Specialist Ask-us-anything

Caitlin Dawes

At a time when marketing resources may be low and in-house teams may be taking on more than before, we wanted to offer our support with tactical solutions to current challenges. So, we lent on friends of the agency who are experts in different areas such as Genie Goals, a specialist PPC agency and Overdrive Digital, a paid search and paid social agency – to give you insights into the full digital marketing spectrum.

Together we have been hosting open ‘Ask-us-anything’ Q&A sessions live and online with our Head of SEO, Will Nye, Head of Content Strategy, Emily Clayfield and Senior Analytics Manager, Gary Stubbenhagen – as well as Head of PPC at Genie Goals, Imogen Collins, Founder of Overdrive Digital, Jon Quinton and Social Media Executive at Overdrive Digital, Ellie Fairchild.

Here we’re sharing some of the more common questions that came out of these sessions and our answers, in an effort to share expert tips across marketing disciplines. We’ll be hosting more of these sessions in future, which means this article will be updated to include the latest challenges and solutions discussed as they unfold – so stay tuned!

Quick wins for the current climate

[SEO] On-page ranking quick wins for clients pulling budgets but needing impact:

Will: If you’re in a scenario whereby COVID-19 has depleted your resource, meaning that tech changes are off the table and campaigns have been paused, then I would use the opportunity to focus on on-page SEO in areas where there is still demand – specifically the ‘low-hanging fruit’, pages where you’re already ranking towards the bottom of page 1 or the top of page 2 for your target terms.

This could be approached by:

  1. Analysing your keyword set to determine those with stable or growing demand
  2. Using a tool such as SEMrush or your own ranking data to establish the low-hanging fruit
  3. Reviewing the on-page optimisation including:
    1. Title tags and main headings
    2. Subheadings
    3. Optimisation of the existing content
    4. Expanding the existing content (e.g. adding related questions)
    5. Improving internal linking to the page

On-page SEO changes are typically reflected quickly within rankings when compared to other activities, which makes it an excellent quick-win activity. Even a small change, such as amending a title tag, can make a big difference. 

[PPC] I’ve been thrust into PPC as parts of my team have been furloughed. What are the things I should be doing to ensure nothing breaks?

Imogen: If you are tasked with looking after PPC and haven’t done it before, I’d definitely recommend doing the free Google fundamentals training course to learn the basics. The most important thing to do will be to not make any drastic changes, especially not towards the end of the week, and to monitor your KPIs every day to check spend and KPIs – setting a daily budget at the right level is important at this time where search trends are fluctuating on a daily and weekly basis.

[Data] I’ve inherited a GA set up and little handover – what are the red flags I should look out for in understanding if my data is accurate?

Gary: There are loads of different ways of tackling this. The place to start is always matching up your GA data with other sources of data that you know are true. If you’re in the commerce business you’ll probably have a trading report coming back from your ecommerce platform and if you’re in a service business you’ll have lead data coming from your CRM –  those are your sources of truth in that they are absolutely all of the orders you’ve processed or leads you’ve captured. GA won’t necessarily be 100% in line with that, but it should be broadly similar, so comparing the two will give you an understanding of whether or not you’re seeing the same levels of volume and whether you’re seeing similar patterns and trends. If you’re not then that’s the first sign that you’ve got a significant data issue.

Sense-check other measures as well such as your traffic volumes against movements in spend. If you know you’ve pushed particularly hard on specific campaigns and seen lots of engagement, then have you seen the traffic coming through? If not, that’s usually the first sign of a traffic or channel issue.

[Content & Social] What have you been noticing is working or not working right now?

Ellie: We’ve seen CPMs decrease on Facebook since lockdown started – dropping by 60% since the beginning of March so, advertisers are getting more for their spend! But then contradictory to this we’ve seen other platforms like LinkedIn CPCs go up by 50% during lockdown so, becoming much more expensive and competitive. In terms of industries, crafting, beauty and gifting have all been doing really well obviously. User generated content is also doing so well at the moment because everyone is in the same boat, so more people resonate with one another’s experiences.

Jon: Fundamentally nothing huge has changed with our approach. It’s been about adjusting copy to suit the situation within the context of each business. That, in combination with certain offers, has been working really well in ecommerce. We’ve seen huge spikes in trade for brands that have that mix right. Minor adjustments and tweak is all that’s needed – avoid crazy knee-jerk reactions.

Emily: With content strategy we’re usually looking quite far into the future but right now you need more of an interim strategy. Your client needs are always at the core of any strategy, so our approach hasn’t changed there but those needs have,so we need to align to those. Also, business goals may have changed so strategy needs to match those too. And in all cases content needs to be reviewed on a much more frequent basis.

Covid-specific

[PPC & SEO] What is the best way for marketers to understand how demand has changed around COVID-19 and to stay up to date on what’s happening?

Imogen: Google trends is a fantastic free tool to see indexed search trends for different keywords and categories. I would also highly recommend signing up to the Think With Google newsletter, as there are so many resources being shared at the moment.

Will: We recently shared this article on search behaviour changes we’re seeing in our clients’ data right now which could be useful.

[PPC] What do brands need to do as a minimum regarding PPC so they’re not stung when business resumes post COVID?

Imogen: If you’re in serious triaging mode then we’d suggest only investing in marketing activity which is profitable within the next 30 days. Use the most up to date data you have to spend only on products which are profitable and only up to the point where ROI is positive.

[SEO] Should you keep your category pages live when all the products go temporarily out of stock?

Will: I like having a retirement strategy in place where you have different levels depending on the scenario. I’ll take a wider approach and start with products – in that instance if a product is temporarily going out of stock then you want to show something like a newsletter sign up saying it’s going to be back in stock and to check back. Then after let’s say 14 days (you can define your own rules here) it’s definitely not coming back then at that point you may want to retire that and redirect to a close equivalent product or failing that, the category above it to be as closely relevant as possible – not to the homepage. For a category level you’d probably want to look at some kind of dynamic indexing logic – this isn’t always the easiest thing to do, it really does depend on the CMS you’re working with. You don’t want to get rid of categories too quickly because if you’re going to have another few products coming in very fast, it constantly dropping in and out of the index or you constantly removing and then adding it can be problematic. You want to have some kind of logic in place whereby let’s say if after 14 days (or whatever you decide) there still aren’t any products there then you’d apply a ‘noindex’ tag and take it out of the SERPs. And then say a couple of products are added to that category you effectively change that to be indexable and it becomes indexed again. That way you can balance the amount of what could be determined ‘thin categories’ where you don’t have a lot of content between that and not losing those positions you already have so finding that balance between having enough indexed categories and having a good user experience.

[PPC] I’ve seen a lot of blogs suggesting that now is the time to be putting money into brand awareness activity, is that true?

Imogen: At the moment brands are largely split into 4 categories –

  1. those who are focussed on maintaining business continuity and cash flow
  2. those who are doing OK but with a lot of uncertainty about the future
  3. those seeing big changes to their business which are presenting both challenges and opportunities
  4. those who are seeing a lot of growth who are in a position to increase their market share.

Brand awareness activity is only appropriate right now for brands in the last two categories – this is particularly important for brands who rely heavily on types of traditional advertising which can no longer work when customers aren’t leaving their houses (tube ads, billboards, storefronts). This type of advertising spend has started to pivot heavily into online channels where users now spend their time, such as banner advertising, paid social and YouTube advertising. Of course, serious thought needs to be put into messaging to make sure that any previously planned brand awareness activities are still going to resonate in the current climate.

[PPC] My brand has seen a lot of growth recently, what can I be doing to take advantage of that?

Imogen: Decisions made now will have a massive impact on how your business performs post-recovery. We don’t know what the post-covid world will look like in terms of changes to supply chains, consumer demand and expectation, and permanent behavioural change, but past recessions have taught us that the brands who are able to continue to invest will often win big later on. It’s really important to be sensitive with messaging and your customer needs at this time however – think about the anxieties which they are facing and how your brand can help. It could be offering a discount for NHS staff, or donating products to front line staff, or holding a series of educational webinars to help people to solve their business problems.

[Content] What should I be doing about measuring content at the moment? Presumably behaviour right now is very different from what its likely to be down the line. Are there lessons to learn still?

Emily: I think the main point to stress here is that we aren’t going back to “normal” for a long time yet. We may see an easing of lockdown measures but there will remain large disruptions to our everyday lives for probably the rest of this year and at least some of 2021.

The data we’re using to compare performance YOY/ MOM is now distorted as we’re not comparing like for like, so I’d recommend less focus on those comparisons in the first instance.

  1. We should be looking for ways to measure/continue measuring content performance and we should review that performance more regularly as things change around us
  2. More frequent review of success: we’ll need to more frequently review how success is defined/measured

[Content] Should we be pausing campaigns and outreach….and then if so…what else can we be doing…’ (i.e. prepping campaigns, building media lists etc and get ready for launch)

Emily: This is really one for our Digital PR team to answer, perhaps we’ll get them on a Q&A in the coming weeks!

The top line is pivot, don’t pause campaigns.

We should absolutely not be pausing campaigns as long as they are relevant and considered. We’ve seen travel publications crying out for content – inspirational stories, good news stories. Again, it comes back to the simple point – know your audience (and with PR, know your audience’s audience).

[Social] People are sensitive to messaging right now, what should brands do if they (however unintentionally) offend social audiences?

Ellie: We’d advise being cautious of words like ‘essential’ under the current climate as audiences are very tuned in to this particular term right now. We’ve seen ads around getting your ‘make up essentials’ create a strong reaction. So, get a second pair of eyes on ad copy before it goes out.

Jon: With social you get a fast reaction and sometimes a stronger reaction than might be unexpected,so monitoring is really important. If you do get a negative reaction to an ad, turn it off immediately – you don’t want to be paying to promote negativity.  However, in some cases you might be able to respond in a clever way that could turn it around but tread carefully.

[Content] Should I be doing anything to flag content on my blog that is old and offers advice that doesn’t fit with the current situation? We have a lot of content that is currently out of date, do I risk updating it now and having to update again in a few weeks or temporarily delete the content and lose visibility?

Emily: Depends on the product/industry, but I’d be inclined to flag content as an initial response for example with a banner at the top of articles and then work through high priority posts/assets to update accordingly.

Example: Date night content orhow to plan a birthday party – the content ranking currently is completely against government guidelines. So, either update the content (understanding that you’ll likely need to change it back at some point) to be within guidelines or add a paragraph that acknowledges what is relevant for right now.

I certainly wouldn’t recommend deleting anything that has inherent value and could be useful when we return to something closer to normal.

Right now, audiences are more forgiving than ever so don’t ignore it – just acknowledge and update where possible.

Use Google Trends to see what is relevant right now and then link to government resources if need be e.g. an article on how to choose a university would require a caveat that right now universities are not open and then possibly link to the Government recommendations about the coming months.

[Content] How much should brands be pivoting their approach to reactive content and away from evergreen content?

Emily: This depends on the industry and type of product – inevitably people’s outlook, finances and behaviours will change now. It does seem this period is more long-term than originally anticipated so these changes are becoming habits and are likely therefore to extend beyond lockdown. So, some of the content we create now will be a new kind of evergreen. But because things are still changing rapidly, I wouldn’t recommend calling out the specifics of lockdown, rather elude to it or add a section on it.

For  example, our ideation guide has been updated to include remote ideation as a concept which has the connotation of being about coronavirus now but will be relevant going forward too.

[Content & Social] Is it right and moral to be talking about coronavirus right now as a brand?

Jon: It is a part of everybody’s life at the moment so you can’t really not mention it. People do want to know if you’re still in business/taking orders and how your delivery policies have adapted. There are terrible examples of brands trying to leap on the wagon so definitely don’t do that and don’t sensationalise it.

Ellie: It depends how businesses might talk about it. If it resonates with audiences, you can hint at the current climate without focusing on it too much e.g. ‘Get your WFH look’

Emily: We’ve seen personal finance companies emailing out recipes for lockdown, this is so misplaced. Stay in lane, know what your area of expertise is and if you can add value then talk about it.

There’s no person, industry or brand that’s not affected by coronavirus, so I think everyone has the right to comment or reference it in some way.

However, as with anything brands need to consider their values, their area of expertise, the value they can add.

Expertise, authority, trust –keep it smart, be generous where it makes sense and has the biggest impact.

[Content & Social] How can brands justify spending on content or social right now when the rest of the business might be struggling?

Emily: Your customers, partners and employees need and want to hear from you. In my opinion ‘Content’ is the best way to do that and can be done quickly, using limited resources.

Digital content is one of the few ways that brands can communicate with their audiences right now – print, traditional advertising on billboards, in-store, events, networking are all paused.

It’s been interesting to see the evolution of ad campaigns during this crisis, from the initial days when it all seemed bizarre and out of context, to the never-ending stream of moody piano music and empty streets! I’m seeing more and more brands directly referencing their online content hubs as a CTA like British Gas – here to solve, BirdsEye.co.uk/helpfulideas and our client, Sage promoting their content which provides help and guidance for small businesses.

So, content marketing is something that brands should be seriously considering right now – it directly adds value and keeps the brand alive. I’d focus on expertise, authority and trust.

Content is cheaper than many other forms of marketing, it can also have long-lasting effects – content you create now can perform for years.

Some brands and publications might be struggling right now, but that doesn’t mean people need less high-quality information or education. There are opportunities everywhere and the great thing is, people have never been more forgiving, so brands have a wonderful opportunity to try, test, learn and adapt. Take video content for example, people are not expecting full cinematic quality right now. Just make sure what you’re saying is relevant to your area of expertise.

Jon: On paid ads for ecommerce it’s all driven by direct return. With people at home, the retail therapy factor is at play and so a number of ecommerce clients are doing really well – we’ve seen some have record months during lockdown. In these cases, there isn’t a struggle to justify.

The harder conversations have been B2B. For businesses looking at X-month hole in revenue it is very difficult to justify marketing spend right now. So, maybe they might not spend on ads but I’d recommend some kind of communication with clients and audiences. When business does recover the more leads you have in your pocket the better so if not direct lead gen, at least look to build up an email database.

[Content]  How much should I be changing my editorial strategy around coronavirus? I don’t want to end up with lots of content that ages quickly, but it feels inappropriate not to be acknowledging what’s going on.

Emily: You need an interim strategy, for sure. Your business goals will likely have changed over the last few months. This could be from growing the business to pure survival, from selling products, to maintaining brand awareness,  but your team need reassurance and direction as to what to do next.

We all have to adapt our ways of working to facilitate flexibility – what if we have intermittent lockdowns for example?

An interim strategy need not take long to pull together – all hands-on deck attitude. I’d recommend the following steps:

  1. Values – how do they apply now?
  2. New business goals/objectives – what’s most important right now?
  3. How can content help achieve these goals?
  4. How has your audience changed? (Do you have a new audience now? For example, there’s been a huge boom in over 70s on Zoom)
  5. Draw a Venn diagram of your audience needs (focus on the needs that will likely remain) vs your expertise vs your available resource
  6. Detail your revised production and distribution process (budgets, tools, teams may have changed)
  7. Set very specific objectives for your content – what is it you need your audience to do as a result of interacting with your content?

[Content & Social] Are there any key rules or bits of software to help make social media & content marketing a bit more structured for a leaner team?

Ellie: Facebook Blueprint is a great free learning platform for potential advertisers.

Jon: If you’re pressed for resource, my advice would be to find something you enjoy creating e.g. a podcast and that can become your central focus. Also just go back to the basics of who is your audience, what do they want or what are they going to find valuable and push that knowledge. A combination of the right subjects and something to hook it around – that’s the key. Also, pick one platform and go for it and do it well.

Emily: If you’re starting out with a new content strategy – start with your core values. Bring your communication back to those values. Also look at your goals now and how can content help you achieve those objectives. Think about how your audiences’ context has changed. What are they feeling? What are their motivations and needs right now? And how can you help with that? Tie what they need to what you can offer and what resources you have available.

Start listing ideas against how long it’s going to take. Look at what you have already and how you can use that. Have an all-hands-on-deck attitude, with teams and engaged customers. When you’re making a new piece of content what is the call to action / what is the best possible thing someone could do after engaging with it and keep an eye on how well that’s performing. Simply, just start doing and measuring!

Latest Google updates

[PPC & SEO] How can retail\ecommerce companies utilise the new changes within Google shopping where marketers can advertise for free?

Imogen: The way that this was announced did make it sound a bit more exciting or useful than it is! Firstly, this is only available in USA at the moment and this only affects the shopping tab rather than PLA activity in the SERP, which accounts for about 5% of the shopping traffic we see on our clients typically. It does often have a higher conversion rate so it’s a fantastic opportunity to reduce costs for traffic you were paying for, but on the other hand this could mean an influx of new competitors into the space, which could mean a reduction in traffic coming to you. It’s going to be more important than ever to optimise your feed as you can’t use bidding to affect your rankings here. The way that UK businesses can take advantage of this is to target the US with their UK feed using currency conversion – if you’re able to ship to the US, this might be your first push into a new market. We are seeing really low traffic volumes for clients who are only using the free shopping in US rather than both together.

Will: To make sure you’re eligible for this, you’ll also need to ensure you’re opted into the ‘surfaces across Google’ programme. This can be done within Google Merchant Center; those with valid product schema markup will automatically have products shown.

[SEO] Google had another core update in May, what’s the general gist and have you seen any positive or negatives from it so far?

Will: In terms of the kinds of things that we’ve seen, it’s been really similar to the past core updates – a lot of shift in intent in the sense that sometimes it may look like a client has gone down for specific keywords but when you dig into it you actually realise the entire SERP itself has changed and the types of results being displayed are different because Google has re-evaluated the intent of the terms and decided those aren’t the best results to display so they’ve completely changed the type of results being displayed. In addition to that I would say the clients that have benefitted have been those who have recently fixed bigger technical issues or made any content improvements for example sites we’ve worked with to reduce the amount of thin or duplicate content on their websites and to consolidate content to improve quality and give a cleaner picture to Google.

General

[SEO & PPC] Best resources for SEO & PPC to keep informed?

Will: It’s been kicking around for a long time but the Moz Beginner’s Guide to SEO I still think is a fantastic resource. They’ve recently updated it, maybe last year, and they’ve done a fantastic job as it’s more robust than it was and all up to date. SEO is very much a case of learning on the job and some of the information can be quite disparate and spread out. But currently quite a lot of people are offering free courses including Moz. Otherwise just newsletters such as SEO for Lunch or Marie Haynes – they do a good job of highlighting updates and information, but they’ll also include some ‘must read’ articles. Lastly, a book called ‘The art of SEO’ – again not a new one but the foundational stuff in there is still really relevant.

Imogen: For PPC, Google has loads of resources in the Skillshop – the training platform for the Google exams. You can learn Google ads, Analytics, Google marketing platform, Youtube, display, measurement and more. If you have a Google contact, there are also loads of new trainings being held every week. Of course, you can also speak to Genie Goals about getting some 121 or group training designed for you. Think with Google ‘Rising retail categories’ and resources like Google Trends are also so valuable.

[SEO] What third-party tools do you use for keyword discovery?

Will: In addition to the usual suspects – Google Keyword Planner and Search Console – the main tools we use are SEMrush and Ahrefs.

Both allow you to analyse your own site to establish the keywords you are already ranking for, which may not be present in Search Console if you are not ranking in the top 10 positions, because no clicks have been recorded. Additionally, you can check competitors and incorporate any relevant keywords they are ranking for that you are not.

To expand your list further, SEMrush’s keyword magic tool is great. You can feed in seed keywords and get suggestions of related terms. The functionality in this sense is similar to Google Keyword Planner, but the automatic keyword grouping feature makes it far easier to remove unwanted terms en masse and it has other advanced filtering functionality – Search Volume, SERP features, etc. – that Keyword Planner lacks.

To discover questions and other types of informational searches, we also tend to use Answer the Public and Alsoasked.com.

[PPC] If you could just give us one piece of advice regarding anything related to bidding automation, what would that be?

Imogen: If you can, definitely use it. Google smart bidding has become one of the most powerful bidding tools available and it’s completely free to use. Make sure you set a strategy which is completely aligned with your business objectives, and that the tool has enough data to make good decisions.

[SEO] What are the easiest and best ways for PPC and SEO to work together?

Will: Avoiding the obvious answer of sharing keyword data, one way I think SEO can really benefit from PPC is by analysing the call to actions being used (which will be optimised for maximum CTR) and incorporating these in title tags and meta descriptions.

It is very common to see an organic snippet that doesn’t include any of the CTA’s being highlighted by paid search; equally, by just searching for a couple of keywords relevant to a landing page, you can also see what competitor brands are pushing as USPs, which may also be relevant for your brand.

[PPC] In your experience, do you think that bidding on your brand is worthwhile, even though you may rank first for the term in SEO? Some people think it is better to have a double listing within the SERP, whereas others say that’s one of the biggest wins when you want to save PPC budget. What are your thoughts on this?

Imogen: In my experience, the answer is different for every client. If anyone is competing on your brand keywords and appearing above your organic listing either through search or shopping then it’s important to bid on brand, and it’s a great way to control your copy and landing page for particular searches. We use different levels of brand bidding for every client depending on their individual circumstances and the amount of competition on different keywords. There’s a myth that bidding on brand helps your overall account quality score and reduces costs overall but this is not something I’ve ever seen proven.

[SEO & PPC] How is AI & machine learning benefitting SEO & PPC?

Will: Again, it comes back to intent and the periodic updates. If you look at a lot of the recent updates – you’ve got Rankbrain which came out a few years ago and was the first foray into machine learning, as well as  Burt more recently – they’re trying to take that query that you’re inputting and better understand it. So, a lot of these updates aren’t about penalising sites, more about refining the quality of the results that are displayed and the type of results to make them as useful as possible.

I’m definitely looking at intent a lot more, so rather than just looking at keywords and saying ok those have high search volume and they look relevant to the brand, I’m digging into the SERPs a lot more and what kind of results are being displayed. So, if I was looking at ranking data rather than just looking at where I am ranking for 100 specific keywords, I’d be looking at what type of result is being displayed in the top 10. I’m trying to rank a query that feels more informational but I’m trying to rank for the product page then it may be that’s not going to work if 9 out of the top 10 are articles. In addition to that if I have a short 500-word article but Google’s displaying 8 guides that are all 3000-words long then that’s a clear indicator that for that kind of query they’re looking for more long form content. So, just by thinking critically and analysing the type of results you can get aa really good indication of what type of content you should be producing to fulfil the intent for that particular query.

Imogen: The way that machine learning is benefiting PPC is by bringing powerful bidding tools and ad formats to everyone and for free. These type of tools would have in the past cost you a lot to automate your bidding and give really granular contextual bidding. Google smart bidding is what we use across a lot of our clients and it uses machine learning to set bids at an auction time – so for every individual auction based not only on the keyword but also on the context of the user, the intent of the user, where they are in the purchase funnel, how well they know your brand, how much they’ve been looking at competitors who are really similar and various other signals which all come together.

Make sure you set a strategy which is completely aligned with your business objectives, and that the tool has enough data to make good decisions.

[PPC] When you’re conducting audits for prospective clients what are the tell-tale signs that things can be improved upon?

Imogen: The audits we do are quite extensive but the first things I do to assess whether we’re likely to be able to make a difference are:

[SEO & PPC] Do you feel that the way that SERPs have evolved over time has favoured organic search or paid search?

Imogen: I think that the SERPs have evolved to favour paid search but I do spend a lot of time thinking about paid search so I might be biased – the ad formats are constantly being tested and developed to make them as attractive, effective and relevant as possible. This isn’t just to benefit businesses and merchants – if ads aren’t relevant to the consumer then they won’t engage with them, which doesn’t benefit anyone.

Will: I agree to be honest; it has shifted more towards paid – especially in the last 5 years. If you look at for example mobile device, you have to scroll quite far down now to get below those 4 ads. In the past when I’ve seen a drop on a client, I’ve dug into it and ended up isolating something like the homepage which is very brand driven and when an updates happened on mobile I’ve been able to corelate when the update went live with a slight reduction in branded traffic because of the amount of real-estate taken up by paid branded ads going up.

Also, if you look at things like the actual ad area, the label is getting gradually more and more ambiguous. At one point it was very clearly separated, and we had a yellow or green label and now it’s a black label that does technically say ad but is very hard to distinguish unless you know what you’re looking for.

That said there’s still obviously massive benefit to doing organic and I don’t just say that because I’m an SEO. The larger proportion of traffic does still go to organic so as always with these things you want to be doing both – especially if you’re a big brand, you should be spending money in both areas.

[PPC] Top tips for creating a PPC strategy in 2020?

Imogen: First – what are your business objectives, and what can PPC achieve to get you closer to those? Next you need to think about how much you’re able to invest and what you would need to see in order to believe that this activity has been successful. It’s really important to know how you’re going to be measuring success from the beginning. If you’re working with an agency, this will help them to give you an idea of whether your KPIs are realistic, easy or a stretch. Next you can decide who you want to be targeting – based on what they’re searching, where they’re located, and the type of behavioural signals they show online. With a budget and targets, you’re then able to make a decision about what ad types are most appropriate – lower funnel activity with small budgets would likely mean search and shopping campaigns only, but large growth targets and higher budgets would warrant a full funnel strategy involving Youtube bumper ads, responsive display, discovery, showcase shopping etc.

[Data] Our analytics has so many goals and triggers it’s hard to see the woods for the trees – how can I refine it?

Gary: I would recommend strategy as a solution to this. Often people end up in this situation because they don’t have a strategy or because they’ve lost sight of it. If you have a well-defined strategy to refer to then you should have a clear template of what is important in terms of measuring business performance and the activities you’re doing to improve that performance. When you look at your analytics set-up through the lens of that template, you’ll see which of the goals are more important than others and whether there are any gaps. That will tell you where you should start and where you should focus.

[Data] We’re an online retailer on standard GA with a low volume of sales – do I need Enhanced Ecommerce? What extra info would I get?

Gary: Yes, I’d definitely recommend Enhanced Ecommerce – in all scenarios! I’d even recommend Enhanced Ecommerce for non-ecommerce clients, which may sound a little counter-intuitive at first but you can really put all kinds of rich data into that.

I’ve used it in the past for some service sector clients because it can give really granular conversion-level data which you can’t get from just an event or a goal which only have three data points. For me, while the conversion data and rich product data is really useful, the most important or valuable part is the funnel reports. Unless you’re in 360 and therefore have access to custom funnels, the funnelling and behaviour analysis within the free version of GA can be a little restrictive at first. Whereas, Enhanced Ecommerce has some really good funnelling and behaviour reports out of the box. So, looking at shopping behaviours like how people go from arriving on your site to viewing the product to adding to the bag, then reaching checkout and finally purchasing, and then a more detailed view of the checkout performance itself.

You can co-opt those outside of ecommerce for similar functions within a service sector site as well i.e. if you’re looking at a subscription model like a SaaS product you may have different tiers that you could consider effectively ecommerce products and start to look at the same kind of journey.

[Data] It feels like I could be doing more to understand my site visitors but I don’t really know what is possible so it’s a bit chicken and egg – is there a good starting point?

Gary: Yes, there absolutely is and I’m going to go back to strategy again.

The challenge with understanding user behaviour, especially in Google Analytics, is that it can be quite buried – it’s not necessarily obvious where to look or what is important to look at. You can spend hours going through an analytics account, report to report, filtering and segmenting, finding things that are interesting but not knowing if they’re relevant or important or what to do with them.

If you start with strategy to help you understand what it is you’re trying to look for and what you want to do with that information then the structure of those questions lends itself to a better dive into the analytics suite, finding the most relevant reports and knowing whether or not you need to segment, filter or run any kind of analysis off the back of that or if the raw report is enough. This helps you to focus your attention and get what you want quicker, so you’ll definitely have more value off the back of those actions.

[Data] I have lots of weird bot traffic in my analytics – should I be doing something about this? Is there an easy fix?

Gary: The short answer is yes, you should do something about it but unfortunately the easy fix is not as easy as it used to be. Earlier this year Google decided to deprecate the network domain and service provider reports within Google Analytics and those were two of the most powerful features in terms of removing bot activity. So, you may have found that any filters set up using these in the past have now stopped working and therefore you’ll have seen a rise in bot activity off the back of that. It’s not necessarily a host of new bots that have sprung up but probably more likely that a load of filters have simply stopped working.

The first port of call is just making sure that you have the out-of-the-box bot detection turned on – a surprising number of client accounts don’t have their reporting views enabled for bot filtering so turning that on straight away gets rid of anything on the IAB list, which is a huge list curated by the IAB so getting that turned on is a big win.

There will still be a lot of smaller bots that go through the net which have become a lot harder to catch and filter out. The starting point is trying to understand what those bots are and really create a user profile for those bots so you can try to identify how to get rid of those in the data. Typically, that meant taking the metric or movement that seemed anomalous – usually a rise in bounce rate or traffic from a locale that business isn’t operating in – and looking at the network and service provider reports but those don’t exist anymore. Instead, it’s worth looking at the technology reports. Bots may spoof a lot of things, but they can be quite lazy and often come in from the same user agent, they’ll look like they’re from the same browser, same operating system, running in the same language etc. So, you should see quite a clear indication. Recently we saw one that was all Chrome on Linux with the language C so probably not a thing. Getting all of those data points together will show you for example that is 99% of this rise in bounce rate or 99% US traffic you’ve seen spring up so then you can quite easily filter that out. It can be tough with filters, it’s easier with segments to more easily remove from reports. What I have tried to do to get around filtering is trying to concatenate all of those values into a single dimension or custom dimension and use that as the basis for a filter. To be honest it is very fiddly, but it can be so beneficial.

[Data] A huge percentage of my traffic is ‘direct’ – is this really all just customers typing in our web address?

Gary: Almost certainly not, it’s worth looking at what ‘direct’ means and it simply means we don’t know where it came from. What this means has changed a lot over the years, we’ve often called it direct visit or load usually because that was the most likely in the early web days. If you weren’t coming from a link from a known source the likelihood was you typed on the URL or bookmarked the URL and came in that way.

Over time that has changed, we’ve got a lot of different digital sources which aren’t necessarily the web anymore. Mobile apps are a great example where you are online and have come through from a link but there’s no URL there. Direct simply means you’ve come from a source that has no known URL. So, it’s worth having a look at all those sources of activity you control have been properly campaign tracked with UTM parameters including areas like mobile apps or email for example. If you pick up your emails on Outlook or a mobile app all of those will come through as direct if you haven’t tracked those links. If you’ve got lots of untracked email activity you might have quite a chunk of referrers from webmail so worth looking at the referrers list and seeing whether you can see some examples of those. Definitely have a look at all the sources of activity you’ve got pointing at your site and your outbound email activity, app architecture you’ve got in place and whether you’ve got all of those appropriately tracked.

[Data] I have a website migration coming up – what should I be doing with analytics to make sure I don’t lose any data?

Gary:

  1. Make a plan
  2. Get analytics involved straight away

At the very least get analytics involved at the wire-framing stage – it may not feel like an analytics task but knowing what kind of interactions are planned and what kind of content is planned can be used to decide what kind of data is likely to come from that, what kind of data structures are needed and start looking at any known red flags. For example, some things I’ve come across in the past have included issues with video content on specific platforms that can be avoided or the need for tracking of social sharing under a clear campaign structure. Basically, this information can give you loads of questions to investigate and draw up dependencies before you commit to particular technologies or architectures. This will save you so much time as you don’t want to get 6 months into development to find that data isn’t going to be available or valuable.

[Data] I’d like to do a better job of visualising my data – what tools are out there to help me with this?

Gary: So many tools – we are genuinely spoilt for visualisation tools at the moment, it feels like every year there are at least three new ones!

DataStudio needs a mention: it’s come a long way since its release and it’s still free! It gives you the opportunity to plug in lots of different data sets, not just the Google data sets but really any accessible database. There are some data manipulation features and they’re getting more so we can now do blended data sets which was quite a big feature that came in. You will find some limitations but that gives you a prioritised shopping list of what you’re willing to pay for. Then when you look at the premium solutions like Tableau, Power BI or Looker which has just been acquired by Google Cloud, you know whether that solution is right for the things you know you definitely need and so want to be paying for therefore whether it’s right for you.

A lot of people waste a lot of money on visualisation tools because they want something shiny and they know what they’d like but they don’t really know what they need.

I don’t think there is such a thing as the right visualisation solution – it depends entirely on what data sources you’ve got, what you want to do with that data (dashboarding/reporting or more analytical) and what audiences it needs to go to i.e. exec level or analytics audience, do you need some tiering in there or the level of flexibility you might need and that has a big impact on your choice.

[Data] I’d like to move to a one-page checkout but don’t want to lose the funnel data I have at the moment – is this possible?

Gary: Potentially. Again, get analytics involved early! There are lots of different ways to track checkout progression in a one-page scenario. The answer really depends on how you’re going to implement that –  are you going for an enormously long page (which I’m sure your UX team will have something to say about) or are you loading content in small bites but staying on the same physical page? Because those are two very different challenges. You may try to go down the field-by-field approach of measuring engagement with each field that someone needs to fill in. The latter is more of a virtual page scenario so every time the content refreshes send an event to Google Analytics to tell them the page has changed. All of these things can be brought in with the ecommerce data to fill in that checkout flow. Just bear in mind the limitations of some of those things so if you’re going with a very long page and someone auto-fills that from their browser you can’t track that.

[Data] For websites with multiple checkouts or purchase funnels for example a website with 15 different platforms for different products, what’s the best way to introduce a unified ecommerce tracking set up in that situation?

Gary: With some difficulty if I’m honest. The most important thing is to map it all out into what data is available in each one and what are the common factors i.e. create a bit of a data dictionary up front as to what each point in GA means for each of those platforms because terminology probably gets lost a but as you go across each one and the development teams for each one probably have different ways of dealing with or thinking about things as well. It’s also worth considering what data formats you need all that data in – string integers, floats etc. Because a data transformation piece may be required in tag management or once it reaches GA if some of those platforms aren’t able to facilitate any of those.

An alternative is to look at measurement protocol. If you can’t get the data exposed on the page perhaps there is a server-side signal which can instead be sent back to a centralised data warehouse. When that signal comes in with the client ID attached, that gets sent off server-side into GA as a measurement protocol hit, in turn negating the disparate checkout flows and bringing that data into a single space.

Future-proofing

[Content & Social] What should people be planning now ahead of time for when lockdown is lifted?

Jon: Start retargeting for when things do recover to communicate with warm audiences. And having a variety of messages ready to go for when they can.

Emily: Planning for if this happens again i.e., we may phase in and out of lockdown. Ensure your products align to this way of life. Have a good understanding of the content you’ve got and how you could pivot it. Look at your production processes to be able to work more flexibly.

[Content] Do you see this impacting the way we search for information online longer term? i.e. a search like “home baking ideas’ is peaking – but do you see that remaining higher than before, longer term as we come out of this?’

Emily: I saw an article today with data from Retail Economics where consumers were suggesting that that their behaviour will be permanently impacted particularly on the way they shop, communicate, travel and work. And therefore, this will likely have a lasting impact on search behaviour.

Two things:

  1. Measurement – review objectives and goals more often, report learnings more often
  2. Speak to your audience more often: I suggest speaking to your customers/target customers as often as possible – audience research is really important, but can take time – so speak to your sales team, customer services, your actual customers as often as possible.

Look to other countries where rules are relaxing slightly – trends, behaviours might be indicative there.


If you’ve got digital marketing questions yourself, get in touch or let us know in the comments – we’re here to help.

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