As a business owner, you understand the importance of having an online presence to sell products and promote your brand. The next step is tracking key analytics available on those digital media to better reach your customers. 

In the past decade, digital marketing has evolved to allow businesses to know their customers better than ever: what they’re searching for and what they’re purchasing. Digital media, whether websites or social media accounts, provide trackable data and analytics that can show a business everything from how long a visitor spends on its website to what led them there to how many times those who click on digital ads actually purchase something. 

Despite the rise to prominence of digital marketing and public relations, many businesses still are not taking advantage of their digital data to get to know customers and better market their brand, said JoAnn Seeman, a digital communication strategist at Spindustry Digital, a West Des Moines-based technology and digital marketing consulting firm. 

“There is so much happening and changing, and it can be difficult to keep up with that as an individual company,” Seeman said. “But it’s really exciting what we can do. There are a small number of companies who are aware of these things, and an even smaller number of companies utilizing them.” 

The challenge is learning to use data and analytics to increase the reach of your business, and to ensure that you’re reaching the right people with your products or services. Businesses don’t need to be experts in understanding everything available to them -- many can get started by simply signing up for Google Analytics -- but if you can get a good handle on a few basic data points and analytics, you’ll be ahead of the game. 

“Businesses need to look at data and analytics; otherwise, they don’t know if their website is working or that it’s serving customers like it should,” Seeman said. “Let the numbers drive decisions; otherwise, it’s just guessing and hoping you’re right.”

A Spindustry team including Seeman, President and CEO Michael Bird, public relations and social media specialist Alexandra Guzik and director of public relations Claire Celsi compiled a list of the top five data points and analytics every business should be tracking.

1. Benchmarks

When businesses make the decision to start tracking their digital reach, it’s important to establish a starting point. Doing this allows businesses to effectively set goals to work toward as well as to monitor progress and trends. These starting points are also known as benchmarks. Examples of benchmarks include the number of visitors or unique visitors who visit your website within a specific period of time, the amount of time they spend on your website and what led them to your site. 

“It’s the overall health of your analytics as you start to monitor,” Celsi said. 

Once benchmarks are in place, businesses should set goals as a way to measure the effectiveness of various initiatives, Bird said. Examples of goals include increasing the number of unique visitors to your site each month, or boosting the number of followers on a business’s Facebook page. These should be monitored as time goes on.

Some additional data points businesses should monitor once benchmarks are established include; their website’s bounce rate, or the percentage of people who come to only one page of the website before leaving; email clicks, which is a good way to track how many potential customers are engaging with email content and if it leads to purchases on their websites; and mobile usage, or the percentage of visitors who view the website from mobile devices. 

2. Search behavior

Search behavior allows businesses to tell what online visitors are looking for when they come to a website. This includes being able to track and monitor keywords typed into a site’s search bar and whether visitors received at least one result when they searched.  “If the site doesn’t have a search bar, a company is missing out on their own data on their own site,” Celsi said. The point of monitoring search terms is that it allows businesses to adapt to the demands of customers, Seeman said.

“If they’re looking for something and you haven’t provided it, this allows you to add it to your site,” Seeman said. “Or if they’re calling it something different than you anticipated, you can use that data to make the necessary adjustments to provide better customer service and make it an easier process for them.” 

3. Digital advertising visit-to-lead conversion

In the past, businesses would purchase an advertisement and place it on a preferred medium, such as the newspaper, television or radio. Digital advertising makes it possible for you to track the number of people who see the ads and even those who buy because of them.  “Every year, more and more money is being put into (digital advertising),” Celsi said. “It’s measurable and is probably why more people are using digital advertising.”

Businesses often track their websites’ visit-to-lead conversion. In other words, a business may be getting a ton of visitors to its website, but if that’s not generating sales leads, there may be something wrong with the business’s marketing approach.

“If people aren’t signing up or buying a product, something is happening on the site,” Seeman said. “Maybe you’re asking the wrong questions. Maybe your website is confusing. If you look at that conversion rate, you can find the problem and how to fix it.”

4. Engagement on social media

Social media outlets are major sources of digital traffic, exposing businesses and their products to a wide range of audiences and demographics. The key thing to track on social media is engagement, said Guzik, Spindustry’s public relations and social media specialist. “If you’re not measuring anything else, you should be measuring this,” said Guzik said. “For social media channels, engagement is their core metric. They incorporate that into their algorithms. If you don’t have that, you won’t get impressions and you won’t get fans and followers.”

What is engagement? On Facebook, it’s the potential customers who like, comment or share a post (preferably in that order). On Twitter, it’s those followers who retweet and mention businesses in their own tweets. All of this increases visibility on social media, thereby increasing a business’s reach, and can be easily monitored by an administrator on each site.

Engagement is particularly important on Facebook these days, Guzik said. The company has modified its algorithm determining what shows up in users’ news feeds, resulting in only 6 percent of business posts being visible to those who have already liked business pages. This makes it challenging for businesses that choose to go at social media using an organic approach.

Using paid advertising on social media can be beneficial, though, Guzik said.

“There are a lot of cool things you can do with Facebook advertising,” she said. “They’re very granular with it, so it’s almost a better option to do paid ads with Facebook if you want to reach a targeted segment of individuals.”

Social media ultimately is one of the best ways for businesses to figure out exactly which people they’re reaching and who is interacting with their brands. If interaction is down, social media makes it easier to figure out what might be done to bring them back. 

5. Online reputation

While businesses cannot know exactly what customers think about them or what those individuals say to their friends about them, online reputation is one area companies do have more control over than in the past. 

As Spindustry’s public relations director, this is one area Celsi feels is particularly important for businesses to track. “Today’s digital world makes it easier to get a snapshot of what this world thinks of your business,” she said. “You won’t see everything, but it builds a picture of what’s really going on out there.”

Guzik said 70 to 80 percent of what she finds for Spindustry clients come from social media. The easiest way for businesses to find these things is to set up Google alerts on a variety of keywords. On Twitter, searching the same keywords or hashtags is important. 

“Everybody could go do it this afternoon, and they would be that much farther ahead of where they were before,” said Spindustry CEO Bird. 

Once these online comments are found, businesses should make it a point to respond, but they need to be careful not to overreact and to remember that not all negative comments require a response. 

“Construct a nice PR response and be upfront with your audience,” Bird said. “This helps deal with these things when businesses are used to holding the blinders on. Keep people informed. You can’t stick your head in the sand.”

Online reputation isn’t always about damage control, though. Social media sites can also be used as a customer service channel. Businesses should respond to customers and do so promptly, as well as to figure out which social media outlets a majority of its customers and potential customers use.

“If there’s a lot of people talking about you on Twitter and you don’t have a Twitter account, maybe it’s time to get one,” Guzik said. n

Taking digital data to the next level

While businesses like Spindustry Digital help clients develop Web and digital marketing skills, other businesses are taking digital marketing to a much more targeted level when it comes to finding potential customers.  

Keith Snow, president and data scientist at B2E Direct Marketing Inc., has been specializing in database marketing for 11 years. In fact, he says, if businesses want to find what some might call the perfect audience to market their products and services to, data-driven marketing could be the way to go.

“We live in a world with limited resources, and that includes marketing budgets,” Snow said. “If your budget is $10,000, you better use it wisely. A company can use that up pretty fast to hit everybody, or they can find the people who are actually going to buy.”

Snow said many businesses already have a database of customers, but often, that database consists of only names and email addresses. If a business brings that database to Snow, he and his team can take that information and find out more about those people, including their age, their mailing address, whether they have children, what their interests or hobbies are, as well as their annual income, to name a few. 

How does Snow acquire this data? Consumers today are frequently prompted to give personal information, whether it’s at the store where they buy clothes or when they’re filling out online forms. The companies that collect this data often turn around and sell it to data compilers, which is where B2E collects much of its information.

This type of database marketing has been around for more than 20 years, but according to Snow, the amount of data available today is unprecedented. Snow and his team are equipped to help businesses learn up to 2,500 different customer demographics, although the typical number of data pieces he purchases for customers is 25. Once these demographics are collected, businesses are matched up with customers who best fit their desired audience and have a higher propensity to buy what the company is selling.

“Instead of marketing to all 500,000 people in Des Moines, I can market to the 500 who will actually buy your product,” Snow said. “This allows you to stretch your marketing dollars even further, and uses intelligence rather than anecdotal evidence.”

Of all the demographics he can collect, Snow said age and income are perhaps the most pertinent to a company’s marketing approach.

“In my world, life stage matters,” Snow said. “Different demographics don’t think the same, so you wouldn’t use the same marketing approach to reach them.”

Snow estimates that fewer than 25 percent of businesses are aware of this marketing approach and that even fewer are using it effectively. This approach tends to be a better fit for larger companies, which have the staff and the resources to use it to its full potential, but any business can take advantage of it to some extent.

“The biggest challenge is businesses have this data, now what do they do with it?” Snow said. “We can do a quick version that gives a high-level, affordable report. Or we can do the deep dive.”