Every day, the average American consumer spends more than 12 hours interacting with media, including newspapers, magazines, TV and — the big winner — digital media. In fact, a typical adult spends more than six hours per day consuming digital media, from watching videos to posting on social networks.
Each interaction a consumer has with digital content creates a virtual treasure trove of information about that specific individual. For a savvy marketer, these in-depth analytics help build a detailed profile of each customer or potential customer, and can provide the foundation for a long-term relationship between a consumer and a brand.
Why? Because unlike outdated marketing methods, such as bulk flyers mailed to people’s homes, digital analytics allow marketers to learn the depth and breadth of information about consumers that in decades past could only have come from years of sales and marketing efforts. The insights gained from digital marketing analytics create a shortcut to a real, long-lasting connection with a consumer.
Let’s learn more about how data analytics are transforming marketing and what wise marketers need to know so they can harness the power of these insights.
How to use digital marketing analytics effectively
A few decades ago, determining the effectiveness of any marketing strategy meant manual data collection — making phone calls and hoping people didn’t hang up, or mailing survey forms to homes and running the risk of the mailer ending up in the trash.
But today, it’s possible to see almost immediately the effectiveness of a digital marketing campaign thanks to analytics. These same analytics allow for tweaks or even wholesale changes based on the intelligence gathered. That’s a big reason why the marketing analytics industry is expanding rapidly with a compound annual growth rate of 14 percent projected through 2024.
Digital marketing analytics can tell a company any number of things about its customers, its content and how effectively the company is communicating across different platforms. Generally, though, digital analytics covers one or more of three broad buckets:
- Business: What is the company spending on campaigns? How much is the company getting in return? This also covers things like sales figures and the number of leads.
- Conversion: Are potential customers becoming paying customers? This includes things like click-throughs on websites and repeat sales.
- Marketing: How well-informed about the company are potential customers? This includes things like website visits and bounce rates (more about these later).
While not everything listed above falls into the marketing bucket, all three types may be necessary for a company to effectively use digital marketing analytics, and digital marketers need to understand all types of analytics to be successful. The benefits of a smart digital marketing analytics program tend to be quite vast and include:
- Understanding the consumer: Remember that data treasure trove? One of its best uses is helping a business identify different types of consumers, and the analytics gathered during a marketing campaign can even further refine buyer personas.
- Refining strategies: Because digital marketing analytics allow companies to track results with near-immediate effect, it’s possible to quickly adapt and shift strategies to something that’s more effective.
- Personalization: In addition to creating and refining buyer personas, a strong data analytics system lets a marketer personalize a consumer’s experience across various platforms and channels, from social media to websites to emails. More than 60 percent of millennials are willing to share personal information if they get personalized discounts or offers as a result.
- Collaboration: Data analytics programs can power cross-department collaboration by arming the digital marketing team with actionable insights they can share with other departments. In many cases, the very analytics tools marketers use to help companies grow are the same ones they use to justify what the company spends on marketing.
- Being proactive: Digital marketing analytics takes a marketing, advertising or sales department and lets it be proactive rather than reactive. Instead of waiting to see what works, departments driven by data will use analytics insights to anticipate customer behavior or market forces.
Digital marketing metrics to know
The specific measurables that will prove important depend not only on what the business does but what channels they currently have; some companies will have a strong social media presence while others may rely on their websites. And still others have both and many more channels. But digital marketing analytics are only as effective as the information being tracked, so it’s important to understand which metrics and key performance indicators are most important for a typical digital marketer.
Here’s a look at some critical digital metrics based on platform:
Website traffic remains the gold standard metric that pretty much every business with a website tracks, but traffic provides a broad understanding of how effective a website is. Other metrics, such as time on page, are every bit as important as an overall traffic count. Here are some important website metrics in addition to total site visits:
- Time on site: Second only to overall site visits, time on site provides a quick-and-dirty understanding of how engaged your site’s visitors are. Traffic by source: This includes direct visits, referrals, social media and search.
- Bounce rate: If time spent on site is a good indicator of site effectiveness, a high bounce rate—meaning users leave almost immediately—can pretty much tell you that your site is not effective.
- Mobile traffic: This metric tells you what percentage of your site traffic comes from mobile devices. (Hint: It’s probably a lot.) This helps determine whether the site is optimized for mobile, which will help you keep up with the Joneses: An estimated 94 percent of small-business websites are mobile-friendly.
- New visitors versus return visitors: A high new visitor rate can mean content is successfully generating new traffic to the site.
Social media metrics
Measuring the effectiveness of a social media presence goes beyond checking views or likes, though it’s still crucial to track both of those. The specific metrics that matter to each company will depend largely on their goals. For instance, companies aiming to expand brand awareness would be wise to closely track unprompted brand mentions. Here are some important social media metrics:
- Likes, shares, retweets and comments: These all generally fall into the engagement bucket, and each term depends on the social media platform in question.
- Engagement rate: This measures the total number of likes, shares, etc., divided by the total reach, meaning the number of people who saw the post. In other words, how many people who saw the post liked it enough to engage in some way with it?
- Referrals: This measures the percentage of traffic to a website that comes through social media.
- Response time: Though a customer-service-focused metric associated with pre-internet marketing, this still is important for digital marketers because it could determine whether a potential customer continues engaging with a company’s content. In digital marketing, it refers to how quickly a company tracks and responds to negative or positive social comments or direct messages.
As with web traffic, there’s one metric that is often used as a rough analog for the success of an email marketing campaign — open rate. This refers to the number of people who opened an email compared to the total number who received it. But while that metric provides a generally good overview, it’s not the only email-related digital marketing metric to track. Here are a few others in addition to open rate:
- Click-through rates: This metric takes open rates a step further and looks at how many people opened the email and then clicked on a link within.
- Bounceback rate: This refers to the intended recipient not receiving the email, which could result from an incorrect address or a fake email.
- Unsubscribes: At first glance, a high number here could be discouraging, but having fewer subscribers who are uninterested in the content is actually a good thing, assuming the subscribers who remain are highly engaged and interested.
- Forward/sharing rate: Akin to a social media share, a forwarded or shared email could mean a successful conversion of a customer into a brand advocate.
These are far from the only metrics that can help determine the effectiveness of a digital marketing campaign, but they provide a solid foundation. The truth is, though, tracking digital marketing metrics can be a complex business, and many digital marketers’ lives are a sea of spreadsheets. The good news is there are lots of tools available, many of them free or affordable, that put these metrics and hundreds more right at your fingertips:
- Google Analytics and Google Keyword Planner: Free but require Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts; must-use for most companies to monitor traffic, referrals and more.
- Keyhole: Real-time monitoring of social media data; free trial available, and annual plans start at $179 per month.
- Yoast: WordPress plugin that boosts SEO for blog posts and, ideally, raises chances of ranking well in search engine results; the basic version is free, and the premium version is $89 for one site for a year.
- Tailwind: Tracks and optimizes posts on Pinterest and Instagram and monitors conversations; free trial and as little as $9.99 for small businesses.
- ActiveCampaign: Email marketing tool that includes optional features like customer relationship management (CRM) and more; free trial available and as little as $9 per month.
- Buffer: Tracker and scheduler for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn; free trial available and as little as $15 per month.
Digital marketing analytics versus web analytics
There’s no doubt that any digital marketer will need to keep track of a variety of data points related to their website. But as we’ve already seen, digital marketing analytics go way beyond basic web analytics to show how well a company is engaging consumers across digital channels. This, of course, includes the web, but it also means social media, email, blogs and more.
Put another way: Think of web analytics as an index finger on a hand. Important and useful but not the only tool in a digital marketing analytics arsenal. In our increasingly digital world, web analytics alone is far from enough to provide the kind of data-driven insights that are necessary to compete. In fact, the average company expects to see its marketing analytics spending nearly triple through 2021.
Here are just a few of the ways digital marketing analytics moves beyond basic web analytics:
- Channel integration: Digital marketing analytics covers every possible channel or platform used to connect with customers. This will almost always include a website, but it also refers to every other digital avenue of consumer connection.
- Personal connections: The massive amounts and variety of types of customer data gathered through digital marketing mean that a company can go far beyond how much time a person spent on a website. This lets brands truly focus on customers and not just traffic numbers.
- Charting trends: A simple look at web analytics can reveal a great deal about patterns in user behavior, but without the broader knowledge from marketing analytics, it’s almost impossible to do anything about those trends.
- Automation and AI: Advanced data science can be used to build machine learning models that suck in data and constantly update insights as a result of new information. In addition to AI-driven tools, automation can help marketers schedule posts, create auto-replies to customer messages and operate web chat interfaces.
The importance of data analytics in marketing strategies
Two significant reasons exist to use data analytics in developing marketing strategies: You’ll find out where you’ve been, and you’ll know where you need to go. Data analytics not only gauge how effective current or previous marketing strategies have been, but a strong analytics program can inform future strategies and reduce the risk of campaigns that flop.
A well-integrated, robust data analytics program can provide the foundation of future digital marketing strategies rather than simply reinforcing conclusions that have already been reached. The key is allowing the analytics-driven insight to come to the forefront and propel strategic thinking.
Here are some simplified steps needed to create a data-driven digital marketing strategy:
- Define your goals: Knowing what you want to achieve is the crucial first step to any successful campaign. That could be increasing site traffic or improving conversion rates, and it should include an end date by which the goal needs to be achieved.
- Know your audience: A close cousin to defining your goals is identifying your target audience. Narrowing things down from every person on earth can help you more specifically personalize your content.
- Gather your data: Pull in relevant data that you have gathered that connects your ideal customer to your target goal.
- Create a plan: Using the data you have gathered, determine the path or paths the customer will take to the planned outcome and ensure it’s a realistic one that is technologically possible. Include multiple, diverse voices in all of your strategic planning sessions to ensure no single person is skewing the discussion.
- Make it: Create and publish your content keeping the target audience in mind and ensuring everything works across all channels.
- Track and optimize: Continue pulling in relevant data about your target audience (and anybody else who interacts with your new content), refine the strategy and gather new data through the end date of the campaign.
- Rinse and repeat: Automation, machine learning and AI are emerging as important tools in digital marketing, and effective campaigns can be more or less replicated using platforms that take advantage of this technology. Today’s savvy marketer agrees, as about 3 in 4 marketers use automation tools.
Level-up your skill set
The kind of deep knowledge of data science necessary to build and guide a robust data analytics department or program within an organization means more than building an Excel sheet. Considering this, it’s reasonable to assume that for professionals who have a passion for data analytics and digital marketing, additional education can be the key to strengthening their skillset and even unlocking a better job.
The Katz School of Science and Health at Yeshiva University (YU) offers a Master of Science in Data Analytics and Visualization that working professionals can either complete at their own pace or on a full-time schedule.
With a heavy focus on solving real-world problems using data science, YU’s MS in Data Analytics and Visualization is ideal for those who want to take data science out of the lab and into real life with courses including Visual Storytelling, in which students learn to present their findings in compelling visualizations, and Data Product Design, in which students learn how to use analytical frameworks to power customer insight and product development. Learn more about YU’s MS in Data Analytics and Visualization today.