We have a bit of a complicated relationship with Google In the SEO/inbound community. We are often the first, and loudest, to call them out when they get their priorities messed up or hoard data for questionable reasons.
But on the whole, we use more of Google’s wares than probably any other industry.
At Distilled, we use Google Apps for email, calendars, document collaboration, reporting, Google+ for internal sharing discussions, Hangouts for live video, chat, and webinars. Most of our clients use Google Analytics (as we do for our own websites). Our PPC specialists have core expertise in AdWords. Our keyword research work invariably turns to the AdWords Keywords Tool for search volume estimates.
While working with our Creative team to plan a data visualization project recently, I learned about a relatively new service from Google (Consumer Surveys — see below), and it got me thinking about other Google projects that have proven to be useful for our work and those that promise to be in the future.
This guide is intended for those SEOs/inbound marketers who are familiar with the fundamental Google resources (Google Analytics, Apps, the AdWords Keywords Tool) but may not be aware of what else is out there and what is coming soon.
Analytics & Tagging
1. Universal Analytics
This is not particular to inbound at all, but it affects all disciplines of web marketing. Most online marketers have some familiarity with Google Analytics. It’s the most widely-adopted analytics platform on the web, and it’s about to evolve.
Universal Analytics (in beta) is apt to change the way we use and think about marketing analytics. This successor of the Google Analytics we know will bring improved performance and, most importantly, new functionality and flexibility to your reporting.
Uses & benefits of Universal Analytics:
- Cross device tracking of individual users: We live in a multi-device world. To date, Google Analytics has not had core functionality that allowed for tracking users across all of their devices (one user is tracked as multiple “unique visits,” one for each device). Universal Analytics creates a User ID for the individual and allows you to track their interactions with your site/app across their devices allowing for cross-device optimization.
- The ability to push “offline” data into the system: Using the same User ID functionality, you can tie this data to a single user — across devices and interactions — over the lifetime of their relationship with your business. While passing any “Personally Identifiable Information” into GA is strictly a violation of the Terms of Service, this doesn’t mean you can’t securely keep that information together on your end and (respectfully) use it to manage your customer relationships and otherwise learn who your best customers are.
- Performance enhancements: The current iteration of GA passes a lot of data to GA servers from multiple cookies. Universal Analytics (UA) uses a single, simple cookie and stores most data on GA servers. Faster pages = happier users.
- 20 custom dimensions, 20 custom metrics: You can do a lot with GA’s customer variables, but this is really going to open things up. If you want to push offline and other data into your reports, these are going to come in handy.
- Set your own session and campaign expirations: Sessions can be set up to 4 hours, campaigns up to 2 years.
Justin Cutroni, one of the most well-informed analytics gurus you’ll find publishing online, wrote a nice post about the potential of UA, using his local gardening supply store as a case study of sorts. It is highly recommended reading.
There is so much here that even if you don’t start implementing for live campaigns yet, getting your head around the possibilities of UA (if not the measurement protocol itself) is only going to benefit you as this next iteration bridges the chasm to wide adoption.
Note: before you dive in and start using Universal Analytics on your website, keep in mind there are some things still missing: AdSense, DoubleClick, Content Experiments, and Remarketing are not yet integrated. You’ll probably want to run UA tracking concurrently with your existing GA tracking. The next resource in the list will help with that.
2. Tag Manager
Again, not particular to inbound, but big enough to matter to everyone. Google Tag Manager was released in late 2012 and has seen strong growth, but many marketers are still unaware of its benefits. Google is certainly not the first entrant into the tag management space, but they may well (and quickly) become the most popular.
Mike Pantoliano wrote a solid technical overview of Tag Manager (and tag management in general) here on the Moz blog that is well worth a read.
Essentially, Tag Manager gives you central control of tracking tags firing in the <head> of any given page, without having to touch the page code itself once you’ve added the main container. The rules to trigger tag firing are flexible enough that the possibilities here are broad and powerful.
Uses & benefits of Tag Manager:
- Central, organized management of your tags/scripts: Targeting a given page with a rule is a lot faster than adding it via a CMS or to the source code directly.
- Cuts dev cycle bottlenecks out of the equation: No more waiting a week for your colleagues in dev to update your tracking snippets: Tag Manager takes the work off the dev team’s plate, so everybody wins.
- Improved performance: Flexible firing rules allow you to load resources only on the pages that require them, cleaning up code on other pages and optimizing page loads.
While Tag Manager’s benefits will be greatest for organizations with significant web operations and drawn-out dev cycles, it’ll save most web marketers some time and headache, and signup/setup is relatively painless. There’s a lot of flexibility here, and I expect more clever uses will emerge as the community gets comfortable with this tool.
3. Tag Assistant
If you are using (or intend to use) Tag Manager, Tag Assistant is a Google Chrome extension that will make double-checking your tag/rule configurations a lot easier.
Here’s how it looks:
As above, you can quickly see the details of any tag by clicking the blue arrow to the right of its status.
Uses & benefits of Tag Assistant:
- In short, it makes checking your Tag Manager configuration a lot easier.
4. Think Insights
Think Insights has been around for a couple of years and recently updated their site. While there is a lot of self-serving promotional material here, there is also a great deal of value.
Organized by industry, marketing objectives, and ad types, this resource includes a wealth of research studies, most of which were co-conducted with Google and partners (often research firms) to come to some data-driven conclusions on the way specific markets and demographics use the web. It also serves as an inspiration center for digital marketing campaigns, linking out to some compelling and innovative pieces.
Uses & benefits of Think Insights:
- Free, searchable access to market research studies, organized by industry, marketing objectives, and ad type
- Visualization of the most common multi-touch paths by industry with “The Customer Journey to Online Purchase“
- Inspiration for your next data visualization project with Chrome Experiments. The “500” home page alone is worth the time to click.
- There’s also the Creative Sandbox gallery, showcasing creative online campaigns that “blend creative genius and digital innovation.” This is skewed toward paid channels, but there are a lot of creative approaches here from which we can learn.
5. Consumer Surveys
Consumer Surveys is the only paid service in this post, but research with surveys, if you want to step outside of your customer email list, will always require an investment. Google’s offering is relatively affordable at $.10 a response ($.50 if you need to target a specific demographic).
We are using Google Consumer Surveys for a client project currently at Distilled, and so far the straightforward pricing model and predictable timelines for turnaround are promising.
Matt Cutts ran a playful survey with this service to determine how many people have heard of “search engine optimization.” The answer: about one out of five.
Uses & benefits of Google Consumer Surveys:
- Relatively fast turnaround
- Accurate data
- Affordable cost
Search History & Data
Trends is a relatively well-known but often overlooked source of historical search volume data.
Search behavior is fluid. If you work in SEO you probably rely heavily on the AdWords Keywords Tool for volume estimates. But if your campaigns are planned for the long term, Trends provides data that tells you something about how users will search in the future.
For example, here’s an interesting comparison:
Note: “News headlines” (at top right) can be useful for identifying the cause behind spikes/drops in search traffic. I’d take the “Forecast” option with a sizable grain of salt.
Trends is also useful for measuring client brand recognition over time (vs. competitors), and for discovering the seasonal pattern for a given keyword throughout the year.
The new Top Charts section provides an engaging visual navigation through current trending searches. Perfect for brainstorming content angles.
Also check out the new live visualization of Hot Searches. Useful? Maybe. Entertaining? Yep.
Uses & benefits of Trends:
- View historical data for a single keyword, or compare two or more
- Discover seasonality in search volume
- Browse current trending searches
- Export to CSV for your Excel/other reports
Zeitgeist isn’t exactly a tool or a data set but more of an interactive recap of the year in search. You select the year (and/or country), and Google walks you through the biggest search trends and the related events around the world.
The most recent Zeitgeist for the year 2012 included a well-produced video recapping what the world searched for (and therefore experienced) in 2012:
At 15 million views, not a bad example of content done well in itself
If you’re looking for a large data source for a rich visualization, this is not the place. But Zeitgeist can be useful for brainstorming historical context and content angles.
Uses & benefits of Zeitgeist:
- Rich visual “story” experience of historical data
- Helpful for brainstorming historical content angles
- General nostalgia/inspiration (What? That counts.)
8. Public Data Explorer
Public Data Explorer is Google’s portal into government and institutional data sets. While you won’t find anything uniquely available here data-wise, the ability to search and browse data sets from one tool can make your research and brainstorming around data visualization concepts far more efficient.
This tool will also allow you to upload your own data sets and visualize them, which might not give you much of a share-worthy result for publishing purposes, but it is a handy way to play with the different ways to present a given data set before the dev team goes to work building the beautiful version.
Uses & benefits of Public Data Explorer:
- Search/browse many public data sets from one interface
- Upload your own data set
- Quickly switch between different chart/visualization approaches for a given data set
This is not an exhaustive list; there are no doubt some other Google applications and features you use for marketing (Related Searches, Ngram Viewer, etc). I am sure I have also missed some uses and benefits of the resources included here. Please share your favorites in the comments!