Articles in the Google Analytics Coding Category

August 10 2009

It Takes a Village to Raise a Culture of Web Analytics

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The last 2 years have seen an influx of business men and women getting involved with Web Analytics. Owners, Presidents, VPs, Directors, Marketers, IT personnel and even Administrative Assistants have all taken an interest in this still relatively new dimension of the internet.

While it’s great that so many folks are diving head-first into the ocean of analytics, it’s very important to understand that one individual cannot do it alone. Everyone — even one man / one woman shows — needs a village…a community of individuals that can support, educate, and collaborate with one another to install, upload, and subsequently measure and take meaningful, useful insights from their analytics data.

Each person needs to rely upon any one (if not all) of the following types of people to truly achieve Web Analytics success:

1. The Web Analytics “Champion”
Each organization needs that one person who stands proud and champions the cause to their colleagues. This person takes command and learns everything possible about Web Analytics, and can eat and drink metrics and reports for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This person can calculate search campaign ROI and Average Order Value figures in their sleep. He / She is the quarterback / point guard / captain of the team.

2. A Colleague who Shares the Vision
Forging a relationship with a co-worker who can get as excited and enthusiastic about Web Analytics as the “Web Analytics Champion” is key to promoting a culture of data insights throughout your organization. It becomes contagious to the rest of the company when they see that others are being positively influenced by Web Analytics, and they’ll want to be a part of it.

3. A Friend in Need is a Friend in IT
No matter what type of Web Analytics program you choose to run with, a technical / IT person is going to be necessary at one point or another. IT folks can help you upload any necessary scripts, code your website’s pages, manage APIs, parse server log-files, fix and repair bugs, and anything else needed for Web Analytics success. Making friend(s) in the IT department is a crucial, often overlooked step.

4. Don’t Forget the Marketers
At the end of the day, the purpose of Web Analytics is to understand the behavior and actions of your website’s visitors. Marketing / advertisement is what drives traffic to a website, be it a pay-per-click ad or a couple of months of hard-nosed SEO optimization work. The marketing department is going to need reports and statistics from Web Analytics to be able to refine their efforts, and evaluate which are working and profitable, which ones are wastes of money, and which ones have potential.

5. Sell, Sell, Sell!
Sometimes, the concepts and the philosophy of Web Analytics are hard to explain throughout an organization — anyone who has ever heard “Why Should I Spend Any Time with This?” will understand. This is a great opportunity to get a sales rep, or even the VP of Sales on board with Web Analytics. They can probably share with you some persuasive techniques that can be used to attract interest.

6. Who’s The Boss?
Not Tony Danza — unless he IS your boss. The Senior VP, Chief Technical Officer, Executive Vice-President, or perhaps the CEO themselves should be on board the Web Analytics gravy train. This is, understandably, a vital part in the ultimate success of building a culture of Web Analytics within your company — important colleagues or co-workers who were on the fence before may be strongly persuaded to jump on the bandwagon if a supervisor, partner, or even the owner supports the efforts.

In a lot of situations, people do not have the ability to take the reigns and create this prosperous culture of finding actionable insights. They work alone, in a small group, or in large companies where teams are spread across several offices, making building a community near impossible. Fortunately for us, MoreVisibility is that culture of Web Analytics. We are a Google Analytics Authorized Consultant, a Google AdWords Qualified Company, and have an entire organization of colleagues who champion the cause for Web Analytics.

July 8 2009

Tracking bit.ly (and other short URLs) in Google Analytics

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Yesterday, during my normal browsing / question-answering time over on the Google Analytics Help Forum, I ran across a thread where a few folks were not seeing traffic from their bit.ly URLs in their Google Analytics profiles. For those of you who do not know what they are, or might have seen them somewhere before, bit.ly is a URL shortening website, where you can enter in a long URL and make it very short. Websites like bit.ly, SnipURL, Tiny.cc, and several others have become mega-popular over the last few years, as they have become vital in allowing people to share links via Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I’ve even started to see them appear in some newsletters and promotional emails as well.

While bit.ly type websites are great, they actually present an analytics tracking challenge. These sites typically redirect users from their website to your destination website, which causes Google Analytics to treat any visitor clicking on one of these links as “direct”, even though they really originated from your Facebook page, your monthly newsletter, or a press release (So technically, not tagging these URLs will also pollute your direct traffic segment, which was our blog post from earlier in the week).

So, what can you do to properly track your shortened URLs in Google Analytics? Take the following 4 steps for short URL tracking success:

1. Grab Your Destination URL – Copy the URL of the page that you ultimately want your visitors to land on.

Example: http://www.website.com/page.html

2. Run it through the Google Analytics Tool: URL BuilderThe URL Builder Tool will append the necessary query parameters to the end of your destination URL. This is the same page that is used when marketers want to track their non-AdWords cost-per-click traffic in GA.

Example: http://www.website.com/page.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_content=status-update&utm_campaign=social-media-traffic

3. Run your new URL through bit.ly (or your favorite URL shortener) – Copy your newly created URL and paste it into the URL shortening tool – you should now have a very short, but analytics-trackable URL.

Example: http://bit.ly/MrOle

4. Test your short link – Click on your short URL and make sure the long string of query parameters that you copied from step 2 appears in the address bar of your favorite browser. If the query parameters are there – and your destination page has the Google Analytics Tracking Code correctly installed – you should begin to see visits from your short URL in your All Traffic Sources report, within the Traffic Sources section. It’s a bit of a manual process – especially if you have a lot of short URLs everywhere – but it’s completely worth the time that it takes to run them through the URL Builder and appropriately track the visits off of these links in Google Analytics. The hard part will be figuring out what to use for the Source, Medium, and Campaign dimensions, because that is what is going to control how the data appears.

My advice: use a short, common-sense naming convention, and you really can’t go wrong.

July 6 2009

Should I care about my Direct Traffic?

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Even though Direct Traffic is not what you thought it was, it is still a segment of traffic worthy of your valuable time. If your analytics data is currently suffering from self-referrals, redirects, or untagged email marketing campaigns, then today’s thread should be of great interest to you, as your direct traffic volume could be artificially inflated.

Direct Traffic

What exactly is “Direct Traffic”?

Direct traffic is traffic that comes to you “directly”, without the help of an organic, referral, or cost-per-click source. Folks who type in your website’s URL manually into their browser’s address bar, or folks who copy / paste your URL into the address bar are counted by Google Analytics (and most other Web Analytics platform) as “direct”.

What else can be counted as “direct” traffic?

If someone visited your website by manually typing or copy / pasting your URL into their address bar, and they bookmark your site and visit you again from that bookmark, they will be counted as “direct”. This is the good kind of direct traffic. The bad kind of direct traffic – the kind that can be destroying and polluting this valuable segment – can be caused by redirects, improper / incorrect tagging set-up, and things like banners and email campaigns that are not tagged for Google Analytics (or your favorite WA program).

How do I fix these issues?

It depends on the complexity and severity of your situation, but there is no reason why you can’t collect proper, unpolluted direct traffic data. If you are doing banner advertising or email blasts, ensure that every single link embedded within the email or every destination URL of your banners is tagged for analytics. Google Analytics offers a URL Tool Builder page that can quickly set this up for you for free.

If your site is redirecting visitors, ensure that all pages have the necessary tracking code present (even on the redirecting page itself). However, if at all possible, try to slow down the redirect, so that the tracking codes have time to fire off.

If your site spans multiple domains, please ensure that both sites and all links to and from each site are properly set-up, according to your vendor’s specifications on tracking 3rd party websites. Any analytics program will be able to do this – visit the help section of your site or contact your account rep for assistance.

It bears repeating that there should be NO REASON why your direct traffic should be a big bucket of traffic from lots of different types of sources that couldn’t be tagged properly or coded correctly. Ask your email vendor / media manager / press release guru to help you with tagging / coding issues (and if they give you any grief, tell them I said it was very important :)).

Everything is tagged and coded properly, and my direct traffic is only counting what it’s supposed to count. What next?

For the most part, your direct traffic will remain fairly steady from month to month, with the occasional lift or dip here and there. Hopefully, over the long haul, your direct traffic will have increased, as your website becomes more and more popular over time. However, if you do any type of offline advertising (TV, Radio, Print), you can use the direct traffic segment to evaluate the success / failure of your offline efforts. Did you just run a commercial on prime-time network TV featuring your website’s URL? Check your analytics data the next morning and you’ll probably find a nice spike in direct traffic. The same thing happens when your monthly catalog or special offer gets delivered to your customer’s mail boxes. Collect a few of these spikes from offline efforts and in a couple of months you may be able to gauge the pulse of your offline audience and how they respond to what you are sending them / showing them.

Your direct traffic can also increase if your latest press release just got sent out, or you just turned up the dial on your Google AdWords campaign – not everyone clicks on a link, sometimes, they copy / paste it, which will count them as direct, despite your proper implementation. For this small group of copy / pasters out there, there really isn’t anything you can do, but you should be confident enough with your clean data to still obtain great insights anyway.

Direct traffic doesn’t have to be a big pile of unorganized and useless data. It can be exactly what you thought it was, as long as you put in the work to make it happen.

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