Web Analytics Guide for Startups

Startups are fun right? And analytics…err…not so fun. Most will probably agree with these sentiments but no one can dispute the importance and impact insightful data can have on the success of startups. Insightful and actionable data can only be derived from implementing effective tracking throughout the whole customer journey.

In my experience, startups are a somewhat special case, as they are often very small teams frantically juggling many things at once. The main themes running through their minds tend to be: creating a great product, launching the startup, raising finance, cash flow management, marketing and sales. No doubt, they are all very important issues that warrant time and attention. However, depending on how ‘digitally savvy’ the startup team are, tracking and web analytics are often neglected.

So if we agree on the importance of tracking and analytics, what next? How can someone really take control and make analytics work to their advantage? The following visual forms the basis of the answer and this guide explaining the three stages:


Stage 1:    Objectives

The first step is to set the objectives for your web analytics – what information is important to your business and what do you want to track? This is a far deeper question than most people think at first glance and I’d be inclined to split it into the following two categories:

a)    Key data from Google Analytics – the following link gives a good outline of the key metrics to consider:  Google Analytics for Startups

It is important to note that aggregated data (from a broad view of your site traffic) is not that useful and can be somewhat deceptive. For example, let’s say that your site receives a good stream of traffic from Stumbleupon and the majority of people ‘bounce’ – this will have the obvious effect of driving up your overall bounce rate. Now if you were to take action based on the overall high bounce rate (e.g. optimising your landing page/offer) it would be unwise, as the key driving force behind it is the untargeted traffic from Stumbleupon (for which we’d expect a higher bounce rate). More about implementing this later.

b)    Key Metrics Specific To Your Business Strategy – obviously all the above metrics are important to your business strategy but this category is made up of other business specific metrics. For example, if you operate a freemium business model, would it not be good to track the % of free members vs paid members at any given time, the average time of conversion from free to premium, average lifetime of a premium customer and so on? There are many other examples depending on the type of business your startup is in. This is where you need to put your best thinking hat on and reread your business plan at the same time.

This process should ideally be a collaborative process between your team – each person will have a different perspective. Brainstorm together and then refine the list to the most important web analytics objectives that will impact your business.

Stage 2:    Implementation

In general, almost everything that was listed above can be somehow tracked, monitored and reported on. You’ll probably find the majority will come under the umbrella of Google Analytics so let’s start there.

Google Analytics Setup: 

First things first make sure Google Analytics is installed and setup properly – the following are two handy guides:

10 Point Checklist to Setting Up Google Analytics Properly  – written by Brian Clifton who is an authority in this field. Some of the points mentioned will be mentioned again within this guide too.

Check Installation on Every Page – more advanced guide relevant for large scale websites.

Also, it is worth bearing in mind that the layout/interface of Google Analytics changes with every update (nothing dramatic) and the guide here looks at the major changes of late.

Google Analytics Configuration: 

Once Google Analytics has been properly installed you’ll need to configure further so it provides the right data corresponding to your objectives set out in the first step. The following are the key points:

Goals – this is the essence of analytics which is pretty much self-explanatory and ties in well with your objectives. What are the goals of your websites? Common examples are signups, purchases, newsletter signups and so on. This link is a useful guide to configuring this on your website (courtesy of Google themselves)

E-commerce Tracking – linked to the above but if you site is an e-commerce site then its is imperative to get the right tracking in place so you know where your sales are coming from. Again, use this useful guide from Google to implement e-commerce tracking.

Profiles – firstly set up an overall profile capturing ‘all website traffic’ which is the default. Thereafter, set up a different profile excluding ‘internal traffic’ – traffic from yourselves, developers and anyone else working on the site.  Once again, we’ll leave Google to explain how this can be done.  You may or may not need to create further profiles, which is dependent on the pre-defined objectives.

Campaign Tagging/Tracking – this is a very important stage whereby you’ll implement tracking to measure the performance of all the different marketing activities you’re likely to employ. This is best done through adding extra ‘UTM parameters’ at the end of URLs. The guys over at Kissmetrics have put together a useful guide on how to use UTM parameters. Also, although the ‘Google URL builder’ is already mentioned in that guide, it is worth noting it here again.

Event Tracking – this is shown in a different tab to goals and is used to measure how visitors are interacting on the site. Are they clicking on a video, clicking on affiliate links, or any other ‘events’ on the site you want to track (and is part of your objectives). The following links should get you up and running:

Complete Google Analytics Event Tracking Guide – Anna (the writer) is good with answering questions if you have any.

Event Tracking 101 by Search Engine Land

Google Developers Guide to Event Tracking

Segmentation – the solution around ‘aggregated data’. Setting up advanced segments in Google Analytics will give you the ability to analyse very specific slices of traffic. Again, when implementing refer back to the original set of objectives.  This is the starting point for implementing segmentation.

Report Customisation – implementing all of the above should enable you to produce reports that provide the exact data corresponding to the objectives set out at the outset. If not, you’ll need to play about with the reporting in order to set up the right reports that will feed you the required data. The beauty is once they are set up all you you have to do is log in and generate the report periodically.

Phone Tracking:  Other than Google Analytics you may need other platforms to monitor your objectives. One very common one (depending on the type of business) is phone tracking:

Phone Call Tracking Options – remember to look at the reviews etc when choosing.

Other Tips and Tools:

Handy Tool to Configure GA – that is a pretty neat website with a bit more hand holding

It may not be so relevant to startups, but have you ever suffered from a Google algorithm update or penalty? The following is a cool free Chrome plugin that basically overlays in your Google Analytics account and provides the dates for the latest Google algorithms – you can then easily see whether you have been hit:

Get Chartelligence here

If you want to be more savvy, you can set up custom Google Analytics alerts to send you an alert, say if there is a 20% decrease in traffic over 24 hours for example – you set the parameters you want.

Stage 3:    Data Analysis

By now, you should have:

1. Specified exactly what data is important to your business and what needs to be tracked through web analytics (‘Objectives’)….TICK

2. Setup Google Analytics and other necessary platforms….TICK

3. Configured the above so that they will output the required data aligned with the objectives….TICK

Now what?

Now begins the fun part – reviewing, dissecting and analysing the data. Again, there is no real or right way of doing this and it all depends on the objectives you set out (I bet you’re tired of hearing this by now). Are visitors to the site in line with your marketing efforts? What traffic sources bring in the most visitors/conversions? Is the overall conversion rate in line with the market? And the most important metric to ponder on is most probably ROI.

In all honesty, I can ask 100 more questions like the above but each business/website is different with differing objectives. The most important thing is that you get the right data in front of you so that you can make the right decisions – this is where the term ‘data driven marketing’ came from.

Once data analysis and actions have been taken, new or revised objectives may be set and the process starts all over again. It really is not that complicated and as with most things just about getting it done! Enough with the reading now…have you started the process at all?