Skip to content

Digital data and insight

Why read this? : We look at the process of capturing and analysing digital data. Learn where to look for external and internal digital data. We also cover the key legal and security challenges which come with handling data. Plus, we show how to create and work with data user stories to define your needs. Read this to get better value out of your digital data.

Digital data and insight

How this guide raises your game :-

  1. We review free external digital data sources you can use to find insights about your target audience.
  2. Learn how to set up your internal digital data tools and systems, including your legal and security obligations.
  3. Find out how to write user stories to define your digital data needs. 

As per our digital business model guide, every time a customer interacts with your brand online, you get data. Data underpins all your digital activities. Digital media. Social media. Your website. All your e-Commerce activities.  All big sources of data. 

You use that data in many ways. It helps you better understand online customer behaviour, for example. It tells you what’s working with customers, and what isn’t. You use it to look for insights, set targets and measure performance. 

Digital data shows you the reach and impact of your digital media activity. It shows you the level of engagement customers have with your website and social media content. And it helps you optimise your e-Commerce content and product pages to drive more online sales.

Digital data is a key part of digital marketing. So let’s look at where you find it, and how you use it. 

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

Ready to test your knowledge?

What’s your starting level of knowledge about digital data?

Take the 2 minute, 5 question Three-brains digital data quiz and see how much you know about digital data already.

Digital data sources

Digital data comes from many different sources. 

You can look at external sources, where the data is usually aggregated and talks about broad customer segments. The insights are usually about broad and general online behaviours.

Your internal sources of data are usually more specific. You can often drill down to an individual customer level, and specific interactions you have with them. You can aggregate these to create broad insights and / or more personalised customer experiences.

Digital data from external sources

This guide will focus on the free sources you can use to capture digital data.  Do note however, there are also paid sources like Similar Web you can use if the free sources don’t meet your needs. 

Most of the big online players like Google, Facebook and Amazon make some of their digital data available for free. Sharing data encourages you to use their platform more often, especially for online advertising. 

In general Google is the most generous and helpful when it comes to sharing digital data.  They’re a good place to start as you try to look for online 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

Google Trends lets you track the popularity of search topics and keywords. You use these to generate ideas in all sorts of areas. See for example our article on finding customer needs through search trends.

It’s a very flexible tool and lets you analyse search data. You can filter by different countries and time frames for example. It gives you the specific words people search on, and lets you compare those to other search terms. 

Check out our secondary research guide for more examples of how to use Google Trends for insights.

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

Google Ads Keyword Research

Google Ads Keyword Research tool is another very useful digital data source from Google. It lets you dig deeper into specific paid search volumes on keywords than you can with Google Trends.

You use these insights to drive your SEO and paid search in your digital media plan. 

Check out our secondary research guide for more how to use Google Ads Keyword Research for insights. 

Google Ads Brand and Marketing Keyword research results

Facebook Audience Insights

Googles’s not the only sources of external digital data though. Facebook give you access to their data when you book advertising with them.

You have to set up a Business Account to access their Audience Insights tool. This gives you access to lots of digital data about what is happening on Facebook.

You can filter by country, age, gender and interests to learn more about your potential target audience.

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 drill further down and look at different age, gender and location summaries. We could see look at how active they were on Facebook, and which devices they use. (which would influence the type of content we’d create – e.g. more mobile friendly content). We could also look at the same data for Instagram as they’re both part of the Meta portfolio.

You use this digital data and the insights it inspires for idea generation. For example, the content on the most popular sites tell you what customers like the most. Looking at what competitors do on Facebook helps you work out their competitive strategy. And of course, you can use this digital data and insights to make sure your digital media targets the right customers at the right time and in the right places. 

You’ll find similar insight tools on Business Accounts in other social media channels like Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest and You Tube. They generally work the same way as how Facebook Insights work.

Amazon Best Sellers

Sales data on online shopping channels is usually harder to source than search and media data.

You can usually only access sales data if you have a direct business account with the retailer such as being an Amazon merchant. (See our online retailers guide for more on this). 

But there are other tools you can use to get insights about e-Commerce. For example, you can use the Search function on online retail sites to identify Best Sellers.

Here, we’ve looked at the fitness category on Amazon for example. We can see that 4 of the top 10 bestsellers in that category were fitness band products.  

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

If our online store niche was about fitness, that would tell us we should include fitness bands in our range.

The same “Best seller search” would also identify which competitor products are selling well. You can use that to look for your competitive advantage. 

We regularly look at bestsellers on our Print on Demand supplier sites Redbubble and Spreadshirt for example. It helps us stay on top of design trends for our T-shirt shop. 

Digital data from internal resources

External data helps you build a picture of the category and your target audience. But, it can only take you so far. You can only access what those sources give you. And the data is shared. Anyone can access it. 

If you want data that’s unique to your brand and customers, you need to look at internal sources. You set this up, so you’ve a lot more control over what data you capture. 

Your main internal digital data sources are likely to be :-

Google Analytics

One of the first jobs you do when setting up a website is to attach Google Analytics to it.

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 individual visitors. But it does show what visitors as a whole do on your site. So, you’re able to look at common patterns of behaviours.

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

For example, Google Analytics can tell you how many visitors come to your site. 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 shows you how people found your site. It tells you which adverts or media channels they clicked to land on your page, for example. As they spend time on the site, it can tell you how long they spend on each page, how much of each page they read, and what they interact with. 

This mostly happens in real-time. It gives you clear insights into what your target audience are doing on your website. What’s working well, so you can promote it harder. And what’s not working well, so you can fix it.

How to set up Google Analytics on your website

There are 4 basic steps to setting up Google Analytics :-

  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). 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 number unique to you).
  4. You then 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 it’s set up, it continuously captures and stores data about your website visitors. It has multiple levels of data including real time and audience data. But to keep it simple, we recommend you focus on these key areas :-

  • acquisition.
  • behaviour.
  • conversion.

These 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. Did they click through from your social or SEO activities for example? Or was it a link from another site? 

You initiate 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. For example, someone clicking on the advert.

You use this data to evaluate the impact of your advertising and your media choices.  You understand what works and what doesn’t based on how customers interact (or don’t). 

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

In simple terms, the data tells you to do more of what works. And less of what doesn’t.

You should check your acquisition data regularly. In some cases, that could be daily. In others, monthly can be OK. But the insights it gives you help you optimise your digital media. You get more bang for your buck when you use this data. 

Behaviour

The Behaviour section on Google Analytics lets you know what customers do when they land 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

You generally want customers to interact with the page. For example, you use calls to action like click a link, view a video, download a file and so on. If lots of customers don’t interact with a page (i.e. it has a high bounce rate), it suggests something’s wrong in the set-up of the page.

Bounce rates vary from site to site and from category to category. But as a rule of thumb, a bounce rate over 60% is usually cause for concern. Anything under 30% is usually good. And anywhere between 30% to 60% is the ‘norm’. You can make it better, but it’s not a disaster.

Pages / session

The pages / session metric is helpful if your site is designed to be an information guide. Or where you want people to read a wide range of content. The average session duration is similar. This data is often used to measure sites where the objective is to build customer relationships. (rather than being an overt “sales” driven site).

Both metrics help measure customer engagement. And they often correlate closely with future brand (sales) choice.

With online store sites however, the measures might show more of a problem. If your objective is more conversion (i.e. sales) driven, you want customers to find the right products quickly. You want it to be fast and easy for them to buy. High numbers in pages / session and session duration may show products are hard to find. Or that something’s wrong with the site navigation.

So, you need to have the context of your site in mind when analysing these numbers. Again, you should check the performance of your behavioural digital data on a regular basis. 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, which you want to measure.

These can be as simple as recording a sale on your e-commerce site. But they could also be more complex. For example, 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. They could be any call to action. Reading a specific page. Spending a set amount of time on the site. Downloading a specific tool. Registering for email updates. These would all 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 measures link back to the business and marketing objectives in your marketing plan. So, obviously you should evaluate these on a regular basis. And adjust your website and e-Commerce activity as needed. 

Google Analytics is a great place to start with digital data. Larger organisations with more complex websites and requirements often move to other providers (Adobe Analytics for example). But for most businesses, Google Analytics meets many of your digital data needs.

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.

Latest digital marketing blog posts