I recently led an Arts Marketing Association (AMA) webinar that focused on Google Analytics (and AMA is always offering more webinars, events and training ) but many of the questions that delegates raised led us to the many related free digital tools that Google now offers for digital marketers. I swear this post isn’t sponsored by Google! But it would be pretty hard to be a digital marketer in 2019 without using at least a few of these tools. That said, sometimes there are paid versions of these tools that are better suited to your needs (if your organization has the money for them), I’ve noted a few of those here too.
This tool is one that nearly all digital professionals are at least somewhat familiar with; it answers questions like:
- Who visits our website?
- Which marketing channels drove them to our website?
- What did they look at or do on our website?
This is a summary of the “Introduction to Google Analytics” webinar that AMA often offers where I introduce delegates to some of the most useful reports and data you can find in GA. If your organization’s website features a lot of content (like educational materials or blog posts), Chartbeat is a good paid alternative to Google Analytics. If you need something more visual to understand your data, Hotjar has a few useful paid features similar to GA.
One way to add more useful data to your Google Analytics reports is by using UTM parameters on all of your email, social media, and advertising links. That will allow you to track the impact of each of those marketing channels on your website conversion goals. By using these parameters, you can answer questions like:
- Which social media ad was most effective at converting to ticket sales
- Which button in our email newsletter was most effective at converting to donations
- How many people clicked on that digital ad we placed in the local online newspaper
For more background about what exactly UTM parameters are and how to use them effectively, check out this AMA blog post. The Google URL Builder will be your first step in creating a UTM code to add to your link. If you begin using UTM codes on all of your links, you’ll want to keep track of them in a structured way; this is a good review of the tools out there to help.
Even though the volume of data that Google Analytics provides can be overwhelming, the type of data it offers can be somewhat limited. If you want information like:
- which embedded videos are being watched on your website
- which PDFs are being downloaded
- how many people are purchasing tickets/donating
- how far down this page is someone scrolling
- which specific buttons on this page are people clicking
- how many people are completing our email signup form
None of that is tracked in Google Analytics by default! If that information is valuable to you, you’re probably going to want to start using Google Tag Manager in order to make that data available in your Google Analytics. GTM allows you to set up the system that will send all of that data to GA, and AMA is even offering a webinar all about it in February.
Depending on the content strategy of your organization, sometimes you need to understand at a quick glance whether a particular trend is really gaining traction, or for your Search Engine Optimization strategy, whether more people use one word over another synonym. For that need, Google offers the Trends platform where you can see search trends for any keyword or topic.
If you need a more comprehensive view into the world of search traffic patterns, then Google offers the Keyword Planner tool, which is integrated into their Google Ads platform. Even if you’re not going to use Google Ads, it can be worth getting an (of course, free) account so that you can access the Keyword Planner tool. Here, Google will show you the precise frequency of a given search term, some of the related terms people are also searching for, where those searches occur, and how much other advertisers are paying to show ads against those search terms.
What about figuring out the search terms people use to find your website? And how could your site be improved to rank even higher on the search results page? That’s what the Google Search Console is for. On this platform, Google allows you to dive deep through everything they know about the search terms people use to find your site:
- How many people see your website appear in a search result page
- What position your website had on the search results page
- How many of those people click on your site
- What specific page on your website do they go to
Google even provides SEO tips and recommendations specific to your site in the Search Console: things like how to speed up page load time, who links back to your website, and are there any errors the Google bots encounter when they crawl your site.
Have you ever wondered whether there’s a better line of text or layout for a ticketing page on your website that would encourage more people to purchase? Google Optimize lets you easily test different variations of pages on your website and choose a “winning” option based on some objective that you set - total revenue, total pageviews, session duration, etc. Almost like magic, Optimize allows you to make these different variations of your page through a drag-and-drop interface in the browser, no design or coding experience necessary. If you find Google Optimize features limiting, Optimizely is a good paid alternative with even more functions to target specific users for your tests and make very complicated changes to your page.
If you’re not the only staff member at your organization who needs to see data about the effectiveness of your marketing channels, Google Data Studio is a great resource to make real time dashboards from Google Analytics that include context and only the data you really want your colleagues to pay attention to. You can even connect other data sources to the dashboard, like from your social media platforms and email providers. If you find Data Studio features limiting and need more tools for analysis, Tableau is a good paid alternative.
Of course, there’s a seemingly never-ending list of services that Google is trying to provide for free, in hopes that we’ll use more and more of their products (and then they can sell our views to more and more advertisers). For many digital marketers, the tradeoff will be worth it.