How to get the most out of Google Analytics for PR

It is demonstrably true that more and more PR practitioners are seeking to use Google Analytics (GA) as a key tool in measuring and evaluating key aspects of their communications work. However, it also remains true that there is a gap between aspiration and execution when it comes to actually using GA in anger for PR reporting and measurement.

Part of the challenge is that Google is constantly updating the GA platform or providing additional tools to help users get more out of reporting and insights.  As welcome as this is, it often leads to people feeling overwhelmed as to where to start or what they should do or use.

The following are some key additional tools bear in mind when seeking to use GA for PR measurement (don’t forget the CIPR is running Google Analytics for PR workshops in London and Newcastle on November 15th and November 16th respectively).

Google Tag Manager

Google Tag Manager (GTM) is a free tool that is intended to make the process of adding tracking codes and marketing tags to websites easier – or more specifically, to allow non IT personnel to be able to manage adding relevant tracking codes without having to rely upon IT or web staff to do it.

The only possible tech team involvement might be to install the initial Google Tag Manager container code. But once this is in place, GTM can be used without further IT involvement.

So why should PR professionals care about GTM being installed on their organisation or client website?

First, Google’s own best practice recommendations suggest that the Google Analytics tracking code should be installed via GTM. If nothing else it means the GA code can be applied in a faster and more error-free way to all the pages that need to be tracked. But it also means that certain advanced uses of Google Analytics can be implemented without calling upon IT resource. One of these is the ability to add Event Goals such as PDF downloads and video views which have traditionally been tricky to implement without IT or web team involvement. GTM also makes it very simple to add other tracking codes that PR practitioners may well benefit from such as the LinkedIn Insights tag, or the Facebook pixel for retargeting.

Using Google Data Studio to create visually attractive and integrated dashboards

One of the traditional challenges with relying heavily on Google Analytics is that it tends to focus purely on website related traffic (yes, GA can measure pretty much anything through the Measurement Protocol, but few companies even now seem to make use of this). And although it is possible to create simple dashboards within GA, these can only be related to GA data.

What happens when you want to create an integrated dashboard that pulls in not just GA data, but social media data, Adwords data, or traditional PR coverage metrics? Third-party solutions such as Tableau or Klipfolio have been around for some time, but are typically expensive or require a lot of time to learn how to set up properly.  Google Data Studio (GDS) aims to provide an easy way to create attractive and useful dashboards that incorporate and display data from multiple information sources. Originally launched as part of the paid version of Google Analytics, the tool is now free for all GA users and allows you to create multiple dashboards for any and all different types of reporting stakeholders.

In addition, GDS has recently added many more data connectors that be used to populate a dashboard such as Facebook Insights, Instagram, and MailChimp.

Google Analytics Add-On for Google Sheets

Another traditional challenge with GA has been the (lack of) ability to pull just the data you want, when you want and in a format that doesn’t require lots of effort to turn it into an easy to understand format. Clearly, GA already contains a dizzying array of standardised reports that can be used without modification for many purposes. However, anyone who has spent any time with GA will eventually reach a point where they need something more bespoke than a pre-built report.  A traditional way round this would be to use the Google Analytics Reporting API to pull data out of GA to be manipulated by a 3rd party tool. In reality, this would require a level of technical resource and expertise beyond the reach of many organisations (and certainly most PR practitioners).

The Google Analytics Add-On for Google Sheets provides a free method for utilising the GA Reporting API to automatically pull data into a familiar tool (Google Sheets) where the data can then be displayed and/or used as the basis for further calculation and refinement.

A classic example might be where you wish to compare data from two or more GA Views at the same time (you can’t do this in GA itself). Using the Google Analytics Add-On for Google Sheets, you can access just the dimensions and metrics you want from both Views, and display them side by side. Or create charts and graphs from the data. Or use them to calculate weighted impact scores. This is a good solution who wants something that with a modest amount of tweaking can quickly automate bespoke reports on an ad hoc or scheduled basis.

The ever-increasing role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) in GA

It has certainly been possible to apply AI style tools to GA data for some years. One of the most popular 3rd party tools has been Narrative Science’s Quill Engage tool which for free will analyse your GA data and write a report in natural language with no human intervention. Many man hours have been saved by having this free AI tool to do the initial heavy lifting on the analysis and report writing aspects of GA measurement.

Unsurprisingly, it was only a matter of time before Google itself would start to apply AI to GA analysis. Ironically, the iPhone and Android app versions of GA have for quite some time offered AI powered insights such as highlighting trends and offering recommendations for action.  However, earlier in 2017, Google rolled out an even meatier version of AI insights into the desktop version of GA.

Called Analytics Intelligence, all GA accounts are now analysed by an AI which will automatically highlight significant trends and issues and offer advice as to how to fix or benefit from them. In addition, you can simply ask natural language questions to GA and get an answer back. For example, you can ask which social media campaign drove more goal completions in the past week – and it will come back with the relevant data. No need to work out where to find the data yourself or remember which report might contain the information you need.

In summary, Google continues to provide a hugely powerful array of tools for free and provides an enormous amount of online help and support your measurement and evaluation activities.

But as the array of possible features and benefits continues to grow, it can make use of the tools seem even more overwhelming.

To help practitioners cherry pick the most relevant aspects of GA to consider using, then take a look at the Google Analytics for PR workshop that I run on behalf of the CIPR. This one-day session covers everything from ensuring optimal set up to advanced campaign tracking, reporting, attribution analysis and insight gathering as well how to get the best out of additional tools such as Google Tag Manager, Google Data Studio, Google Search Console and Klipfolio.

The next London workshop will take place on Wednesday, November 15th. The same workshop will be run the following day in Newcastle on November 16th.

Follow Andrew on Twitter.

Image courtesy of flickr user Alan O’Rourke

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