This week Benjamin Ilfeld from 10up.com joined Jonathan Denwood and his co-host Kim Shivler to discuss Google Analytics. Benjamin is the Lead Audience and Revenue Strategist at 10up.
They focus on the audience and revenue side of the business for their customers. Benjamin explained that while Google Analytics is a tool to provide insights into traffic visiting your site, it’s like a Swiss Army Knife that isn’t specific to one need. It’s generic and to get the most from it, you need to configure it to meet your needs.
For example, if you are running an eCommerce store, you want to filter out bot traffic to make sure anyone visiting is a potential customer. Ben also recommended configuring views and filters in order to fine tune what you see. He always recommends creating a test view that is your sandbox. Use this like a test or staging area before putting anything into a live view. Once it’s live it will show up in your reports.
Google Analytics and other tools give you insights into your data, but what is really important is to set goals and have a measurement plan. The tools them provide the measurements, but if you don’t know your goals and what you want to measure, the numbers don’t matter.
Here’s a Full Transcript of Our Interview With Ben
Jonathan: Hi there folks. Welcome back to the WP-Tonic interview show for this week. We’ve got a great guest on the show today folks. It’s episode 238. And before I introduce our guest and my great co-host, I quickly want to talk about our sponsor which is IntelligenceWP. And it’s really very related to what we’re going to be discussing with our guest. It’s a great plugin that really helps you demystify some of the hidden gems in Google Analytics and makes the whole process, rather than a grinding burden. Yes, you know set up Google Analytics for yourself or your client and you’ve never logged in again. This will really help. And the basic product, which is not crippled, is free and they’ve got other options on the website. So you find a link on the website and I suggest you find some more. Now let’s quickly go back into this show which is going to be about Google Analytics. And I’m going to, first of all, introduce my co-host, Kim. Hi there, Kim. Like to introduce yourself?
Kim: Sure. Thanks, Jonathan. Hey everybody. I’m Kim Shivler. I’m a technical Business Communications instructor and in the WordPress world, I’m known as the online course lady.
Jonathan: Yes. You certainly are. And our great guest Ben Ilfeld. I’ve probably now butchered his name. I did better on the practice. Ben, would you like to introduce yourself?
Ben: Yes. No problem. It’s very close. It’s Ben Ilfeld.
Jonathan: Almost. Almost.
Ben: Yeah. That’s pretty good. And I’m Lead Audience and Revenue Strategist at 10up.
Jonathan: And basically, that’s a fantastic title Ben. But what do you actually do?
Ben: It’s pretty simple. So I will admit. We sort of made up the audience and revenue title, but I’m excited about it. We did this maybe almost 3 years ago at 10up. If you don’t know, 10up is a full services Development Agency. We focus on content creators and their needs. We want to make the Web a better place to create and manage content. And we’re really focused on crafting beautiful websites. So you definitely need to check out 10up and see all the services that we offer. And we went all the way from manage hosting services, systems administration, back-end, front-end, user experience design, visual design. And in some ways, audience and revenue is sort of the other end of that spectrum as you get towards the business goals of our clients. So audience and revenue services focus on challenges with Ad code, Analytics code, SEO, understanding how you measure and grow your audiences, grow towards your goals, whether they’re conversion or monetization of your audience through advertising and improve upon those. So those are the strategies that we live in and the tools that we use like Google Analytics or Google’s DoubleClick for Publishers, Data Studio, Tag Management suites, Data Management platforms. Those are the tools that a lot of enterprise level users of WordPress and other Content Management Systems have at their disposal to monetize their sites.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s fantastic Ben. So let’s just really jump into it. We met Sacremento Word Camp about a month ago, which has gone really quickly. You did a fantastic presentation there. So I thought we’d have you on the show. And what is it about Google Analytics? Am I right that a lot of people do struggle with it? To start off the conversation, got any insights why people struggle so much with it?
Jonathan: I’ve really listened. Let’s do a bit of paraphrasing. So I think what you’re really saying is that it’s a powerful tool. It’s a Swiss Army tool. But there’s consequences with that power and that flexibility. And the problem or kind of problem is that a lot of business owners, online business owners, you’re going to have specific things that you need to watch, to get data on. And it’s set up for a very broad audience when you first set it up. So have I got the gist there?
Ben: Yeah. I think you got the gist. In a talk at Word Camp, it’s really about meaning. So we could get really philosophical.
Jonathan: Okay. Yeah.
Ben: It doesn’t deliver meaning out of the box. You have to be disciplined and think strategically in order to get the best results out of it. Just like every other tool, including WordPress.
Jonathan: Yeah. And then to plug my sponsor again. I’m doing it because I think it’s relevant Ben. IntelligenceWP, they’ve got a kind of walk through where they ask a number of questions in the setting up of the plugin. And it kind of guides you with questions and you have to think about them because it’s asking you, “What are your purposes? What are the important things?”. And that’s what I like about this particular plugin. And it’s kind of linked to what you were saying at Sacremento. So let’s take E-Commerce then. Let’s go through a couple uses of Google Analytics. Let’s start with E-Commerce which a big subject. Might just cover that. What are some of the things that, you’ve got your Shopify or you’ve got WooCommerce and you’re setting up Google Analytics, what are some of the things you recommend and some of the insights you’ve obtained from all your experience about the best set up and the things that you should be looking for? I suppose it’s a very broad question. It depends on what kind of store you’ve got really. What kind of products you’re selling, aren’t you?
Ben: Yeah. So I’ll get into some pretty practical advice right here. We’ll just jump in and say whenever you’re setting up Google Analytics the first thing you want to do is get the properties and views structures right. So you have an account and underneath that account, you can have multiple properties. You could have a property that’s just your Marketing site and another property that’s just your E-Commerce site. You could have one that spands both. It depends on your needs. Now, why would you make a decision about whether to keep a property just one property or have it span multiple URLs? I would say it depends on how many people are really following a funnel that goes between those two sites and how much you care about that funnel. So if there’s multiple steps on one site and then multiple steps on another, you might want to make that one big property, especially if you’re E-Commerce. Now if you have one big property that’s spanning a number of different sites, you’re going to want to use views which is one step down in some ways in a sort of taxonomy from properties. Views allow you to use filters to decide what sort of data you want to see from that property. So in the situation where you’re E-Commerce and you have a separate Marketing site and E-Commerce destination site, you might keep them under the same property but then use two different views. One that filters for only traffic on the Marketing site and one that filters for only traffic on the E-Commerce site. A third one might have both, be a sort of roll-up view for the two of these. Now once you have that basic set up going, you’re going to want three different flavors of views. And this is true with almost everybody. You’re going to want a view that is unfiltered. Unfiltered meaning you’re not going to apply any special rules or filters to it. You’re going to use that as a sort of backup. So if anything goes wrong with a filter that you use, at least you have data that is totally unfiltered. So you have some continuous data from the history to the present.
You’re going to want a type of view that’s called the test view. And it’s not anything special just mark it test. That’s sort of your sand box to play with new filters, goals, funnels, things like that. Because once you actually commit those in some ways to a master view, then those goals and funnels, if there’s a break down in the kind of data that you get from them, you can’t go back and change those retroactively.
Jonathan: Oh. So it’s a bit like a website. You’ve got a production site.
Ben: That’s right.
Jonathan: And you can have a staging site. And what’s that called again? The kind of staging site.
Ben: I always name it test. You could call it staging if that’s what you’re familiar with. So you have an unlimited or unfiltered view and that unfiltered view is very much like a backup. You have a test view and that’s very much like a staging site. And then you have a master view which is very much like your prodution. And you don’t want to put anything into master that you think you don’t want to see on reports going forward. You want to test them in your test first. Make sure that that, for example funnel or a set of goals work and then you apply it to your master. Now if you’re E-Commerce, there’s two other things you want to do. Number one, you want to filter out bots which is a view level setting. There’s just a little check box. Now there are other more advanced ways to do that and you can go to Google and find out. Just Google it and try to find best practices for filtering bots and spiders. This is important for E-Commerce especially because, while publishers may not mind higher page view traffic numbers, E-Commerce really relies on things like conversion rates. So knowing that there are real humans making decisions at each point is very important. The second thing you want to do as E-Commerce is turn on some sort of E-Commerce tracking. There’s two flavors. One is more advanced called Enhanced E-Commerce. And I won’t go too deep into that. What I will say is you’ll need to populate it with a lot of data as someone moves through the process. It has some great benefits. The other, the more simple flavor of E-Commerce that more people are familiar with, allows you to fire one script on basically the receipt page after somebody has made a purchase and it will collect data once about the purchase that somebody made and then infer some of their steps from their previous history. So that’s sort of the basic of how I would think about structuring an E-Commerce site’s Google Analytics just from the start.
The other thing that E-Commerce sites, almost everybody does and it’s fantastic, is leverage goals, which are discrete events that you can set. So you want to think about, it may not just be finishing and purchasing something through the cart system. That may be one goal. Someone check out. But it might also be a goal like signing up for our newsletter or seeing five products in a month. That’s exciting to you. So you can really draw out the type of goals that you want and add those goals into the Admin. This is getting pretty in the weeds. But basically in the Admin panel when you’re setting up that view, you can set up goals. And once you have goals set up, you can also define a funnel. And this is something that lots of E-Commerce sights do. What I recommend is actually don’t start with a funnel. Start with E-Commerce. And then there is a report within Google Analytics where you can look at the previous steps that people took as they’re checking out and use those previous steps as the basis for describing your funnel. So once you know how people use the site, then build the funnel off of that. Then once you have a funnel built, you can answer more interesting questions like where do people drop off during the purchase process. That can give you insights like, “Wow. Our shipping costs are probably too high”. Because this is the page where you have the shipping costs and that’s where people tend to fall off. Or, “We should add a guest checkout because we require people to sign in or sign up for our service and that’s where people are dropping off in large numbers”. So those are the kinds of insights that you can gain once you’ve gone through this process. But fundamentally, I would say it’s jumping the gun to say funnel first. The first thing you want to do is set up the correct properties and views. If you’re E-Commerce, make sure that you’re configured correctly to capture that E-Commerce data. And then take a look in Google Analytics reports about how people arrive at your checkout and that will help you construct your funnel with a lot less pain.
Jonathan: Before we go to our break and the time’s flown, why has Google decided that you’ve got to tick a box to remove spiders and bots from your results?
Ben: I can’t say. I don’t work for their team. I’d be happy to give you my hypothesis.
Jonathan: We’ll be educated. So go ahead.
Ben: If you’re Google, you’re not that different from any other large kind of social service like Facbook. I think Google Analytics is a sticky product because it’s fun and you get to see people hit your site. And if there’s nobody hitting your site, that’s not a very fun outcome. And so it’s almost like having bots like or retweet or share the things on social media that you do. There are people that just are excited to see some action, even on the smallest website. It’s probably not a product decision that I would make that makes sense for businesses. But I think for the every day casual user, it’s exciting just to see some extra traffic. And I think it’s sort of for that dopamine rush. As I said, Google Analytics has this very broad base of users. So for your individual business, the most important thing actually and we haven’t talked about it yet, maybe we’ll talk about it after the break, is creating a measurement plan so that you know what means something to you. And the pieces of that that you can track in Google Analytics, then there are strategies to attack that. Make sure that you have those. If there are things that you have to track in other ways, that’s okay too. You’re going to have to pull that data in from other data sources. But just because you’ve got this really cool Swiss Army knife, does not mean that it brings meaning to your life. And it doesn’t mean they’ve crafted that Swiss Army knife to fit your needs. They have not.
Jonathan: Oh, that’s great. We’re going to go for our break and then I’m going to hand it over to my great co-host Kim and see where she wants to go with the conversation. We’ll be back in a few seconds folks.
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Jonathan: We’re coming back folks. We’ve had a great conversation with Ben. We’ve really covered some stuff in 15 minutes. Over to you Kim, see what questions you’ve got.
Kim: Thank you Jonathan. This is great stuff. So Benjamin, I do have a few. On the bots.
Kim: So, yes, it’ll show them as page views, but doesn’t Google also see that as kind of bad traffic? If you really are trying to, like for Seach Engine Optimization and to become ranked and that type of thing, don’t you also want to filter that out? Or what are your thoughts on that?
Ben: I wouldn’t worry too much about how Search Engine Optimization’s affected by configurations of Google Analytics. I do think of those as two separate systems. So Google may not count that traffic for their own purposes. And you might be giving yourself a false sense of security if you’re a medium or a large sized publisher and you haven’t filtered out bot traffic at least in a couple of your views. I think you’re probably doing yourself a disservice because it might give you an unclear picture of your reality. And Google is getting a very clear picture of your reality. It’s sort of their job. So I think that the most dangerous thing isn’t that a configuration in Google Analytics affects your Search Engine Optimization, but it might affect you understanding your weaknesses in Search Engine Optimization.
Kim: Okay. Excellent. The reason I say that, I was actually told to kind of block the bot traffic even before it got to the analytics, to block it at my site so it didn’t even filter up into so that it wasn’t considered bad traffic.
Ben: That may very well be true.
Ben: But it certainly isn’t a configuration in Google Analytics that would kind of reverse and affect your. Yeah.
Kim: Perfect. Then on the measurement plan, really got interested in that because you talk about goals and you talk about a measurement plan.
Kim: A lot of our listeners are content creators, not large publishers, but more blog type web builders, consultants who blog to create content and try to build interaction. Could you have us a highlight of maybe a few things they could do as far as a measurement plan and what goals might tie in for that level of person?
Ben: Yeah. Absolutely. So think of a measurement plan as a wedding cake and the goals are that beautiful top tier. You don’t want many. I say start with one. The top tier of a wedding cake is pretty narrow. And if you’re one of the content creators that has a specific niche, it may be that this month or the next couple of months or this year you’d like to grow, for example, a loyal audience. So that may be your goal. Sometimes I would say people get too narrow. So they’ll say something like, “I want to increase the number of subscribers to my email newsletter”. I would say that is more of a strategy or a tatic. And you have to ask yourself, “Why do I want to increase the numbers of people that subscribe to my newsletter? Because I want that more loyal audience”. And you might even go a step up and say, “Why do I want that more loyal audience? Is it just because I want more readers to my blog?”. In which case your goal might be more readers to my blog and everything below that is a strategy. So it’s about asking why and interrogating yourself to the point that you get to your ultimate goal or your ultimate set of goals. The next down is thinking about the strategies you’d like to undertake to build towards those goals. So if your goal is to increase the number of loyal readers, then the strategy you might undertake is increase the number of people who sign up for your email newsletter. That might be one strategy. Another strategy you might take is taking your content and exposing it through multiple platforms like Facebook or Twitter in a more organized way, creating your content calendar for social. So those are really discrete strategies that you might employe to drive towards that goal. Once you’ve defined those, you can start thinking about the KPIs, the metrics that you’re going to use. Sorry, and KPI, Key Performance Indicators. So these are the metrics that you’re going to use to understand whether you’ve been successful or areas of opportunity. So KPIs are going to map directly to your strategies and your goals. But again, it’s like building this cake. So your goals are at the very top. They’re very narrow. You might have one goal and five strategies. That nex layer of the cake. A broader base to hit those goals.
And then you might have 5 corresponding Key Performance Indicators, maybe 6, maybe 10 that makes sense for you to look at wholistically, get a picture of what is working and what is not working. So one Key Performance Indicator if I’m looking for growing my email newsletter list is the number of people subscribed to my email newsletter. That would be a great goal. Now, does that come through Google Analytics? It probably doesn’t. If I’m using MailChimp or another ESP, that’s where I’m going to find that data. So it’s just trying to give you an idea that it’s not so important the tools that you use to collect the data. You might even be hand counting certain things. It’s important to have a measurement plan that takes you all the way from goal to strategy to Key Performance Indicator. And then you have a suite of tools and Google Analytics is probably part of that suite that help you understand whether you’re achieving the goals through these different methods. To give you a quick other example. So we’re staying on this concept of growing a more loyal audience. In order to measure loyalty, there are reports within Google Analytics that show you new users versus returning users. So you can see if you’re growing your new users or if you’re growing repeat visits from your current users. So there are dashboards to take a look at that. And obviously, if the reason that I’m trying to grow my base in terms of my, the reason I’m trying to grow my email newsletter list is to tie back to having more loyal users, it’s a really good test to see. Maybe I grew my email newsletter subscribers, but my returning users didn’t grow. Then there’s a disconnect and I can take actiont there. What’s the action? Probably looking at the content and the structure of my email newsletters. So is it the open rates that went down? Is it the fact that people aren’t clicking on those links and going to the articles on the site? Am I not teasing enough? Am I giving too much inside the newsletter itself? So that’s where you get to the actionable insight. And it really only works if you’ve built out a measurement plan.
Kim: Wow. I love that. I think the biggest thing. I mean, you gave so much value in there. But one thing that I just kept coming back to and coming back to and coming back to is to find the real goal. So often when we work with people the goal is, like you said, “I want more subscribers. I want more people to keep coming to my blog”. But what is your real goal in the long run? And distilling that out and keep questioning. I loved that you pointed out, keep questioning and questioning and questioning until you get to the real goal. And I think that’s probably true whether we’re talking about analytics or anything in our business, right?
Ben: Yeah, yeah. It’s one of those things where if you work with engineers, you know not to ask an engineer to build a feature, but rather to give an engineer a problem to solve. So often times I would already have in my head way back in the day when I was in charge of my own small publication. We had our own custom CMS. We had a problem and in my head I already had my solution to it. And I’d go to the engineer and say, “I think we need to build this, this, this, this”. They might start building it, but about half way through go, “What about this edge case? What about that edge case?”. And it would start me questioning and going, “Why? Why did I ask them to build this? And what was I really driving towards?”. And then, at some point, I would realize I just have to come clean and tell the engineer what the problem was, what my pain point was. And once I’d sort of described the problem, we started to get to root of the why. A good engineer is going to ask why a lot. And when we get to that root, it turns out that engineers are problem solvers and there’s a better way to approach this that I hadn’t seen. And that’s why we were working together in the first place, right? So after years of working with engineers, you could take that same mentality and really apply it to the business side and say instead of just taking my first instinct about how to fix something or improve something or create a new feature or institute a new strategy, let’s interrogate why and bring it all the way back up. And let’s treat that one strategy as simply one hypothesis to be tested.
Kim: I love that. And it also ties into the asking ourselves that, the flip side of that is asking, “What solution is our customer looking for?”. Whatever we’re looking to build. Because that same group of engineers that we ask the “Solve the problem”, don’t ask that same group to explain the solution to the customer because that’s where they like to talk about features and bells and whistles as opposed to overall solutions. So that was really valuable stuff. Thank you. I think we’re coming up on time. So I’m going to hand it back to my host Jonathan.
Jonathan: Thanks Kim. It’s gone quick. But we’re going to continue the discussion further for another 10, 15 minutes with Ben. Hopefully, you’ve learned something. I definitely have. Just to wrap up. A couple questions Ben. Basically, do you provide any content yourself around this subject? Any PDFs to make people learn more or have you got some external resources that have helped you and what you think would help the audience
Ben: Honestly, the Web is littered with good advice about Google Analytics. So I would be really poor compared to some of the others out there. I’d say my favorite, we didn’t talk too much about it. But there’s a tool that Google offers for free called Google Tag Manager and it plays really well with Google Analytics. If you’re thinking about using Google Analytics for the first time, I would highly recommend that you institute it using Google Tag Manager. It just gives you a ton more flexibility. It’s almost like a Content Management System, but for marketing tags and analytics tags. So it’s a tag management system. But it allows you to create, edit and publish and unpublished and change and preview in all the same ways that you’re familiar in WordPress, but for all these marketing services which can be hard to rangle. For Google Tag Manager and it’s intersection with Google Analytics, my favorite blog is by Simo Ahava. So just look up Simo Ahava’s blog. Obviously out there, there’s agencies who provide a lot of really good insight like LunaMetrics or Kissmetrics. But I would say Simo Ahava’s blog on the intersection between GTM and GA is hard to beat, extremely expert. I do hope that we’ll produce some information and push it out publically. Really, until that Word Camp Sacremento, we hadn’t shared very much of our processes outside of 10up, about how we approach Google Analytics. But it’s gotten a ton of attention and people love it. I think if anything we may write more about how you institute a measurement plan through WordPress and Google Analytics. But I will tell you, there is so much good information on the Web on Google Analytics. It’s such a widely used platform. You’ll find a ton of good stuff.
Jonathan: Yeah. And how can people get a hold of you then Ben?
Ben: Sure. It’s easy. The easiest way is to contact through 10up.com. If you go to 10up.com, it’d be easy to get a hold of any of us. I will say that as a working strategist, I may not have all that much time. So it’s almost better to just, if you have a general inquiry, contact my team through 10up and we will get you to the right people.
Jonathan: That’s great. And how can people find more about you Kim?
Kim: You can find me at kimshivler on Twitter or kimshivler.com.
Jonathan: That’s great. And if you want to get a hold of me folks and I’m always easy to talk to, you either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can Twitter on @jonathandenwood or you can ring me on 775-220-2306. I’m always available for feedback, comment. Love to get suggestions. And if you feel very generous, we’ve been getting a couple more recently. If you want to leave a review on iTunes, it really does help the show folks. It makes a big difference on our ranking and attracts new people to the show. Ben, I’ve just really enjoyed it. Folks, don’t forget. We’ll be continuing this discussion on the website with a full set show notes and a transcription of the conversation and on YouTube. So we’ll see you next week where we’ll be interviewing a WordPress expert, a WordPress expert on Marketing or just a WordPress junkie in general. We’ll see you next week folks. Bye.
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