Data Drives Strategy: Why Analytics Should be the Foundation of your Digital Marketing Efforts
Data is the backbone of every successful business.
It enables a business to make decisions based on facts rather than by gut feeling. While shooting from the hip will work now and again, a data-driven strategy wins in the long term.
But, if you can’t trust your data, you can’t make sound business decisions. What you know, how you know it, and what you do with it will determine whether or not you see results.
This article will cover all the basics of a data-driven marketing strategy, starting with how to audit the data you already have. Once you understand how to gather data both accurately and strategically, you can set up a data structure that allows you to monitor all the information you harvest and use it to improve your content marketing efforts, SEO rankings, and more. In all things, the key is to transform that information into intelligence.
After reading this article, you’ll learn how to:
- audit your current data sources.
- set up your data structure.
- review and adapt with your data.
But first we’ll look at why it is critical to take a data-driven approach to your marketing efforts.
Leading marketers and companies focus on data
Marketing is an art. All good marketers have a basic understanding of human psychology, a flair for capturing attention and a gut sense of what motivates people.
But marketing is also a science. While intuition is good for inspiration, executing a marketing plan requires discipline. Rather than making decisions based on a hunch, the trick is to trust your instincts when determining which data to collect and review. Once the actual numbers start to populate your data structure, you can use this quantitative information to sharpen the qualitative aspects of your strategy.
Data is not a new marketing tool, of course. Early direct mail copywriters used A/B testing and data strategies to gain insights into what really resonated with customers.
There is more data available now than ever before, and marketers increasingly recognize the analytical power of multiple data points. It’s no accident, then, that marketing leaders are overwhelmingly more likely to prioritize data-driven decision-making. Successful leaders also disseminate marketing data to other divisions within the organization, which keeps everyone informed and on the same page.
Audit your current data sources
All good marketing strategy starts with performance evaluation, but what you evaluate and how you evaluate it matters. Meticulous tracking is only beneficial if you track the right metrics (those that are relevant, not the ones that don’t actually support your business goals). Marketing is never completely scripted — no algorithm can replace human intuition — but making good use of an analytics and data audit will set you on the right course.
Start by examining the KPIs you’re already tracking. Are they aligned with your marketing goals? Gross profit should be the the No. 1 priority of every successful business, but the short-term goals and metrics that will get you there are bound to vary. Marketers often default to tracking standard marketing KPIs such as total visits or click-through rates without evaluating the information’s reliability, relevance (or appropriateness) and utility.
Let’s say your company is just getting off the ground. Your short-term marketing goals probably involve building brand recognition because you understand that achieving this objective will contribute to the company’s long-term profitability. Corresponding metrics for brand awareness might be website visits and interactions on the business’ social channels. On the other hand, an established company hoping to convert views into purchases should focus on first-click conversions and related metrics. Spend your energy tracking the metrics that actually matter — KPIs that you can both measure and influence.
These insights will carry over into the way you use Google Analytics Goals. Are you tracking things without a solid reason (or worse, not taking advantage of this tool at all)? To get the most out of Google Analytics Goals, you should know how what you’re tracking will translate into eventual revenue. Google Analytics offers pre-made templates for common engagement metric goals categorized by the overall goals that drive them.
You can create solid goals that support your business objectives and still not end up with the data you need if your settings aren’t configured correctly. Check your Goals tab setup and make sure all relevant goals are set to record and that everything is streamlined for accurate tracking. For instance, if you’ve configured your goal to only fire when a user hits a specific page path, you won’t see hits where the page URL was appended with query parameters. Familiarizing yourself with the way your data is collected will allow you to extract the most value from it.
Set up a holistic data structure
Once you’ve established that you’re gathering the appropriate data — and that that data is accurate — you need to evaluate the way you manage it.
Ideally, your data model will allow you to take a comprehensive look at your numbers rather than require you to examine each metric in isolation. Besides, no single statistic can give you a complete picture of the health of your business.
You can also utilize your data platform to focus on both specific audiences and specific stages of the customer experience. Picture a classic marketing conversion funnel, typically some variation of “Awareness → Consideration → Action → Retention.” In light of the goals you’ve already identified, which stage of this process requires your focus? The young company from our earlier example needs to invest most of their energy in the “Awareness” phase. To derive the most value from their data structure, they might use it primarily to track targeted ad campaigns and SEO rankings. The same principles apply to goals at every phase of the sales funnel.
You can connect Google Analytics to Google Search Console simply by enabling data sharing in your Search Console property settings. You should also connect your Adwords account to Google Analytics so that you can better monitor your ad campaign responses. Linking Adwords and Google Analytics is relatively simple and can be done using either platform. Doing so will unlock access to additional metrics and insights.
Review your data
After auditing and organizing your data, take the time to review it.
Even the most comprehensive statistics are only as useful as the insights you can glean from them. Build monthly or even weekly data reviews into your schedule to go over things like open rates, bounce rates and social media engagement. Make sure all relevant parties are included. Seeing how their content or campaigns perform in the real world will help inform your team’s work going forward.
However, there is a caveat to reviewing your data. Beware of information overload. When it comes to information, more is not necessarily better. Fewer but more relevant data points, however, are definitely better. Instead of creating a massive dashboard covering every conceivable statistic, stick to the KPIs that align most closely with your marketing goals. Tracking things that don’t support your goals will only distract you from those that do.
Use data to improve your marketing
The rubber meets the road when you take the data that you’ve curated and analyzed and begin using it to revise and optimize your marketing strategy. Everything you learn in your regular data reviews is worthwhile and has real-world applications.
Your bounce rate analytics, for example, can tell you a lot about where you’re missing opportunities. Higher engagement not only indicates brand loyalty but also signals to search engines that your site is relevant. By combing through your bounce rate statistics in Google Analytics, you can actually reduce the number of people who click away from your site without engaging. Google Analytics allows you to segment bounce rates by audience demographics and activities, clueing you in on ways to improve a poorly performing page.
This information you gather about the people visiting your website can then help take the guesswork out of your content marketing strategy. Why throw something out and hope that it sticks when you can create compelling content that aligns with your desired audience’s interests? When you notice particularly high engagement on a post, find related topics and content types (listicles, how-to’s, etc.) you can leverage to maintain the momentum.
Finally, data can validate or challenge your expectations about how your content will resonate with your audience. If the numbers consistently agree with your gut about which posts are winners, run with it and put out more of what works. But if something doesn’t match up, it’s time to listen more closely to what consumer behavior on your site and social channels is telling you. Look for the results that surprise you and adjust your approach accordingly.
Always be improving
Hopefully, you’re now convinced of the importance of data-based marketing strategy. More than ever, leaders in the field acknowledge that data is a powerful tool, not only for pacing and measuring but also for getting results. If you aren’t already using data to shape your marketing efforts, it’s time to get started.
You can begin by looking at the data you already have and the ways in which you’re collecting it. Make sure you’re tracking the right metrics and that your trackers are set up correctly. Manage your data in a way that provides a 360-degree view and allows you to input data from multiple sources. Keep tabs on your data and set up regular times to review it with all relevant stakeholders. Finally — and most crucially — you must make concrete changes to your marketing strategy based on what you’ve learned.
Ultimately, there is no magic formula that will make all your marketing decisions for you if only you could plug in the right numbers. Nothing will ever replace human discernment and the kind of savvy that comes from real-world experience. But data remains the most effective way to inform and guide your marketing strategy. Work to become more intentional with your data — what you gather, how you make sense of it, and what you do differently because of it — and you’ll soon see the fruit of your efforts.
Blaine is the Marketing Specialist for Belo + Company. Content marketing, strategy, and SEO are his expertise, but he is interested in all kinds of online and offline ways to grow a company. Blaine strives for creativity in everything he does by bringing a sincere voice and sound design to every project.