Google Analytics (GA) has become a major force in online analytics and campaign tracking. Partly because it’s free, and partly because it’s simple, it is extremely popular, providing rich data collection opportunities on visitor behavior, content analysis, campaign tracking, and other performance metrics pertaining to PPC campaigns. In turn, PPC advertising is attractive in part due to the ease of collecting and analyzing data. More data — specifically data at the keyword level — gives us more choices, which allows more opportunities to make campaigns work.
GA can provide more detailed analysis than AdWords and track multiple goals by keyword, along with numerous other data patterns at the website level. While good arguments exist to favor engine-side tracking systems for day-to-day management capabilities, everyone can benefit from tapping into GA data to learn more about a campaign’s performance and opportunities to increase ROI.
Learning new tools takes time, but here are five ways to use GA in your search marketing efforts, each requiring a small investment of time to learn.
1. Tracking New/Different Metrics. — One simple but powerful GA feature is goal tracking. Similar to AdWords conversion tracking, it offers more in both data and reports. For any profile you can set up to four goals, which can be any conversion type, such as sales, downloads, contact page hits, key product page views, etc. Looking at how a single visitor impacts several goal metrics, begin to think of keywords in terms of the full value delivered, not just the primary goal’s value.
Another major advantage of GA over engine-side tools is in collecting transaction data by keyword. While simple systems only count the number of orders, GA shows e-commerce metrics, allowing for more thoughtful optimization decisions. For example, if two keywords drive the same number of sales, but one is three times more profitable, AdWords counts the keywords as equal, while GA shows the real value — useful for bidding decisions, budgets, keyword expansion, optimization, and beyond.
How To: Goals are set at the Profile level. Goal and e-commerce data is available throughout GA’s reporting, including the “Traffic Sources” and “Custom Reporting” features. Enable e-commerce reporting by setting the E-Commerce Website radio button to “yes.”
2. Adjusting Keyword Bids. — GA’s metrics and reports are useful for optimization, including cutting wasted clicks. For keywords with limited primary goal data, secondary goal data may help with optimization choices. Let’s say Keyword A and Keyword B each have some clicks, but no sales as yet. Overall, the campaign is efficient, but you want to make spending cuts while retaining as much value as possible. The dilemma is what to cut, since neither keyword has sales figures to help the decision. If GA shows that Keyword A has driven many more views of the product pages than Keyword B, that additional value could help with a decision, particularly on a tight or shrinking budget.
GA considers other data points — such as bounce rates and pages-per-visit by keyword — that may reveal subtle traffic behavior patterns. Using bounce rates, for example, you can move beyond cost-per-action (CPA) metrics and optimize keyword bids by high bounce rates. In addition, when you’re looking at the tail but lack enough primary goal data to make decisions, secondary GA metrics can help cut costs or speed along data collection for seemingly relevant traffic.
How To: The “Traffic Sources” report contains goal data down to the keyword level, along with bounce and page/visit statistics.
3. Finding New Volume. — GA provides many opportunities to use website data to grow campaign volume. To expand your keyword list, use GA’s organic keyword stats to find new keywords and combinations from natural traffic stats. Just looking at inbound organic keywords may provide new ideas to test. Use existing GA performance data to predict which will be most successful in terms of goals and other metrics. You can also increase conversions from existing traffic by using GA to assess and improve conversion rate. Look at Content section reports to see which pages have the best conversion rates — there may be product or information pages that convert well, but to which you are not yet sending click traffic.
Also look at navigation patterns and percentages to gauge customer segmentation. For example, for a shoe site you may have a product page you deliver traffic to where users choose between business shoes, casual shoes, hiking boots, and others. Use GA to see what percentage of current traffic (or traffic by unique source) chooses each navigation option and conversion rates for each choice. For generic keywords, this process can be especially insightful, teaching you the approximate customer mix for keywords with broad, unknown appeal. In this case, if “business shoes” had a low traffic share, but better order revenue and profit metrics, you might increase bids on those terms or focus keyword expansion on those types of phrases. Digging into analytics provides an opportunity for you to learn more about your business and expand campaigns from there.
How To: Find organic keyword data under “Traffic Sources,” “Search Engines,” and then adjust the pull-down to “Keyword.” You can view existing or potential landing pages with custom reporting, selecting “Content” attributes as the dimension and “Goal” data (or other options) for the metrics.
4. Ensuring Common/Consistent Data Sources. — GA has a very simple but powerful campaign tracking function for tracking nearly any online marketing campaign from a direct-response perspective. Although counts from different tracking systems typically vary, use GA data as a common baseline for traffic from various sources. By using GA campaign tags in the URLs for different campaigns (that include tracking keywords), it is easy to compare the GA baseline data to that which other vendors provide.
GA can be set up to automatically import costs from your AdWords account and integrate that data with other GA metrics. Interestingly, GA commonly undercounts AdWords reports by 5%-10% (they report slightly different data). The data should be close, but keep in mind that even within Google itself, no two systems count the same. If you do find significant tracking discrepancies versus vendor reports, use GA to check inbound referrers for new untracked or unlabeled traffic from the vendor to find and resolve errors in tracking. Using GA as a redundant, common, consistent data source can be helpful in troubleshooting and negotiations.
How To: To verify or troubleshoot traffic from ad campaigns, make sure to use the proper GA tags in inbound URLs for those campaigns. Go to “Traffic Sources,” “Campaigns” for traffic counts and performance, and compare to what the vendor is reporting. Also use GA data to assess website performance data of existing campaigns.
5. Distinguishing Primary Management From Secondary Management. — GA is not a campaign management tool, but an analytics package. Regardless of the useful data found there, you still need a simple way to make changes to your AdWords account. Assuming you use the GUI itself, AdWords Editor, or some third-party tool to manage campaigns, it is unlikely that GA data exists in those tools. At some point, if you like the data that GA provides, you’ll have to figure out how to quickly and simply get it into a format useful for actual account changes.
If the metrics you track in AdWords are the same as you track in GA (one conversion = one goal), then the two systems are already speaking the same language, and you should see similar trends in both. However, if you are taking full advantage of GA’s features, you will have data from GA needing to be translated into what to bid, etc., in AdWords. You could carry out some Excel analysis, keep track of the keywords that need changes, and use the AdWords tools to implement changes. Or you could make most changes in AdWords, do a secondary analysis using GA, cherry-picking opportunities and using GA data for better optimization on certain keywords only.
For example, let’s say you run a cost-per-lead (CPL)-based business closing sales offline on the phone. You do a good job optimizing keyword bids, ads, and landing page choices, use AdWords to keep the maximum CPL in mind, and bid down keywords beyond that CPL. However, sales are phone-based, so ROI isn’t obvious. Meanwhile, your offline sales team tells you new customers often mention a certain whitepaper, which is becoming a pattern in closing sales. You set up a goal to track that whitepaper, and check which keywords drive leads that include a download. This is secondary, since CPL is the main optimization metric, but keywords driving whitepaper downloads get extra credit in the bidding process. If you need to cut costs, you can selectively bid down or cut keywords with a low incidence of whitepaper visits. In this way, AdWords is the simple means for day-to-day management, but GA’s secondary analysis provides additional optimization. As long as you’re able to get control of results, any combination of systems will work.
The above tactics are surface-level ways in which search marketers can use the free GA tool to drive PPC campaign performance. If this seems like a blend of traditional search marketing and gritty analytics work, that’s because it is. As search becomes increasingly competitive, analytics data — and a fully integrated marketing plan that spans job titles — will provide additional actionable data to make you more knowledgeable and successful online. GA is a good start, as well as a worthy comparative for other systems.