Google Analytics best practice for ecommerce websites

By Chris Lee

A damning report from a study of 50 ecommerce sites by digital marketing specialists DBD Media claims that 80 per cent of those sites fail to use Google Analytics (GA) correctly. Google Analytics is a free tool provided by the world’s largest search engine which provides data on website visitor behaviour and serves up valuable information for webmasters when used correctly.

However, according to DBD Media, only half (50 per cent) of the ecommerce sites it reviewed track conversion points, meaning those webmasters cannot measure website performance against business objectives (such as purchases and leads). Three quarters (75 per cent) of ecommerce businesses also inflated their own traffic in reports through “self-referral” issues, while 60 per cent of GA accounts were found not to be correctly synced with ad campaign platform Google AdWords, meaning pay-per-click (PPC) data is not being passed on and therefore impacting return on investment measurements for paid search

Two-thirds (67 per cent) of sites failed to integrate social media tracking while a third (33 per cent) do not track site search keywords.

Given this backdrop of apparently confusion amongst ecommerce marketers and webmasters into the correct use of Google Analytics, NMK spoke with Axelle Ros, conversion analytics consultant at DBB Media, to understand best practice.

What for you was the most alarming finding?

The whole purpose of any analytics software is to measure website performance against key objectives. For most websites, the key measure of performance – or conversion – will be purchases, contact form submissions, whitepaper downloads, etc.

To only have 50 per cent of websites track main conversion goals can mean many things: marketers are still using visits and pageviews as performance indicators, conversions are tracked independently from onsite behaviour – obscuring insights from data segmentation, but most of all this is a clear sign that marketers don’t know what they can get from Google Analytics.

To me the most surprising during our research was to find that none of the companies had implemented a tracking code suited to their website.  This is the starting point to any analytics setup, not to mention the code fundamentally changes the way data is recorded and because conflicts can simultaneously cause either inflation or gaps in data, there is no way of knowing how data has been affected.

What are the key reasons for the under-utilisation of Google Analytics?

The main issue with Google Analytics is that, because it’s a free tool, marketers don’t invest enough time in configuring it.  It can be a very powerful tool once setup to fit a specific website’s structure and objectives.  Left partly or not at all configured, GA only provides page (number of views, average time spend, speed load) and user information (geographic location, browser capabilities).  None of which is enough to generate actionable insights.

What is the answer?

There is a thriving community of experts who can provide implementation support as well as training suited to any business size or structure. In the long run, companies save money by spending on expert consultancy for a free tool rather than paying a monthly fee for a paid tool which, in 90 per cent of the cases, will provide the same information.

What are your top ten tips for marketers looking to understand Google Analytics?

1. Invest in your GA setup – Your analytics needs a dedicated individual or team to take ownership and work together with your expert analytics consultant for an optimal setup tailored to your business needs.

2. Track everything – Macro conversion goals, micro conversion goals, site search, main calls-to-action, to understand content consumption.

3. Tag campaign URLs – Traditionally, digital advertisers report on impressions, clicks and conversions. By tagging campaign URLs with UTM (Google tracking code) parameters, you will gain insight into what happens between the click and the conversion.

4. Define visitor segments – Use events, custom variables and advanced segments to outline behavioural patterns for visitors that convert and visitors that don’t, allowing you to optimise your message to each group for conversion.

5. Assign conversion value – For ecommerce conversions, transaction value will automatically be allocated. For non-ecommerce conversions however, goal value can be attributed in the goal settings. Conversion value is essential to assess conversion quality as opposed to quantity, as well as assign page value (formerly known as $ index).

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