are:
- Email blasts
- Website content changes
- New design/feature launches
- New/updated PPC campaigns
- New/updates referral site campaigns
- Newspaper ad or TV ad launch/runs
Here’s the crazy awesome benefit of doing these annotations: you have a record of what you did and when you did it. You would be surprised to see how many people are not taking advantage of this amazingly useful tool.
Anyway, let’s say you’ve implemented a new PPC campaign/adgroup, and you’ve annotated it – now what?
Use the annotation to set dates in Google Analytics – and measure impacts. Here’s an example:
Client A set up a new AdWords campaign and annotated that the start date was 5/23/2013. From here, they can adjust the date range around the annotation to see the impact of that campaign. By setting the dates to the week before the launch through the week after, we can see if the new campaign had a significant impact on visits, clicks, bounce, time on site, etc.
As you can see from the screenshot above, the campaign’s impact has been incremental, at best. I can relay that this campaign has not increased conversions or revenue at all yet — though, a week is a very brief amount of time from which to draw conclusions. Still, it gives you an idea of how you can manipulate the data to help you determine campaign impacts.
Here’s something that would stump me if I hadn’t used annotations:
According to my annotation, I implemented a plugin on this date that allowed me to track off-site clicks as events. (For an affiliate marketing site, this is very valuable information.) As you can see — and as I predicted in my annotation — doing so had an obvious impact on my bounce rates.
When someone working on the site looks at this a year from now, they’ll see the big drop, note the activity that caused it, and move on. By making a note, I’m saving myself and my whole team time by not forcing them to investigate the issue.
One thing to keep in mind is that even adjustments made within Google Analytics are not automatically annotated. (Wouldn’t this be a great feature? Hint, hint!) So, you’re going to have to help yourself by remembering to make these notes a habit. I’ll share a checklist at the bottom of this post to help you do just that.
One downfall of annotations at this time is that you cannot export your annotation list for a report. (Again, Google Analytics team: Hint, hint!). I usually copy and paste them into an Excel sheet and clean it up; if you have more than one or two, this seems like the easiest way to handle it. You can also just grab a screenshot of the annotations between your target dates.
There are other options for keeping track of your marketing activities and their impacts. Some work in tandem with Analytics and some could work on their own. I generally recommend a combination of whatever works best for your team. The end goal in any system should be:
- Easy understanding of what you did, when you did it
- Quick date capture so you can easily measure impacts
- Effective way to pull down information, be it activities or analytics, and understand how the change correlates to the data. You could insert an age-old correlation vs. causation argument here; I’ll leave that one alone for now.
Within Google Analytics and Google AdWords, you can pull a report that details all changes made on the account within a specified time period. This is useful when working within the platform, but it doesn’t really help you track what you did and when if the change was made outside of Analytics or AdWords. I recommend using this as you populate your annotations to make notes on when a new AdGroup was started, or when you implemented a new goal.
If you’re a calendar user — and, more specifically, a Google Calendar user — you can set up a really useful calendar that is shared and editable by your whole team. Color code your calendar so it’s not confused with other calendars you might have access to, and create a note that tags the activity you performed with a date and time associated.
Using a calendar system allows you to create a follow-up calendar event right away. For example, if you made an event reminding you to launch a new AdWords campaign, you could create a follow-up event to check on the results of that campaign a week or a month later. This allows you to “set it and forget it,” as you’re relying on a tool to help you remember something you have to do down the road.
Being able to share a document with your team can be an invaluable memory tool. If everyone can contribute to one document in one place, without having to worry about who has the most recent version, you’re saving time and headaches.
I use Google Docs a lot for collaboration. I also keep a daily journal of activities performed for each client so I can refer back to it constantly and use it to write monthly or quarterly reports. It takes almost no time at all, and it’s available in the “cloud” so I can access it anywhere.
A Checklist For Tracking Activities
- Do your marketing activity (send the email blast, launch the new AdWords campaign. publish the new landing page, etc.).
- Add an annotation to Google Analytics noting what you did and when you did it; sometimes time stamps are important, so note the hour you made the change if necessary.
- Create a calendar item that notes what you did and when you did it.
- Create a follow-up reminder in your calendar. It can be once in 3 weeks, or weekly for 3 months — this is why the flexibility of a calendar is great.
- Write up a quick journal entry that outlines your theory behind the campaign and what your goals are.
- Let it leave your mind — a clear mind is a productive mind, so use the tools and let them help you be more effective!
For most clients, I advise some sort of combination of calendar events, journal entries and annotations. The annotations are there so you can see the results of an activity within analytics. The calendar is extremely useful to help you remember what to follow up on (and when). A journal is really useful if you’re having trouble remembering why you did something in the first place.
Using these tools in combination creates a powerful system that can help you drive your marketing to the next level. The best part? All of these tools are absolutely, 100% free!
Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.