Episode 11: Google Analytics for Business with Kyle Akerman, Independent Consultant

Transcript:

Intro:

This is the Marketing Hero Podcast by ClearPivot, turning marketers into heroes.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Welcome to the Marketing Hero Podcast. Have you ever asked yourself the question, “Is my marketing even working?” Well, keep listening because we've got the episode for you. Joining us today is Kyle Akerman, a Google Analytics consultant who helps his clients decipher what the heck all those numbers mean and get actual business insights. Google Analytics can be complicated even for the smartest marketers out there. And Kyle helps to simplify what you're seeing and analyze that data for the good of your business. Kyle Akerman, welcome to the show.

Kyle Akerman:

Thanks for having me. That was an amazing intro. I'm going to put some of that copy on my website, I think.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Hey, feel free. So let's start off with a question we like to ask all of our guests. What's your favorite part of your job? And how did you figure that favorite part out?

Kyle Akerman:

Ah, that is a good question. I have a background in engineering. I was doing that before I moved into the marketing world. And I enjoy solving problems and answering questions and that's really all that I'm doing. That's what I'm using analytics to do is to answer business questions and marketing questions and solving that puzzle. If I find something that's not measuring correctly, trying to debug why it's not working, fixing it, that kind of stuff. And the second part would be teaching. I love helping marketers who their job, it's not their job to be an expert in analytics, but they want to be data-driven and understand it, but they don't necessarily have the time to learn the ins and outs of Google Analytics. I love helping them learn just what they need to know to do their job better.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Wonderful. Can you back up for a second and just tell us, in a nutshell, what is Google Analytics and why is it so important for marketers to know about?

Kyle Akerman:

Well, at its core, it's a tool for answering your marketing questions. So the way it does that is it measures pretty much everything that's happening on your website, or if you have an app. You set up a little snippet of code that you get from Google, you put it on all the pages of your website or your app, if that's what you're trying to measure. And then it starts giving you information about how people found your website, what traffic sources they use to get there. You know what they're doing on the site, what pages they look at, how they move around the site and then what actions they take. Did they fill out a form on your sign up for my demo? Did they click on the contact us button? Whatever the goal is you want them to do or the easiest thing is like with an e-commerce platform, did they buy something?

So it tells you, they call it the ABC. Acquisition, where did people come from? Behavior, what are they doing on your site? And then conversions, what outcomes did they complete? At a high level, that's the kind of thing that you can answer with Google Analytics.

Maia Morgan Wells:

So Kyle ABC, that sounds pretty darn simple. Why is Google Analytics so complicated for most business owners or even marketing people to really understand?

Kyle Akerman:

Well, I think it starts with the fact that there's hundreds of reports, and then also the set up, the out of the box set up, it's kind of incomplete. It'll give you a lot of those basic things like, where did visitors come from? What page views are people looking at, but there's a lot of things that you need that require additional setup that they kind of leave it on you to figure out. You can take their classes or you can talk to the subject matter experts or read their blogs to try to figure out. But I think there's so many reports and there's so many details to the setups and the reporting that people just don't have time. If you're a content creator, you don't really have time to look at the numbers and figure out Google Analytics because you're pressed for time to get out those blog posts or those emails or write the copy for the ad. I think that that's some of the issues with it.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Can you tell us what are the basic elements of a more healthy Google Analytics setup? You were mentioning that out of the box, maybe it might be a little incomplete. What are the most important things you advise your clients to do to really set Google Analytics up correctly?

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah. There's still some best practices. So I throw them into three buckets when I'm helping people with the setup, like the organization of the data, and then making sure we have the accuracy correct and then complete, are we measuring that we want to measure? With the organization, that's making sure that... In Google Analytics you have outs and then properties and then views. And typically what I see you look at your data in the view, and typically what you want to do there is set up three views. You have like a primary view, a test view, and like a raw view. The primary one is the one that you'll look at. That's where you get all of your data and your analysis, you look at those numbers.

The test view, that's where it's like a sandbox, that's where you can test out things that permanently alter your data. If you're trying to apply a filter to your data, something like that, you want to test that in the test view and then when it works, you can apply it to the primary view. And then the raw view it's your backup so you rarely ever look at that, but it's there in case you mess up something in the other two. And then with regards to accuracy and completeness, accuracy is looking for, do you have a double counting, maybe? A lot of times I'll see somebody who has two instances of the GA code on their page. So that means every time somebody hits the page, it's logging two pages.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Is that a pretty common mistake?

Kyle Akerman:

That happens a lot.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Oh, wow. Okay.

Kyle Akerman:

I see it more than you would imagine.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Okay.

Kyle Akerman:

Also, things like... And that same problem can also mess up your bounce rate, things like that. Another one that's kind of hard for people to... Or they just don't know what they don't know is tracking emails properly. If you're a company that uses email a lot with links back to your website, you have to tell Google that that visit came from an email. Because they don't know, they can only tell out of the box, they only know if a visitor came from a search engine or a referring websites, or perhaps a paid ad. You use these things called UTM campaign tag, and they just get appended to the end of the link that you're sharing. And basically that tells Google, Hey, this click came from an email.

If you use a lot of email and then you go into your traffic report and you either don't even see email listed as a traffic source or it's, the number is really small, you probably don't have it set up correctly. And where those visits actually are, they're showing up in the direct traffic bucket and direct is kind of the catch all bucket, where they put things that they can't identify. So that's a big one. Another one is not setting up goals. Google doesn't know how you measure success on your website. So the only way to tell it is to set up some goals and a very common one is, they call it a destination URL, like a thank you page.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right.

Kyle Akerman:

If somebody wanted to sign up for, I don't know, your newsletter, or fill out a form to contact you or schedule a demo well, after they fill out that form, you might send them to a separate page, like thank you slash demo or something. We could set that up as a goal because the only way they can reach that page is if they filled out the form. What's another one? And then filtering out employee traffic. It's a little more difficult now with everybody working from home. But if you're normally in an office and everyone is on the same IP addresses or range of addresses, you want to filter them out of your data because they're not your audience. They're never going to buy from you.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right.

Kyle Akerman:

But they are probably visiting your site a lot. And so you want to remove that traffic. I think the worst I've ever seen was, it was a big university. 30% of their visits were from internal employees.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Wow. And Kyle, what kind of impacts does that have when you're getting into the analytics phase, which we'll talk about a little bit more here. If you're tracking that, if you're seeing 30% being internal people, what kind of impacts does that have on the decisions you're making with that data?

Kyle Akerman:

Well, I think the biggest problem is you're looking at that so that's a big chunk of behavior that's showing up in your data and you just think that that's customer behavior or prospect behavior, but it's not. It's just giving you wrong data and you could be basing your decisions off of that and not even knowing it. It's just that you're getting data from visitors that aren't prospects.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Yeah. That does make a lot of sense. That's a lot of stuff to set up for a healthy Google Analytics set up. How do people-

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah. And there's probably more. Sorry to cut you off. Those are the big ones.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Do people normally try to do this on their own? Let's say I'm a marketing director at a SaaS company or a marketing director at a senior living facility.

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah.

Maia Morgan Wells:

What do you usually see? Are people just getting the Google Analytics code, putting it in the HTML head for their website and leaving it at that? Or what do you normally see as far as, how far do people get with this healthy setup?

Kyle Akerman:

I've seen everything. I think it depends on the size of the company. And then maybe just the level of data-driven culture. The companies I work with that are very data-driven, they usually have a more complete set up. I'll still find some things that they're missing, but it's usually a little better, but when I'm working with smaller companies or maybe smaller marketing team where somebody just threw the code up there, or maybe they have like the IT department do it and they just looked it up how to do it on a blog post and put it up there. And so that's where I start to see a few more mistakes in implementation, but I always try to tell people, a lot of these are common mistakes. And Google doesn't give you a ton of guidance on this stuff. I'm not surprised when I see implementations that are correct, because again, most people that are just, they're part of a small marketing team, maybe not even their job, somebody just said, "Hey, go hook up analytics."

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right.

Kyle Akerman:

And they did the best they could.

Maia Morgan Wells:

And then when you run into those types of situations, do you feel like those teams are actually using the analytics in any way? Just from our perspective, we see that type of thing a lot too. Let's throw up the code, great. It's there. And then nobody ever looks at Google Analytics again. What do you typically see? Is that something that kind of prevents any great data and analytics from being used at all?

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah, I see that exact same thing and it makes sense.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right. Yeah.

Kyle Akerman:

Because, if it tells me... I can tell there's certain things that I can see in the setup that I can tell that nobody has ever looked at this data, because if they did some of these things would stand out, but-

Maia Morgan Wells:

Well, tell us more. Can you give us an example of something you've seen that you're like, "Oh my goodness. I don't think anyone's logged in here for months." And then what's the impact on the business because of that?

Kyle Akerman:

An easy one that I see is, if somebody set up a goal, say like, completing a contact us form. And if I look over a long range of time and that goal equals zero, like it is never, I am like nobody's ever looked at this because if I saw zero for one of my key metrics, I would be trying to figure out what's wrong. So that's an example where I'm like, yeah, nobody's looking at this.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Yeah.

Kyle Akerman:

Or in just a traffic report, if you see any stretches of zero visits on a website. For, I'm talking about weeks and months, that tells me nobody's looking at the data, because you would see that quickly. Because it's hard to miss zeros, especially if you're looking on a regular basis.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right. That's true. You would notice something like that. And so when you see that have you seen it as a problem with the way that the analytics was set up or do you think that it's literally, their site is really not getting any views?

Kyle Akerman:

Usually when you see flatlines or zeros, that's usually just a set up issue. If you're working with really small companies, they may have days where there's no visits, but most of the people that I've worked with have 100, 1000, 10,000 visits a day or a week. And so if they ever hit zero, that's usually something broke.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Something's going on that you need to look at, right?

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah. And in the case of a goal, it probably just means they've set it up wrong because again, it's a little tricky to get it set up right, especially the logic of it. Because you can have one character in the text be off and you'll not measure correctly. One of the things I always do is trust but verify. So basically that means I trust that this goal is set up correctly, but now I'm going to go verify it. I will literally go fill out the form and make sure that that goal gets logged in my analytics. And then when I see it show up, I'm like, okay, that works under the next item.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Yeah. That sounds like a great way to test it. Let me ask you Kyle, how does this relate to people who may be using systems that are also telling them information like that? One thing I'm thinking of is a system like HubSpot or Act-On for example, or even like a MailChimp, there's a lot of systems out there that people are using for email marketing, for forms, advertising those different types of things. Have you talked with many clients about using systems like that and how it's operating with Google Analytics and how those two things are interacting? Can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah. Every one of those is a little bit different. Sometimes they're kind of reporting on some of the same things. I think HubSpot will tell you like visits and page views and some goal conversions and then people always wonder, well, why are the numbers the same?

Maia Morgan Wells:

That's a huge question. All right, everyone listen up because this is the answer you've been waiting for from the mouth of Kyle Akerman. Why are the numbers different Kyle? Tell us.

Kyle Akerman:

Well, this might not be what you want to hear, but there's two things. A lot of times the metrics aren't measured the same way. So the first thing you need to do is whatever the metric is that you see that different, you need to see, okay, how does Google define it and how does HubSpot define it? I don't use HubSpot a ton, but I think there's a difference in maybe how they record a visit or a session. So that's the first thing, make sure that your definitions are the same.

And then the second thing too, is maybe just how the code fires, because you're working with two different tools and there's timing issues because a lot of times these are just using JavaScript. So that JavaScript has to load on the page to activate the measurements. Sometimes some of the code won't even fire. It might in one system, but not in the other system. The thing to think about with, if you're trying to compare these things is compare the trends instead of the exact numbers, so that the numbers will probably be close, they'll be similar, but just make sure that they're trending together over time. Because it could be even Google Analytics, there's many issues that can cause it to be inaccurate. Like when we're doing analysis in Google Analytics, you just focus more on the trends versus getting an exact number.

Maia Morgan Wells:

That's fair. I think we can accept that answer. If we are feeling like it's accurate, if we feel like we have everything set up correctly, things seem to be trending correctly, we don't see flat lines and it seems like our Google Analytics is doing all right, what reports should we actually be focusing on in Google Analytics? What are the most important either views that we want to set up, custom views or? Talk to me a little bit about the most important reports we need to be looking at.

Kyle Akerman:

It's going to be a little different for every business, but some of the things that are common are, there's usually a couple of reports I look at in each of the ABC categories. In acquisition, you're probably going to be looking at either the channel report or the source media report. And those two kind of go hand in hand. Channel report is the kind of higher level buckets, there you're comparing traffic to your site from email, paid ads, organic search engines, referring websites and social, and maybe some other ones. But so those are kind of the high level buckets.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Okay.

Kyle Akerman:

And then you can drill down one level by looking at the source medium report. And so there it gets one step more detailed. So instead of the category or the role of data saying organic search, it'll say Google organic or being organic or in place of, the same thing with ads you might see Google CPC or being CPC. And then you'll see individual referring website, versus just a line that says referral. I think it's good to look at those two on the acquisition side. Behavior, I have two reports I primarily looked at, I look at the landing page report because that's where people's start their journey every time they hit your website. So that gives you an idea of where they're entering. That's important, especially if you create a lot of content. I like to know if are more people coming in on my content pages or are they coming in on either my homepage or like my money pages, your service or your product pages.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Where are they finding you? How are they landing?

Kyle Akerman:

You have the generic, just a page view reports. So that's just the amount of consumption. If you want to know just your top pages by page views. And then I always look at a conversion report, where are people converting?

Maia Morgan Wells:

Okay. That makes great sense. And then just for our marketers out there, I know many of us think of landing pages as a landing page is trying to get someone to fill out a form. And so I think Kyle, just to clarify, you're using the word landing page as in the first page they come to in the website, it may not actually be a quote unquote landing page as us marketers would call it.

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah, that's a great point. And I think maybe Google does a disservice in the tool calling it landing pages. They could remove some confusion by maybe calling it like entrance pages or something like that.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Yeah. Right.

Kyle Akerman:

But it's in the nomenclature of Google Analytics, a landing page is the first page of your site that somebody hits, like where do they start their visit? So yeah, that confuses people all the time and I get it because a lot of times people are creating a standalone form, especially if it's coming from an ad click or something like that.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right. Oh yeah. We spend a lot of time and energy thinking about and creating our landing pages. So I know the marketers out there are going to be thinking about that. We talked about reports, we talked about where we should be focusing on. I really want to get into this question on what's the difference between reporting and analytics, because I know that you make a big difference between that. And it's really not just about, hey, looking at a report, it's about what are you going to do about that report? And I would love for you to talk through a little bit about that. What is the difference between reporting versus analytics?

Kyle Akerman:

Reporting is just collecting the numbers, whatever numbers you're looking at, whether it's from HubSpot or Google Analytics or MailChimp or whatever, and then just showing it to people, that's like you're not giving it, you're not saying what it means.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right.

Kyle Akerman:

So that's kind of what analytics is or the verb I guess, would be analyzing. You're looking at the data and trying to decide why the data is the way it is, what it means and what you should do next. The best way to do this is you have to start with questions that you want to answer. If you send a lot of emails, like three or four a week, maybe you want to know which, this is very basic, but which email to got tagged the highest click through rate.

And then it would be, but why? Did we have a really good offering in that email? Was the copy really persuasive? You can start to get to the why, but it's giving context to the numbers, that's a huge part of it. A number by itself doesn't really tell you anything. If you said, "We had 10 sales qualified leads this month." I don't know if that's good or bad.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right.

Kyle Akerman:

But if you put it in context of, "Well, the previous month we have one," and I'm like, Oh great. We just 10Xed our leads. So giving context to numbers and that can also be too, I think you kind of alluded to it earlier, you using segmentation. What are the important segments in your data? Is it a traffic source? Is it a location? If you do like regional marketing, maybe you want to compare like California visits versus New York, if you're running different paid ads with version A better than version B. Digging down into the data, asking more targeted questions, is that's how you can start to do better analytics too.

Maia Morgan Wells:

And then this might be a little bit of a tough question here.

Kyle Akerman:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Maia Morgan Wells:

But if I have some of that data from other systems, like let's say I'm using HubSpot to send an email. I know where they clicked on the email, probably even better than Google Analytics would be able to tell me so that I can then say, Oh, well, this content resonated better than maybe this text link or whatever that might be. I may be able to look at heat maps on my website and see where people were hovering the longest. And I mean, gosh, there's so many tools out there, right Kyle?

Kyle Akerman:

Right.

Maia Morgan Wells:

What is the value of Google Analytics in this situation? I know people out there are just using so many different tools. Why are you a fan of Google Analytics?

Kyle Akerman:

Well, I like the fact that we can measure a lot of things that are happening on our site. You can't measure everything and there's issues with some of the accuracy, but you do the best you can. I like that it's free or that I should say there's a free version. Anybody can use it. You don't have to be a Fortune 500 company to use Google Analytics. And you mentioned, it's just a piece of the puzzle. It's a pretty big piece, but it's just a way to get more insights into what you're doing. I get frustrated with marketers who, they spend all this time and effort and money doing things, but they don't know what works. And I'm like, "Hey, you know there's a tool that can help you figure out what is working?"

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right.

Kyle Akerman:

I think that's the opportunity for us to get more insights into how our marketing is working. Especially if you're strapped for time or you have limited budgets. Like if analytics can help you see what's performing the best so that you can spend more of your time or more of your budgets in that area versus some other areas that maybe aren't working as well.

Maia Morgan Wells:

100%. Tell us, you work with clients one-on-one I know that you do, we do work with people quite often that are doing just that, that are saying, "Okay, let me figure out what is working. Is my marketing working?" That was the question we started this podcast out with. Can you share with us a success story from one of your clients is maybe what was their relationship with Google Analytics before working with you? How did you help them to fix it up? And then what happened with their business afterward? Were they able to have those insights? Does anybody come to mind that you can share a story with us of a client that you've worked with, who finally turned the corner with Google Analytics and started making some great progress with their marketing?

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah, I'm trying to think. I have a couple examples. I've seen this a couple times, especially this year because everybody's buying stuff online, even more than normal. I see a lot of people measuring duplicate transactions in their e-commerce. So that inflates so that if they're basing their marketing decisions off of that, they then that might steer them towards the wrong channels to focus on the marketing. I see it a lot with people that spend a lot on ads. I was working with a company that sells, it's an e-commerce platform, but they sell CBD products and they were spending a lot of money per month on ads. And the ad agency had them sending people just to the home page.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Oh, ouch.

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah. There was like no conversions happening, nobody was buying anything or signing up for the newsletter, but they were spending three, four or five grand a month. And I was like, "Hey, you might want to either pause this or send them to a different page because the whole flow there, it's not helping you much." So we identified maybe a better page to send people to, like maybe a specific product page or something. And then we changed the copy and aligned things better in that sense. So then they actually started to see some increased sales from the ad platform.

Conversely, I worked with a nonprofit who I think they were working with a partner who would place ads on their site. Well, they were double counting their page views, not on purpose, but so they were telling potential ad partners, they're like, "Hey, we get, I don't know 100,000 page views a month," when really they were getting 50,000. And so when I showed them that they were like, "Oh my God, our partners are going to be..." They thought they were getting way more impressions. But we remedied that. Those are a couple of examples, especially with e-commerce things just discovering where people are falling out of the funnel. Usually we've been able to find things that are broken, that could be like fill in your billing information. Well, maybe something's wrong with the form and it's having trouble accepting your credit card number or whatever the case. So we've been able to find some UX issues, sometimes it's browser based, but yeah, there's all kinds of different things that you can uncover.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Well, so it sounds like it's pretty beneficial to work with somebody like you if you are really wanting to get a handle on your Google Analytics. How can people get in touch with you if they're interested in knowing more about what you do and maybe how to work with you?

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah. You can go to my website. It's just my name. It's Kyleakerman.com, A-K-E-R-M-A-N. And if you're interested, I have a newsletter that I send out once or twice a week, you can sign up on the website. And it's mostly for marketers that are members of a small team trying to do everything, that they want to be more data-driven, but they don't have time and maybe they don't know what's working and what to look at in analytics. So I try to give them just the essential things they can look at to help them measure better and do their job better.

Maia Morgan Wells:

So some actionable tips coming to their inbox.

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah.

Maia Morgan Wells:

Right. Well, that sounds really helpful.

Kyle Akerman:

Yeah. And I invite anyone to connect with me on LinkedIn. I'm just /kyleakerman. I'm in Chicago. I don't know how many Kyle Akermans are on LinkedIn, but I'm the one in Chicago.

Maia Morgan Wells:

And we will also find all those links and link them in the show notes. So if you're listening and you're interested, you can just scroll right on down to click. Kyle, we really appreciate you joining us today on the Marketing Hero Podcast, it has been a pleasure. And we hope to talk to you again sometime.

Outro:

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