6 posts categorized "Google Analytics"

10/30/2017

Data Pipelines to the Rescue: Building modern analytics platforms

This article was originally published on the ChiefMartec blog. Alex Sirota from NewPath Consulting wrote the article as an entry into The Hackies essay contest for the Spring 2017 MarTech conference in San Francisco. It has been slightly updated with new information available as of October 2017 including new research on new data pipeline vendors.

 

In Out of the Crisis, page 121, Dr. Edward Deming states:

The most important figures that one needs for management are unknown or unknowable, but successful management must nevertheless take account of them.

Deming realized that many important things, that must be managed, cannot be measured. You can’t measure everything important to management, and yet you must still manage those important things. But figuring out what is important to measure, and effectively doing so is as painful today as ever. Effective digital transformation depends on measuring the things important to your customers, not to just your executive management and staff.

Fundamentally changing a business strategy requires some difficult and controversial choices. How can we make effective decisions in a world of constant noise and disruption? We need to observe and measure what customers and organization staff actually do, not what their biases dictate.

Data Access is Sacrosanct

Today, most key business performance data is stored in structured and unstructured formats on internally-managed infrastructure. The most important decisions are made using information stored in spreadsheets, presentations and in various proprietary data formats designed to keep data secure and inaccessible by most staff.

Data access is sacrosanct and business users have to go through a set of data priests guarding information fiefdoms to get it. If you want to see an integrated view of all business metrics, you have to build a “Key Performance Indicators (KPI) Dashboard.”

Been There, Done That: Excel Dashboard Hell

The creation of the KPI dashboard involves blessing from IT and buy-in from the business owners of the data. All are involved in a massive project to export, transform and load data (ETL) into a data warehouse.

These projects are expensive, and only the companies with large resources can undertake this strategic but critical work. Production enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, marketing and sales systems (e.g. CRM), financial and accounting systems, and customer service systems feed a data warehouse that theoretically will provide a complete picture of overall business health.

The dashboard, usually fed from other underlying intermediate data sources, informs the CEO accountable to a “bottom line” and controlled by the CFO who reports financial results. Downstream individual lines of business use more granular dashboards to understand various revenue and cost drivers to respond to pressures and take advantage of opportunities.

When successful, these projects can predict when a business model is working and provide insight to strategic decisions.

Most of the time though, these projects are departmental, designed by sales, marketing or operational teams. To collect the data across an enterprise, spreadsheets become the lingua franca, usually out of date, maintained by business owners and their Excel-minions. The data in a spreadsheet is usually laced with bias from the people who supply the data. Or worse, they are laden with inaccuracies or incompleteness due to the various transformations and inadequacies of the underlying data warehouse.

Cloud-enabled Microservices Transform Business Intelligence

As business applications move into the cloud, so too does the data that needs to be analyzed. But with the disaggregation of IT services around business capabilities into hundreds or even thousands of cloud “microservices” what does the data challenge begin to look like?

It looks absolutely terrifying and chaotic.

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

The “Era of the Cloud” (diagram from Matt Miller of Sequoia Capital) has a critical feature that makes sense of the potential chaos: each service has an underlying data model that is abstracted by an easily accessible API.

Because APIs are a critical component of integration between cloud services, they are also a ready made data tap for a modern cloud-enabled data warehouse. In fact the quality and stability of the API, and the ability to get direct access to transactional, non-summarized data is a differentiation point when selecting cloud services.

A new type of data is commonly also available — “meta data” that measures every transaction whether it be an anonymous click on a website or even the usage and telemetry data from an application user interface. Cloud services collect an extraordinary amount of data, much of it collected as “exhaust” data and recorded by computers rather than forgotten by people. This new type of data, stored for of pennies per terabyte, can point to performance indicators that have never been available before.

Answering Two Holy Grail Business Questions

  • How do you identify your most profitable customers and segments?
  • How do you attract more customers like them?

These two questions sum up the “bottom line” of most business models. Yet many businesses, large or small, are not positioned to answer them. They rarely have the necessary analytics in place to inform a decision maker whether or not their current business strategy is working or where improvements are in order.

Until recently, answering these type of questions could be prohibitively expensive and maybe even impossible. But keep these two questions in mind as we build an enterprise running entirely on API-enabled cloud services using a “data pipeline” and pose a set of underlying intermediate questions than can inform the answers to our two core questions.

  1. How much revenue do we generate by customer segment? How much cost do we have by each customer segment? How quickly can we analyze different segments of our customers? (Source: financial + CRM)
  2. What is our advertising ROI by channel? (Source: web and ad analytics, including external vendor)
  3. Are our customer success efforts affecting our churn rate? Can we optimize our customer support efforts? (Source: customer support + web application analytics)
  4. Are our sales people talking to the right target customer? Are there other prospects we are missing? (Source: CRM + marketing)
  5. How effective are our staff at innovation? How quickly can staff ramp up to be effective after hiring? How are they learning on the job? (Source: is there a system for this at all in organizations?)

We will need to centralize these data sources so that our business intelligence tool can draw from one aggregate pool of data that’s consistently updated. We will also need to automatically maintain a data dictionary and identify common identifiers shared between systems (e.g., an email address to identify a customer between pre- and post-sales systems).

Cloud Enabled Business Intelligence State of the Art

At NewPath Consulting we have researched the creation of cloud-based business dashboards since 2014. Cloud-based systems each have their own data silos, as illustrated below:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

Each cloud-based system has its own way of doing data analysis, usually very limited. In many ways, the cloud-based data problem is a lot more complex, because the proliferation of data silos is even more intense in the cloud than it was when data resided in several, on-premise proprietary systems and documents repositories.

The saving grace to the cloud data problem is two-fold:

  1. All cloud applications are designed with a REST API, that allows the programmatic, real-time extraction of data.
  2. A new breed of data pipeline and visualization companies have developed highly effective tools democratizing data access and analysis.

Creating the Cloud-Enabled Data Warehouse

The following graphic from a Looker and RJ Metrics presentation illustrates several technical challenges of data integration common to all cloud data warehousing projects:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

Web traffic, distribution and online goal data can be managed in Google Analytics for example, but what about transactional data? How do you manage the data about the journey from an anonymous prospect to a long-term, profitable customer? And how could a business determine if a customer is profitable if measures of profitability have to come from multiple systems?

This is the core business problem in any business intelligence system — creating the necessary underlying relationships between various data sets.

At NewPath Consulting, customer profitability is dictated by:

  1. Cost of customer acquisition
  2. Number of customer service requests
  3. Number and length of longer term implementation or maintenance projects
  4. Underlying software and human resources needed to service those requests

The data to support these indicators post-sales can be tied together between systems easily: the email address(es) that the customer uses across multiple operational cloud services. In a pre-sales scenario we must count in aggregate, but customers decloak from anonymity with a direct interaction by phone or email or some other traceable identifier such as a web cookie or customer ID.

Data Pipelines to the Rescue

New tools such as StitchAloomaXplenty, ETLeap and Fivetran and even open-source solutions allow real-time “copy and paste” and “synchronize” of multiple cloud data sources into a cloud data warehouse, so it can be manipulated and visualized in many ways. Tools like Alooma and Xplenty enable data transformation services as well. Since writing this article, Stitch has launched an open-source project called Singer that enables the creation of "data taps" for many SaaS platforms. This well-written and researched August 2017 article from Mode Analytics details differences and evaluation criteria for data pipeline tools.

Visualization tools like Looker coupled with data pipelines make the building of a data warehouse a snap. Even G Suite add-ons such as Supermetrics can populate a Google Sheet to create a DIY cloud business intelligence system for SMBs.

NewPath Consulting has started to put together a content marketing dashboard using Google Analytics data to analyze daily, monthly and yearly trends in our content marketing efforts. We have also integrated our billing system into a steady stream of expense and customer payment data.

It is a satisfying experience to spin up a fully configured data warehouse in the cloud with a few clicks and in minutes start pumping raw data from multiple cloud sources manipulated through tried and true object/relational techniques.

Here’s an illustration of how these new data pipeline tools enable a totally new degree of analysis composed of a myriad of cloud-based data sources:

image from cdn.chiefmartec.com

In addition to providing fantastic visualization and reporting functionality, modern business intelligence tools often have a modeling layer as well that allows users to perform joins/transformations as needed.

Unlike in traditional ETL (extract, transform and load) systems, transformation is performed after the loading step (i.e., ELT — extract, load, then transform). The benefit is that the end-users — the ones who primarily work with the data — have a lot more power and access to raw data, and don’t have to depend on IT to accomplish the analysis they need.

Four Business Intelligence Futures

So where do we go from here? We believe there are four innovations on the horizon for businesses and the people that operate them:

Data citizens, unite. The democratization of cloud-based raw data, delivered through the immense compute and storage capability of cloud data warehouses like AWS Redshift will open up access to users beyond data scientists. Business users will become data citizens and end the reign of data priests and information fiefdoms.

Unlimited access to raw, unfiltered customer-oriented data. The transformation from an ETL to an ELT model will enable direct access not only to summarized data (e.g., Google Analytics dimensions and metrics) but also to customer behavioral and transactional data as well as exhaust “meta data.”

Business model canvas-on-steroids. The metrics to measure each part of a business model can be evidence based (rather than assumptive or intuitive), supported with key performance indicators, summarized in real-time from hundreds of disparate cloud based data sources.

The cloud-enabled business advisor. Imagine the ultimate solution to the CEO’s job of making better business decisions: a cloud-enabled, AI-powered advisor. When will an intelligent, virtual business advisor begin to whisper into the CEO’s ear with recommendations around potential acquisitions, resource reallocations, pricing adjustments, and structural reorganizations?

If you want to be kept up to date on this project, please let us know, and we’ll put you on a notification list.

09/05/2017

How and When to Choose the Right Software Solutions For Your Business

Digital Workplace Infographic Final - reduced

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on digital workplace transformation. Part 1 and Part 2 are also available on this website.

There’s a problem with how most small businesses choose their technology solutions, and we see it far too often. First the owner or manager purchases a product that solves a particular perceived pain or problem. Then they try to make it work within their existing business model and organizational structure. We feel that this approach is backwards, and your business ends up not getting the real value from the tools you choose. It’s not the technology that small businesses need first, but rather core knowledge and capabilities in the areas of business, market, content marketing, design/usability and implementation.

Ideally, you should know the key activities that will expand and sustain your business, and the key resources you’ll need to execute those key activities. In the Business Model Canvas (the one-page business model generator that we use and recommend), these two elements appear on the left-hand side of the model or the “backstage” area of your business.

From working with so many small businesses over the years, we have become adept at helping businesses identify their key activities and resources (business objectives), as well as the technology solutions that can support those activities implemented by your key resources. In the following infographic, we’ve organized our favourite technology tools and services around six different business objectives (the concentric circles), building up from the five core knowledge areas in the middle.

NewPath Consulting Technology Stack

The productivity tools in the infographic are indicated by their company logos, and are arranged in concentric circles according to the business objective(s) of each tool. These circles radiate from the core capabilities and also correlate to the size and maturity level of an organization. We believe that businesses of every size can benefit from assessing their core capabilities and having a well-curated technology “stack,” a combination of software services used by staff and customers to achieve various business objectives.

For more details about NewPath’s technology “stack” (combination of software services) and the services we use and recommend the most, please see our post about software integration.

The five core capability areas are:

  1. Business - clarifying your business model and business objectives, and your professional ethics and legal practices such as contracting and intellectual property.
  2. Market - understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage, and defining your value proposition and the 4 Ps of marketing (product, price, promotion, place).
  3. Design and usability - creating the necessary online environment to deliver value to customers, which includes branding, graphic design, security and privacy.
  4. Implementation - developing or acquiring technical knowledge and fundamental capabilities of digital workplace software services
  5. Content marketing - combining capabilities 1 through 4 to publish and distribute content that will help you find and retain customers and business partners

For reference, here is the full set of subtopics for each of the five core capabilities:

Web Management Professional Body of Knowledge
Web Management Professional Body of Knowledge c/o Web Management Institute

 

Of course, you may be thinking, how can I be awesome at all of these core capabilities?!? Be assured, no single business owner can be equally good at all these areas of knowledge. In fact, MBA (Masters of Business Administration) graduates focus on only two of these core capabilities - Business and Marketing. Many companies are started by a ‘technician’ who does not likely have many business or marketing skills, or a business whiz who doesn’t have the implementation skills to deliver on the value proposition by performing the core service offering.

What you need is to invest in getting help to bridge the gaps, yet we rarely see businesses doing this well. We get it; it’s intimidating. But there are resources out there to help you learn, and people you can hire to help. In fact, we hope you’ll let us help you.

Going outwards from the centre of the diagram we focus on the “orbits” that surround the core knowledge areas. We believe the software tools you choose must be aligned with the maturity of your business - how long you’ve been in business, how many people work for you, and your revenue.

We begin, as most small businesses do, with the content and experience band - a website and lead generation program. Unfortunately, most organizations stop here, but as your company grows you will need more tools and services. The next band is advertising and promotion, where you start making more direct and outbound offers.

As your business grows, you might want to start selling online, and you’ll need services that support your commerce and sales process. As we go further out, you’ll need to build awareness with a larger audience through social media and relationship building.

When you grow to the data layer, specifically if you are a larger organization, this is where you’ll need things like analytics, invoice and billing, and data aggregation services. At the management band, you will need human resource management products, training and project management tools that have  a broader scope.

What’s important is not just which products you choose, but what business objectives each tool serves and how they work together. As your organization grows, you should be adopting these products based on your needs and level of maturity. The more mature your business, the more tools you will have to adopt and integrate. Yet if you start loading up on software too soon, you’ll create chaos and confusion while wasting money and time.

The customer is the most important thing

We believe the most important thing to any small business is its customer, and that today’s online customer requires that you have the high quality digital workplace we have outlined here. From that solid foundation you can get more customers, deliver more value, to then be able to charge more and earn more revenue.

This article concludes our blog post series on digital transformation for small businesses. First we covered the need for building a digital workplace. Then we revealed the importance of creating and evaluating your business model, a must for digital transformation. In this article we addressed how to choose the right software for your business, based on NewPath's own software-as-a-service (SaaS) technology stack and how we’ve used these tools to help our customers grow.

Click here to download a free one-page visual summary of our digital transformation model.

The important question now is what do YOU think is the most important thing to your business? If you’re still juggling time and money as your top priorities, instead of your customer, we invite you to make this business paradigm shift to focusing on your customers.

NewPath’s SMB experts are here to help you choose, implement and use new technology in order to benefit your business and find you more time. Business Success Plans start at $239.00/month for all-inclusive technology, service and support with no contracts or start-up fees. Contact us today for your free consultation!

04/05/2017

Software Overload? Integration Brings Relief

There are almost 4,000 cloud-based marketing services on the market today (UPDATE: As of May 2017, there are now over 5,000 martech services), many of which are free or cost only a few dollars a month. With such a low barrier to entry, many small and medium-sized business owners are tempted to keep adding more and more tools and services until they’re too overwhelmed to use any of them effectively.

NewPath's guiding principle is to choose the software services just right for your business size and maturity, rather than buying into a monolithic "do all" software platform. Our two primary evaluation criteria are quite simple: Can the core value of the tool be demonstrated in 30 minutes and does the underlying service vendor have outstanding support?

The trick is to get your software products to work together, integrating them to effectively talk to each other. You will get the best benefit when your tools work together to accomplish business requirements that each cannot accomplish on its own.  

For example, any online form has the ability to notify you that someone has filled it out, which generally happens via email. But imagine the possibilities within an integrated set of tools, e.g., as soon as a form is submitted, a business process is activated depending on the fields filled out, an automated response is sent to the website visitor, and a new account is created in your customer database. A specific employee is assigned to the account and receives follow-up reminders to stay in touch. This is all possible when cloud services are properly set up with your business’s model and requirements in mind.

Some SaaS (software as a service) products integrate better than others, with built-in functionality that business users can apply with a bit of time and effort, with no coding required or the need to reinvent the wheel.

NewPath Consulting has evaluated a wide range of SaaS products over the past four years for their effectiveness, ease of use and interoperability. In the infographic below, we’ve highlighted our favourites, and demonstrated how they correspond with five core capabilities of all businesses, outlined in the centre of the diagram:

NewPath Consulting SMB Martech Stack

  1. Business - business modeling and operational planning
  2. Market - understanding the customer and what motivates them to engage
  3. Design and usability - creating the necessary environment to deliver value to customers
  4. Implementation - understanding the fundamental capabilities of cloud-based tools and services
  5. Content marketing - combining capabilities 1 through 4 to find and retain customers and business partners in the digital realm

Each business must acquire these capabilities over time as they mature and grow. These capabilities are required to understand and validate your business objectives, your sales and marketing techniques, and which tools to use and when.

At NewPath we believe that as a business becomes more capable and experienced at these five core knowledge areas, they also become ready to transform into a digital workplace. 

For example, most businesses need an online presence (ie a website or mobile app) but not every business requires a formal customer relationship management (CRM) tool since many don’t employ large groups of outbound sales people. If you’re just starting out and don’t have many prospects or customers, then a shared cloud-based spreadsheet with some basic analytics can be as effective and has a lower cost and complexity than a CRM.

The productivity tools in the infographic above are indicated by their company logos, and are arranged in concentric circles according to the business objective(s) of each tool. These circles radiate from the core capabilities and also correlate to the size and maturity level of an organization. We believe that businesses of every size can benefit from assessing their core capabilities and having a well-curated technology “stack,” a combination of software services used by staff and customers to achieve various business objectives.

Tool set #1: Content and experience

The first objective every business is to develop a modern and interactive website on a capable content management platform. NewPath supports the easy-to-use yet fully extensible WordPress platform. WordPress is best in class for template-based sites, with extensibility via plugins and themes to handle any requirement you may need. Couple this with the easy yet powerful form builder Formstack to enable your prospects and customers to interact with you 24/7. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Serving the customer.”

Tool set #2: Advertising and promotion

The tools NewPath recommends are AppSheet, Wild Apricot and Mad Mimi. AppSheet allows you to build mobile apps from spreadsheets, using your own data to deliver a branded experience to your customers. It's easy, free, and there is no coding involved. Wild Apricot is a cloud-based service that includes website management, membership renewals, email marketing and donations for membership-based organizations (nonprofits, clubs and associations). Mad Mimi is NewPath’s choice for email marketing. Read more about why Mad Mimi is still our choice after all these years. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Attracting the customer.”

Currently, at NewPath we don’t recommend any online advertising ad platforms. We recognize this is a controversial position, yet content marketing simply provides a better return on investment for most SMBs over online ads. Here’s some proof based on our own experience with content marketing and spending on ads. Online ads can work, though, for certain product sectors, to boost an already well-known brand, or for local advertising of local services.

Tool set #3: Commerce and sales

For commerce and sales, NewPath recommends PayPal, WooCommerce and Stripe. Everyone’s heard of PayPal and the service remains easy to use for secure online payment processing. WooCommerce is a free WordPress plugin that allows you to set up an online store to sell directly from your website - why pay for an ecommerce platform when you can have more power for less cost? Stripe makes it even easier to do business online by offering recurring and one-time credit card payment processing. Stripe checks out the transaction, makes sure it is legitimate, and if all looks good, they send the money automatically over to your business bank account, without the need for a merchant account. The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Making it easy sell and buy services and products.”

Tool set #4: Social and relationships

Social media and the cultivation of relationships is an important step in the sales cycle. Some aspects can be automated and other parts must be handled directly, but in each scenario, business acumen and technology can help. At NewPath Consulting we use the following social and relationship management tools: 

  • Slack.com is our internal communications and collaboration tool, which we use as an alternative to inter-office emails so everyone remains on the same page and informed of internal projects and delivery of customer service.
  • Highrise is our customer and partner database that keeps us abreast of all interactions between our sales and marketing team and our prospects and customers, and allows us to schedule touchpoints and keep notes and to-dos in order. Highrise integrates seamlessly with your email inbox, important since after phone calls, email is the primary communication channel between staff and customers.
  • Zoom is our recommended service for video meetings, which can be recorded and scheduled ahead of time for up to 50 participants via phone and video.
  • Appointlet helps us automate the process of scheduling meetings between team members, prospective customers, and customers, eliminating the back and forth of trying to find a mutually available time in people’s busy schedules. 
  • Hootsuite lets us monitor social media and schedule new and popular content when the intended audience is most likely to be online.

The overall driving principle of this tool set is “Staying organized while keeping in touch with prospects and customers.”

Tool set #5: Data & Management

As an organization matures to the point where it needs to effectively manage a lot of data and personnel, NewPath uses and recommends these products to use analytical insights to drive business decisions:

  • The Business Model Canvas helps a business owner clarify and iterate a business model that may not be complete or functional.
  • Stitch Data, WebHooks, Zapier and SuperMetrics help integrate and automate data integration between various services.
  • FreshBooks is a cloud-based accounting tool that keeps track of invoices, expenses and taxes, and offers recurring billing. And your business will get paid faster when you can deliver invoices electronically and get paid electronically!
  • Google Analytics allows you to track website traffic, events and the return on investment of marketing efforts.
  • LastPass provides secure password management for all staff.
  • GoDaddy offers secure, reliable domain name management and managed WordPress hosting.
  • Safari Books online and Lynda.com provide ongoing business education for your staff and customers.
  • G Suite from Google allows for cloud storage and instant, collaborative editing of documents, illustrations and spreadsheets.

Do you have a mismatched collection of productivity tools that aren’t working together to help your business grow? Step back and look at the big picture of how your business is evolving, which core capabilities you have and which you need to build, and which set of services will help you reach your business goals.

10/11/2016

How Effective Use of Analytics Increases Your Traffic - A Scientific Experiment Part II

As small business owners we have limited resources and we must make them count. That includes the time, money and effort put into creating content.

In a previous post we introduced our Average Pageviews Per Month spreadsheet report, which measures how well your content performs. The more pageviews per month over time, the more that content is resonating with your audience.

In this blog post, we will document how to configure and use the Average Pageviews per Month metric and a few other interesting reports we will build.

One of our most powerful reports is called “All Posts.” It automatically generates a snapshot of all traffic to your blog, from the beginning of when you started reporting to the current day (=today). You can then use formulas in your spreadsheet to control what data is displayed, and how.

Google Analytics has its limits

Why do this reporting outside of Google Analytics, when it is such a robust platform? When you go to Google Analytics your starting points are almost always different - the date/time parameters and other elements of your dashboard are always set to  what you looked at last. If you’re always resetting parameters, you can lose track. It’s like you’re always starting from scratch; you’re getting a scattered point of view and it’s hard to focus on a few metrics and measure how things are changing.

Filtering on certain parameters is also not intuitive and difficult to do on the fly while doing analysis. The filter parameters have to be set up each and every time you run a report, or you must set up “segments” - an advanced feature of Google Analytics.

A customized Google spreadsheet, like the one we showed you to set up in the last post, is always reflective of the same date parameters and filters. You get what you expect - every time. Plus most small business owners are already comfortable with reading a spreadsheet, while Google Analytics reports can take some getting used to. Also, when you use Google Analytics without a filter, you get all web pages and blog posts, instead of focusing on just the blog posts, which is what we’re trying to do here.

Another bonus of spreadsheet reports is that if you want to make changes to the data, you can always add new reports and run them using a new report configuration. Since all reports can automatically update every day, this is a powerful alternative to the Google Analytics system, configured exactly how you want.

A closer look at the All Posts report

Here are the metrics we want to capture in the All Posts report:

  • Pageviews (number of pageviews of that post)
  • Unique pageviews (factors out if a person loaded the page more than once; doesn’t count the multiple page views during the same session)
  • Average time on page (amount of time reading before clicking away)
  • Entrances (# of times someone actually started their web visit on that page)
  • Bounce rate (# of times started at that page but didn’t continue to any other pages on the site; the article didn’t engage them)
  • Exit rate (# of times this was the last page someone visited before leaving the site)

In Part One of this post we introduced the pattern matching language known as regular expression (also known as a regex). Here we’ll use regex again to filter for these dimensions:

  • Sort by descending order on number of pageviews using the directive  -GA;pageviews
  • Page path - the text that appears after the domain name of your site, i.e., /myblogpost.html

The page path filter includes the regex code that identifies  which of your website pages are actually blog posts. For example, the blog posts on our website uses a URL pattern of /YYYY/MM/blog-postname-html, so our regex will filter all page URLs that start with with /YYYY/MM. You can look at the URL of any of your blog posts to find out how your blog’s URLs (ie “permalinks”) are structured.

Common permalink patterns

The two most common WordPress permalink patterns are nicknamed “ugly” and “pretty” (click here for more information about permalink structures). There are several other possibilities as well, which is why this filter will be fairly unique to every website.

For the purposes of our All Posts report, the most important elements to have in your permalink are the name of the blog post, and the year and month it was published. If that’s not your situation, get in touch about a function that allows you to grab metadata such as the publication date from the blog post itself.

This filter will include URLs that have year and month, and exclude ones that have the week in them, or other noise data and index pages that aren’t actually blog posts.

Now that we’ve finished that, we can run a report and populate a separate tab of our spreadsheet of raw data called All Posts report.

Here is a Google Spreadsheet template you can use to try this yourself. In Google Sheets you can also make a graph of your data very quickly, e.g., all articles with higher average pageviews than 1.

Average-pageviews-per-month-for-blog-posts

In the Google Sheets template, you’ll see that these two key columns are highlighted: D - Post Age Months, and E - Average Pageviews Per Month

Assuming that your permalink format is the one we talked about, we’ll use this Google spreadsheet formula:

The age of the post in months is calculated with
=(YEAR(TODAY())-MID(B7,2,4))*12+(MONTH(TODAY())-MID(B7,7,2))

This formula extracts and calculates the age of the post in months.

The average pageviews per month formula depends on the age of the posts in months and is:
=if(D2<>0,C2/D2,C2/(D2+1))

So when you’re done, you get these two handy columns of data, and once you’ve filled down the remaining rows, you can sort on the data. Use the menu option Data-->Sort Range-->Data has a header row, and sort by average pageviews in descending order.

Once you do that, your most popular blog posts that are consistently getting traffic every month will float to the top. Now you can see which articles are generating traffic to your site and resonating with your audience consistently, and which ones are not.

The older articles that consistently have a large amount of page views will probably continue to drive traffic to your blog and the rest of your website. People are interested in what you’re talking about; the chart above follows a long tail. The goal is to push more articles to the head of the long tail, thus increasing your overall traffic while resonating with your target audience.

Near the bottom of the report you’ll see the posts that get less than one page view a month on average. The likelihood that anyone will read those articles is low. They may continue to drive traffic to your site, but there is no point is doing anything to promote them.

The Netflix phenomenon

These articles may be well-written and interesting, but they’re just not hitting the mark. In fact, you’ll probably find that if your traffic to the blog follows a long tail, you have a small set of articles that are generating any real traffic, and a large number that are generating none at all.

And it should be obvious by now that as long as you generate more articles you will continue to build traffic, but once you stop it is unlikely traffic to your site will increase. Here’s an automatically updating chart of the traffic to this blog. You’ll notice the marked increase in September 2016 over September 2015 as we continue to write new articles and actively promote the existing popular blog articles in social media and through Google:

NPC traffic sep 2016

Click to see a full image of updated monthly blog traffic.

You can liken this to what happens on Netflix, the popular movie and TV streaming platform, where only a small number of videos out of their huge catalog of content are viewed the most. No one would suggest that Netflix - or you - delete the rest of the content that doesn’t rank, but that you focus on investing your resources - especially if limited - to create and promote popular, high-quality content.

You can’t just rattle 500 words off the top of your head and throw it up on your website with no editing, contemplation, or understanding of your audience. Google Analytics and customized reports like the All Posts spreadsheet give you all the feedback you need about whether you’re going in the right direction with your content or not. Because if you want your overall traffic to increase, your blog traffic must increase. That’s the power of blogging, if you’re doing it right.

09/07/2016

How Effective Use of Analytics Increases Your Traffic - A Scientific Experiment

Small business owners know they should create content, but often produce that content willy-nilly, with no plan in mind. They suspect there is some science behind search engine optimization, but don’t know how to balance that with the artistry of writing.

Why people come to your site

A website generates traffic when its environment changes, i.e. new blog posts are added that people discover and want to read, or new inbound links are created that lead from other sites to yours, such as social media networks, or your referral partner websites (inbound link data is found in your Google Analytics Acquisition reports).

If you stop changing the environment (adding new blog posts, also known as content marketing), your traffic will level off or decline. We saw a stark example of that on our own site.

We blogged at least 1-2 times per month in 2014, and even hired writers to help us formulate our ideas. In 2015 we stopped doing that in favour of timed events to more opportunistic articles (webinars, for example) and while that generated traffic, it never really created the steady traffic that connects with long tail keywords (the highly specific search terms that potential customers actually use). We also didn't get as many inbound links as a result.

Sometimes you can get lucky when there is flurry of new interest in a topic you’ve previously written about, and that can bring new traffic to those posts. However, the best way to get new eyes on old content - whether previously published blog posts or static pages like About, Events or Services - is to add new content such as blog posts. That’s because when people visit your site to read the new content, they’ll most likely also click on other pages.

Likewise, if you stop adding new content to your site, you’ll not only lose the traffic you would have gained to those new pages, but your existing pages won’t get the secondary exposure they would have enjoyed.

Before you can analyze your content’s sustainability and increase your site traffic, you need some baseline information, so the sooner you set up Google Analytics to start collecting data, the better. You want to understand who your audience is and what information they’re searching for.

You may think you know the answer, but the data may surprise you. In Google Analytics you’ll find this information in the Audience and Behaviour reports (if you don’t have Google Analytics set up on your site, follow these steps or get in touch and we can show you how to use this free resource!).

Behaviour reports tell you what people do when they visit your site - the first page they land on, the last page the view before leave leave, and everything they do in between. That also includes the words and phrases they type into your site’s search box, i.e., what content they’re looking for on your website.

You’ll want to look at Behavior reports for your site’s most popular pages and most popular blog posts, so you can compare these results with the data for the new content you’re going to create, and how that new content affects views of your existing pages.

 

The Average Page Views Per Month report - Making Google Analytics work for you

Google Analytics produces an extraordinary amount of data, which can be intimidating. It may look and seem complicated, but it’s simply a set of dimensions and metrics that can be portrayed any way you wish. Here is a full list of what can be measured by Google Analytics.

As Lukas Oldenburg explains on Quora, a metric is usually something you can count, while a dimension is what you are applying the metric to. So for example, the dimension 'Page Title' can be analyzed via the metrics 'Pageviews', 'Unique Pageviews', 'Time on Page', 'Exit Rate' and so on.

If you want to know how effective your content is, I propose that the only relevant analytic is overall traffic trends, and page-level traffic trends. At NewPath Consulting we’ve come up with a report called Average Page Views Per Month, which is a customized dashboard that measures how well your content performs. It harnesses the most relevant content-related data collected by Google Analytics, so businesses can use that data to drive their content decisions.

Here is the formula:

Average Pageviews Per Month = Pageviews Age of Post (in Months)

 

The average pageviews per month tells you the content that has the most consistent views over the longest period of time. You’ll see how a high-quality, evergreen piece of content resonates with your audience over a long period.

To create a piece of quality content that generates traffic takes a lot of deliberation, thought and effort. For example, our team spent two months preparing the content of a recent webinar about how to run your small business with online forms, and another five hours to create, edit and distribute the follow up blog post.

This effort pays off, because creating new content will increase your overall high-quality traffic. Some posts endure and some posts decay. Analytics can help you predict these results and ensure you’re creating the right kind of content.

 

How to set up an Average Page Views Per Month report for your own website

Assuming you have already set up the Google Analytics add-on in your Google Sheets (here are instructions), now you’ll have to configure your report to get the information we’re looking for.

Here are the configuration options (click on the image for full size):

Google Analytics Configuration Options
Google Analytics Add On Configuration Options

Let’s go through each of these fields:

The Profile ID is provided by Google Sheet add on. Your start date should be when you started collecting analytics, and your end date should be the current date (use the =today() Google Sheet function to automatically fill in the end date).

Beyond the reports dashboard, Google Analytics is a data warehouse of all the metrics and dimensions that are collected and summarized all the time. The dictionary of dimensions and metrics are available for easy searching in the handy Dimensions & Metrics Explorer.

The metrics we will select for each blog post are pageviews, unique pageviews, average time on page, entrances, bounce rates, and exit rate.

The dimensions is the page URL (without the domain name), sorted by pageviews in descending order, denoted by the - sign before ga:pageviews.

The next is part is key: to filter out the blog posts from the static pages on your site (such as About, Services, etc.). How do we do this?

Have you ever filled out a form and received an error message such as, “this is not a valid email address,” or “passwords do not match”? Did you ever wonder how the form knew that? The web developers who created these forms used a pattern matching language known as a regular expression (also known as regex).

In order to filter out your website’s static pages and analyze only your blog posts, we’re going to use a regex to configure the filter row of our Google Analytics spreadsheet. If you were to leave this row empty, you would get results from all the pages on your site.

You have to establish a pattern that tells Google Analytics how to identify your blog posts and differentiate between the static pages and blog posts on your site. The blog posts on our website uses a URL pattern of sitename.com/YYYY/MM/blog-postname-html, so our regex filters all page URLs that start with with /YYYY/MM.  You can look at the URL of any of your blog posts to find out how your blog’s permalinks are structured.

You have to establish a pattern that tells Google Analytics how to identify your blog posts and differentiate between the static pages and blog posts on your site. The blog posts on our website use a URL pattern of sitename.com/YYYY/MM/blog-postname-html, so our regex filters all page URLs that start with with /YYYY/MM. You can look at the URL of any of your blog posts to find out how your blog’s permalinks are structured.

You’ll need to experiment. See what results are returned with the set of regular expressions you used, and then tweak them as needed. If you need more help, get in touch!

Now that we’ve created the filter, we want to set up an automatically-generated analysis page that will show you, at a glance, what we’re measuring

Here is our finished report configuration, where you can see the highlighted column showing the average pageviews per month (click for a larger view):

Google Analytics URL Report in Google Sheets 

When you have this kind of history of content and its performance, you can make smarter decisions about what to write more about and what to write less about or not at all.

In next month’s article we will document how to configure and use the Average Pageviews per Month metric and a few other interesting reports we can generate.

03/07/2016

Google Analytics Referral Spam Removed Automatically

Google Analytics referral spam has long been a pain point for Google Analytics users.  While Google had previously promised a solution last year, until now, users had to resort to many workarounds in an attempt to sanitize Analytics from showing all the spam.  But as of this weekend, many people were reporting that Google Analytics referral spam is no longer showing up in reporting. Unfortunately there is nothing formal yet from Google on the issue.

The change does not appear to be retroactive, as we do see referral spam still in Google Analytics in January 2016 and before.  But as of February 2016, it seems that Google has finally solved the Google Analytics spam problem, as it appears no referral spam shows up – at least none of the commonly known ones.

One effect this will have on your overall traffic is a marked decrease in total visits and page views. This traffic was never from people anyways, so it is a better indication of real traffic from humans (rather than spam robots!).