Use Google Analytics to find digital walking paths

There’s an urban legend from several different colleges about how a school didn’t pave sidewalks in the first year of its new construction. The school simply let students wear paths in the grass and then paved over where they walked later, in order to create a campus that felt the most natural.


While apocryphal, the concept is a sound one. Pave and expend resources where people are, rather than where you think they should go. What if you could do that with your website?

Using Google Analytics, you can. Google Analytics provides a tool called Event Tracking in it. Event Tracking has nothing to do with real world events; rather, it’s a way to track interactions by users with your content. By adding code to various pieces of your website or to Google Tag Manager, you can track the worn paths through the digital grass of your site.

When implemented, you’d be able to tell what people were or were not clicking on, in real-time and in legacy reporting:


What could this tell you? You’d know how much of your navigation you could de-emphasize or remove entirely. You’d know what content was getting clicked on. You’d know what interface elements weren’t contributing to clicks at all and remove those as well. In the end, you should have a cleaner, more functional website.

If you’re using Google Tag Manager and your website identifies its content and navigation elements by classes, this is the configuration you’d use for Tag Manager to track those clicks:


Otherwise, you’d need to make interface changes to your website’s code in order to do the tracking. Google has provided instructions for this procedure here.

Understand your digital walking paths and you can make a website which will serve your visitors’ needs best and make them feel comfortable, as though they’d built the site themselves.

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Vanity metrics are the top of the funnel

About once per marketing conference, someone on stage derisively remarks about certain metrics as vanity metrics:

Twitter followers don’t matter.
Facebook Likes are unimportant.
Website visits don’t mean anything.
Who cares who re-Pinned you?

Now, imagine for a moment you owned a coffee shop. Inside you served the world’s best coffee, hand-picked single estate reserve beans custom-roasted on premises to perfection, made by baristas with doctorate degrees in chemistry. You track the number of people who purchase cups of coffee – a vitally important metric if you want to stay in business. One might call that a key performance indicator.

You track the number of people who walk into your shop, and separate those people into folks who buy and folks who don’t buy. These are important diagnostic metrics to understand; if no one buys, you’re going out of business.

A vanity metric might be the number of people who walk past your shop and wave hello.
A vanity metric might be the number of people who check in on the location-based service of your choice.
A vanity metric might be the number of people who retweet your coffee specials.

Do these metrics matter? Yes. They’re at the very top of the funnel. They’re proxies for attention.

Spiders in the funnel

If no one ever walks past your shop, certainly no one’s walking in it.

Attention is the very top of the funnel, and vanity metrics hint at whether you’re capturing any attention at all. If no one can even be bothered to press the Like button, what are your chances of convincing them to make a purchase?

Should these metrics be your goals? Of course not. Measuring the success of your marketing on attention only is foolish. Those who criticize marketers for such measurement have valid reasons to do so.

The bottom line on vanity metrics is this: if your business isn’t getting attention, you’re probably not generating any business. Measure the entire funnel, not just the bottom!

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The missing investment ingredients in marketing ROI

Slackershot - Spare Change

Do your marketing ROI calculations sync up with the reality of your company’s bottom line? Or have you put together an ROI calculation and found your net revenue projections falling short? Chances are, you’re missing some key ingredients in the calculation of ROI, especially on the I part, investment.

Recall that ROI is a simple math equation: (Earned – Spent) / Spent. Your revenue is offset by your investment.

What do you spend money on that fuels your marketing? For most marketers, we think of only campaign spends, like ad budgets or the price of a marketing agency. However, if you wanted to build a complete, thorough picture of ROI, you’ll need to detail three kinds of money: system, hard, and soft.

Let’s look at these three kinds of money through the lens of a Google AdWords campaign.

Hard Dollars

Hard dollars are actual money paid out. If you run an AdWords campaign, hard dollars would be the money you pay to Google to make the ads appear. This is the most common ingredient in ROI calculations.

Soft Dollars

How long did it take you to write your AdWords ads? How long did it take your creative team to put together some display images? How long did it take you to load the ads into the system and hit go?

Time is the greatest source of soft dollars. You account for it by what your effective hourly rate is, and add that to investment. For example, suppose your salary is $50,000 per year. Your hourly equivalent rate is $24.04 per hour. Thus, every hour you spend on AdWords adds an additional $24.04 to the cost of your campaigns.

System Dollars

You don’t just imagine an AdWords ad and it appears. You created that ad on a computer, using electricity, with an Internet connection, possibly at a desk inside a building that you pay rent on. If you work at a company, all the benefits like insurance, office perks, etc. add up to your total cost as an employee. If you’re self-employed, the money you spend on yourself in a work context adds up to your business expenses.

Those system dollars create the environment needed for you to do your work. What do they cost? The easiest way to calculate system dollars is to simply divide the operating expenses of employees (less salary and cash benefits) by the number of employees at a business level, and then add that to the effective hourly rate.

For example, if your business spends $10,000 a year in system dollars to maintain the desk, computer, etc. and your salary costs the business $50,000 per year, that puts your effective cost at $60,000 per year, or $28.85 per hour. Every hour you spend on AdWords should add $28.85 into the campaign cost.

Add The Dollars Up

While this one example may seem like overkill to compute the ROI of an AdWords campaign, you must apply this methodology to all your marketing ROI calculations. Once you’ve accounted for hard and soft dollars, ensure that you’ve accounted for system dollars and you’ll have much more accurate ROI calculations.

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