How many times have you heard that data is one of your most important assets? From small local businesses to the national political stage, data is leveraged to make informed marketing decisions. Your data could give insight on how to grow into your business into new territories, go after key demographics, or nurture your existing customers.
Tracking your website data using Google Analytics presents several pros and cons. While Google Analytics is free and relatively easy to use, you’re also limited to the stock metrics and reports provided by Google. While reporting metrics like pageviews, time on site, and bounce rate are important to keep track of, it can be hard to translate them into proving where opportunities lie for future marketing endeavors. As someone tracking website data, you owe it to your organization to ensure that the data is meaningful, actionable, and easily shared with other members of your team.
Some important questions to ask before deciding how you want to track data include:
- Are my data collection methods scalable with the growth of my business and website?
- Do the data points available provide clear answers to the performance of our campaigns?
- Does my reporting show data that is easily shared and understood by everyone who sees it?
The Basics: Tracking with Google Analytics
Without any customization added, Google Analytics can already tell you a lot about how your website is performing.
- You can see what your most popular pages are, and how visitors are arriving there.
- You can compare spikes in traffic against any outbound marketing campaigns you’re running.
- You can chart the influx of new visitors against returning, as well as the performance of your site on various mobile devices.
- Conversion goals can even be defined based on available data, such as pageviews and time on site.
Depending on your reporting needs, and how deep you want to dig, this might be as far as you need to go. These basic reporting elements are perfectly adequate for a website with a low number of pages, that isn’t updated often, isn’t terribly focused on conversion tracking, and has reporting shared with only a small team of people.
For larger, more complex websites, there are several elements that can be added or modified in Google Analytics to give your business a better look at its data.
- Google Analytics allows you to create dashboards to gain fast access to important metrics, and set them up for automated email delivery to your team.
- Defining segments lets you narrow your reporting down to only show key demographics or traffic sources, which can be helpful if you’re in need of data that only relates to a certain type of visitor.
- Filters can be added in your administrator settings to exclude internal IP addresses and various sources of traffic from being recorded.
- Tracking codes can be added to your incoming campaign traffic to differentiate various ad buys and creative designs.
None of the previously mentioned options require you to modify anything in the actual code of your website. If you’re confident in your ability to add code, or have someone who can, then you can start to implement more complicated tracking options.
- Event tracking lets you count the number of times a visitor clicks something that isn’t typically counted by Google Analytics, including clicks to third-party sites and downloads of PDF files. This requires adding a string of code to the appropriate links with a defined name for the Event you’re tracking. This data then shows up in your Google Analytics reporting, and can be used to define more meaningful Goals.
- If you have multiple sub-domains, you can add a linking code to the Google Analytics tracking code which stops Analytics from treating those domains as referrals in your reporting. This same trick can be used to track across any vendors or third-party sites you’re affiliated with, but they would need to approve hosting the code, as well as potentially updating it over time.
Google Tag Manager: Now you’re analyzing with power!
A lot of fuss has been made recently about the capabilities of Google Tag Manager and even more has been misunderstood about what Google Tag Manager actually does. To clarify, Google Tag Manager doesn’t replace Google Analytics. Instead, it allows you to easily add tags and tracking codes to elements of your site or for advertising tracking purposes, allowing you to have further insight into your data. Almost everything described in the Google Analytics section above becomes much easier when implemented via Google Tag Manager, including event tracking and tracking across multiple domains. And, you’ll still log into your existing Google Analytics account to check on campaigns and run reports.
- Tracking analytics by way of Google Tag Manager requires that instead of placing the Google Analytics code directly on your website, you place a Google Tag Manager container code on your site and implement Google Analytics within Tag Manager’s workspace. Even if you’re not ready to add additional tracking tags, this has put the framework for a more robust analytics platform in place.
- You can now add tags of varying complexity, from a remarketing code that gets triggered when the home page loads, to a conversion code that is fired when a visitor clicks a specific call-to-action button.
- Google Tag Manager can also help improve the load time of your site, if you have a lot of code slowing the site down. Knowing that nearly half of all mobile site visitors will leave if the page doesn’t load within 3 seconds, this is a benefit that should not be underestimated (Source: Kissmetrics).
- The Lookup Tables Variable is a tool that can make your reporting much more digestible for a wider audience. If your monthly analytics report needs to be circulated to a board of directors, for example, you could use a Lookup Table to convert complex terms into more understandable internal wording.
- None of these tags go live on your site until you publish them, so you can test them safely before pushing them out to all site visitors.
Eeny Meeny Miny Mo
Google Analytics is a powerful tracking tool whether you decide to use the tracking code independently, or implement within a Google Tag Manager container code. Transitioning from one to the other is an easy process, but becomes more difficult and time consuming the more tracking you have in place. Any event tracking or third party tags you place will need to be recreated in the Tag Manager workspace.
It’s best to decide early in your analytics tracking plan which strategy you’ll be using. Doing so may influence how your website is designed and developed, and will also help you better plan your budget for any agency support. Whether you choose to use Google Analytics with or without a Tag Manager container depends on how scalable you want your tracking to be. Whichever choice you make, a strategist at ZAG Interactive can help you decide on a tracking strategy in line with your business needs, as well as develop a usable reporting plan.