In an ideal world everybody uses analytics tools in a way that ensures that
get tracked and both client and SEO can
see where the most valuable visitors come from and how SEO efforts contribute to the overall success of a site.
Sadly, in reality it’s not always as easy to accomplish. While it’s now easier to sell analytics services to clients (as everybody agrees that you need them and clients are quick to give you access to Google Analytics), in many cases there are lots of issues that combined make you apply SEO tactics blindly.
In recent years many clients of mine (not SEOptimise clients), even some having good knowledge of SEO themselves, have failed to establish and provide a working measurement system for the long term SEO campaign. Usually one of the first things is to determine the conversion goals, what a lead or sale is and where your most valuable visitors are at. Sometimes it can be as simple as a click on a PPC or affiliate link; sometimes it’s a complex e-commerce transaction that you have to track.
It doesn’t suffice to know how when you can’t make the client track the correct metrics according to the highest standards though. Also, many clients tend to work with lots of other people who directly or indirectly influence analytics. I have seen web developers or third parties break the conversion tracking so many times that I often wished to return to simpler site independent metrics, which you can’t break easily. Just measuring rankings and traffic is rarely sufficient though.
- One client of mine has broken goal tracking by using frames on their thank you page, which I pointed out a few days after it happened, but he wasn’t able to fix it or provide alternative tracking methods for months.
- Another client has been unable for several months to get exact amounts for e-commerce tracking because some of the payment handling providers did not return the data properly.
- In another case, a third party “pay per performance” PPC agency has been hired by a client of mine. The agency used a redirect on all of the Google ads served by their system so that they can track their “performance”, but in Google Analytics these referrers didn’t show up as “paid” anymore.
As an SEO consultant I don’t do everything myself so that clients and their employees have to perform tasks I recommend them.
Analytics often seems to be a low priority.
As long as the site is obviously doing great that may be no problem, but the first day the obvious metrics such as traffic or rankings drop, the SEO practitioner has to explain. If they don’t have data beyond the obvious, they can’t.
Third party tools that work without any installation on the client side can work wonders in such cases. Most of them are paid ones though, and you don’t want to pay for analytics tools for clients who can’t acknowledge the importance of such tools. I always suggest additional, easier to implement analytics tools in cases where clients can’t get their GA to work properly. Even such a simple alternative is often neglected.
The free Google Webmaster Tools shows lots of valuable data that no broken Google Analytics installation can disturb. It’s always a good idea to check your GWT data regularly, be it for sheer SEO inspiration or to identify potential issues Google may point out there. When your analytics set-up is insufficient and the client or site owner is not able to or keen on spending time and effort on fixing it, you can use GWT data to show the impact of your SEO campaign. You can track micro conversions like click throughs. Also, approximate rankings get tracked by GWT automatically. Sadly the GWT data is now less exact than it once was; it gets rounded and we can only see a few weeks of data. Older data gets deleted.
You don’t have to give up yet though. Even clients unwilling to fix their Google Analytics tracking or install other analytics tools to get proper data can be shown the advantages of conversion tracking. I’ve recently discovered a free third party Google Analytics tool called Paditrack that enables you to export and analyse GA data with ease. It’s even fun to do so. Also, you can gain quick insights whereas conversion and conversion funnel tracking in Google Analytics can be a little tricky sometimes. Even with the additional “Multi-Channel Funnels” data from new Google Analytics you often have funnel visualisations that confuse clients more than they demonstrate the value of the actual SEO campaign.
With Paditrack you can quickly set up conversion funnels you expect to work for you and check whether they do. For example, I chose to add four conversion funnels for the SEOptimise website to see how they perform assuming that the conversion goal is to request a proposal:
- Homepage -> Contact Us -> Thanks
- Blog -> Contact Us -> Thanks
- Services -> Contact Us -> Thanks
- Careers -> Contact Us -> Thanks
This way, most of the actual events of the Contact Us page being visited has been accounted for. That is, most of the visitors who decided to contact us used one of the four paths or conversion funnels. Then you can visualise the conversion funnels for each traffic source or even keyword when you choose “Google” as the segment you want to examine.
In Google Analytics itself you can check the “reverse goal path” to find out a lot about where the converting users come from.
What do you do when GA goal tracking is broken though, as in the “frames” case above? Well, rejoice, the Paditrack conversion funnel visualisation still works. I tried it on that project. Using Paditrack I could quickly reinforce my own assumptions on which paths convert and why. The “Careers” path converts best, as almost 20% of the people who visit the site use the Contact Us form. This is no surprise, but it shows that using the same form for job and client inquiries can have a negative impact on measuring website success.
The blog, on the other hand, converts worse and has an overall low conversion rate. This is again no surprise, as the blog is not for direct conversions but mostly for users searching for informational queries. These users ideally link to the helpful blog posts and at the end of the day the whole site ranks better for related queries that then convert.
For actual client inquiries, of course, the services path converts best.
That’s only half the story though. The reason why the people find the services section in the first place are more complex as suggested above.
Using the conversion funnel visualisation I can both argue that we need a better analytics set up and can also point out the potential improvements. These should be a better motivation for the client to act upon.