Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.
This often-repeated quote is attributed to the American marketing pioneer John Wannamaker. It still rings true a century later.
It’s bad enough when it’s just money. Fees for search ads, email software, design and PR services can add up to a sizeable item in our accounts. But it’s never just the money. Marketing today needs time. Time for researching keywords, writing blog posts, preparing emails and presentations, giving those interviews your PR folks set up.
And so often, it’s your time we’re talking about. Wouldn’t you like to be sure you’re investing it wisely? Even if you’re at the stage where you can hire extra people to help, are you confident they’re delivering the right results for your business?
Happily, we have a big advantage over John Wanamaker: we have data. Your web, email and social media marketing is constantly collecting information about your customers and how they’re responding to your marketing efforts. You just need to learn how to read it.
In this article, we’ll explore your website traffic, investigate your social media activity, and check how your web content is working. You may not want or need to dig into this data yourself on a regular basis. But if you know what kinds of questions it can answer, you can work more effectively with your marketing team.
The basic idea: build, measure, learn
If you’re familiar with Lean Startup, you’ll have already encountered this idea. Create a product or service, get feedback from customers, refine your product, repeat. It works for marketing, too, and data from your web analytics and your social media dashboards tells you what’s working, and helps you decide what to try next.
Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind:
Find your baseline
There’s no ‘normal’ in digital marketing. There’s only normal for you. If you’re already doing any marketing at all, you need to start at ‘measure’, not at ‘build’. Otherwise, you won’t know if any changes are the result of what you did or just chance. Get a feel for your current data before experimenting with new tactics.
Measure the right things
It’s easy to get sucked into looking for big numbers. More email signups, more visits, more followers and retweets. More doesn’t always mean better. Start from your business goals: do you want more followers of any kind, or more leads, or more purchases? Work out which metrics are important for your business. Remember to share them with any agencies or freelancers that you use.
Test one thing at a time
Do keep up with the latest ideas, the newest tools and trends. Don’t be afraid to experiment. But try to avoid testing all your ideas at once! If you change all your marketing tactics in one go you won’t know which one created any change.
With that basic approach in mind, let’s start digging into the data.
I’m not going to lie to you. It’s not the simplest reporting tool you’ll ever use. But Google Analytics might be the greatest free resource you’re not using. It has so much to tell you about your website and your wider marketing efforts:
- How many people visited
- Where they came from
- What device they used
- If they were new or returning visitors
- How long they stayed
- Which pages they looked at
- Which pages they passed through on their way to the checkout
- Whether they did what you expected like downloading a brochure or completing a form
- Where they left
Dig into Google Analytics to discover…
What’s the most effective way for you to attract visitors. Social, search, email or referral? It’s all here, down to the individual links that brought people to your site.
Which social media sites are best for you. Dig into Google Analytics to discover… Don’t waste time on a network if it’s not bringing you business. Check your analytics to see where you should be investing time instead. Or switch up your strategy until you find an approach that works better.
Which ads and emails are working. Campaign tags on your links those long lists of words starting with ‘utm_’ tell you exactly which ones did best. Mostly, your email and social tools set these up for you. If you want to get a bit more hands on, this article is a great primer.
Who is your audience? The better you know them, the more you can tailor your marketing to their needs. If everyone’s arriving on a smartphone, make sure your site looks awesome on a smartphone! You can also turn on audience demographic reporting to track age groups, gender and interests for your website visitors.
One final note on Google Analytics: before you rush off and explore, take time to set your account up properly, organise your reporting and filter out spam. This article walks you through the basics.
Social media analytics
It’s tempting to start your journey into data-driven marketing in your social media dashboard. The reports are easy to access, and usually simpler to read. But there’s no point studying your Twitter reports if that channel is not where your customers are. Start with Google Analytics to work out where you want to focus your effort. Then use social media analytics to maximise that stream of potential customers.
I like to use a mix of tools for this.
Twitter and Pinterest analytics show me the big picture. They report trends in followers, clicks, likes and other activity, as well as audience demographics. Facebook offer Insights for Pages, if that’s where your audience hangs out.
Social media dashboards are better for reporting on individual posts. I use Buffer to tell me which posts were most helpful in driving clicks, likes and shares. Hootsuite and other vendors offer similar features.
On social media, look for patterns. You might focus on increasing followers or interaction over time. Keep notes of when you change your posting frequency or timing, type or style of content. Then look for changes in the metrics that interest you.
You can also focus on successful posts, looking for common features that you can apply to increase the success of all your posts. Try different styles of post on the same topic, to see which works best. I like to save posts that did particularly well for later recycling.
For a super quick win, look at Buffer’s Optimal Scheduling Tool. It uses data on your followers to suggest the best times for you to share.
Google Analytics tells you what pages people visit. Social media analytics tells you how best to get them to visit. Content analytics tells you what they do on the page itself: where they click, and how far they read before they leave.
This kind of information used to be available only through expensive analytics tools, but SumoMe’s free plugin has made it accessible to everyone. Once you’ve installed SumoMe and enabled reporting on a page, you can track how far down people read, ether as a percentage, or as a coloured overlay on top of your article. There’s also a heat map option that shows exactly where people click.
Use this data to understand how people interact with the content you’ve worked so hard to write. It can be disturbing at first, to realise how little some people read! You might adjust the length of articles if you’re getting consistent early exits. Think about removing distractions elsewhere on the page, if they’re attracting unwanted clicks. Or move your calls to action further up, so that everyone sees them.
Knowledge is power
The data I’ve covered here is just a fraction of what’s available. Even so, you may find this is all you need to build more effective marketing tactics for your business.
And if you do decide to invest in more complex tools, then knowing even a little bit about marketing data puts you in a much more powerful position. You’ll be better equipped to choose a service that tells you the things you want and need to know.