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Digital data and insight

One of the most critical skills in digital marketing is the ability to capture and analyse digital data and insight. In this guide, we cover external and internal sources of digital data. We also talk through key legal and security considerations. And we close with examples of how to use digital data to grow your business.

Digital data and insight

How this guide raises your game

1. See the key free external sources of digital data you can use to generate insights about your target consumers.

2. Learn how to set up digital data on your own platforms including Google Analytics and key legal and security considerations.

3. See examples of data user stories you can use to grow your business

As per our digital business model guide, every time a customer engages with your digital media, your website or your social media platforms, that generates data.

That data has many uses. Use it to boost your understanding of customer online behaviour for example. Use it to set targets and measure performance. 

Digital data can help you understand the reach and impact of your digital media activity. You can use it to understand the level of coustomer engagement with your website or social media pages. And you can use the learnings to help drive online sales.

In short, knowing how to use digital data can raise your digital marketing and e-Commerce game to another level.

Mobile phone showing Google, with the word "analytics" in the search bar

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Digital data sources

Digital data comes into your business from two different directions.

You can get it from external sources. This is mainly aggregated data. Aggregated data helps you identify and track the behaviours of groups of people online.

Digital data can also come from internal sources. You directly set up software, tools and processes to capture data.

This internal data can be both aggregated data, but also the specific digital data on individuals. This one-to-one data can be very powerful, as it lets you customise and tailor your marketing activity to individual customers. 

Digital data from external sources

There are paid subscription digital data providers like Similar Web who can provide information about online behaviours.

But in this guide we are mainly going to focus on the free sources you can use to capture digital data.

Many of the big technology companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon make some of their digital data available, though Google is the most generous and helpful.  

You can use these external data sources to identify trends and business opportunities. 

The word Google spelled out with blue, red and yellow M&Ms with a M&M bag and a laptop also in the image

Google Trends

We cover some of these sources like Google Trends in our guide to secondary research, and in our article on finding customer needs through search trends

Google Trends lets you search on topics and keywords and lets you see their relative popularity over time. This can be used to help you generate innovation ideas and content ideas among other uses.

The great thing about this tool is the ability to filter by country, time period and also to compare different terms against each other. 

Google Trend screenshot - Vegan, ice cream, vegan ice cream

Google Ads Keyword Research

Another great example of external data is the Keyword Research tool that comes as part of Google Ads. We also cover this tool in more detail in our secondary research guide.

This tool lets you dig deeper than you can on Google Trends into specific paid search volumes on keywords. And you can use it to generate ideas of related search terms which can become part of your paid search media activity. 

Google Ads Brand and Marketing Keyword research results

Facebook Audience Insights

When you have a Business Account set-up with Facebook, and especially if you book advertising with them, their inbuilt Audience Insights tool can give you a lot of digital data about what is happening on the Facebook platform.

You can filter the digital data by country, age and gender, interests and connections to calculate the size of your potential target audience and learn more about them.

So in this example, we’ve taken the total population of Facebook users in Australia.

And we can see which brands in different types of categories are the most popular by likes.

Facebook Audience Insights page screenshot to show digital data source

But we could also have seen the age, gender and location where Australian Facebook users are. And we could see how active they were on Facebook and the types of devices they use to access Facebook.

And remember, that Instagram is also part of the Facebook portfolio. So there’s a degree of integration between these two platforms, especially if you use them to buy media. 

You can use these types of insights for idea generation. So by looking at the most popular sites, you can understand the type of content that most appeals to your audience. You can use it for competitor analysis to see how their social media activity compares to yours. And finally, you can use it when you buy media placements through Facebook’s Ads Manager to help you target specific audiences. 

You’ll find similar insight type tools when you have Business Accounts with other social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and You Tube. How and where you would use them would follow the same principles as Facebook.

Amazon Best Sellers

Access to sales data on online shopping channels is less commonly available than search and media data.

In fact, you can usually only access data if you have a direct business account with the retailer such as being an Amazon merchant, which we cover in our e-Commerce guide to online retailers. 

However, if you do sell online, you can use the Search function on online retail sites to identify Best Sellers.

Look at this example from Amazon in the fitness category for example. With one click you can find out what the top best sellers are in any category. 

Amazon Best Seller page - shows examples of best sellers in sports, fitness and outdoors

Here you can see that four of the top ten bestsellers in that category were fitness band products. Which if your online store niche was related to fitness, would make you think it should be a product you should stock.

Depending on your category and where it sells, you can use the same “Best seller search” to identify what competitor products in your category work well.

We do this on a regular basis with the Print on Demand suppliers Redbubble  and Spreadshirt for example so that we can stay on top of design trends in the merchandise category.

Digital data from internal resources

While all this external data is helpful to build a picture of the category and your target audience, it can only go so far. And because it comes from external data sources, you are always limited by how much the external source makes available. 

You have more freedom when you can generate data from internal sources.

And for the most part, the biggest source of internal data will be your website, and any data capture systems such as CRM registrations, and data from subscriptions or online  store services you offer. 

Google Analytics

When you set-up your own website, one of the first jobs to do is attach a Google Analytics account to that website.

Google Analytics is an online tool that measures and tracks what people do when they visit websites. It’s a vital tool to understand what works and what doesn’t on your website.

This understanding helps you set and track key digital objectives and measures.  

Google Analytics is an aggregated data source. It doesn’t identify individuals who visit your site. But it does show what visitors do on your site. So, you’ere able to look at common patterns of behaviours.

Mobile phone showing Google, with the word "analytics" in the search bar

For example, Google Analytics will be able to tell you how many visitors come to your website. But not just that, it can tell you what time of day they came, down to the last minute. It can identify which cities or countries they were in and what type of device and browser they used. 

When connected with the right media tagging set-up (see our guide to digital media for more on tagging), Google Analytics will tell you how people found their way to your site. It can tell you which adverts or media channels they clicked on to land on your page, for example. 

And when they are on the site, Google Analytics will tell you how long they spend on the site and where they click and visit.

This sort of data gives you real-time insight into the behaviours of your target audience online. It helps you promote and push the content or experiences that get the best response. And it helps identify the worst content or experiences so you can focus on making them better. 

How to set up Google Analytics on your website

There are four basic steps you need to set up Google Analytics on your website. 

  1. Make sure you have a Google (gmail) account
  2. When you have a gmail account, set up Google Analytics services
  3. When you have Google Analytics Services, go to Admin (hidden down in the left hand corner, why do they do that?), then Create Property in the middle column, add in your Website name and URL and you’ll get an UA number that is in this sort of format UA-100000000-1 (except it will be a different number).
  4. You then need to plug that number in to the back-end of your website. This could be directly into the header code or using a plug-in. There are many helpful guides on how to do this based on what Content Management System (CMS) you are using. Here’s a really helpful guide to doing it with WordPress for example.

Once Google Analytics starts tracking visitors to your site, you can use it to track how visitors interact with your website.

Google Analytics has multiple levels of data including real time and audience data. But for simplicity sake, we recommend you focus on the three key areas of acquisition, behaviour and conversion.

These three terms relate back to the digital goals in our digital business model RESTART guide.  Acquisition relates to the Reach goal. Behaviour relates to the Engagement goal. And Conversion relates to the Sell goal.

Acquisition

Acquisition tells you how customers found their way to your website. Google Analytics will tell you if customers found their way to your site though channels like social or SEO, or if they were referred by a link from another site.

This data lets you start to understand which channels perform the best to bring people to your website.

You can do this by placing “tags” into your digital media campaigns.

These are small pieces of code, which send a notification to Google Analytics when a specific action happens, such as someone clicking on your digital advertising.

Woman wearing a grey sweatshirt and looking at her phone in a dark room

This data is important because it helps you build up a picture of what types of advertising message and channel deliver the best results for you. So, you start to move more investment into the stronger performing channels. And move away from channels that don’t work with your audience.

Check the performance of your acquisition digital data on a regular basis – weekly or monthly – and use it to adjust your digital media activity accordingly.

Behaviour

The Behaviour section on Google Analytics lets you know what consumers do once they arrive on your site. There are some key metrics you should review regularly. These include bounce rate, pages / session and average session duration. 

Bounce rate

Bounce rate is the percentage of people who land on a page but then have no interaction with the page. They ‘bounce’ off the page and off the site.

Young woman on train station platform looking at her mobile phone

In most cases, you want the consumer to interact or engage with the page. For example,  click a link or button, view an image or video, download a file.

If the consumer leaves without doing anything, it suggests you need to do some work on that page to make it more engaging.  Bounce rates vary from site to site and from category to category. But as a rule of thumb, we would suggest a bounce rate over 60% is cause for concern. Anything under 30% is probably pretty good. And anywhere between 30% to 60% is the ‘norm’ – there will be opportunities to make it better, but if’s not a disaster.

Pages / session

The pages / session metric is helpful if you have a site designed to be an information guide. Or where you want people read a wide range of content. The average session duration is similar. We’ve worked with some brands where the site objective was to build a relationship with the consumer, so that they chose the product at a future date.

Both of these metrics were helpful to measure customer engagement. They showed a strong correlation to future brand (sales) choice.

However, if your site is an e-commerce site where your focus in more on conversions, these might be less helpful metrics. They could for example indicate that products are hard to find or the site is difficult to navigate.

So, you need to have the context of your site in mind when analysing these numbers. As a baseline, purely based on our own experience, anything over 3-4 pages and 5 minutes would indicate a strong content site.

Again, you should check the performance of your behavioural digital data on a regular basis – weekly or monthly – and use it to adjust your website activity accordingly.

Conversion

The final section in Google Analytics is Conversion. Here you can set up specific events or goals to track. These are specific actions customers do on your website, that you want to track and measure.

These can be as simple as recording a sale on your e-commerce site. But they could also be more complex like people who viewed a page or added the product to their cart, but then didn’t buy.

They don’t always have to be sales conversions. You can make them reading a specific page or spending a specific amount of time on the site for example. Downloading a specific tool, or registering to get an email would also be examples of conversion goals.

Person holding a mobile phone with an e-Commerce page on screen and a credit card in the other hand

These types of measures will closely relate back to the business and marketing objectives you set as part of your marketing plan. So, it should go without saying that these are also measures you should track on a regular basis. And adjust your website and e-Commerce activity as needed. 

We’d recommend getting used to the mechanics of Google Analytics as it’s a great place to start your journey on digital data and insights.

Larger organisations with complex websites and data set-ups often to move to other providers (Adobe Analytics for example). But for most people, Google Analytics does a solid job of giving you digital data.

One-to-one internal data

Beyond Google Analytics, you can also capture specific one-to-one individual data through your website.

Most commonly this would happen through a CRM system.

We cover how CRM is set up and the role it plays in your business in our guide to marketing technology. We also have a separate article on B2B CRM, as it’s particularly useful when dealing with professional customers. 

But the types of data you capture through a CRM system need to be carefully monitored. You need to think about the number of individual’s data you will capture and how much and what type of data you will capture about that individual.

Two people sitting at a table with coffee cups in front of them having a conversation

CRM and email

Something like an email newsletter for example might only require the capture of an email address. But you may also want to capture when the registration happened. For example, so you could tie it back to a campaign that tried to drive registrations.

And while an email address is helpful, if you can start to add more digital data to that email address, you can start to pull out much richer insights.

CRM and e-Commerce

For example, where you have your own e-Commerce store and details of a consumer who buys from you, you will by nature of the transaction capture a higher level of detail about the customer. Their name, their shipping and billing address and what and when they shopped with you.

As we cover in our set-up your own store guide, you’d most likely use a third party payment gateway to manage their credit card details. But nonetheless, there’ll still be a large amount of digital data you’ll have about the online shopper. 

This CRM and e-Commerce data is extremely valuable to build up your level of insight about customers, and helps you build more loyalty with them. .

It helps you offer them better, more personalised and relevant experiences. But it also comes with challenges from a legal and IT point of view, in terms of how you set-up and manage this data.

Legal factors in digital data

When you set up your data plan and systems, it’s important to remember that capturing people’s individual data comes with a number of legal obligations.

These obligations mean you need to follow a number of guidelines when it comes to managing personal data. Failure to comply with these can result in financial penalties.

Governance and security

Your customer data has to be held securely and have secure process for access, managing and use of data.

Small metal statue of lady of justice holding scales

The server where your data is stored needs to be protected from any hacking or intrusion, and you should have control over who in your business is able to access or use that data.

Anyone who has access to the data, should be trained on what they can and can’t do with personal digital data.

You should also ensure you’ve procedures and policies to manage specific situations. Such as when a customer asks to see what digital data you hold on them. Or asks for that data to be deleted. And even, what happens in the worst case if a hacker manages to get hold of that data.

Regulatory and compliance

The legal obligations will vary by country, but they usually follow broadly similar principles. For the purposes of this guide, we will use the key legal obligations for businesses based in Australia. 

Data Privacy

In Australia, the the Australian Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) (AU Privacy Act) governs how businesses and organisations collect, use, disclose, store and grant access to ‘personal information’. Most countries will have their own version of this. 

The AU Privacy Act defines ‘personal information’ as “…information or an opinion, whether true or not, and whether recorded in a material form or not, about an identified individual, or an individual who is reasonably identifiable”.

These broad definitions capture a wide range of information.

Any information about an individual that identifies that individual or allows that individual to be identified will constitute ‘personal information’. You should review the obligations of the the privacy principles in your country.

On this site for example, we take care to follow the thirteen Australian Privacy Principles (APPs) and we detail how we do this in our Privacy Policy.

If your business captures individual data in any way, we highly recommend reviewing the relevant principles and creating your own privacy policy.

It’s worth checking out templates and guides to refine your privacy policy to make it your category and your country’s legal requirements.

Unsolicited messages (anti-spam)

Also, if you intend to contact your consumer directly – especially sending out emails, you should consider the legislation surrounding unsolicited messages. In Australia, this is covered by the Spam Act 2003 (Cth) (Australia) and in simple terms requires that you have ‘permission to contact’ people directly.

This is why when you sign up for emails and newsletters for example, you have to tick a box accepting the terms and conditions. This is what ‘proves’ the company has permission to contact. There are provisos with the act that must be followed – allowing for easy unsubscribing for example. These can have legal consequences if not followed.

If you are new to email and outbound communications like this, it’s worth checking the legislation and seeking the advice of experienced practitioners in this area.

In general, having permission to contact is your key goal. If you don’t have that permission, you should not contact the customer directly.

Analytical skills

But to take all this data and make it useful, you need analytic skills to interpret the data, and convert it into ideas and actions to go into your marketing plan.

A bit like market research in general, where you need to covert it to actions in your marketing plan for it to add the most value.  

One of the best ways to link data to actions is to use the concept of data user stories.

These will help you identify what it is you want to track and measure. And help you set up how to best capture the right data and the right reporting and evaluation processes. 

Person holding glasses in front of them against a blurry street background

Data User stories

We introduced the concept of user stories as a way to define your requirements in our guide to Marketing Technology.

As a reminder, a user story is a tool used in Agile software development to capture a description of a software feature from an end-user perspective. The user story describes the type of user, what they want and why. A user story helps to create a simplified description of a requirement.

It takes this format.

As a (USER), I want to (NEED) so that I can (BENEFIT).

Digital data user story examples

When you use the format of the user story, this can help you create a list or set of priorities for your digital data system set-up. It can help you to identify which sources of data you will need to access to capture the data. And it will help you define which measures you will need, how they will be reported and how actions will be generated from that data.

Example – digital marketer / e-commerce

As a (digital marketer / e-commerce store owner), I want to (understand customer behaviours) so that I can (evaluate the impact of my digital activity).

So in this example, the data source is likely to be the website or e-Commerce platform and the measures will be related to activities that were intended to drive conversions or sales.

Example – Business analyst

As a (business analyst), I want to (run regular performance reports to identify new segments) so that I can (generate ideas for future marketing activity).

In this example, the data source is likely to be external digital media sources and the measures will related to specific trend identification.

 Example - Customer Service

As a (customer service representative), I want to see the full history of a customer,  so that I can (better tailor my response when they contact me).

And finally, in this example, the data source is likely to be the CRM program or e-Commerce store, and the requirement is to set up quick and easy access for customer service team to be able to manage and respond to enquiries.

It helps them track customer feedback and look for trends they can show the marketing team. 

When you can articulate your data needs with a user story in this way, it helps you define how best to solve these goals.

Customer service headset sitting on a desk next to a laptop

You can sometimes manage this digital data user story in house. Something relatively simple like Google Analytics can be set-up and run by an individual business owner, for example. 

But more sophisticated options require more expertise and bigger teams. The data user story approach can help engage IT teams, marketing agencies and specialist partners when your requirements are more complex. 

Digital data maturity

Once you have basic data flows working and you start to understand your data, it’s worth looking at building your skills further.

Gartner published a data maturity model a few years ago. It shows the more data mature you are, the better the quality of data, analysis and insight you carry out. It claimed there’s four levels of data maturity :-

  • Descriptive which tells you what happened.
  • Diagnostic which tells you why it happened.
  • Predictive which tells you what will happen.
  • And finally prescriptive which tells you how to make it happen.
Close up of a man's hands holding a light bulb that's illuminated

What’s your digital data maturity?

Most businesses operate at the descriptive level. They focus on what has happened in the past. This is the base level of maturity where you at least understand the history of how customers interacted with your brand online. So, a descriptive analysis might say for example, that there was a spike in your online sales last month.

With better analytical skills, you can move from what happened to why it happened. This diagnosis of a change in behaviour helps you attribute outcomes from previous actions. It can be used to set your future direction. So for example, that spike in online sales last month, you might attribute to a sales promotion or an advertising campaign.

However, diagnosis is not always easy to work out. It helps to have some knowledge of basic statistical techniques to look for patterns and richer levels of insight. For example, if you can look for correlations and do some basic regression analysis, you can be both diagnostic, and use historical trend data to be more predictive.

So, if we were to run that same sales promotion in a month’s time, a statistical analysis would give us a more accurate forecast of what the sales impact would be, based on the previous result.

Marketing technology and digital data maturity

Increasingly, this is an area where marking technology systems like AI and machine learning are taking over from human analysis. Computer systems can be pre-programmed to analyse large volumes of data in real-time and produce more accurate predictions. 

In fact, the most advanced systems can even start to be more prescriptive. In some cases, they will recommend specific actions without directly asking the question in that area.

To achieve this level of sophistication usually requires the services of a data scientist and specialist software and statistical techniques. 

This may be beyond most businesses. But all data captured should be mined for insights.  So that future marketing and e-commerce activity is based more on factual data and less on gut instinct.

That’s not to say data is infallible and that gut instinct should be ignored.

The skill of marketing is a combination of science and art, since the data you capture is based on individuals. And the only thing that is predictable about individuals is that they are unpredictable. 

Digital data should be a core part of your market research process, and support your marketing plan and brand activation.

Three-brains digital data and insight

If you’re thinking about how digital data and insight can work for your business, we run coaching and consulting services on this topic. We’ve a lot of experience and can work with you at both introductory and more advanced levels. 

Contact us, if you want to know more about how we can support your digital marketing to grow your business through our coaching and consulting services.

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