Why do companies struggle to get much out of Google Analytics?

I’ve worked with a wide range of retail, educational, publishing, ecommerce and sports clients over the past 15 years and two things they tend to have in common is that they all have Google Analytics and they don’t use Google Analytics very well.

I’ve talked to many of them recently to try to identify why this powerful tool is not working for them and I’ve identified at last 10 common problems.  I’ve used the insights to help me create some training materials; a deck of cards to help teams use GA better and launched this on Kickstarter.

Here are the main findings from my conversations:

1. People fear looking stupid

Data of any kind appears to divide people into two groups; those who are attracted and those who are repelled. Google Analytics is all about data and so, not surprisingly. is lumped together with school algebra and calculus as “not for me” by many people.  What is perhaps surprising is that many business people who are good with numbers and figures still have not made more effort to connect with this digital resource help them drive their actions and results. And the result of not knowing is fear; fear that others will discover their lack of knowledge and make them look and feel stupid.

Suggestion: Have some frank conversations across your teams including technical, creative and business folk where you ignore your specific roles and build a shared set of goals for all your digital activities.

2. It’s someone else’s problem

“But, we’ve hired an agency for that” is a common response and absolutely not the answer.  Hiring someone else to look after the core numbers that matter to your business is a bit like hiring someone else to date your girlfriend or boyfriend. It’s not the agency’s fault but they can’t know your business as well as you should. This, by the way, is a common problem across the whole of digital.

Suggestion:  Recast your agency relationships by getting much more involved and setting the objectives.  See your analytics or digital agency as a partner but focus on bringing your own level of knowledge up to a level where you get the best from them.

3. Poor setup

I’ve looked at many GA implementations and often only the basic tags have been installed.  This will give you less than the a third of the available data.  You’ll miss all the good stuff. Make sure that Adwords, Benchmarking, Internal Search, Demographics and Search Console are linked as a minimum.

Suggestion: Find someone to do an audit of your current Analytics installation and follow up their suggestions.  Ask them to help you set up Custom Reports, Dashboards and Alerts so that you can keep on top of your hopefully improving numbers.

4. Struggle to connect to actions

This is a big one (and one I’ve tried to address head on in my Analytics Cards). Clients are getting regular reports and can see the numbers but don’t know how to turn these insights into actions that make a difference.

Suggestion: Make a list of all of the digital activities you (and third parties) perform at the moment and use Analytics to guide which you should do more and which less. Consider social, advertising, content, merchandising, customer service and online/offline promotions as a minimum.

5. Poor mental models of what’s going on 

Web analytics emerged from server logging software in the early days of the web.  The first reports while superficially similar to today’s reports were simply records of IP addresses visiting a site; volume and technical data rather than insights into your customers or audience.  Google, IBM and Adobe have enriched this data to provide deep insights into who, why, where, what and when your visitors interact not only with your site but with many aspects of your business.

Suggestion: Find someone who understands what is really happening inside analytics and ask them some hard questions.  Get them to draw pictures, discuss cookies and other technical stuff until you have a good model of what this software does and why it is important.

6. Poor agency engagement and remuneration models

You may be paying your digital, web or marketing agency too little for them to be able to put their best minds into what your analytics is revealing about your business.  GA is often seen by both client and agency as a tick-list item; installed and then forgotten. Because clients don’t take it seriously they pay too little and force agencies to cut corners.  They, in turn, don’t invest in data savvy staff and only provide standard reports if they provide anything at all.  Everyone loses.

Suggestion: Have a frank conversation to discover how much time is really being spent on your analytics and what more is possible.  For a small site it should be at least a day per week while for a big ecommerce store or publisher it could be a team of 4 full time.

7. Complexity of the digital ecosystem

The sheer size of the digital landscape with multiple ever changing channels, strategies and conflicting advice from “experts” often forces analytics  to take a backseat.  This is compounded by the lack of clarity around goals (particularly beyond obvious revenue) and business value being generated.

Suggestion: Simplify digital down to its basic principles: connect with audiences that need what you  (and your well defined brand) have to offer and help them engage with you and then find ways to maintain that engagement across all the important touchpoints. Use Google Analytics as a compass to guide you in what is working and do more of it while stopping other things.  Keep experimenting as the world changes.

8. It’s free

Surely a free product is better than an expensive product?  Possibly, unless it means that it is not taken as seriously as it should be.  Google actually has a premium version of GA that costs companies around $150,000 per year.  The main difference is not in functionality which it mainly shares with the free version but in the levels of support, advice and consultancy that come with it.  Companies using the free version often assume that generating insights will be free too.

Suggestion: Invest significant time and effort into getting the most out of your analytics even if you are using the free version. As a rule of thumb you should put as much time into your digital numbers as you do into looking at your sales figures as increasingly they will be linked.

9. We don’t see it’s changing

GA is not a static product but an ever improving suite of tools and techniques that are updated at least once a month. Recent changes to Adwords, User Reports and Google Tag Manager will all have done unnoticed by many unless they make an active effort to stay ahead.

Suggestion: Task someone inside your organisation or at your agency to keep everyone up to speed with the Analytics landscape.  Ask questions and discuss the changes with your teams to make sure that their implications are understood.

10. No goals have been set up or valued

I’ve left this until last but it is in fact the biggest of all the reasons why companies don’t get more out of GA.  It involves the design of your whole digital strategy and asks the question “what do you want your audience to do that will help you reach your overall business goals?”.  While it is easy to ask them to buy stuff, this is likely to be too big an expectation on a first encounter with your company and unless you help them make steps towards understanding your content, your brand and your purpose, it is unlikely that many will ever turn into the valuable consumers you are looking for.

Suggestion: Explore goals short of purchase. GA allows you to define lots of smaller goals (downloads, social interactions, video views etc) and to associate value with them; so that you can see what in your wider digital strategy is generating results towards your longterm business objectives.

Analytics Cards

My recent Kickstarter Project – Analytics Cards – provides a deck of cards to help you and your team address many of the ideas and issues raised in this post including aligning business goals and digital activities, building mental models of some of the key ideas in analytics and helping you define actions for improving your results.

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