You can’t improve what you don’t measure… Or so the saying goes.
Even as a small online business owner, tracking your data is vital. And not just in an airy-fairy “do this, it’s important” kind of way.
Tracking your marketing efforts regularly is a business practice that can guide you to success—and without it, you may be doomed to repeat your mistakes over and over without realizing they were mistakes at all.
In March, I shared the results from a series of social media marketing experiments I ran to discover which avenues were most effective in growing my business.
Coming from the marketing agency world, this kind of tracking is almost second nature. However, for most folks, it takes a bit of ramping up. Maybe you set up Google Analytics when you first launched your site, but haven’t touched it since. (Or maybe you haven’t set it up at all—the horror!)
My goal today is to make tracking your analytics really easy. This is not a 100% comprehensive guide, but it should give you the framework to understand what you need to do—and I’m always available to answer questions in the comments!
So let’s get started.
1. Set up Google Analytics
Let’s start with the basics. If you’ve never set up Google Analytics (GA) before with your website, start NOW. Google doesn’t track anything that you haven’t set up. You can’t set up Analytics next week and expect it to tell you what happened today. So, the sooner you have it set up, the more data you’ll have to work with.
It really doesn’t take long. Go to Google.com/Analytics and sign in with your Gmail account (if you have a business Gmail, make sure you’re using that account). Then, in the top right corner, click Sign In > Analytics. Follow the instructions, and if you get stuck, here’s a detailed YouTube tutorial on adding Google Analytics to WordPress with the “MonsterInsights” plugin.
If you’re on WordPress, there are several plugins to choose from that do roughly the same thing as MonsterInsights. However, if you have a developer or you’re even a little handy with code, I’d recommend setting up Google Analytics through Google Tag Manager (here’s another tutorial for that). Google Tag Manager is a better way to make tracking code changes to your site in the long run without cluttering up your WordPress with a bunch of individual plugins. But if you’re just getting started, no shame—it’s easiest to just use a plugin. Just get it going.
If you’re on Squarespace, adding GA is even easier. And because I’m on a roll with these YouTube tutorials, here’s one on how to install Google Analytics on SquareSpace.
2. Set goals in Google Analytics
The first thing to do once you’ve got your Google Analytics account connected is to set up some goals. “Goals” is the term GA uses for conversions (such as turning a visitor into a subscriber, or into a lead)—though it can be used to track all sorts of actions.
At this point in my business, I only really care about tracking subscribers. More advanced companies might care about tracking pageviews or progress in a funnel. I like to keep things simple.
Setting up a goal takes a few steps, so instead of listing it all here, how about I share a handy video that walks you through it?
Personally, this is very similar to my own set-up. I have a Destination Goal set to a thank-you page that shows up only to new subscribers. Every time that page gets a hit (some lands on it), GA tracks it as a fulfilled Goal.
Why not just track subscribers through ConvertKit or MailChimp?
Any email marketing platform will give you a subscriber count, it’s true. However, they don’t tell you where those subscribers are coming from. This is important when we’re measuring the effectiveness of, say, Twitter posts vs. Instagram posts in growing subscriber signups.
In the next step, I’ll show you how to use GA to see how many subscribers are coming from each platform.
3. Start posting with UTM parameter tracking
Google Analytics will track where some of your clicks are coming from—they’ll tell you when a click is from Facebook, for example. However, I’ve found it much clearer to use UTM tracking to see everything in more detail.
What’s UTM tracking?
UTM tracking is a code you add to the end of a link so that when someone clicks the link to your website, it tells GA where they came from. This is super useful to quickly see, for example, how many people are coming to your site from Facebook links vs. clicking to your site from your emails.
UTM codes can track lots of different things, but for our purposes you should only worry about the Source and Medium.
The source is the site or platform the click came from. So, if you’re sharing a blog post on your Facebook page, you’d alter the link to tell GA that the source is Facebook.
The medium is the general category of link the click is coming through. So for example, when I’m posting the link on social media, I use the medium “organic_social.” If the link is from a paid social media ad, I’ll use the medium “paid_social”.
These designations make it easy to sort once we actually view them in Analytics. (Don’t worry, we’ll get there soon!)
How to add UTM tracking to a URL
Google has a really easy UTM generator they call Campaign URL Builder. You put in your website link, source, and medium, and it spits out the final URL with the UTM parameters. Here’s what an entry looks like:
It even has a built-in URL shortener that makes the URL look nice if you’re sharing it on Twitter, for example.
Keep track of your UTM parameters
I keep a note on my computer with the different sources and mediums I use for each social media platform. You want to make sure you’re always using the exact tags, as even differences in uppercase and lowercase can cause GA to track them separately.
Each time I shared a link on a social media platform, I made sure it had the proper UTM tracking code at the end of the link.
4. View your results in Google Analytics
The first time you go into Google Analytics, it can be a little overwhelming. It has a lot of capabilities. Instead of trying to learn it all at once, I’ve found it’s helpful to just learn a piece at a time as you need it.
For our purposes, we want to be able to see where traffic is coming from based on those UTM tags.
In the main Google Analytics dashboard, you’ll see a sidebar on the left. Scroll down to “Acquisition.” Then click “All Traffic” and “Source/Medium.”
This tells GA that we want to see the source and medium of where all of our traffic is coming from. Note that if you’ve recently set up GA on your website, you won’t have any data yet, as it only begins tracking after you’ve set it up.
In the top right of the page, click the date range to change which time period you want to examine. You usually want to view at least a month at a time.
The bottom half of the page is a table that holds your actual results. In the tiny search bar right above it, you can search things like “Facebook” or “Instagram” to see what’s already being tracked.
As people click your UTM links, that data will start showing up in the table with the source and medium you defined.
Now, you can click the source/medium combinations to see results specifically from each platform. This is how you can see how many new users you’re getting from Facebook, for example, or how many users from Twitter are “bouncing” (clicking away immediately). On the far right of the data table, if you’ve set up your Goal, you can also see how many conversions you’ve gotten from each platform.
It’s a little small here, but in the image, you can see that sometimes the medium will be “referral”. These are clicks that are coming in from links that you didn’t share with UTM tracking. For example, maybe someone posted a link to your blog post on their own. This helps you differentiate between how many clicks you’re bringing in from your efforts, and how many are coming in indirectly.
If you’re confused about what any of these metrics are, hover over the small question mark next to each column title.
5. Track your results monthly
So in order to make all this data actually valuable, it’s important to track change over time. You can view tables and growth and whatnot in GA, as well as in native analytics like Facebook Insights or Pinterest Analytics… but it’s a lot easier to see what’s going on if you export the data into a simpler tool so you can have it all in one place.
I do this with Google Sheets. You could also use Excel or even Apple Numbers if you’re more comfortable with those.
I created a tab for each platform I want to track (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, email), then created the following columns:
- Invested hours
- New users
- Bounce rate
- Avg. Session Duration
- Goal 1 Subscribers
The columns vary a bit by platform (in Instagram, I also track Followers). But at the beginning of each, I go into Google Analytics, set the date range to the previous month, then type in “Facebook” (or whatever platform I’m examining) into the search bar. This aggregates all clicks from Facebook, both the ones where I set the source/medium and the ones marked as “Referral”. Then, I copy over the total numbers from GA into the appropriate columns in my Google Sheet.
If you’re a bit data nerd, you can even use this data to create simple tables in Google Sheets to track change over time. Yes, all the data AND these tables are often available in the original platforms (for example, Facebook Insights), but I find it much easier to visualize when it’s pulled out and simplified like this.
Finally, in the Notes column, I add a few thoughts on the things that I did, especially if they were specific outreach techniques, or anything out of the ordinary happened.
The key to tracking your marketing
The most important piece of all of this is consistency. If you’re not committing to a specific set of behaviors each month, your data will be useless.
For example, don’t post to your Facebook 5 times in the first week, then once a week for the rest of the month.
Get on a consistent schedule. And also, for this reason, don’t try to do everything at once.
As a personal example, I like to track Pinterest so I have an understanding of what’s normal in that realm for me right now. But honestly, I don’t do much there. I don’t have time to make it a part of my regular promotion strategy. It sits around, and someday I might use it more in-depth. For now, that’s okay.
Using your marketing data to make decisions
The beauty of having all of your data in one place is you can see trends over time and then alter your behaviors accordingly.
This is why tracking your Invested Hours is especially important. If you’re spending 10 hours a month posting on your Instagram and you’re not getting any leads from it, that’s a poor use of time. It means you either need to either dive deeper and try some new techniques (engaging with other users more? different kinds of images? stronger CTA in the accompany thing text?) or back off from Instagram altogether.
That said, everything takes time to ramp up. I like to try something for at least a month to before making changes.
Start tracking that ish pronto
If you’re using social media to grow your business and you haven’t been tracking your efforts, there are probably some inefficiencies that you’ve been wasting your time on—and, by the same token, opportunities that you haven’t been able to see.
So get started now. Even if it’s JUST getting GA set up (it’ll take 20 minutes) or JUST adding UTM tracking to your promotion habits. Each piece gives you a deeper understanding of what’s going on when you push new content out into the world. Don’t let a few minutes of confusion hold you back from being a boss and taking charge of your data.