Crashing into growth marketing: a CEO journey. Part 4 — Google Analytics and Tag Manager.

Collecting, storing and reporting data.

While Google Analytics is a decent tool for collecting and reporting data, its ultimate strength lies in data storage. So it’s OK to collect, store and report with Google Analytics, but the real pros split the tasks between many tools — collecting data with Tag Manager, and reporting through Data Studio.

This is the fourth post of many to document my journey as early-stage startup CEO through the growth marketing minidegree by CXL Institute — a 12-week online program about the practicalities of growth marketing.

Disclaimers: I’ve done intense learning sprints before. I’ve never touched marketing from a practical perspective before this course. Consult a specialist before trying this at home.

Promo insert: My startup is called Zelos, it’s an app that helps you manage tasks and distribute activities with a very large group or community, and you can sign up here for free: getzelos.com

Google Analytics — the basics

The entry chapters to Google Analytics treacherously boost my confidence as I already think I’m familiar with the basic reports. I’ve used the menus to look for relevant metrics and charts that we could plug into our monthly reports. Yay, look at me, browsing the obvious menus!

Audience — who are the users?
Acquisition — where do they come from?
Behavior — which actions are they taking?
Conversions — what are the results of user behaviors?

The only report I didn’t really have use for was realtime. But I wasn’t really ever debugging or setting up anything, so it’s obvious that I missed this important aspect:

Realtime — does it work, are things tracking?

But there was still a lot of stuff I had not discovered on my own:

Search console reports under acquisition show the Google Search results where your domain pages have shown up. Not only those with click-throughs, all searches.

I discover a ton of spellings for five-letter words that Google thinks could be meant as “zelos” and offered our site as a response.

I realise how low we actually place with some of our favourite keywords — nobody goes to page 7 on search results!

I realise that some pages are displayed in answer to the wrong questions — we get a lot of traffic from people who are looking for jobs and gig apps. But there’s no jobs on our page! They’re going to be disappointed if they click through because we’re just selling tools for the HR manager!

Interests section is also something I never really enjoyed, as I wasn’t too comfortable with the table sorting in GA. But now that I’m realising the power of segmentation, sorting, and secondary data dimensions, this is lots of fun. Not yet useful, but fun.

People who spend the longest sessions on our website are interested in cycling. People who click through most pages are enthusiastic about travel. The majority of our website visitors are in the market for staffing services, career consulting, productivity software and collaboration tools. Kind of what we expected, right? Still great to know we’re not getting the majority of traffic from people looking for real estate!

Setting up accounts

Going through general settings sounds like a bore, but Analytics comes with many layers that really need to be set up (and contain lots of core funtions):

  • Accounts — company level
  • Properties — domain or domains the users visit during one customer journey
  • Views — customizable data pools that should be optimised to answer different questions.

Each level only starts recording data only after it’s set up, so when I create a new property, they only start recording user activity from now on, and it’ll be some time until I can use them.

But I’ll still go and create the recommended structure — it’s said one should have multiple views for each property — at least a) production, b) testing and c) backup. But here’s where it starts to get complicated.

Google Analytics has just recently updated the way the properties work. All new properties are now created as version 4 properties (GA4). And GA4 properties don’t have views. Without views GA4 properties don’t have goals. Instead of Behaviour, the menu now says Engagement. Conversions is now Monetization? Everything I just learned about the dangerous view filters no longer applies? Does it still have events?

Very confusing.

A quick search tells me that smart marketers don’t yet recommend 100% migration to the new version. Don’t give up on your Universal Properties! I create and delete a few —a brand new GA4 property, a GA4 property linked to the Universal property, a copy of my original Universal property with multiple views…

Tag Manager is much simpler to set up, however the tags within Tag Manager also need to target either GA4 or GA Universal. The same tag won’t work with both, and will need to target one property only.

It feels like I spend a whole evening just on linking and unlinking Analytics properties with the site and Tag Manager. After switching properties a million times I’m embracing the fact that it’s easiest to follow the training with the old GA Universal property that has a bunch of data, and is setup like it’s originally meant to. I’ll get to know the GA4 upgrades later once my general understanding is caught up.

As I’m too scared to touch our startup accounts, so I’m risking with my husband’s publishing house site and manage to set up something like this:

  • Tag manager plugin on wordpress site (linking to the Tag Manager account)
  • Google Analytics tags in Tag Manager (sending pageviews and other activities to a Universal Property in GA)
  • Analytics for Woocommerce plugin on wordpress site sending eCommerce data directly to Google Analytics (could not figure out how to direct this through tag manager)

I also manage to direct the FB pixel through Tag Manager, but first spent what felt like hours figuring out how to remove the current pixel code from the site. It’s so easy to forget why you installed some plugins and why.

Our Hotjar account does an auto-install with Tag Manager, and even publishes the container for me. Literally three clicks in a wizard. Love it.

Good traffic tells a story

The major lesson from looking at the good and the bad data is about the importance of cleaning up traffic so the story is easier to find. Start with asking the right questions, then set out to find the information.

With data, you need to have a good plan on how to answer the questions with a sensemaking story. And don’t forget to have a plan for taking action based on the upcoming answers. Never ask if you don’t need the answers!

Customizing traffic with UTM tags.

UTM tags are words one can write in the URL so that when people click on the link, Analytics will know the words you put in. I’m going in to my promo link above (my startup promo insert) and change the link to have information about source=blog (this blog is the only place where I’m using this link), and medium=post (the link is within the blog post, not in comments or anywhere else):

https://getzelos.com/?utm_source=blog&utm_medium=post

This way I’ll know if I see traffic coming in, it’s easy to filter and analyse. The challenge is to keep any kind of sanity and system with the tags, so that Analytics doesn’t end up with essentially the same blog traffic with medium tags “post”, “blogpost”, “blog_post” etc.

We’ve had a habit of tagging the more obvious outgoing links such as sales decks and email footers, but now as I have a template, I’m setting up a multi-tab spreadsheet for easily tagging absolutely everything with at least source/medium and campaign information.

Simplifying fractured referrals

Referred traffic often causes their sessions ending up on multiple rows, while they should be the same type of traffic:

facebook.com — desktop traffic
l.facebook.com — scanned desktop traffic
m.facebook.com — mobile traffic
lm.facebook.com — scanned mobile traffic

I learn how to fix this in an Universial property of Google Analytics by writing a search&replace filter for a view with a regex command to overwrite the information to be stored. Remains to be seen whether this is a thing at all for GA4.

Sky is the limit

While I’m working on a pretty limited website with even more limited traffic (the Estonian literary audience is in the hundreds, not thousands of users per month), it probably doesn’t make sense for me to go too crazy with the funnels and events.

While I appreciate the opportunity to set up detailed and complicated rules to further sort and tag users and sessions (using custom tags and data layer variables etc), but I’m already excited that I managed to set up the YouTube tag that will tell me how often and far the publishing house visitors usually play YouTube videos on the product pages. Thank you

CEO of Zelos Team Management — an app for gig work and communities.