Digital marketers know better than most how to manipulate metrics to make themselves look better. Google Analytics is both a powerful tool that can give you granular statistics about your web traffic, but it can also be vague and unclear. Are you seeing a sudden spike in traffic? Is it the result of honest SEO and content marketing, or is it something more underhanded?
How do you measure the success of your marketing team and their SEO strategies? To be able to successfully analyze your digital marketing performance, you need to look beyond simply traffic, and use key performance indicators (KPI) that can sift through the tricks and give you a real measure of success.
1. Create and Analyze Conversion Goals: The single most important metric you can analyze is the performance of your conversions and goals. Google Analytics lets you set up goals for URLs visited, links clicked, downloads completed, and many more conditions. Say you’re a software developer: there may be traffic, content shares, mailing list signups, and a number of other metrics you look at. At the end of the day, however, you need people to download the software you are selling. If you’re seeing a spike in traffic, you should see a spike in downloads, too. If the traffic isn’t converting, then the traffic isn’t useful to your goals. When analyzing performance in Analytics, make sure you look at the performance of individual goals not as a sum. If you have multiple goals created, like time on site, pages visited, or even downloads of free software, these can skew the KPIs that really matter.
2. Identify Campaign Success: Where is your new traffic coming from? Most legitimate campaigns that are being run will be visible in Google Analytics. Mailing campaigns will show up as so, whether you’re running them yourself our outsourcing them. Services like MailChimp give you a great deal of customization when it comes to how your data shows up in Analytics, allowing you to identify not just that it’s traffic from a MailChimp mailing, but also which one, and users from which list. If you’re paying for CPC or CPM campaigns, they to will be tagged by legitimate providers to allow you to analyze the success of these endeavors. Be sure to filter out referrer spam from your analytics too!
3. Review SEO Performance: Growing organic search traffic is the holy grail of every digital marketing agency. Promoting your keywords through content and optimization of your pages leads to relevant traffic that results in leads and sales. But how do you review whether your marketing team’s SEO strategies are working? In this case, Google Analytics is clear: Traffic that shows up as “google / organic”, “yahoo / organic”, or “bing / organic” is traffic that has come as a result of people finding your page through those respective search engines. A spike in direct traffic is not likely a result of your SEO strategies.
4. Traffic Over Time: Successful SEO campaigns are long-term projects, and do not result in sudden traffic spikes. Most digital marketing agencies will analyze their keyword performance over the course of 3 or 6 month periods. Paid campaigns like CPC, CPM and SEM will result in spikes, but they will be expected and identified as such. Legitimate sources will not show up as direct traffic in most cases.
5. Question Direct Traffic: There are legitimate sources of direct traffic, like Instagram users, non-digital mail and advertising campaigns, bookmarked links and non-HTML supported e-mail clients. But what does it mean when your direct traffic spikes, and there is no reasonable explanation behind it? Bots. Black hat marketers sell “guaranteed traffic” services all over the internet, and are often available at great prices. Bots, however, don’t help your bottom line. They are not customers, and they won’t be downloading or paying for your software or services.
If you see an unexpected spike in direct traffic, it’s time to pay attention. Have you sent out a recent snail mail campaign? Have you paid for advertising at trade shows? Is there any reason why people would suddenly start manually typing in your links into their browsers? If not, you need to take a look deeper. Be sure to look at direct traffic only, and choose a time range from before the spike until the present. Is your bounce rate rising? Are your Pages / Sessions stats falling? Conversion rates dropping? Bots don’t peruse or download. What about Alexa and SimilarWeb? Honest traffic will result in your rankings rising more so than bot traffic.
Paying for traffic online can seem like a quick way to boost the performance of your website or to cover up a lack of success in honest SEO and content marketing. While it may result in higher visitor numbers in Analytics, it’s only cosmetic and causes nothing but damage to your actual website statistics. Bot traffic will result in your bounce rate rising, pages viewed dropping, and conversions falling. These bot visits dilute your actual traffic, and make it even more difficult to analyze the performance of your legitimate campaigns.
Legitimate and successful digital marketing campaigns will be identifiable via Analytics, and the only silver bullet when it comes to SEO is content marketing. As search algorithms become more advanced, and incorporate artificial intelligence and machine learning, these kinds of black hat tactics have less and less relevance, and can even hurt you in the long run. Be vigilant, and make sure that the traffic coming to your site is meeting the goals you’ve set forth. Are you seeing questionable traffic or otherwise would like some forensic help? Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to share our wealth of expertise!