How have analytics changed?
Four years ago I participated in IABC Ottawa’s “Networking in the New Year” event, where communications professionals can speak informally with specialists in different fields. In 2012, I spoke about web analytics. I’m returning this year, and I will do the same. Which begs the question, has anything changed? Most definitely.
The bar is higher on what can (and should) be tracked
By January 2012, our community was
- Articulating more complex tracking requirements – instead of merely tracking website visits, there was increasing demand to measure the impact of social media / earned media efforts; while
- On the paid media side, measurement of remarketing (or retargeting) campaigns were at the bleeding edge of reporting requirements; and
- Google Tag Manager didn’t exist.
Website tag management emerges
This last item is critical, and links directly to item 1 and 2. “Tags”, in the context of tag management systems are used on your website to help you measure traffic and optimize your online marcom efforts. Examples of these website tags include:
- Your website’s digital analytics tracking code i.e. your Google Analytics or your Adobe Analytics tracking code;
- Conversion tracking tags (Google AdWords conversion code or the Facebook pixel); or
- Remarketing (or behavioural retargeting) tags to target previous visitors.
Website tags are different from campaign tracking tags
For those of you familiar with campaign tracking tags such as Google Analytics’ “utm” codes or Adobe Analytics campaign tracking codes, note that they are different from the website tags above. It’s unfortunate that the terms overlap, but each accomplishes different things.
Prior to website tag management solutions, inserting website tags was a messy, inefficient coding effort requiring information technology resources. Then the inevitable would occur – organizations lost track of which tags were where, whether they were up to date or not, and who actually ‘owned them’. Not good. Thus, tag management solutions proliferated, including solutions like Google Tag Manager, Adobe’s Dynamic Tag Manager, Ensighten, and Tealium.
Website tag management: imagine never losing your keys again
Today, tag management solutions are much better known – they have gone from an outlier technology concept to a critical tool in organizations’ digital toolkit. It’s exactly what we all need – a better way to facilitate the business discussion around determining what should be measured, while reducing the need for technical involvement for implementation.
How? By storing all those tags in one container in your website code instead of scattering different tags all over the place. Imagine that glorious moment when you successfully organize scattered key sets into one bowl at the front door. No more frantic searching as you try and get out the door.
Now, the business owner(s) can manage their tags centrally, outside of your HTML using a friendly interface. Other benefits include simplified tracking of video, social buttons or other interactive elements on your website. If your organization hasn’t looked at tag management solutions, I’d add it to your 2016 measurement plans.
Vanquish referral spam
The second big change since 2012 is the acceleration of referral spam clogging all our analytics reports. Consider this the second item on your organization’s analytics to do list in 2016: tackling the deeply frustrating problem of referral spam or ghost spam. What is referral spam? It’s garbage traffic that’s inflating your website traffic reports.
Click to enlarge example of referral spam: notice the 100% bounce rate with zero session duration time?
To give you some sense of how bad the problem has gotten, I was involved in a website launch in late November 2015. Not quite two months later 32% of the visits are is spam – fake traffic that could inflate our numbers and impact our marcom decisions. How can do we know that?
Fortunately, we followed best practices and set our digital analytics up with multiple data views. We use our primary decision-making data view to measure net visitor traffic (excluding ourselves and referral spam) and we can contrast it to our unfiltered data view capturing gross visitor traffic. This gives us a much cleaner – and more reassuring – view of our real audience numbers and their activities on our site.
Be sure you’ve got the same set up at your organization so that you can better measure the real impact of your communications efforts. Speak with your digital analyst or analytics team to ask them if and how the issue is being addressed internally. Like you, they’ll want to ensure ongoing trust in your organization’s data.
Web analytics broadens to digital analytics
One last important analytics change occurred only two months after the 2012 Networking in the New Year event. To acknowledge the proliferation of digital data sources, the Web Analytics Association (WAA) formally changed its name to the Digital Analytics Association (DAA):
“As more digital data streams became available, the responsibilities of the analyst broadened and the term “web analytics” became known as the study of data collected exclusively on websites…account[ing] for the analyst’s changing role of weaving together data from multiple sources and channels.”
As a long-time member, I heartily agreed with the change. To truly leverage the opportunities of digital, we in marcom need to take advantage of all of the data on offer. Data is a critical output of your digital initiatives and is what differentiates them from their offline equivalent. Knowing that, have you got a handle on your data strategy for 2016?
What’s on your 2016 analytics list?
I look forward to seeing the IABC Ottawa crew on January 28th and to discussing analytics. Bring your questions and concerns or feel free to ask any advance questions in the comments below. See you soon!