Articles written in March, 2008

March 31 2008

Why are Conversions in Google AdWords different from Goals in Google Analytics?

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Q1 of 2008 started just the other day (or so it seems) and here we are, about to begin Q2. Many marketers and business owners hold quarterly status meetings, right after a quarter has ended, to evaluate the performance of their online initiatives. Specifically, they meet to evaluate their paid search campaigns (and, they should). Chances are that they are advertising with Google AdWords. Chances are also really good that they are using the Google AdWords Conversion Tracking Feature and have a Google Analytics account running at the same time. Which, of course, makes me very proud πŸ™‚

And, if you’re like me, you like your data like Lieutenant Commander Data – with “android-like precision”. (Yes, I just dropped a Star Trek reference. My Co-Worker’s “Resistance is Futile” blog series has inspired me to reference Star Trek more often, so you have her to thank for it).

Unfortunately, due to several factors, data collected by ways of javascript and cookie creation cannot be 100% precise, no matter how hard we try to make it such. This is something that I am always reminded of when I receive a question from a client or a fellow co-worker that sounds somewhat like this:

“I am looking at my weekly / monthly / quarterly reports, and Google AdWords shows that I have received 74 conversions…but when I log in to Google Analytics, I see that I have 88 Goal Conversions for the exact same Conversion Point. Which one is right?”

There are many possibilities here. Before I can answer this, let me explain some things:

What is Google AdWords Conversion Tracking, and how it works:
The Google AdWords Conversion Tracking is a block of javascript code that is placed on a page of your website where you want your website’s visitors to ultimately wind up. This is normally a “Thank You” page that a visitor sees after they fill out an inquiry form, or a “Receipt” page that a visitor sees after they buy something from your Online Store. When a visitor lands on a page with Conversion Tracking, a cookie is placed on the visitor’s computer and data is sent to a Google AdWords server, registering this conversion and then assigning the credit for the conversion to the proper keyword, ad, ad group, and Campaign.

What is a Goal in Google Analytics, and how it works:
A Goal in Google Analytics is when someone visits a page that has been defined as a Conversion Goal within a Google Analytics profile. The idea behind what page(s) to select for Goals in GA is identical to choosing which pages to place AdWords Conversion Code on. However, Google Analytics only requires its regular tracking code to be present on that page in order to record a Goal Conversion. Upon entering your website, up to five cookies are set on a visitor’s computer, whether they reach your Goal Conversion page or not. GA takes the number of visits to your Goal Conversion page(s), and simply does the math throughout its reports.

So…why are AdWords and Analytics Conversion Numbers Different?
There are a few different reasons:

A. Cookie Deletion / Cookie Blocking Habits
Depending on a user’s browser settings, they may be blocking the AdWords Conversion Tracking cookie, and not blocking the Google Analytics cookies, or vice-versa.

B. Script Location on Conversion Page
Because these are two different scripts, there is a possibility that one script will “execute” before a user closes their browser or leaves the page, before the other script had a chance to execute.

C. Different Servers
The Server that processes AdWords Conversion Tracking is a different server from the one that processes Google Analytics data. So, much like reason B above, one server may have finished receiving information, but another server may have not finished receiving information before a user leaves the site or closes their browser.

D. Certain Google Partner Sites
Some of Google’s Search Partner Websites (where your ads may appear) cannot have their Conversions tracked with the AdWords Conversion Tracking script. However, if you’ve coded your URLs for Google Analytics, you will still see a Conversion for “google / cpc”.

E. Google AdWords can assign a conversion to a Campaign within a 30-day period
A user may not convert right away on their first visit to your site – they may come back some days or a couple of weeks later, and then convert. If you run a report in Google AdWords one day, and run the same exact report with the same date-range a week from when you ran it the first time, chances are you may see a different number of conversions between the two reports. Google Analytics cannot go back in time and credit a prior campaign or keyword with a conversion – it can only give credit for a Goal Conversion as it happens.

The combination and the mixture of all of those reasons makes it almost impossible for the AdWords Conversion Counter and Goals in Google Analytics to be identical figures.

Final Question: “So, which one is the right one / which one should I be looking at?”
The answer here is both of them. Keep in mind that neither Google AdWords nor Google Analytics are accounting packages or server logs – you cannot use those for official bookkeeping or record-keeping. I like to say, use the number of Conversions in Google AdWords and Goals in Google Analytics as guides, while analyzing and evaluating trends and habits, not for accounting purposes.

March 27 2008

Where are all these people coming from?

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So you’re getting a lot of traffic to your website. That’s great! A good amount of your website’s traffic is converting. Awesome! You’re even getting some returning visitors to your site, and they are buying things, too! What could be better than this? (Of course, you could say “Winning the Lottery!”, but that’s not realistic).

The first question that comes to mind about your website’s traffic is usually “Where is the traffic coming from?”, or some variation of that. This is something that we all want to know, whether to satisfy our own curiosity or to properly optimize your cost-per-click campaigns. Using Google Analytics, let me show you a few different places where you can go to find out the origins of your traffic.

1. The “All Traffic Sources” Report
This is normally where most everyone goes to know where people are coming from. It’s found underneath the “Traffic Sources” section (obviously). Now, you need to understand that, by default, Google Analytics groups all traffic in four separate categories, or, “mediums””:

Direct – Usually represented by (direct)(none), this is all of the traffic that either types in the URL of your website by hand, or accesses your website via a bookmark. Copying / Pasting your website’s URL and clicking on “Go” or hitting the Enter key also counts as direct traffic.
Referral – A referral is any visit from any website that links to yours. Usually appears with the name of the website or IP address (Example: myspace.com / referral)
Organic – Any traffic originating from an organic search engine listing. As of this post, Google Analytics automatically recognizes 39 different websites as search engines, but this number is always changing. (Example: google / organic)
CPC – Traffic that originates from a pay-per-click marketing program, such as Google AdWords. You’ll see it listed as “google / cpc”. Note: you will need to have your URLs coded with Google Analytics URL Tracking on all of your non-Google AdWords Paid Search campaigns in order to see them listed as “cpc”. Otherwise, they will be lumped in with the “organic” listings. Visit the Google Analytics URL Tool Builder Page to learn how it’s done.

2. The “Referring Sites” Report
This report is one of my personal favorites. I really like to look at this report, so I can see who is either linking to me or referencing me in a blog or message board. This report is also found in the “Traffic Sources” section, and it will list any website which you have received at least one visit from. The best part about this is that if you click on any website listing, you can see the exact page where your link is found, and you can also click on the small “double-window” icon next to the full page path to go to that page, to see your link on their site.

3. The “Search Engines” Report
Finally, you can use the Search Engines report to view your total amount of search engine traffic. You can also click on the “paid” link next to the segmenting tool to view all paid Search Engine traffic, or you can click on the “non-paid” link to view all organic / non-paid Search Engine traffic. Clicking on the name of the search engine that’s listed there will allow you to segment that search engine by keyword, so that you can see which search terms are responsible for bringing you traffic.

These three reports are a great start for you to start to see where all of your traffic is originating from.

March 18 2008

Your Search Function – Make Sure it Works

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Google Analytics SiteSearch OverviewI wanted to talk about something I’ve observed ever since Google Analytics introduced the SiteSearch section of reports into the program, back in November 2007. This is something that is happening across the board for most websites, regardless of industry, design, or type of content or language used.

First of all, let’s take a look at how people are finding your website. Most people will search for a keyword on Google or Yahoo, and will click on either your paid advertisement or your organic listing (and, of course, they are both prominently displayed on the first page of the search results ;).

With the exception of your branding keywords, if you ever look at any keyword report, you will see that most of the top keyword searches are either two or three words in length, and they are fairly normal in terms of refinement and how specific the search is. Chances are that these users were not looking for your website using search terms like “iphone” and “apple”, but they also didn’t use something like “green refurbished 8 gig apple ipod nano leather carrying case strap”. They probably were, for a lack of a better term, using some normal, middle of the road search term.

SiteSearch Navigation MenuNow, if you are fortunate enough to have both a Search Function on your website and Google Analytics, take a look at the “Search Terms” report, which is the second report from the top, inside of the “SiteSearch” section (which is located within the Content section). Are you surprised with what you are seeing? Yeah, so am I – I still find it tough to believe.

What I’m talking about is the fact that the top search terms people use on your website’s function are normally one-word terms, and they are very basic search terms at that. I’m talking extremely basic – words like “medical”, “label”, “mp3”, “windows”, “spine”, and so on. And, guess what? Some of these people are buying items from your online stores, or reaching the Goals that you have set-up for your profiles.

What does this all mean?
This is my theory. I believe when people land on a website and interact with a website’s search function, that they expect that the website knows exactly what to serve up to the visitor in its search results, despite their unrefined, raw search terms. I believe that people work under the assumption that once they are on a website, that the website should know exactly what the visitor (customer) is thinking right away, and that it should display exactly what the visitor wants to see, or they are back to Google to find another site to go to. I also believe that they feel Google is the place that needs that more-refined search term, so Google can understand what a visitor “is talking about”, whereas the website’s search function should already know what a visitor is talking about, and they shouldn’t have to produce some long-tail, exact search term.

Is this unfair to a website owner?
Oh yes, I feel that it is. But, you know what? That’s life. Remember, the visitor is always right. If they can’t find what they are looking for – or, what they expect to find – they’ll leave your site, and probably interact with another website’s search function, and will keep doing that until they are served up what they want to be served up.

So what do you recommend that I do?
I recommend that you make sure that your internal search function works extremely well, and produces clean, relevant search results at all times. Test it out frequently, and make sure it’s working without any bugs, or serving up any weird search results. Work closely with your programming team to make sure this happens. For example, if you sell plates, and if you search for “plates” on your search function, make sure plates appear right away in the search results! Also make sure that when a user clicks on a search result, that they are taken directly to the correct page, matching the search result listing, otherwise they may become frustrated with your site and leave right away.

…and if someone searches for something that I don’t sell, have, or promote?
Get creative. Don’t simply display a “no results found” message. Send them to a nice looking page that apologizes to the visitor that you do not carry that item or offer that service, and that also shows them the main products or services that you do offer. If there is an item that is constantly searched for that you do not carry, perhaps your visitors are asking you to add it to your website.

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