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Tips to gauge the performance of last year’s holiday season

The holiday season has come to an end; we are now in the new year! It is time to distil all the web analytics data we have collected in Google Analytics, and reflect on the lessons we have learned. The insights gained from the 2013 holiday season will help us optimize our efforts throughout 2014.

For many online retailers the holiday season contributes the largest share of revenues, therefore, it is no surprise that brands also set apart a large chunk of their marketing budget to acquire traffic during the holiday season. This is the time when the analysts in your team compare the effectiveness of the various marketing campaigns that you ran. Once the holiday campaigns have ceased, it will be good for you to take a step back and review the data that has been tracked, from the perspective of ease of analysis. Was all campaign data in Google Analytics tracked as expected, or do you see some records in the reports that point towards inaccurate campaign tagging? Were the naming conventions used to identify campaigns intuitively? The understanding you can gain from this exercise can help you fine-tune your future campaign tracking and generate reports that are easier to understand.

Connect Google AdWords with Google Analytics

For those who have allocated a significant share of the marketing budget to Google AdWords, accessing a range of reports in Google Analytics should be easy as long as the AdWords and analytics accounts have been linked. In case the linking is not done yet, then it is never too late and it is an extremely simple process outlined in Google Analytics’ help section. One of the biggest challenges that analysts will face during the analysis of the holiday season data is to understand the true impact of non-AdWords campaigns. In October 2012, Google Analytics announced the launch of a feature by which analysts can upload cost data for non-Google search engines into Google Analytics. This data import feature has now been rolled out to all Google Analytics users and is a great tool for analysts to understand the returns generated by all the campaigns. Now is a great time for you to explore how this feature works and import the impression, clicks and cost data for all your campaigns into Google Analytics for better and actionable insights.

Analyze multiple channels together

While you are evaluating the impact of your marketing campaigns you may also want to understand how the various channels worked together towards the outcomes. The Multi-Channel Funnel report in Google Analytics is where you will find this information. A great place to start is the Multi-Channel Conversion Visualizer report, using which you can easily see the various channel combinations that resulted in conversions. The Top Conversion Paths report helps you dig deeper and identify the channel combinations that delivered the highest number of conversions. To facilitate deeper analysis you can also define Custom Channel Groupings and apply them to the Top Conversion Paths and Assisted Conversions reports.

Segment visitors based on attributes

Segmentation is the bedrock of good analysis. In July 2013, Google announced that they were completely “re-imagining segmentation”. This change now enables analysts to define advanced segments that they could not do earlier. The key difference is that we can now create segments based on visitors, in addition to segments based on visits. For example, we can now use an attribute such as the user’s subscription type (for e.g., paid vs. free) to create segments. Another powerful segmentation feature is that we can now create cohorts based on the user’s first visit. With this addition, cohort analysis (a standard feature of Mixpanel and Kissmetrics), is now available in Google Analytics. However, I look forward to the future when we can define cohorts based on other user attributes (such as date of account creation) rather than just the date of the first visit. The new segmentation tool also allows analysts to define segments based on a specific set of behaviors. For example, a segment of people who arrived from an organic search engine, through a custom landing page and then used the site-search feature, in that particular order. This sequence based segment definition has been on top of my Google Analytics wish list for a really long time!

Build custom reports and custom dashboards

While I have covered some of the more advanced features that will help you in your analysis till this point, I would now like to touch-up on two features that have been part of the tool for a long time – custom reports and custom dashboards. I am sure that these features are used by many seasoned analysts. However, based on my experience of working with different clients, I have reason to believe that there are users who are not fully leveraging these two features. Think about the quick snapshot of information that any of your stakeholders would want to know. For example, what are the key metrics the marketing manager of your company would like to track regularly? The answer to this question contains the information you need to build a customized Google Analytics dashboard for the marketing manager. You can set up a dashboard for each of your stakeholders and schedule it to be emailed out from the tool on a daily or weekly basis.

The ability to create custom reports, in my personal opinion, is one of the most powerful features of Google Analytics. As you go about reviewing the data of the holiday season, you must explore how you can make custom reports a part of the overall plan. Analysts typically work or collecting, processing and analyzing data that is helpful in answering business questions. The next time you are working on a report, why not visualize your report as a set of dimensions and metrics, and then go about building the custom report that organizes those data points in a meaningful fashion? While your eventual report will be presented as a PowerPoint deck, you will save a lot of time in the exploratory work if you were to use custom reports. In my experience, a single custom report can enable decision-making that multiple out-of-the-box reports cannot.

Content grouping – the latest analytics technique by Google Analytics

Finally, I am really excited about a new feature that Google Analytics announced on 19 December 2013. In a blog post titled “Wrangle Your Site Categories And Product Types With Content Grouping”; the team has introduced the ability of the analyst to group pages together for analysis. While I have started experimenting with this feature on one of my projects, it is still too early for me to talk about the impact and results. All said and done, the powerful trinity of Advanced Segments, Channel Grouping, and Content Grouping pushes Google Analytics into a whole new league!

In conclusion, as you start analyzing your holiday data how would answer the following questions:

  • Did you use effective and intuitive Campaign Tracking?
  • Are you ready to use the Cost Data import feature?
  • How will you use the Multi-Channel Funnel report to optimize future campaigns?
  • Which are the new Advanced Segments that you will create for your analysis?
  • Are you ready to create Custom Dashboards for your stakeholders?
  • How do you plan to use Custom Reports to make your analysis quicker and insightful?
  • Have you tried Content Grouping? How will you use this latest feature?

Here, I have briefly introduced seven ways by which you can extract more meaning from the Google Analytics data collected over the holiday season. I sincerely hope you find these pointers helpful as you set out with the analysis process. Nabler’s consulting team has helped many clients conduct robust analysis of data and uncover optimization opportunities. If you have any additional questions about the Google Analytics features discussed here, then you can always reach out to one of Nabler’s digital analytics consultants. Happy New Year!

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