How can Google Analytics help you achieve better digital results?
Google Analytics is a powerful tool and can help you understand how people use your website. Sarah Durham sits down with Heather Wozniak, technical strategist at Advomatic to discuss ways you can get started using Google Analytics to make strategic decisions about your content.
Sarah Durham: Hey, welcome back to the Smart Communications Podcast. I’m your host, Sarah Durham, and I am joined today by Heather Wozniak, who is a technical strategist on the team at Advomatic. Welcome, Heather.
Heather Wozniak: Thanks for having me.
Sarah Durham: I’m happy you’re here today. So for those of you, who’ve never met Heather. She’s been developing sites in Drupal since 2005, and she builds websites that are intuitive for content editors and for end-users alike. She joined the team at Advomatic in 2020, after spending nine years at the University of Washington, where she established a successful program building and supporting websites for academic departments. She lives in Seattle now, but she spent many years at UCLA earning a Ph.D. in English and working as a web developer and instructional technology consultant, and as an accessibility consultant. So she’s a pro on a lot of things. And I invited Heather to join me here today because she wrote this really terrific blog for Advomatic called Using Google Analytics to inform your content strategy, a beginner’s guide and I will link to that article in the transcript and show notes for this podcast. But Heather, let’s talk about this. What inspired you to write this piece?
Heather Wozniak: Over the years I have worked with a lot of different site owners and content editors, and there’s been a few patterns I’ve noticed. One of them is, a lot of times they’re just overwhelmed. They know there’s too much work to do on the website and they’re just having trouble deciding what they should do. And then also just a little bit of confusion, the sense that they could be doing better with their web work, but they’re not sure what they should be doing, where they should focus. And even particularly with Google Analytics, I’ll have people that we’re working with come to me and say, we have Google Analytics on our site, but I just don’t know how to use it. What’s your advice? How can I get started? So what I thought I would do is describe some of the techniques that I’ve used and have proven helpful in looking at the data. And they’re helpful in two ways, I think in helping to maximize efficiency by figuring out if my time is limited, where should I spend it to make the biggest impact? And also getting a bit of focus given that there are so many different places on the website that a person could spend their time and create content, manage content, but we want to really identify the areas that are going to have the biggest impact with the least amount of effort.
Sarah Durham: I love that you thought both about if you have limited time, where should you spend it, and what you should focus on? When I was researching my book, The Nonprofit Communications Engine, one of the things that so many people told me was they wished they had more time to dig into things like analytics, but it’s often one of the things that gets kind of thrown out the window. So your article is I think very pragmatic about that. And in it, you talk about keeping an eye on pages that have high engagement. So why is that important for content creators?
Heather Wozniak: Engagement is a phrase that you might hear a lot from people who work in market data from stakeholders. It’s this idea. We want engagement, user engagement, engagement, but what does that really mean? And I think the idea here is why it’s important that if somebody engages with your content, they connect with it, they interact with it. They’re finding it valuable and useful. Then eventually they’re going to engage with your organization in some other more tangible, maybe non-digital way. Ultimately that could mean that they’re going to make a donation or attend one of your events, sign up for your newsletter, or enroll in a class, something like that. But the idea is that the website can interest them and kind of hook them in and help them understand your organization better. And then eventually engage in some more meaningful way. But the trick to it is how do you achieve that?
Heather Wozniak: Like what kind of content can you put out there that is going to be engaging? And there’s not always a clear way to find it. And so one thing that is often useful to do a lot of people who work in digital communications will experiment and then see how something goes and when something is successful or effective, then they can repeat that and iterate on it. So if we’re looking at your site and trying to see what pages are getting engagement, it’s basically a way of saying, I’m not sure how to do this, but I’m going to look at what things are kind of heading in the right direction and get a sense of, of how to do it right. And try to repeat that formula and improve on that formula, because this seems to be working.
Sarah Durham: I think that when you talk about engagement, as you know, something you do online that inspires other actions, I often say engagement is about things that people do that advance the mission, ultimately, and it’s interesting that Google Analytics gives you this kind of window into how actions that people can take online, might spark other actions like showing up for an event or signing up for something or participating in ways that might be non-digital. Your article also does something that I really appreciated, which is you used a lot of screenshots and did a lot of detail on how to kind of, you know, poking around and pointing to Google Analytics. So that as I read your article, I could actually be in Google Analytics, look at what was going on. Use the screenshots. You’ve got to figure out where to go. And for me, as someone who rarely personally goes into Analytics myself, I definitely find that kind of stuff overwhelming.
Sarah Durham: I can easily get lost in the abyss of data. And I think a lot of people in the nonprofit sector don’t feel that they have time. As we talked about earlier. The people who seem to use Google Analytics the most in my experience are people who have digital in their job title, people whose job responsibilities, particularly have purview over the website. And the people who seem to use Analytics, perhaps the least, are people with jobs that might be in programs or fundraising who might also have some responsibility for the website, but their primary job function might be in a different area. But communication staff, people kind of sit in the middle. They often have a lot of oversight over the website, but they might not be as comfortable with analytics as somebody who’s a purely digital person. So let’s talk about frequency. How often do you think it is wise to review your analytics for most communications people or maybe for people who might have a lot of other jobs to do too?
Heather Wozniak: Well I think if somebody is a dedicated communicator and that is one of their primary roles, they might want to be checking on their analytics weekly or even monthly. Now that doesn’t mean they need to spend a lot of time in there, but if they could identify as my article suggests three to five key metrics or reports that they want to glance at and see how things are doing, it’d be great if they could get in there regularly and check that. Because if they’re constantly producing content in that role, they should also be kind of checking on how their posts are performing. Are there emails, driving users to the site? A few things like that, just so they can kind of give themselves a reality check about the value of their efforts and if they need to change gears or shift things up a bit, they can.
Heather Wozniak: But I think for somebody who is not as focused on a communications role and if they can manage to look every three months or so, that would be good, kind of like a quarterly check-in to see how things are doing. It can kind of help them keep a pulse on the site. Sometimes you’re just looking for anomalies even, and unusual things that happen in the traffic that you might want to be aware of. And then also it can be, again, if you’re just identifying three to five key metrics or pages in there to check in on, they can make it a practice to put a little report together that they could share with other team members or with stakeholders that also gives them just a bit of a sense of how the website is performing and then helps that person show their competence and their value in the role and their understanding of the site.
Heather Wozniak: One thing that people can do to help with this is in Google Analytics, you can actually set up some automated email reports on any schedule you like. So if you wanted to do that monthly, three months, or even just twice a year, they can get that email set up to come to their inbox, and then it can remind them, okay, I should set aside a little bit of time this week to go in and check on those few reports that I’m trying to track of and then they can make it part of their routine a lot more easily.
Sarah Durham: Yeah. I love when things send me automated reports, cause then it sort of becomes just a practice of, you know, making sure you open it and use it. And I would imagine a full-time web person in your organization would probably spend more time digging in, but any way you slice it, those automated reports are a thing of beauty. So before we wrap up, I have another question for you. You are, I think a very smart, not only technical strategist but content strategist. And I’m wondering if you have any other recommendations about Google Analytics and how it can help nonprofits shape their content strategies?
Heather Wozniak: Well, one thing that I would suggest is always to take a look at the analytics before embarking on a big new project. So whether that’s going to be a redesign of the website or adding a brand new feature or something like that, it’s a good idea to, if you haven’t done it recently to check in on the analytics and see how the site is doing to kind of answer the question, is this going to be the best use of our time? So an example of that might be, there was an organization that had this idea to build out their staff profile directory and make that a lot more robust and add bigger images and links and more expanded bios, a whole bunch more information, but when they went and looked at Google Analytics and they saw the amount of traffic that was visiting the staff page on the site versus all of the other sections, they realized that maybe that was not going to be the best use of their resources and their time because that was just a very utilized section of the site.
Heather Wozniak: So it might make more sense to develop a new component, a new feature for something else. On the other hand, sometimes it, depending on your organization, it could be the opposite. Like when I worked with a lot of academic departments, their staff directories were the main draw to the department website, like 25 to 30% of people visiting the site, we’re looking at the faculty profiles. So in that case, it could be an indicator that they should spend more time and effort on that part of the site. And maybe trying to do weekly blog posts is not going to be as effective as getting updated headshots and longer bios and publication lists and things like that. So I just think it’s people always have so many ideas that sound really good in theory, but it’s really good to take a look at how people are actually using your site and see whether the data is going to support that this thing that you’re going to take time to design or develop is really going to be useful to your audience and reach them in the way that you think it might.
Sarah Durham: Yeah. And I think your point is also a great example of how even though it feels like sometimes it’s hard to invest the time in Google Analytics. It’s actually probably a lot less time to review your analytics and make smarter decisions about your content strategy than it would be to go ahead and just develop all this new content you’re thinking might be good. So maybe you’re actually investing a little bit of time in Google Analytics to save a bunch of time and content development downstream. It reminds me a little bit of a diagram that I’ve seen, a Venn diagram, which is, you know, what your site visitors want in one circle and what you want to communicate to them in another circle. And what you’re looking for always, is that sort of sweet spot in between. So Google Analytics and where people visit your site, you know, what pages they visit tells you a little bit about what they want. And I guess you’re always just looking to develop that overlap point, right?
Heather Wozniak: Right. As you can see where you can reach them, if you figure out where they are, that’s where you know where you can go to try to reach them and deliver your messages and communicate with them better.
Sarah Durham: Awesome. All right. Well, Heather Wozniak’s article Using Google Analytics to inform your content strategy, a beginner’s guide is on the Advomatic website at Advomatic.com. We’re also going to link to it in the show notes for this podcast. And Heather, thank you so much for joining me today and sharing your expertise.
Heather Wozniak: You’re welcome. Thanks for having me.