Many site owners and marketing managers experience data loss and lose visibility into their marketing activities and site performance which potentially could negatively impact the bottom line. This article examines practical steps to maintain and improve the quality of your data when upgrading or redesigning a site, or migrating to a site/new content management system. While the examples used here are Google Analytics specific, the approach is applicable to other analytics solutions.
Prior Preparation Prevents Poor Performance
With a little bit of planning, business owners, marketing managers and webmasters would immensely benefit. Here are few items to review prior as you plan to upgrade your site:
Tip #1 - First and foremost review what are conversions (goals, users actions) you are measuring on the current site and how it’ll apply to the new site. You might be adding video, or downloads or new lead form, these new user actions should be tracked as goals in Google Analytics. Plan for it. Or maybe, you’ll be selling online on the new site, if so, plan for eCommerce analytics to measure where your online sales will be coming from, average order value and top selling products. If you will be using Google Checkout or Paypal, let your analyst/developer know to integrate.
Tip #2 - You’ve heard that “segmentation” is really important to understand the behavior of different users (new vs. returning, customers vs. non-customers, etc.), and you want to apply this concept to the new site. Identify those segments clearly and pass on the information to your analyst/consultant/developer and they’ll help you track it on the new site.
Tip #3 - Third-Party Systems: start looking beyond just your website. Are you passing information to SalesForce, SugarCRM, or other CRMs? Look for other tags from advertising and affiliate platforms and include them in your site upgrade plan, including Google AdWords tracker, comparison shopping sites tags, doubleclick or other tags.
Tip #4 - Analytics and websites do get technical so if you are a marketers, this is a opportune time to be super nice to your technical team :). Have a meeting with your analyst (or consultant) and go over your list of marketing and business measurement goals we discussed above, and ask them to plan the Google Analytics Tracking Code implementation for sub-domains or cross-domain tracking, or if you are using events or firing virtual pageviews, they might need to make updates necessary to maintain the same data collection method. Also, have your technical team pay close attention to URLs/redirects, especially for landing pages, redirects can create all sort of data mess if not handled properly.
Note: if the URL structure and page naming convention is changing, one or more of the following could be impacted, so plan for the necessary updates at the time of site upgrade: filters, goals, e-commerce variables, custom variables, advanced segments, custom alerts, custom reports with filters, dashboards with filters.
Site Launch - Congratulations!
You are very excited about the your new site launch, and you should be. Few more steps and you’ll be ready to celebrate!
Again, marketers and webmaster must work very closely here.
Tip #5 - First and foremost, and right after the site launched or if you had a site in a staging environment, you want to validate that the analytic code is on all your pages (turn to your favorite site scan software). Pay extra attention to key pages (landing pages/static pages and conversion pages such as thank you pages, form completion pages, e-commerce purchase complete pages, etc.). And while you are at it, run a quick hostname report. In Google Analytics this can be found under Demographics -> Technology -> Network to ensure you are collecting data only from your production web properties.
Tip #6 - You might be experiencing slow load times when you launch your new site for a variety of reasons. Don’t despair, GA has some powerful reports that come to the rescue. Discuss the Site Speed Reports (under Content) and identify and fix page or server issues.
Tip #7 - Go the GA reports and set up a date range comparison (equal number of days, and days of week before and after launch), then monitor your most important metrics. Here are some starting points: under Audience, run a report on traffic/key metrics/conversion by browser. Any major peaks and valleys pre/post site launch? If so, immediately inform your webmaster, there are potential issues with browser compatibility. Also, examine your traffic sources and goal conversion carefully. If the domain/sub-domain configuration wasn’t set up properly, you’ll see all sort of issues with self-referring traffic, visit inflations and other side effects. Don’t forget to review your Pages report for any error pages (404 pages) that site visitors might be experiencing.
Tip #8 - Automate. Yes, let Google Analytics do all the heavy lifting for you. Set up Custom Alerts (Intelligent Events) on all vital metrics. Without needing a degree in Statistics, GA will report to you if and when any of these metrics fall outside the norm. This is very powerful and a great time-saver. You’ll be notified when there is an issue (or a good thing) and you’ll act on the finding accordingly.
Tip #9 - Annotate - yes, you’ll few weeks down the road, you’ll forget what changes you made on your site. So take few minutes to annotate (by date) when major changes occurred, day of site launch, etc. Your colleagues (or consultants) who come after you, will be very thankful for the context you’d provided.
Note: while the above tips focus on analytics and maintain data quality, site migration or upgrade planning should include SEO and SEM planning. Look for the for search engine traffic and landing pages and report drops in ranking, traffic, engagement or conversion issues to your search marketing team.
Equipped with the above nine tips, you’ll be closer to a hassle-free outcome. By following these suggestions, your site will not only have that fresh new look you develop, but you’ll also have the necessary data you need to measure and improve the site and marketing performance and keep your visitors (and boss) very happy!
Editor's Note: For a comprehensive checklist on analytics tips for a hassle-free site upgrade and migration, check out Feras’ recent post on the E-Nor Digital Marketing Optimization blog.