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The evolution of digital analytics and marketing How to unlock the power of your marketing technology

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The evolution of digital analytics and marketing How to unlock the power of your marketing technology

The transformation of how marketers need to approach analytics is underway. It is time to stop thinking about user flow and instead think of a series of events (tasks) that we expect from engaged users.

Long before the first web banner ad appeared (Oct. 27, 1994, in Wired magazine), marketers wanting to help their clients with their marketing efforts embraced the marriage of analytics and marketing. Over time, that marriage has evolved, and the capabilities of analytics tools have as well.

At one time, marketing reports were, “Look at the number of site visitors the campaign generated!” or “See how many page views we were able to get!” These were the common uses of analytics. Eventually, as analytics tools improved, the ability to attribute online sales to specific marketing efforts became possible.

During these 30-plus years, one thing remained constant in marketing’s interpretation of web-based analytics: A campaign drove X visitors to the site. They viewed so many pages, which led to a given number of sales. Essentially, a basic user flow. Each step on the site during the visitor’s journey was seen as fluid and easy to follow.

As marketers, we need to start getting our brains in shape for what is coming with the next generation of analytics tools and techniques. The new generation of analytics tools no longer process user activity recording (log file) but instead store specific events in a database. If you haven’t heard about “Event-Based Analytics,” you will soon hear about it everywhere.

Back in October 2020, Google released Google Analytics 4 (GA4). It was in Beta mode, but any user signing up for Google Analytics was automatically enrolled into GA4. You had to know your way around GA to set up the old Universal Analytics (UA). While GA might be the most popular analytics tool out there, Adobe Analytics has been doing “Event-Based Analytics” for a while, along with several other analytics tools out there.

While the official date by Google forcing everyone to switch over to GA4 hasn’t been announced, rest assured it is coming, and it is time to start thinking about “Event-Based Analytics,” and how it differs from what you are used to and some of the advantages contained within it.

Defining Event-Based Analytics

“Event-based analytics is the method of tracking and analyzing interactions between users and your product, also known as events.”

What does this all mean to marketers? We need to rethink how we present analytics data as part of our marketing reports.

In the past, when we’d talk about a user’s journey, say, “They came from this campaign, landed on this page, visited these pages and made a purchase of $XXX.XX.”

With Event-Based Analytics, we’ll still see which campaigns brought visitors to the site. Following them on which pages they viewed is not as easy, but tracking the individual steps in the checkout process becomes much easier.

With Event-Based Analytics, we get a product view of what transpired more than user flow.

For example, we can create a segment for a specific campaign and see individual steps (think of it as stepping stones, a user can easily jump from one to the other or skip over some of them). In an e-commerce site, we’ll see how many units of each product were added to shopping carts and how many were purchased. You won’t see if they add a product to their shopping cart, then come back later and remove it or decrease the ordered amount. Event-Based Analytics will generate a report that looks something like this:

The evolution of digital analytics and marketing How to unlock

Event-Based Analytics and segmentation

A powerful feature that becomes available with Event-Based Analytics is enhanced segmentation. While order analytics tools offer some level of segmentation, you’ll now have much more flexibility when it comes to defining them. Segmentation will provide you with the ability to separate prospects and customers into specific groups based on how they engage with your product.

Below is an example of how with Event-Based Analytics user engagement by different channels of acquisition can be generated.

1647358672 950 The evolution of digital analytics and marketing How to unlock

With Event-Based Analytics, you’ll most likely not see a bounce rate measurement being reported. Why? Because the simple act of viewing a page is an event. Most analytics tools now record time on page (an event is triggered every X seconds) via timers and not just from the timestamp between page views and they also will track user scroll on a page (engaging). To simplify this, if a user spends X seconds on a page or starts scrolling then they didn’t bounce, but they engaged. We now have to think of “engaged sessions” versus “non-engaged sessions”. A single page view, with no scrolling and spending less than X seconds is a “non-engaged session.”

Read next: What is customer journey analytics?

Using Event-Based Analytics to increase revenue

With an ecommerce website and mobile app, a site visitor (perhaps from a marketing campaign) opens the website and browses a number of items before adding an item to their cart. It could be days later, they log back in on the mobile app and complete the purchase. Now in your analytics platform, the above behaviors or events might look like this: “User Sign Up,” “Search for Items,” “View Item Details,” “Add Item to Cart,” and “Purchase Complete.” On many older analytics tools, you wouldn’t see this connected journey, but would see that a user came from X campaign, added items to the shopping cart, and then stopped. Another user “magically” logged in via the app but bought stuff without even adding them to the shopping cart.

Event-based data can generate questions that lead to product changes and adjustments. After reviewing data from the above example, we could be asking:

  1. The percentage of users that complete the checkout in a single session?
  2. Does conversion differ by item or brand?
  3. If users didn’t convert, where did they do? (abandoned the site, continue to view other information, etc.)
  4. How long does it take (in minutes or days) for conversion?
  5. Do users face a payment error or other issues (events) during the checkout process?
  6. If they didn’t purchase immediately, are they gone forever?

You might be able to answer the above questions with your existing analytics tools, but with event-based analytics it becomes much easier.

Event-Based Analytics and data warehousing

Combining your Event-Based Analytics data with a data warehouse puts your data on steroids. You may have noticed that each event is essentially a data point that can easily be exported to a data warehouse.

Simply by exporting your data, you now have the power to manipulate and process your raw data. Previously, you had to work with the data available within your analytics tool.

For example, with an e-commerce site, you are likely tracking a unique customer ID. This by law is an anonymous ID (no way to link to specific personally identifiable information). Within your database, you can execute a customer lookup and start to see how much specific customers are ordering and when. How about generating a report of customers who left items in their shopping cart for more than 2 weeks? As a marketer, you could then generate incentive based emails, or even have their assigned sales rep give them a call to see what’s up. It is in this power of the combined data in the data warehouse that truly allows event-based analytics to drive up sales.

Reporting is further enhanced and made easier using your data visualization tools when accessing the data warehouse. You no longer need to connect multiple data sources and show individual reports. Connecting your data visualization tool to the data warehouse, allows data to be presented in unified tables and graphs.

If your organization hasn’t already implemented event-based analytics, start making plans to do so. If you’re currently running Google’s Universal Analytics (UA), start preparing for when they announce the date for turning off UA and forcing you to switch to GA4. As a recommendation to all UA users, it is time to start running GA4 in parallel, if for no other reason, to familiarize yourself with it and to start seeing the power that it brings with it.


Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.


About The Author

The evolution of digital analytics and marketing How to unlock

Alan K’necht an independent SEO, social and analytics consultant, a public speaker, award-winning author and a corporate trainer (SEO, social media marketing and digital analytics).


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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

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Why Even Crushing Content Failures Aren’t Mistakes

Did you follow the Apple iPad Pro content debacle?

Here’s a quick recap. A recent online ad for the new iPad Pro showed a large hydraulic press slowly crushing various symbols of creativity. A metronome, a piano, a record player, a video game, paints, books, and other creative tools splinter and smash as the Sonny and Cher song All I Ever Need Is You plays.

The ad’s title? “Crush!”

The point of the commercial — I think — is to show that Apple managed to smush (that’s the technical term) all this heretofore analog creativity into its new, very thin iPad Pro.  

To say the ad received bad reviews is underselling the response. Judgment was swift and unrelenting. The creative world freaked out.

On X, actor Hugh Grant shared Tim Cook’s post featuring the ad and added this comment: “The destruction of the human experience. Courtesy of Silicon Valley.”

When fellow actor Justine Bateman shared the Tim Cook post, she simply wrote, “Truly, what is wrong with you?” Other critiques ranged from tone-challenged to wasteful to many worse things.

Actor Justine Bateman shared Tim Cook’s post on X, which featured the ad, and added this comment: "Truly, what is wrong with you?".

A couple of days later, Apple apologized and canceled plans to air the ad on television.

How not-so-great content ideas come to life

The level of anger surprises me. Look, the ad does show the eyeballs on an emoji-faced squishy ball popping under the plates’ pressure, but still. Calling the ad “actually psychotic” might be a skosh over the top.

Yes, the ad missed the mark. And the company’s subsequent decision to apologize makes sense.

But anyone who’s participated in creating a content misfire knows this truth: Mistakes look much more obvious in hindsight.

On paper, I bet this concept sounded great. The brainstorming meeting probably started with something like this: “We want to show how the iPad Pro metaphorically contains this huge mass of creative tools in a thin and cool package.”

Maybe someone suggested representing that exact thing with CGI (maybe a colorful tornado rising from the screen). Then someone else suggested showing the actual physical objects getting condensed would be more powerful.

Here’s my imagined version of the conversation that might have happened after someone pointed out the popular internet meme of things getting crushed in a hydraulic press.

“People love that!”

“If we add buckets of paint, it will be super colorful and cool.”

“It’ll be a cooler version of that LG ad that ran in 2008.”

“Exactly!”

“It’ll be just like that ad where a bus driver kidnaps and subsequently crushes all the cute little Pokémon characters in a bus!” (Believe it or not, that was actually a thing.)

The resulting commercial suffers from the perfect creative storm: A not-great (copycat) idea at the absolutely wrong time.

None of us know what constraints Apple’s creative team worked under. How much time did they have to come up with a concept? Did they have time to test it with audiences? Maybe crushing physical objects fit into the budget better than CGI. All these factors affect the creative process and options (even at a giant company like Apple).

That’s not an excuse — it’s just reality.

Content failure or content mistake?

Many ad campaigns provoke a “What the hell were they thinking?” response (think Pepsi’s Kendall Jenner ad or those cringy brand tributes that follow celebrity deaths).

Does that mean they’re failures? Or are they mistakes? And what’s the difference?

As I wrote after Peloton’s holiday ad debacle (remember that?), people learn to fear mistakes early on. Most of us hear cautionary messages almost from day one.

Some are necessary and helpful (“Don’t stick a knife in a live toaster” or “Look both ways before you cross the street.”) Some aren’t (“Make that essay perfect” or “Don’t miss that goal.”)

As a result, many people grow up afraid to take risks — and that hampers creativity. The problem arises from conflating failure and mistakes. It helps to know the difference.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1987 to become a rock ‘n’ roll musician. I failed. But it wasn’t a mistake. I wasn’t wrong to try. My attempt just didn’t work.

Labeling a failed attempt a “mistake” feeds the fears that keep people from attempting anything creative.

The conflation of failure and mistakes happens all too often in creative marketing. Sure, people create content pieces (and let’s not forget that there are always people behind those ideas) that genuinely count as mistakes.

They also create content that simply fails.

Don’t let extreme reactions make you fear failures

Here’s the thing about failed content. You can do all the work to research your audience and take the time to develop and polish your ideas — and the content still might fail. The story, the platform, or the format might not resonate, or the audience simply might not care for it. That doesn’t mean it’s a mistake.

Was the Apple ad a mistake? Maybe, but I don’t think so.

Was it a failure? The vitriolic response indicates yes.

Still, the commercial generated an impressive amount of awareness (53 million views of the Tim Cook post on X, per Variety.) And, despite the apology, the company hasn’t taken the ad down from its YouTube page where it’s earned more than 1 million views.

The fictional Captain Jean Luc Picard once said, “It is possible to commit no mistakes and still lose. That is not weakness. That is life.” The Apple ad turns that statement on its head — Apple made many mistakes and still won a tremendous amount of attention.

I’m not suggesting that people shouldn’t criticize creative work. Constructive critiques help us learn from our own and others’ failures. You can even have a good laugh about content fails.

Just acknowledge, as the Roman philosopher Cicero once wrote, “Not every mistake is a foolish one.” 

Creative teams take risks. They try things outside their comfort zone. Sometimes they fail (sometimes spectacularly).

But don’t let others’ expressions of anger over failures inhibit your willingness to try creative things.

Wouldn’t you love to get the whole world talking about the content you create? To get there, you have to risk that level of failure.

And taking that risk isn’t a mistake.

It’s your story. Tell it well.

Subscribe to workday or weekly CMI emails to get Rose-Colored Glasses in your inbox each week. 

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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute 



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The Future of Content Success Is Social

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The Future of Content Success Is Social

Here’s a challenge: search “SEO RFP” on Google. Click on the results, and tell me how similar they are.

We did the same thing every other SEO does: We asked, “What words are thematically relevant?” Which themes have my competitors missed?” How can I put them in?” AND “How can I do everything just slightly better than they can?”

Then they do the same, and it becomes a cycle of beating mediocre content with slightly less mediocre content.

When I looked at our high-ranking content, I felt uncomfortable. Yes, it ranked, but it wasn’t overly helpful compared to everything else that ranked.

Ranking isn’t the job to be done; it is just a proxy.

Why would a high-ranking keyword make me feel uncomfortable? Isn’t that the whole freaking job to be done? Not for me. The job to be done is to help educate people, and ranking is a byproduct of doing that well.

I looked at our own content, and I put myself in the seat of a searcher, not an SEO; I looked at the top four rankings and decided that our content felt easy, almost ChatGPT-ish. It was predictable, it was repeatable, and it lacked hot takes and spicy punches.

So, I removed 80% of the content and replaced it with the 38 questions I would ask if I was hiring an SEO. I’m a 25-year SME, and I know what I would be looking for in these turbulent times. I wanted to write the questions that didn’t exist on anything ranking in the top ten. This was a risk, why? Because, semantically, I was going against what Google was likely expecting to see on this topic. This is when Mike King told me about information gain. Google will give you a boost in ranking signals if you bring it new info. Maybe breaking out of the sea of sameness + some social signals could be a key factor in improving rankings on top of doing the traditional SEO work.

What’s worth more?

Ten visits to my SEO RFP post from people to my content via a private procurement WhatsApp group or LinkedIn group?

One hundred people to the same content from search?

I had to make a call, and I was willing to lose rankings (that were getting low traffic but highly valued traffic) to write something that when people read it, they thought enough about it to share it in emails, groups, etc.

SME as the unlock to standout content?

I literally just asked myself, “Wil, what would you ask yourself if you were hiring an SEO company? Then I riffed for 6—8 hours and had tons of chats with ChatGPT. I was asking ChatGPT to get me thinking differently. Things like, “what would create the most value?” I never constrained myself to “what is the search volume,” I started with the riffs.

If I was going to lose my rankings, I had to socially promote it so people knew it existed. That was an unlock, too, if you go this route. It’s work, you are now going to rely on spikes from social, so having a reason to update it and put it back in social is very important.

Most of my “followers” aren’t looking for SEO services as they are digital marketers themselves. So I didn’t expect this post to take off HUGLEY, but given the content, I was shocked at how well it did and how much engagement it got from real actual people.

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

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7 Things Creators Should Know About Marketing Their Book

Writing a book is a gargantuan task, and reaching the finish line is a feat equal to summiting a mountain.

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