Google Analytics And Huge Corporations: Can A Free Tool Handle Complex Reporting Needs?

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Synopsis — One usually assumes that large corporations must use the most expensive software solutions due to needs stemming from their size and a more abundant financial bucket from which to draw. As the saying goes, however, “it ain’t necessarily so!” In this case study, Catherine Juon explores how both Kellogg Company and Compuware were able to adapt the free Google Analytics product to meet their needs for complex and complicated reporting of their e-business needs.

If you are investigating analytics packages, before you make the decision to consider only paid analytics products out of an assumption that your product mix or range is too complex for Google Analytics, explore the details of how Kellogg made it work for their multinational corporation and Compuware put it into place to enhance their international presence in this interesting case study. A bonus tip on Google Profiles is included.

The complete article follows …

Google Analytics And Huge Corporations: Can A Free Tool Handle Complex Reporting Needs?

Many website analytics tools exist, with cost ranging from free (like Google Analytics and Yahoo! Web Analytics) to various levels of paid (Urchin, Webtrends, Adobe SiteCatalyst (formerly Omniture), and Unica NetInsight (formerly Affinium), etc.). Faced with such variety, what should large corporations with intricate reporting needs choose? You might assume that a paid option is bound to be more suitable than a free tool – after all, don’t “you get what you pay for”? And while Google is clearly the leading search engine, is their free website analytics tool also the top of the line?

The answer might surprise you in this case, where one large corporation’s e-business unit got what they needed — and more —  from Google Analytics.

The Kellogg Company: More Than Just Breakfast

The Kellogg Company is the largest provider of packaged breakfast and snack foods in North America. They not only put Tony the Tiger on store shelves in the breakfast cereal aisle, but also own and manage diverse brands such as Morningstar, Pop-Tarts, Keebler, Cheez-It, Famous Amos, and Garden Burger, to name just a few.

Recently, Kellogg’s e-business unit started to develop an aggressive, Internet-based approach to marketing and selling their products. To spearhead this effort, they decided to focus on the implementation of web analytics that could be used by both the agencies providing the marketing and the individual Kellogg teams responsible for logistics, marketing, and strategy.

The E-Business Project Mandate

Not only does each brand have its own website (for a total of 40 US websites), but Kellogg wanted to roll up reporting data to the brand family level as well. A brand family might be “adult cereals” or “snack foods” or “children’s cereals” as well as a “corporate” group that rolled up a promotional racing website, a careers website, the corporate website, and another site with an historical view of the company.

To complicate matters, each Product Marketing Manager could choose a creative agency to work with from a short list of approved vendors. In essence, the project required that each Product Marketing Manager, each agency, and the Kellogg e-business unit itself could all access the data they needed to review their websites and make improvements over time. This was a collection of disparate websites, each with different goals and different audiences. The different creative agencies had used different platforms, content management systems (e.g., Ektron), and technology (e.g., some relied heavily on Flash).

The project mandate was to have all the data available in a unified analytics dashboard, yet the creative agencies were only to have access to the websites they managed (i.e., they were not to have access to other agency’s sites). The requirements meant that the Kellogg Company’s grouping of data for analysis had to be multi-dimensional — any given website might have to be measured in more than one category.

Solving The Challenge With Google Analytics

This was a major operational as well as an analytic challenge. Kellogg decided to make the implementation in Google Analytics because of its business-focused interface, as well as its simplicity, scalability, and clear commitment from Google.

The first phase of the project was to identify communication protocols with the agencies and determine how to create a multi-dimensional reporting structure that would satisfy both agency and Kellogg’s needs. Another project goal was to minimize the technical effort that any given agency would have to make to implement the changes across each website.

Next, more specific requirements were gathered from the Kellogg stakeholders and individual agencies. A communication plan was developed, as well as the system requirements and code for the 11 agencies involved. Then came quality assurance testing and a pilot program, before the final scripts and structures were rolled out. A few minor technical problems arose, but were solved during the pilot program, ensuring a smooth rollout across the full group of websites and agencies.

The Key? Google Analytics Profiles

A set of Google Analytics profiles was created for tracking the traffic for various brand families. Each profile fulfilled a specific business reporting need at the organizational level. Profiles can be configured around a specific website, a group of websites, or a subset of either. The set of initial Google Analytics accounts defined were:

  • Corporate websites, which included profiles such as Kellogg Racing, Kellogg Careers, www.kelloggs.com, etc.
  • Product and promotional sites targeting adults, such as Live Bright and Food Away from Home.
  • Product and promotional sites targeting children, such as Frosted Flakes and Apple Jacks.
  • Global Aggregate Data account, which tracks traffic for all product sites, categorized by product type to allow for internal benchmarking. This profile had additional profiles allowing views of the data based on different product categories (morning foods, snack foods, specialty/convenience foods, etc.).
  • Kellogg Module account, which tracks application modules inserted into websites and serve common functions, such as a store locator.

Each of these accounts could have a large number of profiles within it, allowing for flexibility and future expansion, ensuring that Kellogg e-business needs would not outstrip the capabilities of Google Analytics.

The Final Result

The project was implemented successfully across all agencies and websites, and all agency communications, code distribution, version management, and quality control were handled centrally. “This project extended the reach of Kellogg brands’ online presence and helped to align our marketing efforts with return on investment,” Paul Iagnocco, the former Director of E-business at Kellogg Company, said in a statement. (Mr. Iagnocco was later promoted to Director, Global Digital Strategy.) “The detailed reporting, combined with the strategic approach to online advertising and search engine optimization, is a comprehensive and smart way for Kellogg Company to leverage the web to attract and retain new consumers.”

This project was part of an increased focus on ROI at Kellogg Company, particularly with respect to their e-business practice when compared to traditional media. Kellogg Company Chief Marketer Mark Baynes said that digital ROI for a specific Special K program had gone over the ROI for the same campaign in traditional media by a “factor of well over two.” Kellogg, which has a typical advertising spend of over $1 billion annually, began reducing commercial filming in 2009, instead focusing on driving efficiency and boosting online marketing.

Having website analytics data in a single, easy-to-use dashboard such as Google Analytics meant that the Kellogg Company brand managers and advertising agencies could leverage efficiencies related to e-business analysis and reporting.

Is This A One-Time Trick?

But is the Kellogg Company case study just a one-off example of how a large corporation can get what they need to handle complex business situations out of Google Analytics? Let’s take a quick look at another situation.

Compuware — one of the world’s leading organizations in optimizing application performance and providing software, experts, and best practices to ensure that applications work well and deliver business value — also turned to Google Analytics. Compuware supports 46 of the top 50 Fortune 500 companies and 12 of the top 20 most visited US websites.

Many elements of their online strategy were already in place — a successful website, analytics tools, and paid search — but the team wanted to build upon and improve their existing efforts. With Google Analytics as the core web analytics tool, Compuware built a plan focused on earning the top spots in online search using multiple languages. Additional objectives included elevating specific product solutions and reinforcing their international presence.

After implementing the changes, Compuware saw from within the Google Analytics dashboard how they made significant gains in search engine visibility for non-branded terms. This was accomplished by applying a structured strategy for URL taxonomies, page redirection, page design, and link building for their numerous complex websites.

“Working with our vendor, Pure Visibility, on this project added a deep level of expertise to our search marketing efforts. In addition to investing in online marketing efforts, we’re investing in getting a return on those efforts through attention to tracking, analyzing, and measuring data. We’re working together to create an online sales engine that uses the web to drive and convert customers,” states Eric Kushner, Compuware’s Marketing Strategy Director.

The project also included paid search arbitrage, with additional depth in word market strategy as well as a strategy for the aggressive optimization of individual campaign elements, particularly landing page design.

Compuware’s experience was that all of this can be monitored and improved using Google Analytics.

Conclusion

There are obviously many factors to consider when choosing an analytics program to communicate how your online marketing efforts are progressing, where changes are needed, and what specific campaigns or approaches are exceeding expectations. For large corporations, the lesson to be learned from the Kellogg and Compuware experiences is that it’s not always necessary to spend a lot of money to solve a problem — one should not simply assume that because a tool is free, that it is without worth for all but the simplest tasks. Keep an open mind, explore all possibilities, and you may be surprised at how valuable “free” can really be.

Bonus Tip : Aggregate the Google Analytics Profile for International Websites

A good approach is to aggregate the Google Analytics profile across the international top-level domains. Doing this allows you to differentiate someone who arrived at your .com website but then switched over to the .ca site to check prices in Canadian dollars from looking like a visitor who left one domain and arrived at another as a new visitor.

Why aggregate the profile in Google Analytics? If you treat each site separately, you’ll inadvertently change your website data; increasing visits and number of visitors while decreasing conversion rates. To aggregate multiple websites, simply use the same UA number on all of your websites. Then simply deploy the same Google Analytics code snippet across all your websites (this is a snap if they share a common template).

About the Author

Catherine Juon is the co-founder and catalyst at Pure Visibility, an experienced Internet marketing company in Ann Arbor, Michigan that serves companies (including the Kellogg Company and Compuware) who are invested in turning their online marketing into a competitive advantage that drives sales growth.

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