Technology Meetup Recap: Google Analytics and Your Store

The American Booksellers Association’s first Technology Meetup was held on Tuesday, July 2, and focused on helping booksellers better understand and make use of Google Analytics.

This new series is part of ABA’s ongoing education initiative for stores; Technology Meetups will take place one Tuesday per month at 2:00 p.m. ET; ABA’s Marketing Meetups will continue to be held two Thursdays a month at 11:00 a.m. ET.

Guest speakers for the inaugural Technology Meetup on Google Analytics included Jason Jefferies of Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh, North Carolina; Justin Hennequant of Hudson Booksellers, which has headquarters in Georgia and New Jersey; and ABA’s Matt Supko.

“You don’t have to put a lot of effort into Google Analytics to get a lot out of it,” said Supko. “If all you do is sign into it once a week or once every other week and poke at some of the audience reports and the basic reports that show which pages people are visiting and where they’re coming from, there’s a ton of valuable information right there.”

Supko shared with booksellers how to use the Goals function in Google Analytics, which, he said, is “a way of quantifying an action or interaction that users have with your site that you think is valuable,” beyond placing orders.

In order to use the Goals function, Supko explained, booksellers need to sign into their Google Analytics account and go to the Admin tab. From there, under the website data, booksellers should see a flag icon that says “Goals.” Once users click on that icon, they can build a new Goal.

There are three types of Goals, the most popular being a “Destination Goal,” which means a user arrived at a specific page on the website. For example, stores can set up a goal to keep track of each time a user views a website’s events calendar. Once the goal is created, stores can customize the parameters of the goal to track visits specifically to the events calendar, or, more generally, visits to any events page on the website.

As another example, Supko said, stores can see if customers have created a wishlist by tracking who goes to the “create a wish list” page on their website.

There’s also a function for Destination Goals called “Funnel,” which allows stores to specify that users must go in a specific order, such as visiting a book page first and then creating a wishlist from there, for a goal to be counted. “This way, we don’t pull in people who maybe click the wishlist link by mistake,” he said.

There’s also an optional “Value” function, which can help stores measure the performance of campaigns other than or in addition to e-commerce transactions, Supko said. The function allows stores to assign a dollar value for a completed goal.

The other two types of goals, Supko said, are the “Duration Goal,” which tracks how long people spend on the site and assigns a Value based on that time, and a goal that tracks pages viewed per session, which helps to quantify website engagement.

Supko also recommended that booksellers use “Segments”; in Google Analytics, by default, all users of a website are represented, but using the Segments feature allows for pulling data on specific users.

For example, stores can look at the segment of people who made a purchase, Supko added, which allows them to compare people who made a purchase to everybody who viewed the site to see how they’re different.

“This feature ripples through every single report on Google Analytics,” Supko said. “Once you set up your Segment, I can now go in and compare which channels referred people versus which channels referred people who bought something.”

By using Google Analytics, Supko said, stores can see that not all traffic is equal.

Quail Ridge uses Google Analytics to turn marketing, advertising, and content production efforts into sales, said Jefferies.

“We determine what, if any, value the statistics it gives us hold,” he said. “Google Analytics, for us, is particularly valuable for the web business, because it gives us information into what parts of our site are being visited, where these visitors are coming from, how often these visits are being converted into purchases, as well as what items are being purchased specifically.”

One useful statistic, Jefferies added, has been web traffic, which informs how the store allocates money for marketing and advertising. For example, in Quail Ridge’s marketing budget, the store decided this year to sponsor the Morning News Tournament of Books, which is an annual online event that runs parallel to the NCAA basketball tournament in March. Instead of basketball teams, said Jefferies, it features books that were released within the last 12 months pitted against each other.

“The sponsorship involved the placement of our store logo; some information about our store; links to specific tournament books that link to our website instead of Amazon, which was their norm in the past; and our store’s events listings,” Jefferies said. “We were able to track through Google Analytics which of these links were being followed from the Morning News site through to ours, and we were able to determine that the Morning News became the third largest driver of traffic to our website, number one and number two being Facebook and Google.”

“We were able to find that we took this risk on a marketing partnership and it paid off,” he added, noting that the store also uses Google Analytics to track which social media posts result in traffic to the central website and conversion to sales. “If a pattern emerges regarding types of posts that result in sales, we can react in such a way to amplify that pattern.”

Quail Ridge checks Google Analytics at least once a month, Jefferies said, and sometimes as often as once a week, and he conducts in-depth reporting on analytics and metrics once per quarter, which is enough to both catch trends and avoid the obsession of checking and refreshing numbers too often.

“What I’m constantly surprised by is the amount of information about our website that is available right there at my fingertips and how customizable that information is,” he added. “My advice first is to not let yourself become overwhelmed by all of the numbers, and instead to just dive into the system and play with it.”

“Click on all of the menus that are available to you. Click on all the charts and change the views to a one-week period to a one-month period to a three-month period. See how the numbers and other statistics, such as website referral statistics, change,” Jefferies suggested. “Look at all of the customization options that are available and play with them until you see a layout that you like, and once you’ve played around enough to become comfortable with the site, then start digging into the information.”

Hennequant said that Hudson Booksellers uses Google Analytics because the staff in the book buying office appreciates having data and metrics that the company can use to reflect on and measure how well it’s doing with its website.

“The features that I use the most are the Site Content Reports and also the Real-Time reports,” he said. “The Real-Time tab allows you to see what pages readers are on right now, and the Site Content tab lets you see information for a specific date range.”

Page view information is useful because it allows Hudson Booksellers to prioritize which books will be discounted on the website as well as what pages should be updated the most frequently, Hennequant added. “Hudson Booksellers focuses online discounts on pre-orders, so we have a small list of titles that we come up with that we expect readers to be pre-ordering, and we discount those ahead of time,” he said.

By checking the Real-Time Analytics, Hennequant said that Hudson Booksellers will frequently discover that an author or publisher linked to the bookseller for the title. “If I’m on the Real-Time tab and I see more than one person on a specific book page, it’s mostly likely that someone linked to us or it’s getting some buzz, and we’ll add a pre-order discount to that title,” he said.

Hennequant keeps a Real-Time tab open on his browser and checks it every couple of hours, he added, just to see if anything unusual is happening. It can also be a helpful tip-off if he sees a lot of people viewing from countries that the company doesn’t typically expect a lot of orders from, and he can flag them for possible fraud.

For the Site Content tab, Hennequant finds the page view information helpful because he can track data month-by-month. “Based on which pages are getting the most views, we’ll spend more time updating those pages,” he said. “Our bestsellers page, front page, and any author interviews that we do get the most traffic normally.”

The company has some Goals set up in Google Analytics, Hennequant said, which measure how many shoppers are making it to each stage of the checkout process, how many people create an account, how many people shop for 10 minutes, how many people viewed at least 10 pages, and how many people created a wishlist or browsed e-books.

Additionally, Hennequant suggested that booksellers share the store’s usage statistics with their team. “Everybody who works on your website can be motivated by seeing how many people are visiting your website every month and how many orders you’re getting,” he said. “You never know who on your team is going to have the next great idea of how to bring more traffic or create more orders on the website, so it’s good to share with everybody on your team.”

Via an automatic daily e-mail, Hudson Booksellers also shares information from Google Analytics with a publisher that the company has done many marketing campaigns with, Hennequant added, and Hudson reports website analytics to its board each year.

“If you’re brand new to Google Analytics,” Hennequant said, “my best advice is to get in the habit of checking your Audience and Acquisitions reports at least one a month. That will give you a great idea of how your business is doing online, and it will just tell you a little bit about who your customer is — it might not be who you think it is.”

In addition to using the Real-Time page to search for potential fraud, booksellers can also use the User Explorer, if it’s enabled, he added. “This will create a tracking number for customers on your website, and Google lets you see most of that data. So, if you have a customer that made an order and you’re pretty sure it’s fraud, what you can do is look at the amount of that order, then go onto Google Analytics User Explorer and find the user that checked out for that amount, and it gives you a detailed breakdown of every single thing they’ve done on your site, every single thing they’ve clicked on,” he said.

“Surprisingly,” he continued, “I find fraudulent orders have the fewest number of clicks. They come to your website directly instead of from a referral, they have one expensive book that they’re going to put in their order, and they put it in there, and they check out and they don’t double check. If you have a customer that’s putting books in and out of their cart and checking shipping options, that’s a normal customer.”

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