Written by Scott Orth –
One of the first requirements I have for every new client is Administrator access to their Google Analytics account.
What if they don’t have Google Analytics, you ask? What planet are they on?
Seriously, why wouldn’t a business utilize one of the most powerful free tools ever offered in any business setting in the history of business? It’s a must-have tool, and there is simply no excuse to be without it (You may have a different program. That’s fine. As long as it gives us the ability to filter, connect, cross-reference, and drill down through current and historical data streams).
Running a business online without proper analytics is like running a race blindfolded.
- Do you drive at night without your headlights on?
- Would you jump out of an airplane without verifying that it’s a parachute on your back and not just a random backpack?
How about your business? If you had an important business decision to make… choose path 1 or path 2; one of which could make your business wildly successful, while the other could put you out of business, would you simply choose one path on a whim, or would you do a little research before making such an important decision?
In business, smart decisions are made after thoroughly understanding the entire decision environment, analyzing data, information, and intelligence, and forecasting likely results from potential decisions. So it continues to amaze me how many businesses are online today that either have no analytics installed, or that have the tools, but no one looks at the data. And yet decisions are made daily that are nothing more than a gamble without properly dissecting available data.
To make smart business decisions you need information. You need data. You need analytics.
We use analytics as a cornerstone of everything we do for our clients. On the surface, we use Google Analytics data on a daily basis to track and monitor the success of our client’s websites, their traffic, social media follow through, leads, sales, downloads… whatever means success to each business.
But below the surface we also use this data to determine historical trends and paths. We use it to explore potential opportunities, we use it to build client profits and often times to save them money, and we use it to solve problems or questions about a client’s business, customers, or sales.
In the end, this data is highly valuable business intelligence that can give you a map for current and future business decisions and planning. Without such data, you could be making bad decisions for your business.
Often times our use of Google Analytics is a simple day-to-day process to track and monitor success; but every so often we get a fantastic opportunity to dig deeper and uncover things that can truly change a business for the better. The following is an example of such a case.
We have a client on the East Coast that sells supplies and equipment to both businesses and consumers. They primarily sell online and have been quite successful over the years.
They approached me after a less-than-stellar year of online sales, and some conflicting data that was directing them into important business planning decisions; though the numbers just didn’t add up.
About six months prior to contacting me, my client changed several dozen elements on their website, modified their product listing structure (ecommerce), and boosted their investment in Pay-per-Click advertising.
Google Analytics was in place, and they had appointed responsibility of the data to their in-house web developer. The data looked great. Traffic was blossoming after making the numerous updates to their website, both Pay-per-Click (PPC) and Organic traffic surged, and PPC was cranking out conversions at an unusually high rate, with a fantastically low Cost per Acquisition. They couldn’t be happier.
But something was amiss. Though data was showing great gains, and their internal team was celebrating their new success; their bank account was not reflecting these sales growths.
They believed the data they were getting from Google Analytics, and the analysis of their developer, so they pumped more money into PPC to crank up sales. The more they spent, the higher the conversions. Yet, their accountant continued to be skeptical. So they called me.
On our first call, my client listed the following issues and questions to me and asked that I analyze their business and find some answers for them:
- Why are our conversions so high, but profits seem far too low?
- Why have our organic rankings and traffic dropped over the past few months?
- Did we break something on the site?
- Did we get penalized from Google?
- We’re looking to increase our $30k/mo spend on PPC to an $80k/mo spend. Can you show us a sales and profit model to prove the increase is a good decision?
How Google Analytics (and a little digging) Saved the Day:
I had many paths to go down in order to answer their questions. But to start, I needed to understand their website data history, traffic trends, and sales patterns. So I dug into Google Analytics.
Based on my initial conversation with my client I already had some clues:
- They made a bunch of changes to their website six months ago
- Their organic traffic dropped but conversions did not
- Their PPC data was showing a conversion rate of 75% (that just doesn’t happen)
My most immediate concern was their PPC environment and the decision they were about to make to nearly triple their spend on that channel. So I started there.
Sure enough, their Google Adwords account looked pretty good on the surface. They were getting clicks like nothing I had seen before. Ad Impressions were high, Click Through was respectable, but total clicks were incredibly high, especially when looking at the high rate of conversion.
I noticed right away that their keywords were all “Broad matched”, which to explain simply without going into PPC education, simply means they are as general as they could be (not usually a good thing). This alerted me to a potential data setup problem.
Cross referencing the data from Adwords to Google Analytics helped solidify my assumption. And an analysis of the website code itself confirmed it. My client had inadvertently installed conversion tracking code on non-conversion pages. Let me explain:
To track a conversion, a specific page should be landed on… the “conversion page”. This is usually the ‘Thank You’ page that follows a completed transaction, because this page only ever displays when someone fully completes a transaction… or conversion.
In the case of my client, they had the conversion code placed on the Thank You page… but also on the checkout page AND the Product page. This means that every visitor who looked at a specific product page was counted as a conversion; when they hadn’t actually purchased anything at all. And those who did convert were counted 3 times… product page, checkout page, and finally the actual conversion page.
Solution 1: Fix Analytic Code Installation
Based on our initial findings, we repaired the install of both the Google Analytic and Google Adwords Conversion code, and were then able to produce a real and accurate picture of what was happening on their website and with their PPC efforts. We also repaired their ecommerce tracking setup within Google Analytics, which gave them better product and transaction-level sales data.
Next up – In looking for the errors we found above, one of the things that threw up red flags for me was the high traffic level in their PPC account. Now that Analytics were repaired and we were tracking true and appropriate data, I needed to monitor PPC closely, because I knew there was trouble ahead. And I was right.
Within days of fixing the analytic tracking discrepancies, PPC began to show its true face. Conversion was not at 75%. It was at 0.06%. My client was not earning $70k per month on their PPC activities as the data was showing them… Instead they were losing more than $10k per month.
Years of Pay-per-Click experience told me when I first looked at the account, that there was no way that many general keywords were producing quality clicks.
Solution 2: Rebuild Google Adwords Account
We slashed, dashed, dissected, and ripped apart their PPC account. Okay not really. Instead, we paused ALL of their campaigns and started fresh. Nothing they had setup showed promise – so we used our expertise to do it right. New campaigns, structured ad groups, highly targeted keywords with a heavy product-level focus, and a multitude of new ad copy variations to test for proper results. We shaved more than 60% off of their monthly ad spend, while also tracking a respectable 6.2% conversion rate. Now they could truly celebrate profits from PPC.
The final step was to find the cause of their organic ranking and traffic drop. For this, I looked to one of the first clues in our launch conversation… all the recent changes they had made to the website.
This project required a more complete audit of the website, and tracking of landing page and keyword query drops in Google Analytics. Though I found numerous SEO problems with the website, the clear indicators for the recent drop were shown within Google Analytics.
I compared landing page and keyword query data from several months prior to the changes they implemented, with the first several months after the changes. By cross referencing top queries and pages I was able to hone in on a handful of areas that had dropped.
Though the website needed numerous SEO improvements, the root cause of the sudden drop appeared to be a change in the URL and product-naming structure within a couple of categories of product types, as well as a technical issue that was duplicating some of the pages in repeating URL fashion (the database kept adding the page name to the end of the URL string over and over creating a long thread of duplicated pages).
Solution 3: Repair Site for Search Engine Optimization
We actually delved into a full and complete SEO campaign to grow our client’s organic reach, which got substantial results and boosted traffic and sales. But to the point of this case study, we started by reverting to the prior product naming format and repairing the URL structure to its proper format, fixed the database URL repeating issue, refreshed the XML sitemap and submitted to Google and Bing/Yahoo. Every one of the dropped pages and organic rankings were back to their previous levels within 2 months.
The total campaign for our client went on for quite some time; but the initial problems they came to us about were analyzed and repaired in just under 3 months.
The results were a game-changer for our client. They realized the importance of not just having Google Analytics; but of truly understanding the data, how to analyze it, and when to flag events or trend-changes in order to make proper decisions for business and profit building.
Had they not had Google Analytics installed, how could we have properly discovered where their issues were? How could we have intelligently consulted them on the most profitable use of their marketing budget? And how would we have uncovered fantastic opportunities for new product and marketing growth opportunities?
Through the use of their analytics data we were able to:
- Uncover why their conversions were so high, yet profits didn’t match up – and then repair their tracking installation so that future data would be accurate
- Determine the root cause of their organic ranking and traffic drop and repair it to its prior levels, as well as uncover opportunities for improved conversion from organic traffic
- Decrease their PPC spend by 60%, while boosting revenues by more than $60k per month through PPC only.
- Advise them against a drastic increase in PPC, but instead to massage and nurture the new PPC environment we had set up.
- We then delivered a complete sales forecast based on attribution (shared) channels in combination with usability and ecommerce funnel improvements, all based on the new (and accurate) data we were receiving from Google Analytics.
- Create new revenues of $198,362 in the first 2 months working with them (ended up creating more than $1.5M in new revenue in the first year of our project together)
Don’t go forward blindly. If you don’t have Google Analytics installed today – get it done. Simply go to www.google.com/analytics and sign up.
Once you have this data, make sure you know what the data means and how to use it. What I’ve described above is a tiny sample of the type of data you can garner from analytics.
Based on my experience, I would venture to say that analytics could be the most powerful tool you have at your disposal, and…
“With great power comes great responsibility.” – Uncle Ben, Spiderman
Scott Orth is the Owner of Thrive Business Marketing and an independent contract Consultant focused on the stability and growth of businesses through online marketing efforts. His expertise in online customer acquisition and customer experience strategies has directly created over $100 Million in revenue for his clients in the past 5 years.