Google Analytics: Pros and Cons

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Google Analytics is the de facto way that websites get information about their visitors. It’s extremely popular, installed on the majority of websites, and has a plethora of data available as Google slurps up every detail about everything that happens on the site.

It is the Swiss Army knife of marketing applications, reasonably handling many challenges without actually excelling at any of them.

Back in 2005, Google acquired a software called Urchin, forming the base of GA. At that point websites were simple things, a collection of static pages built in HTML 4 with the newfangled thing called AdWords only being a few years old.

All GA initially had to do was measure:

  • How many people were visiting the site
  • How people were arriving at the site

But online marketing is now increasingly complex, so more information is needed to make decisions that improve performance. Page tracking isn’t enough, especially with touch points spread across multiple devices, the growing competition for attention, and marketing funnels that combine a plethora of platforms.

Google Analytics is still ideal for many marketing tasks, but it definitely has its strengths and weaknesses. So let’s look and see where it makes sense to stick with Google Analytics and where you need an alternative to make sure you have all the information to understand your customer journey correctly.

Great at… tracking traffic and basic goal attribution

As more resources get poured into adverts and inbound marketing, measuring performance gets increasingly important.

GA is still great for seeing where engaged visitors are coming from. It will track the source and medium down to the social campaign, collecting landing page information and measuring if they met a goal such as making a purchase or subscribing.

Lacking at… attributing lifetime value and long term performance

GA is fundamentally designed to track page views and events during individual sessions, with extra tech bolted on to try and extend that to measure someone over multiple visits.

If you’d like to measure something more complex, like which blog attracted long term subscribers or if the flood of leads became clients, then you will need to seek an alternative.

Events might be pinged to GA for a form submission or completed purchase, but it will be associated with that vulnerable cookie. Event tracking is helpful, but it is not a robust way to record someone’s behavior across months or years as they progress through your touch points into the revenue and retention stages of a funnel.

Instead try… querying your email marketing platform

Email automation platforms collect lifetime data on your customers. Unlike GA, an email platform is not bothered if cookies are cleared or the customer is on a different device. So long as they use the same email the data stays consistent.

It can record which contacts converted from newsletter subscribers into paying customers or which trial signups turned into long term users.

Many email platforms can collect UTM data, touch points they have engaged with and purchases they have made. That way you can analyze whether a campaign attracted visitors who became big spenders or if it only created a burst of vague enthusiasm.

Great at… optimizing top of funnel and website behavior

GA is ideal for measuring who is landing on your website and how they navigate it. You can see whether they stuck around after reading an article, drop off at a later stage or make it through to your goal.

This is great for helping you win people’s attention and getting the relationship going, but once a visitor has met that goal they’re of no interest to GA.

Lacking at… analyzing behavior through the entire funnel

Marketing tools tend to each show you a detailed view of their own data silo without any consideration for the rest of the marketing funnel.

For example, an email sequence will rarely consider the UTM data that is fundamental to GA. You won’t see that visitors from one source might perform differently from another while an ad platform might give you it’s own mysterious interpretation of their ad performance (which of course shows themselves in the best light).

While GA has some multi-touch attribution, that is only for considering multiple website visits without an ability to consider how other parts of your marketing process is affecting sales.

Instead try… querying your email platform’s data some more

Again, your email marketing system can reveal these secrets. It might take a bit of tidying up your tags to keep each contact fully updated with all the details, but most systems can automatically tag them with how they behave at each stage.

That way you can start looking at questions such as:

  • Does changing your email sequence affect freebie hunters and big spenders differently?
  • Do live demos vs video walk-throughs perform differently for different sources?
  • Does your cart abandonment campaign increase the likelihood of a purchase?

You can look at how all the stages in your funnel interact to maximize revenue, not just how each part is performing individually.

If you are fully utilizing your CRM then this information can be extracted with additional tools or pivot tables.

Great at… website performance dashboards

The dashboards in Google Analytics are great for monitoring how your website is performing, showing aspects such as active visitors and user locations.

If you want to confirm your website is loading smoothly for everyone, monitor the amount of traffic and quickly detect any bugs then it is ideal to use.

Lacking at… big picture marketing reports

But, these dashboards aren’t so suitable for marketing reports. They aren’t friendly for showing inexperienced clients or colleagues without raising more questions than they answer.

They also can’t handle displaying touch points outside your website such as spending across ad platforms and performance of an email campaign.

Instead try… specialized reporting tools such as Data Studio or SegMetrics

You could spend hours importing data into spreadsheets and manually making docs for your monthly reports.

Or, you could use one of the many available tools.

Google Data Studio natively integrates with all of Google’s products. You can make slides showing all the data you want with relevant annotations. Just remember that the report is only as good as the quality of the data it communicates, which might not include the long term or big picture data described above.

SegMetrics is designed to query the data contained in email automation platforms. You can see the long term ROAS or how different lead sources are progressing through a funnel each with a few clicks. These insights can then be combined into dashboards to monitor your marketing performance.

Conclusion: Don’t overlook your email platform as a source of invaluable data

Google Analytics is viewed as a fantastic data source, but is often stretched past its comfort zone. Meanwhile, email platforms are typically only used for tracking email sequence performance, without an appreciation of the deeper answers they can hold.

It does require some additional setup of tidying up tags and recording UTM data, but now you should have an incentive to get them sorted.

Uncovering the information isn’t always straightforward. Some platforms will allow basic filtering of data, but more as an afterthought.

You can either crunch the numbers with pivot tables as described in the guide to calculating Lead Value, or use a tool such as SegMetrics to manipulate it with a few clicks. Either way, you can start seeing beneath the surface of how your work is performing.

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