How to Make Sense of Google Analytics

John Hope-Johnstone

Google Analytics is amazing! It is daunting in the amount of data that can be obtained. I love to use the  expression in our HPR seminars that we’re “drowning in data and starving for knowledge.”

Google Analytics can generate up to 85 different reports but if the reports don’t really give you any actionable knowledge then they are meaningless. Bottom line is that you are going to have to create your own dashboard that has meaning to YOU and from which you can take meaningful actions.

The key to all good knowledge is that it be actionable, also that it be simple”…”simple”… “simple.”

One of the ways I help to simplify Google Analytics is to combine some of their different measurements and create a new number. An example might be, rather than just measure Unique Visitors, I combine the number of Unique Visitors + Page Views into a new combined metric. Perhaps, when something goes wrong with the Web site, I will look at each metric individually, but to create our own dashboard I use combined metrics that tell me more.

As an analogy, airline Pilots have “key” instrumentation, (anyway, those pilots without glass cockpits and computers flying their planes). They rely on these instruments to tell them that all is going well. These instruments usually are; 1) Artificial horizon. 2) Air speed indicator. 3) Rate of climb or descent. Now there are many more instruments on the cockpit’s dashboard but those are the first a pilot will look at is something naughty is going on with the aircraft. Then he/she will go to another row of instruments until the dashboard is exhausted. After all the instruments are exhausted, then there is a manual checklist to go through.

You need to simplify Google down to three or four key instruments that tell you if you are flying right or crashing. I find that combining Google Analytic data more useful in understanding the big picture:

1: Key Instrument = Unique Visitors + Page Views:

The unique visitor is akin to you air speed. You need this to keep the plane in the air. You need velocity to keep the Web site humming along. Page views are indicative of the value that the visitor has placed on your content. Every page on your Web site to refer and often link to another page’s content on your site. Does it?

Another key piece of information is that most knowledge is gained by “trending” information against something else. When you step on a bathroom scale (something I try to avoid), you trend against last week’s weight, or last month’s weight. Likewise when you look at the Unique Visitor dashboard +Page Views, it is meaningless until it is trended against either last month’s performance or last years. Hence the most important tick box in Google Analytics is the “compare to past” tick box under the date range of the dashboard. Once it is ticked and a date range selected, now you are “trending” rather than looking at squiggly meaningless lines.

However, unless that trend tells you what action to take to reverse the downward trend, then you have no “knowledge”.

2nd Key Instrument: Page Views + Bounce Rate: Whereas “total page view” is a key instrument, when combined with “bounce rate” it tells a greater story. It tells you about the quality of your content. How boring your Web site is.

However, you cannot treat all pages equally. Another trending instrument is to set Google Analytic “Goals” for your Web site. As a simplified explanation, Goals are only a page view, nothing complicated about that. If you set a goal in Google Analytics, you are telling it what page view constitutes the completion of a Goal, and Analytics then tracks it. It is an easier way to generate the reports that you need as well as a great way to measure your business objectives.

How to set up Goals in Analytics Log in to your Google Analytics account at

  • Select the account that contains the profile you’ll be creating oals in from the Overview page.
  • Find the profile for which you will be creating goals, and click ‘Edit’ under the ‘Actions’ column.
  • Under the ‘Conversion Goals and Funnel’ section, select one of the four goal slots available for that profile and click ‘Edit.’Turn the goal ‘On’ or ‘Off.’ If you choose ‘On,’ that means you want Google Analytics should track this conversion goal at this time. Since there are no ways of deleting goals, turning it ‘Off’ can make the goal inactive.
  • Select from one of the three match types that Google Analytics uses to identify the goal. Enter the Request URI in the Goal URL box. Reaching this page marks a successful conversion. For example, a registration confirmation page, a checkout complete page, or a thank you page.
  • Enter the ‘Goal name’ as it should appear in your Google Analytics account. If your goal URL is case sensitive, this means your goal URLs are capitalized exactly like the visited goal URLs.
  • Enter the ‘Goal value.’ How do you define a goal? Determining a success measurement for each of your key Web site pages is as critical as Unique Visitors.

Here are 10 possible goals, (some contributed by Ryan at Web Analytics World):

  1. Track blog comments on your site (I hope you DO have a blog page on your site???)
  2. Track Newsletter subscriptions
  3. Track brochure requests
  4. Track White Paper downloads
  5. Track bookmarking
  6. Track video plays
  7. Track information quests
  8. Track consumer reviews or comments
  9. Track requests for information
  10. Track event bookings

I am sure there are thousands of other important actions to set Goals for and track and I invite you to add yours to help others via the comment section.

3rd Key Instrument: “Sources All Traffic” + Key Search Terms: Lastly you should know and keep track of who the Web sites are who are sending you traffic and communicate with them. When combined with key search terms this provides an instrument that tells you that your planes attitude is correct and that you are not about to go into a flat spin.

HPR recommends that you should keep your own Internet Marketing Business Intelligence Monitor that tracks your goals and other key measurements from Google analytics, social media and marketing campaigns. This is one of the actions that we undertake at HPR Internet and Social Media Marketing on behalf of clients. Even the very step of setting up a B.I. Monitor makes you ask the  question “what is important for me to know and track”.

The next question is how can I simplify the analytics even further? My recommendation is to bring all the responses down to one final number. At HPR Social Media we call this number “The Engagement Factor” and we show it on our own home made dashboard.

We include on that dashboard; facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Web site metrics, blogs, everything.

Even though these are not apples to apples it is still a final number that can be trended into a percentage of growth or decline and therefore can be turned into actionable knowledge.

Now we need to make sure that we can run our marketing from this information. The best way is to take the various metrics and align them to the buying process of the consumer.

Whereas there are over 17 buying stages in the purchasing funnel, they can always be simplified into three; 1) Brand Awareness, 2) Engagement and 3) Conversion. Align your analytics and Engagement Factor to these three pots and you will know where you are weak or strong and know how to correct.

Thanks for reading. Please leave us a comment about how you simplify Google Analytics.

Drowning in Data and Starving for Knowledge

John Hope-Johnstone

Hola, the Internet has provided marketers with a sea of data that has sent them into a happy dance that doesn’t stop. That is, until they realize that they really didn’t know what to do with it all, or what it all really means.

An entire industry has grown up around this “happy dance” whose own self interest is to perpetuate the dance as long as possible.

Like all new knowledge we tend to take it to extremes and create new languages around it that sound important but really tell the same old story.

The study of how we gain knowledge is called Epistemology. Epistemology is one of the core areas of philosophy. It is concerned with the nature, sources and limits to our knowledge.

It tells us that while our technology changes and diversifies, humans really don’t change in their core needs and how we learn to satisfy those basic needs.

While there are many steps in a consumers travel towards a purchase, it all begins with needs, wants and desires. Most marketers do not have a budget to create a need or a want or a desire but they do have budgets to tap into those that already exist.

While the purchase cycle can be as complex as seventeen steps or more, it really can be boiled down into three major steps:  1: Brand awareness (if they don’t know you exist it is unlikely that they are going to search you out). 2: Information fulfillment (you need to be able to explain why your product is better than the competitions). 3: Conversion (you need to give incentive to the consumer to buy your product now, and then you have to KNOW that they have purchased).

Yes, I know there are many marketers out there right now loading their flintlocks ready to take aim at me. I agree with them that the above paragraph is a massive oversimplification. However, if there is one word I want you to have as a take away from this blog post, it is “simplify”. It doesn’t need to be all that complicated.

I used to be a pilot a long time ago and we learned at flight school that there were primary instruments, secondary and down to tertiary. You need a primary dashboard to tell you that everything is flying along nicely. These were your airspeed, artificial horizon and rate of climb or descent. Of course, the compass was kinda cool as well. When something went wrong you went to your primary, then to your secondary instruments and then you had a check list to go down. You need to have the same in today’s marketing environment.

Take all the analytics that are pouring into your marketing pot and see if they legitimately fall under one of the three following steps: 1: Brand awareness. 2: Information fulfillment. 3: Conversion. You DON’T have to throw the rest of the metrics out, they certainly can provide good secondary information but they wont be a primary ones.

Next ask:  “If  we find that brand awareness, information demand, and conversion are slipping, what will we do with the metrics under each title to reverse that slide?” If the answer to one or more, is nothing, they should be relegated to being lower down on the information scale.

Next suggestion: “Don’t be a purist!” All the marketing data and information in the world is never going to exorcise the need for a good dose of intuition and yes, luck.

When I hear people say; “fans on facebook are not a good indicator of the growth of brand awareness because they might have blocked your posts from coming onto their profile page, or they might have died or left the country.” I laugh. It is true, they might have done one of the above but this has ALWAYS been true!

When we used to snail mail a brochure to a prospective consumer, we didn’t know if they had passed away in the interim, or had prospect regret and would chuck out the brochure without even reading it, or have moved. You cannot make a perfect marketing world. Keep your eyes on the consumer and not completely on the technology and platforms with which you communicate.

Oh, and lastly, don’t give up the “happy dance” just make it a happy dance that you have simplified all the data and feel that you are gaining good knowledge from it.

Thanks for reading this post, please give me your thoughts on the data that is pouring into your marketing bins. Please follow us on the following social media platforms:

How to Measure Social Media Performance

John Hope-Johnstone

John Hope-Johnstone

Greetings! As I have written in other posts of this blog, the bottom line for social media is “buzz.” How much chat around the water cooler is your social media creating? There are also a million other ways to monitor the effects of your social media campaign but I have found the following to be well accepted by upper management clients.

Starting Your Social Media Report:
At the bottom of your reporting pyramid are the lower tier statistics: How many communities? How many friends on facebook? How many followers on Twitter or subscribers on YouTube? How many key influencers have become friends and how many of your messages have they followed? You can also follow how many “buzz” strings you started and how far they went.

All of the above stats are important indicators of the success of your social media efforts. However, if social media is to survive in the corporate world, the hungry beasts known as “number crunchers” must be satisfied and I don’t think feeding them a steady diet of the above campaign numbers alone is going to satisfy their insatiable appetite.

In the corporate world any business activity that is not part of a sale is fluff….yes fluff! Marketing is any business activity that affects the transfer of goods, products or services, (forget this to your own peril). Social media and social networking fall under the umbrella of marketing in the category of Public Relations. Public Relations, in and of itself, has often been considered a little “fluffy” because it sometimes lacks the ability to prove it really helped sell the product or service.

So a question: Where does the final sale of the product or service take place on the Internet? Well in most cases you would have to say the brand’s Web site. So the query really is; does your social media help drive people to your brand Web site?

After you drive them from your social media to your Web site, how many people convert after visiting your Web site is a whole other story and most likely belongs on someone else’s shoulders (yipee).

This is why I believe in expressing social media as a logical “pathway.”

Click to Enlarge

Click to Enlarge

The pathway:
The path, (shown as a pyramid on the right), takes you from micro blogs such as: Twitter, facebook; My Space etc. which have the purpose of pointing you to macro blogs (such as this one). Your macro blogs display “thought leadership” in the field of expertise and then points you to a brand Web site.

In short, your micro blogs tell people “who you are”. The macro blogs tell people “what you know”and your brand Web site tells people “what you do”.

Now, I am cute, but not stupid (well, not too stupid), I know that people don’t follow logical paths in social media, they randomly snack on all the content. Still, it makes sense to think of social media as a logical pathway as you herd your faithful followers up the path to your point of sale….which is your brand Web site.

So to be effective with your social media campaign, the increased number of friends, followers or subscribers should be affecting the number of unique users of your brand Web site as recorded by your Web analytics.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

As you can see from my little brand Web site,  (chart on left) the majority of the top 13 referrers come from my blog.

This will not be so with a large brand site…but the social media should show in the analytics, although perhaps further down the list.

Side note, it has always interested me how popular my Web site is in other countries (see below).

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Now, if my theory is correct and we take a look at my blog analytics then the top referrers should come from my micro-blogs like Twitter and facebook and Linkedin. The following chart (below) shows this Buzz Master blog’s stats.


Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Soooo, the chart to the right basically proves my point that pointing from micro-blogs to macro-blogs and then to brand Web sites actually works and the results can be proven by an increase in users on the brand Web site which is where the products are sold.


This post has just been a start to your monthly social media report. We will have more next week. To summarize, your new Social Media Performance Report might start with a summary page that reads like this: 

Monthly Social Media Report Statement for September 2009

The social media department increased followers by 23% which drove 2,700 new users on the brand site over the past 30 days. Using the standard 20% conversion rate for the site, this means that the social media department increased sales by a possible 540 units at an average of $720 per unit resulting in $388,800 in revenue.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Now, I can hear a thousand people saying, “it won’t work in my company because….blah blah blah” Of course you are right. I cannot write a blog post that is going to cover every contingency but use example of a social media value statement and make something out of it that DOES work for you.

The pages following the summary page would contain the analytics from your micro blogs and macro blogs and Web site that support the above value statement and pyramid.

Next Sunday I will create a post that will complete the rest of this monthly report for Social Media. Hope to see you next week. Thanks for reading, make a comment or a suggestion please.