By: Sarah Cornelisse*
You may be familiar with the saying, “you cannot manage what you don’t measure.” As with all aspects of your business, this applies to your digital marketing activities as well. To measure digital marketing performance and determine its success you must understand analytics. You need to decide whether or not you are meeting your social media, marketing, and business objectives.
In today’s digital landscape, there is a plethora of data and tools available to marketers. Much data accompanies or is typically readily available through the platforms you are already using.
Therefore, the challenge in analyzing digital marketing performance is not in data availability but rather in the strategic gathering and use of data.
Through a survey, web analytics company Hotjar was able to categorize respondents according to their approach to data utilization. The five categories that were determined are1:
Ignore: don’t collect or report on analytics data
Basic: use data to measure WHAT is happening
Intermediate: use data to measure what is happening + determine WHY
Advanced: use data to measure what is happening + determine why + make ONE-OFF data-informed changes
Elite: use data to measure what is happening + determine why + make ONGOING data-informed change.
Ideally, you want to fall into the elite category, that is, using data not just to simply measure what is happening on your website and social accounts, but also to determine why and, finally, make ongoing adjustments to your marketing activities.
But whatever category you fall into currently, your goal should be to progress to the next level.
Effectively using web and social analytic data begins with revisiting the business’s overarching goals as well as specific marketing goals and objectives. Many businesses devote significant time to developing clever marketing strategies.
“Goals and objectives are determined, creative content is developed, and thought is given to the precise timing to post content.”
This should be followed by identifying the specific data that is needed to determine whether the content and timing of marketing activities are performing as intended.
Finally, how will you prove to yourself and others that you are achieving the goals that have been set forth? Below is a brief overview of some of the easily accessible web and social analytic data that can be used.
Web analytics is the data that report on the performance of your website, and importantly for direct-to-consumer businesses, the performance of your online store. Important web analytic data include:
• Number of visitors – total number of website visitors during a given time period.
• Unique visitors – the number of visitors counted just once in a reporting period. For example, a visitor coming to a website multiple times would only be counted as one visitor.
• Bounce rate – the ratio of total visitors to those who leave seconds after arriving.
• Session duration – length of time a visitor is active on your website.
• Visitor location – geographic location of web visitors
• Device type – electronic device visitors are using – desktop, mobile, tablet.
• Traffic source – places on the web that your visitors came from. For instance, Facebook or a search engine.
• E-commerce tracking
These data can help businesses understand the content that web visitors are interested in, how they navigate around the site, pages that they spend more or less time on, and more.
If a business is spending money on social marketing campaigns, for instance, understanding who visitors from the social sites are and what they do once they arrive on the website is important for assessing whether the site meets their expectations and needs.
“Google Analytics is the most prominent and popular web analytics tool. Website owners simply need to embed code within their web code to utilize Google Analytics data.”
Social media analytics is the data that reports on the performance of your social media presence(s) (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.).
Initially, social media success is often based upon organic quantitative data (Table 1). However, the value of these metrics varies. For example, some of the data is often referred to as vanity metrics. Follower or subscriber, numbers and impressions are examples of vanity metrics.
Preferably, there should be a focus on actionable metrics or the data that quantify actions taken by social media users – reactions, shares/retweets, link clicks, and event responses, for instance.
Consider the value of 12,000 followers on a Facebook page if only a handful are engaging with your content.
“Rather, a smaller follower group that is highly engaged by providing feedback to posts or sharing your content with their networks can prove more valuable, and perhaps profitable for your business.”
Inorganic analytic data, tied to paid advertising campaigns, is vital for determining whether those campaigns are eliciting the desired responses and actions from the target audience. For example, does an ad generate a high number of clicks thereby lowering the cost per click and indicating an effective ad?
Demographic information for followers (Table 1), can help determine whether you’re connecting with your targeted audience(s) and also target the timing of your posts to when followers are online.
However, you should be aware that follower demographic information is what those individuals complete for their profiles and may not always be accurate.
Qualitative data can also be gleaned from social media. Through comments, you can assess sentiments, context, and themes. For example, are you posting content intended to be humorous yet it’s eliciting negative reactions? Or are you publishing content that resonates with your audience and is reflected through positive reactions and comments? Perhaps you can identify themes in the comments or replies.
“By layering qualitative data on quantitative data for your social media actions, you will better understand your audience and move into the intermediate, advanced, or elite data utilization category. Use this information to guide your future post activity.”
Major social media platforms offer internal analytic information for business accounts.
While there is some variation in the specific data collected and provided by each, for the most part, simple post engagement data and follower information (typically after reaching a minimum threshold number of followers for each platform) is readily available.
Analytic data provided by platforms evolve as the functionality and features of those platforms evolve. Maximizing the ROI from your digital marketing comes from experimenting with the various aspects of your organic and inorganic presence.
“It’s best to make changes to only a few aspects and then watch the results of your analytics. Did the changes improve or detract? This is a process that could take time and should be methodical.”
Making too many changes at once will make it difficult, if not impossible, to determine which change had an impact on your analytics. Changes to organic aspects may take much longer to realize (weeks or months) than inorganic changes, such as new ads on Facebook (hours or days).
However, following this methodical process will lead you into elite data utilization and ultimately provide the greatest benefit to your digital marketing strategy.
1Hotjar. (April 29, 2022). State of Web Analytics 2020.
*Sarah Cornelisse is a Senior Extension Associate of agricultural entrepreneurship and business management at Penn State University in the Department of Agricultural Economics, Sociology and Education.
Sarah has expertise in direct marketing, value-added dairy entrepreneurship and marketing, the use of digital and social media for agricultural farm and food business marketing, and business and marketing planning and decision making.
Originally from New York State, she has a B.A in mathematics from the State University of New York at Geneseo, and M.S. degrees in Agricultural Economics and Animal Science, both from Penn State University.
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