To Infinity and Beyond — Predicting the Future with Google Analytics

To Infinity and Beyond -- Predicting the Future with Google Analytics by Jason Knill with Blue Steele Solutions

Is Google Analytics a mystery wrapped up in an enigma to you? More data isn’t always helpful. Learn how we use GA for business goal setting and financial forecasting.

Recently, Jason Knill was a guest on Blue Steele Solutions’ Brown Bag Business Chat:
Getting the Most out of Your Google Analytics Account—Digging Deep with Jason Knill of Thought House and WordImpress” 

For more details, watch the video above.

Adam Fout: Tell us a little bit about yourself, Thought House, and all your various and sundry brands—what’s your background, and why do you do what you do?

Jason Knill: Day-to-day, I’m working on our advertising agency, Thought House, and a whole lot in WordImpress, our WordPress plugin shop. But it occurred to me a few weeks back after WordCamp San Diego that I put a lot of my energy into Give, our Donation plugin. Like today, we were able to interview Creature Comforts Brewery about how they are changing their local community and giving back. It was very rewarding.

Adam: Let’s talk analytics—for those who are unfamiliar, what is Google Analytics and why would someone want to use it?

Jason: Google analytics does the following for me:

  • Financial forecasting
  • Pricing indicators and average download size trending
  • Ad Campaign management and optimization
  • Audience Targeting measurement (think Site Admins Vs. Developer)

I love to golf and also go onto my GA app on my phone between 9’s and look at sales and conversion. I want to have a pulse on our company. Google is that pulse.

Adam: We spoke the other day about businesses collecting data and then not using it—is this a big problem? What’s the value of the data collected in Google Analytics?

Jason: We only use specific data for:

  • Actionable items
  • Goal setting
  • Projecting

We don’t use the data to measure “overall success” because overall success is tied to too many things for our business. I can’t say enough that Google Analytics is a benchmarking, indexing’ and forecasting tool. As for “was it a success measurement,” that’s much more complex and nuanced.

Adam: For many GA users, the top level is about as far as they go. How useful, really, are these raw numbers, like overall site visitors or bounce rates?

Jason: Visitors and bounce rates as an index can be used. For instance, how did my one campaign perform vs another? Ideally, I’d like to see the WordPress and Franchise Industries get better at sharing this data. Might I suggest a shared Google Doc or a Slack channel?

Adam: GA also tells you some really interesting info about your audience—demographics, interests, language, location—does it include opinions too? How can business owners and marketers turn this information to their advantage?

Even for us, this is a little overkill. I’d rather understand our audiences by talking to people face-to-face. Now, it’s important to confirm audiences and interests; but it’s a small piece of our tool. However, let’s say we wanted to go into China (which isn’t so open-source friendly and rarely do we see downloads from that location) we’d want to understand their market using this demo tool. But it’s more one-off, than ongoing.

Using classic business rules when using GA; start with setting goals.  For instance, with WordImpress, we want to grow our business via referral traffic. Referral traffic is good traffic for our products. We’re a consultant to Media Temple and a lot of our traffic comes from Media Temple. Not that we’re going to ditch them because we like them, but maybe we should be trying to get our content on more hosts — using data to steer our marketing and business development activities for the future, not trying to understand how many sales Media Temple created in the past.

Adam: Let’s talk conversions—the whole point of all this stuff is to get visitors to your website to take action. How can you use Google Analytics to track conversions? How do you use that data to make changes to increase conversions?

Jason: With WordImpress and Give, it’s really about channels and total job size. We integrated with Easy Digital Downloads (EDD) and several other data sources like Stripe and PayPal to understand our e-commerce channel. Goals don’t work that well for us because of our checkout functionality.

Keep in mind, with EDD, we were a few clicks away from integrating our business systems of EDD with GA — but with conversions. Yet we still take this as insight, not cannon. The human experience of how we purchase products doesn’t exist in GA. So, for me, it’s not about conversions. GA is a tool that is used for the future and not the past.

Adam: A lot of this stuff goes in pretty deep—where should business owners or marketing managers with limited time focus their efforts? Where do you get the biggest ROI in Google Analytics?

Jason: For me, two areas: it’s about referring traffic and measuring behavior of that traffic in the behavior tab.

Adam: How do you set up goals in GA? How should your goals evolve over time and how often should you revisit them?

Jason: For WordImpress, goals are set up based on specific products and then each Add-on. We want to understand average job size against conversion rate and how customers are taking to the changes we often make.

Adam: You can also set up segments and filters in GA—what are these and how do they help you analyze what your website is doing?

Jason: We don’t do filters or segments at WordImpress. For our Thought House clients, we use filters to create unique dashboards. Often, those dashboards are more Dog and Pony that actionable.

In one specific case, we were asked to analyze a client’s site against goals.  We first went to behavior and explored the landing pages (pages on your website landed on first).

In this case, 80% of visitors never visited a second page.

From any landing page, on this site, the bounce rate was quite high.
From any landing page, on this site, the bounce rate was quite high.

But when we went to the second page behavior, we see that they continued the journey on the website.

The journey continued once they journeyed to a second page.
The journey continued once they journeyed to a second page.

This helped us guide our client to a more intentional website path and sitemap. So, Google Analytics can be easy — if you use the right data.

More tips:

Other tips that Jason recommends is to set one goal per year. Block and tackle first. Set up your goals and conversions (or e-commerce). Get in there and look at the data. Look at it every day. Use it as an index and forecasting tool, not a measurement tool. Measurement is more complex than Google.

Ask questions. Be curious. Learn.