5 Reasons Why the Dog Days of Summer are the Best Time for an Analytics Audit

5 Reasons Why the Dog Days of Summer are the Best Time for an Analytics Audit Ambition Digital 8 2018

Welcome to the dog days of summer, everyone! Time for vacations, barbecues, days at the beach, heading to your favorite mountain getaway, or jumping off the dock at the lake. Now that we’re well into the summer season, it’s not just hot: August can also get very sticky and grossly humid, which is why it earned the name the Dog Days of Summer.

If you work in a corporate office, an agency, or basically any kind of office setting, you may be used to things being a bit slow right now. People head out on vacation in droves, which tends to slow down any work that’s in progress, especially if you work in closely knit teams.

If you’ve already taken your vacation for the summer or if you’ve chosen to take your time off at another time of the year, it can also mean a rather empty office setting. And it can be kind of boring being one of the few left in the office while everyone else is out having fun.

If you’re an entrepreneur, unless you own a seasonal business like an ice cream shop, a landscaping or pool maintenance business, or any kind of shop near a resort area, things might be slow for your business as well.  

But I’m going to share with you why the slowdown of late summer could be the best time for you to take a good look at your web analytics and giving them an audit.

 

Why an Analytics Audit?

Now, a quick disclaimer: as a web analytics professional, I believe of course that you should always be paying close attention to your analytics, and making sure you’re measuring the effectiveness of any marketing initiatives you may have underway with complete accuracy, year round. It really should be done on a regular basis, just like anything else you do to keep your life in order –  getting the oil changed in your car, going to the dentist; or in business, keeping your accounting in order.

However… I get it: you’ve got enough going on, juggling all of your responsibilities as a business owner or marketing professional, and your Google Analytics account is….well, not at the top of the to-do list. And because people have a tendency to take a ‘set it and forget it’ approach when it comes to their Google Analytics account, they assume it’s always doing exactly what they want it to do.

But here’s a few reasons why it’s good to use summertime slow-down to audit your analytics setup:

 

Reason 1: The Start of a New Fiscal Year

Many companies work on a fiscal year of July 1st to June 30th. With July signaling a new year, it can mean the beginning of a new set of marketing plans to be implemented, and along with it new campaigns to launch, new budgets, and a new year of goals to meet.  

This clean slate of sorts is an opportune time for you to review and straighten out your web analytics with an audit, so that you start the new fiscal year with the confidence that you can trust the integrity of your data.

 

Reason 2:  Holiday campaigns

You know how every year we’re stunned by how early in the fall we start seeing Christmas decorations? Honestly, they’ve barely boxed up all the leftover back-to-school supplies before they’re stacking Christmas trees in the aisles!

Christmas starts in september
Three-ring binders and a Christmas tree, anyone? The holiday season rolls out in September for many retailers.

As marketers, we’re often accustomed to the fervor of the holiday season beginning months in advance, because that’s when all of the planning takes place. This time of year is when many retailers and other businesses are in high gear getting all the pieces in place for their holiday marketing campaigns. There’s only so much advertising inventory available, so they’ve got to stake their claim early. And because huge campaigns come with so many promotional elements to produce, it’s critical to get started months in advance.

For many retailers, holiday sales can make or break their businesses’ revenue goals for the year, and much of that is dependent upon the success of their marketing campaigns. Creating and executing a campaign that is successful in driving online sales or in-store traffic is heavily dependant upon knowing with complete confidence which tactics in your marketing mix are most effective in meeting your goals, and are yielding the highest return on marketing investment.

And although most of the planning takes place earlier in the year, when holiday campaigns are in high gear, retailers are keeping a close eye on their website metrics in as near-time as they can. This is critical for being able to pivot and adjust their marketing campaigns as quickly as possible to capture as large a share of the holiday spending pie as they possibly can.

So, if you’re one of these businesses that is dependent upon holiday revenue and your analytics account isn’t configured to collect and report clean and accurate data, you could be experiencing gaps between your online sales reported in your tools and the actual sales numbers, gaps in foot traffic estimates, and more.

Or, you could be seeing inaccurate accounts of which campaigns, media, or audience segments is driving the most revenue. You don’t want to be scrambling in the midst of the holiday rush trying to diagnose and fix discrepancies in your data. Or worse yet – making bad marketing spending and marketing strategy decisions based on inaccurate data.

 

Reason 3:  Getting Ahead of the Curve

Taking a close look at your analytics when in the process of an audit leaves you with time in the earlier part of your fiscal year to also map out a plan for how to move forward if things need course correction. For example, if you need to involve the IT team to make technical changes to your web site in order to accurately collect data, getting on their radar before they’re swamped making their own productivity goals can assure you course correct technical measurement issues early as well.

If, when combing through your analytics you come to the decision that you need to make investments in other components within your marketing stack – say, a new email provider, leveling up your CRM system, or migrating certain responsibilities like ad buying from in-house to an outside agency, knowing this now, before your annual resources have been exhausted and your budget looks like road kill will help yield the best results from this year.

And if you work in government, non-profit, or any large corporation where it takes a long time to secure review and approval for additional marketing investments,  starting that process now can potentially put your new resources into action a.s.a.p. in order to help you make the best of this year’s goals.

 

Reason 4:    Bonus Points With Your Boss

If you’ve ever experienced the frustration of discrepancies between your marketing reporting from different tools, you know what a tight spot that can put you in with clients or internal stakeholders who are looking to you to assure them of how things are going.

Score points with your boss with an analytics audit
Yaassss! Score big points with your boss by heading up a web analytics audit.

Just think of how impressed your boss will be when she or he returns from vacation and you announce that you’ve used the office downtime to take the initiative to clean up your web analytics with an audit, so that the entire marketing team can shine. Bonus points galore!

 

Reason 5: Simply Because You Can

This slow(ish) time allows for focus that you wouldn’t have had if your were cleaning up your data house any time during the rest of the year.

Analytics is such an important part of marketing, and investing the time to clean up analytics with an audit can help you know for sure that your account settings and technical setup of your analytics are a hundred percent sound and on-point.

So if you know your web analytics are due for an audit and you’ve been putting off because of competing priorities, the summer slowdown is a great opportunity to get to check off one more thing on your longer-term to-do list.

 

Tame that Dog Now!

As a marketer, there’s probably nothing worse than you and your team putting many hours of blood, sweat and tears into planning a big campaign, only to have it not drive business – and without knowing why.  If your web analytics aren’t in order, you could be losing business, losing brand awareness, losing your money, and wasting your time and effort, all because of bad data.

If you need help getting a grip on your web analytics, Ambition Digital can help. Contact us today.

Google Marketing Live 2018 Update – the Ad Products

Nicky Rettke YouTube trends

I recently shared highlights of online trends discussed at Google’s Marketing Innovations Live, the livestreamed keynote address of their annual Marketing Live conference held in San Diego. Now I’ll cover the top product innovations that the search giant shared, and the cliff-notes version of what they mean for business owners and non-technical marketers.

At the center of Google’s revenue generation is its advertising products, so the underlying purpose of sharing research and trends in online behavior is the chance to highlight their new ad products. And as I mentioned in last week’s trends highlights, machine learning plays a key role in the latest technical innovations Google is using to increase the functions, features, and value of their ad and measurement products.

Highlights of the new ad product updates include:

  • Most notable is the change in the brand name AdWords to simply Google Ads, which was announced late last month. Along with the name change is the unification of multiple sub-branded ad products, including Double-Click, along with its shopping, video, Gmail, and display ad formats.
  • YouTube ad conversions have increased over 150% in the last year, globally. Muy impresionante, mi amigos.

    Google’s Product Manager of Video Ads Nicky Rettke shares significant boosts in YouTube’s conversion rates at the Marketing Innovations Keynote presentation
  • TrueView, YouTube’s brand for advertising options, is introducing three new ad types this year:
    • TrueView for Reach – for advertising goals of building brand awareness among a broad set of consumers
    • TrueView for Action – to optimize conversions on your web site. A banner ad appears on the bottom of a video ad throughout the video and remains after the video completes. The banners include a button with a call to action. And late this year, options will include banners with form ads to help generate leads.
    • Maximize Lift Bidding – for increasing brand consideration. “Lift” is marketing-speak for the incremental increase in a marketing result. “Consideration” is marketing-speak for the people in your potential audience who state they will consider using your brand or product (typically after being exposed to your marketing message).  So, this tool’s purpose is to maximize an advertiser’s increase in brand consideration as a result of this type of YouTube advertising. Like with many of the other new and existing Google ad products, it uses machine learning to reach the right consumers and help the advertiser accomplish this goal.
  • Responsive Search Ads, which simplify text-only search ad creation by mixing and matching multiple combinations of up to 15 headlines and up to 4 description lines, again using machine learning to determine which ones garner the best results according to the advertiser’s goal. No more worrying about being a professional ad copywriter in addition to running your business.
  • For small businesses, new easy-to-manage advertising options break down to four main options:
    • Smart campaigns (which I’ve detailed earlier) – to help small business owners easily get started with online advertising
    • Smart Shopping campaigns – to optimize bids on individual products and grow online revenue, or to drive store visits
    • Local campaigns – aimed at driving in-store traffic for brick-and-mortar businesses
    • Hotel campaigns – to drive room bookings for hotels and travel booking sites

      Anthony Chavez, Product Management Director, Google Ads, shared data on mobile spending habits
  • According to Google’s research, more than half of all mobile phone users claim that they would not make a purchase from a web site that takes a long time to load. And driving better mobile ad results means assuring ad landing pages (the web pages that ads link to) load quickly.

Understanding that many small business don’t have a way of gauging load times, Google is introducing a Mobile Landing Page Speed feature within the Ads interface. This tool assigns a score from 1 to 10 based on a number of factors, including the expected conversion rate of a given landing page based on how long the page takes to load in a visitor’s browser.  

New Cross-Device Reporting

With analytics being closest to my heart, of course, I was interested to hear one new reporting feature that wasn’t among Google’s previous announcements: Cross-device reporting and remarketing. This feature uses aggregated, anonymized data from visitors who visit your web site multiple times across different devices. It then gives a consolidated view of how users are behaving on your site no matter the device they’re using when they visit, giving you a better understanding of your visitors and what they do at each stage of the conversion process.

Chaves outlines features of the new Cross-device reporting in Google Analytics

For example, a customer might spend $300 on your website on her phone any given day. She may later spend another $300 on her desktop computer. In analytics, this might look like two different customers, each spending $300.

And yet if another customer spends $600 one time on her desktop, she would be viewed as a customer with much higher spending value. Your GA reports can now show you that these two customer types have the same value, but with different purchasing habits, helping you make more informed marketing decisions.   

What These New Ad Features Mean for Small Business Owners and Non-Technical Marketers

I’ve shared previously that Google products can be less user-friendly than they appear on the surface, especially when the company is continually adding new tools and with new ways to use them. While this may seem like chicanery on their part, it’s somewhat understandable given that they have to make products that serve the needs of a spectrum of users, especially if they want to remain competitive. Google’s continued advances in machine learning and its application in ad creation, optimization, and measurement hold a lot of promise toward truly making their products easier to use and more effective.  

But ease-of-use aside, it’s often a better use of time an energy to bring in someone with experience and expertise using Google products, including Analytics, Tag Manager, Data Studio and others to measure marketing effectiveness. We’re still a long way off from computer programs being able to replace sound advice from a professional who can ask the right questions and properly advise you on how to use these products to grow your business.

If you’re looking for a human with deep experience in analytics and web metrics reporting, get in touch today.

And, feel free to leave questions about any of these product updates in the comments below. Do any of these product updates make you more likely to use them? If you’ve used Google’s ad products before, do you feel like machine learning has improved your conversion rates? Let me know!

 

 

Note: More detail on Google’s applications of machine learning in advertising can be found on the Google Ads blog.

Google Marketing Innovations Update – the Online Trends

Google held its 6th annual Google Marketing Live conference in San Jose, CA earlier this week, highlighted by the live-streamed Marketing Innovations Keynote address Tuesday morning. The invitation-only conference is Google’s annual platform for showcasing its latest advertising, analytics, home and other product innovations and features. In addition, marketers from all over the globe attend the three-day conference to hear about Google’s latest research, learn leading-edge digital best practices, and rub elbows with other industry leaders alongside Google’s product and engineering teams.

Being the web analytics geek that I am, I covet an such an opportunity. But alas, sole proprietors like me tend not make the top of the invite list, so I joined more than 100,000 other tech nerds to watch the livestream of the Marketing Innovations keynote address from the comfort of their own computers.

This Year’s Big Keynote Theme

A key theme running through all of the keynote’s announcements is Google’s ever-increasing use of AI (artificial intelligence) and ML (machine learning) to streamline and optimize ad placement for marketers, as well as to show more relevant and useful ads to consumers. Throughout the various topics covered in the keynote they consistently emphasized Google’s core principles of being valuable, transparent, and trustworthy, and how that applies to the way they develop their products, both on the marketer and consumer sides.

waiting for my invite to google marketing live 2018
Sadly, sole proprietors tend not to get invited to Google’s big events.

Like many keynote presentations from U.S. tech giants’ big annual events, it opened with an overview of how people now spend their time online, on what devices, how they use search tools, how they shop online, and other trends. It then segued into the ways their latest product innovations are geared toward advancing these trends, along with leveraging them to match consumer expectations and help marketers reach the right audiences.

Among the top trends mentioned are:

  • Today’s consumers are more curious, demanding, and impatient, and have become research-obsessed in finding things to help navigate their lives.
  • Online searches for “_______ to avoid” are up more than 150% from the time of the first Google Marketing Live event in 2013, along with a >80% increase in searches for “is _____ worth it?”.
  • Searches for “_______ near me” have also increased in recent years. Traditionally used to find places or businesses such as pharmacies or gas stations, people are using the phrase to locate and research specific products, with searches like “cowboy boots near me” or “rolled ice cream near me”. They often use those search results to then perform deeper research, including reading product reviews, comparing prices, and finding stores with those products in their inventory.
  • In the same 5-year timeframe there has been a >110% increase in “things to do tonight” searches, as well as a 10x increase in searches for “open near me tonight”.
  • Machine learning used in search has evolved to provide people results that are faster, more personalized, and more relevant to them. But the more they get used to this, the more it’s raised the bar for search. Now, if results are not helpful, personal, and frictionless, people move on. They expect meaningful assistance to help them get things done, and to save time and money.
  • There are now more than 1 billion (yes, one billion) hours of video viewed on YouTube every day.

Every. Single. Day.

  • About half of all small businesses in the U.S. don’t even have a web site. (This one almost caused me to have The Grabber. I did miss the next few moments of the presentation because I began hyperventilating after hearing this.)
  • In any given 48-hour period, >80% of Americans are shopping for something.
Nicky Rettke, Group Product Manager for Video Ads, shares YouTube viewership trends with the 2,500+ person audience at Google Marketing Innovations keynote address.

What This Means for Businesses

Google, of course, invests research resources to uncover these trends so they can improve their products and services to match. But the trends reveal opportunities for almost every kind of business to build its online presence. For example:

  • With the “____ near me” searches, are you a bakery, cafe, auto repair center, dry cleaner, florist, computer repair shop, or any kind of business that consumer might be looking for convenient to where they are, either at home or at work?
  • With “things to do tonight”: are you a theater, coffee house with musicians, indoor trampoline park, or music festival? Activities for families with kids are especially popular searches.
  • YouTube is a great opportunity to showcase your business for little or no money, even just using your mobile phone. There are lots of videos and web sites to help you learn how (my favorite is Sunny Lenarduzzi’s YouTube channel). Just be sure you’re creating content that is educational and useful to your ideal customer, and not overtly promotional.

Note from the reference above that by ‘helpful’ results they mean your web site should contain text or videos that can help a person should learn, find or understand something. By ‘personal’ they mean it should focus on the person and her needs, not about your business or organization.

And by ‘frictionless’, they mean the person should be able to get to the information they’re seeking on your web site quickly and easily, without having to click through numerous navigation menus, read lots of text, or first submit personal information (a pet peeve of mine).  

And for the love of all things holy and sacred to the U.S. economy, if you’re among the ~50% of small businesses without a web site, get one! With cheap web design and hosting options so plentiful these days, there’s almost no excuse to not have one, even if it’s a one-pager on a free Wix account.

You can get yourself a .com for as little as $10 or less per year if you just shop around and find an inexpensive domain registrar. I no longer offer web design services but I know many good agencies and people who do, so if you need a reference, reach out to me.

Meeting Customers’ Needs – and Your Business Goals

Ultimately, the quickest line to a successful web presence is to closely partner with your SEO and marketing professional/s to examine your business goals, plan strategically how your business can leverage online trends like the ones shared in the keynote address, and to tailor your web site and other online messaging to meet the needs of your customers.

And of course, you need to measure your marketing effectiveness along the way. If you need help making sure your web analytics are capturing the effects of your marketing efforts, reach out today to get started.

Google Rolls Out New Smart Campaigns and Image Picker to Help Small Businesses with Online Ads

Google Smart campaigns

Google made several new rebranding and product update announcements last week for its analytics and advertising products, many of which are only used by large businesses. However, two of those updates announced are focused on making it easier for small businesses to join the online advertising game.

Smart Campaigns

Google Smart Campaigns is a new campaign type under the Google Ads suite that is aimed toward helping small business owners who don’t have their own marketing staff or expertise in managing online ad campaigns. This new campaign type uses machine learning that factors in audience behavior, location, device, and other signals to target advertising to the right set of potential customers based on the advertiser’s goal. These goals include phone calls, visits to the advertiser’s web site, and requests for directions.

And to make campaign management even easier, Smart campaigns are almost entirely automated, from the ad creative that appears to optimizing ad delivery. Introducing Image Picker

Image Picker

I’ve advised small business clients quite often to make sure they are posting fresh images in their online profiles. Not only do images go a long way to help customers get a feel for a business’ products and services, they hold SEO benefits if they’re properly captioned and meta tagged.

Google Image Picker Google Ads
The new Image Picker tool within Google’s Smart Campaigns suggests a businesses top images and creates ads using existing copy.

The new Image Picker tool within Smart Campaigns will help small businesses easily get started with advertising online by simply leveraging their top images posted. The tool suggests three images to use in ad creative, or the advertiser can upload their own. It then uses these images, along with copy selected from the Google My Business profile, to create the ads. As the ads run Smart Campaigns tests combinations of images and copy, optimizing placement based upon which ones perform better.

Smart Campaigns is now available all across the US, and will be rolled out globally throughout the rest of this year. More information can be found in the Smart Campaigns support documentation.

 

 

Images courtesy of Google.