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Google Analytics: Where marketing gets real

In his latest column, Ray Newman from PracticeWEB looks at the three most important functions in Google Analytics and examines what makes it such a valuable tool for accountants in the world of analytics.

10th Mar 2020
Editor PracticeWeb
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Tablet screen showing landing page on Google Analytics.
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I’ve read enough Any Answers threads and below-the-line comments on articles to know how some AccountingWEB readers feel about marketing.

And believe me, I get it – there’s a lot of what Professor Brian Cox calls ‘woo’ in the sector. Assertions where there should be evidence, ‘Sez you’ rolled in glitter and sleight of hand.

Google Analytics is one way to ground marketing in reality and make measuring return on investment (ROI) quick, easy and inarguable. And what’s more, this game-changing tool is completely free.

I’m also aware, however, that a lot of people log into their Analytics account precisely once, see 800 bafflingly-titled options, shudder and close the tab. 

This is a problem that afflicts most really sophisticated tools and, as with Photoshop or, yes, Excel, Analytics is best mastered by reading the manual, taking a course, or just playing around for as long as it takes to make sense.

For accountants in practice, though, for whom marketing is, let’s face it, just one small part of running a business, it can be hard to find time to gain that familiarity.

The good news is that you don’t need to know Analytics inside out to get value from it. I’m going to point out the three most useful functions and, by extension, which bits you can safely ignore for now.

Assuming you’ve got Analytics set up and the code embedded on your site, let’s start with the most useful information of all.

Audience

In the menu on the left, select ‘Audience’ and then ‘Overview’. You’ll see something that looks like this:

Screenshot of main tabs in Google Analytics side bar

This provides an at-a-glance readout on the number of visitors to your site, whether they’re the right visitors and the extent to which they’re actually engaging with your content.

With just this basic information, you can start to make important decisions about your marketing strategy.

For example, if website traffic is below what you’d expect, you might want to invest in getting found in web searches via search engine optimisation (SEO) or pay-per-click advertising, or by upping your game on social media.

On the other hand, if traffic stats are decent but the bounce rate is high and/or dwell time is low, you can assume you’re not holding their attention when they arrive. 

Your content is probably unhelpful, uninteresting, insubstantial or some combination of the above, so concentrate your energy on making it more engaging, relevant and useful.

Sticking with audience, the next most useful sections are ‘Demographics’ and ‘Location’. Lots of traffic is usually good news, but volume isn’t everything – you also want to be drawing in the right kind of visitors.

If your practice specialises in working with tradesmen but ‘Demographics’ reveals that your visitors are 75% female and mostly over 60, you might have a problem. And if ‘Location’ suggests that more than half of those visitors are in Florida when your office is in Hull, then there’s definitely something up.

That’s an extreme example, of course, but thinking about this can pinpoint specific issues. You might have an old blog post that’s ranking really well for some obscure search term, almost by accident. 

Or it might be that your branding and website copy doesn’t do enough to convey key information about your location and particular areas of expertise.

Another practical solution might be refocusing your search engine marketing (SEM) strategy to boost performance against region-specific keywords.

Acquisition

Going a little deeper, this section of the Analytics dashboard provides information on how people are getting to your site.

Is it through organic searches? Online advertising? Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook? Or are they just typing the URL straight into the address bar in their browser?

In terms of gauging ROI, this will tell you straight up which channels are delivering visitors and which are most likely to convert those visits into sales.

If you have ‘goals’ set up, you’ll also be able to track conversions. 

It’s not unusual to discover that one particular channel is delivering relatively little traffic, but that a massive proportion of visitors through that channel are more likely to sign up at the end of the journey.

Behaviour

In this section, ‘Overview’ is again the most important tab. 

Here, you’ll find vital information on spikes in activity and a list of the most popular pages on your site. This can highlight not only serious problems – why isn’t anyone visiting ‘Contact us’? – but also opportunities.

For example, one PracticeWeb client received about 78% of the total traffic to their website in 2019, via a single well-written, frankly informative blog post on inheritance tax.

You can drill further into that on the subsection called ‘Content’, if you want to.

Let the numbers tell their story

Data beats gut instinct every time.

It can challenge your assumptions. It can be the wake-up call you need to stop throwing good money after bad. And although some people will tell you data is ‘boring’, it can also inspire creativity.

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