The Need for Speed

This week we’ve been slowly migrating our website over to Amazon Web Services to keep up with our growth. As a lowly marketer with near zero server knowledge I can assure you this was a laborious and frustrating endeavor. Additionally we are also converting our site to SSL, because – well you know – Google. During this change I figured I’d point out a few quick things that we discovered that may help other in the future. Enjoy.

Setting up WordPress on AWS

Amazon succeeded in confusing the, umm, ‘stuff’ out of us. Documentation is really complicated for those of us who think in the philosophical tenses. An amazing young gentleman by the name of Jesse over at WeDoInternet was instrumental in gettin us going. Suffice it to say there are basically two generally easy ways to get WordPress up A) EC2 and B) LightSail. We opted for the slightly more difficult option A, but it provides a bit more customization and flexibility. Where we got stuck, and Jesse helped to unstick us, was upon “Launching” a new EC2 instance you should select “AWS Marketplace” in the left rail and search for “WordPress Bitnami”. Using this is super easy and gets a WordPress instance setup in near minutes. We used the All-in-one WP Migration plugin to port our site over and then, BAM… site moved!

Easy SSL Setup

The last big hurdle we had was getting everything ported over to SSL. We used a combination of Really Simple SSL and Better Search and Replace to get the job done. Really Simple SSL made it easy for us to spot where issues might be and also made it easy to implement the HTTPS redirect. Many of those issues resulted from hardcoded HTTP links and files. And while Really Simple SSL pointed out all of those issues there were a lot of them. Better Search and Replace made it ridiculously simple to run through them all and fix the issues in seconds!

Hope that information is helpful and enjoy reading this post even faster. Why? Well simply switching over to AWS generated about a 1.5 second decrease in page load time… no big deal.

The Chicken vs. Egg Strategy Approach

Not too long ago we were redesigning a website for a large hospital chain client. During the research phase of the project we reviewed the analytics to find that the ‘Locations’ page was nowhere to be found. We further dug into the numbers and saw that site searches for ‘locations’, ‘hours’, and ‘directions’ were quite high. In the qualitative research phase we talked with customer support specialists and determined that ‘locations’ type questions get asked a lot. Needless to say, when we created the user experience there was a ‘Locations’ link front and center!

Chicken Theory

“That’s just the way it’s always been done!”
This is often a tough one to overcome, especially in a large organization. Web analytics can help sway opinions, but you may have to do some digging. We would not have convinced the CEOs about putting such prominence of the ‘Locations’ link had we not dug deeper into the data. UX can, and should, drive user behavior. But bad UX can drive an undesired behavior and could lead you to make incorrect design decisions. Dig into your data and don’t just settle on the quantitative side. If something doesn’t make sense go deeper and collect more data sets. A developer once told me that he approaches things like a 5-year-old… just keep asking “Why?” until you reach a point where an answer emerges.

Egg Theory

“Hey, let’s bolt this feature on!”
Don’t do this! A strategy is a plan, and a failure to plan is a plan to fail. Bolting on feature sets without understanding how it fits within the larger digital strategy can be immensely harmful to user behavior. It can also wreck havoc on your analytics if it isn’t implemented properly nor tagged, as we discussed in our example. When new features are discussed they must be wireframed and discussed, determining how a real life user would actually use the feature. Oh, and obviously the big one… how will we track their behavior with this feature?

So which is it?

Well, it’s a combination of the two. It is important to think through new features and undertand how they fit into your site’s overall architecture and user experience (The Egg). However, it is just as important to learn from past behavior by asking the right questions and letting a mature site give you UX direction (The Chicken).

How to Create Custom Reports & Dashboards

Google Analytics’ standard reports are really great and offer up a wealth of great information. However sometimes this can get overwhelming as you may have to go into multiple reports to get one answer. Both Custom Reports and Dashboards help you overcome this issue by allowing you to combine certain dimensions and metrics together in order to make reporting and analysis easier.

Google Analytics Custom Reports

Custom reporting is really useful for a multitude of reasons, but first and foremost it allows you to see reports for some dimensions that Google Analytics doesn’t report on out of the box. These could be hostname reports (eg: what domains is your GA code firing one), custom dimensions (eg: dimensions you have created in your admin), or to combine out of the box dimensions together (eg: Paid Search Keywords with Time of Day). The second way to look at Custom Reports is from the metrics side of the fence. Google Analytics has standard metrics tables and organize them in the way they want. But what if you want to see Bounce Rate first, then Transaction Revenue second, then Sessions? Custom Reports allow you to organize your columns any which way you want, as well as group your own metrics in any way.

Google Analytics Dashboards

Admittedly the Google Analytics Dashboards aren’t anything to write home about. We here at Bluefin Strategy actually use the Google Analytics API to create our own reports within Google Sheets and then display things the way we want. You may also have more flexibility using Google Data Studio, although that comes with its own limitations. Never the less, if you’re looking for quick and dirty dashboards Google Analytics has you covered. The benefits are that they are easy to create, are retroactive, and you can apply both time comparisons AND advanced segments to them. The latter is the only reason we still use them at all.

From a strategic standpoint use dashboards as the first line of defense. What are the four to five metrics that really matter. What metrics actually affect the conversion on your website and what are the dimensions that matter most. You want your dashboards to be actionable as if they are waving a flag saying “Hey, something is wrong over here”. Don’t clutter them up with useless data points that would not help you make a better conversion decision. If you have more than six dashboard widgets you really need to ask yourself if this is really a “dashboard” or just one big report.

How to Set Up Advanced Segments

When you create a new view filter all of the data starts getting filtered from that day going forward. That’s all well and good, but what about all the data that was gathered before the filter went into place? Well let us introduce you to Google Analytics Advanced Segments.

What are Advanced Segments?

Without overcomplicating things, Advanced Segments allow you to segment or filter data based on a set of rules or filters. You can filter on something as simple as all traffic from Colorado or as complex as only show visitors who viewed page A, B, C but didn’t see D. When you implement the segment it applies to all the reports in Google Analytics, with a few minor exceptions, so you’re able to see how a particular segment navigates your website. Additionally, you can compare up to four segments at once, so you can compare and contrast behavior between different segments.

What to Segment?

There are tons of possibilities of data to segment. Google gives you several segment ideas out of the box, such as Demographics, Technology, Behavior, Traffic Sources, etc. I’m a little old school, so I usually build my own from scratch using “Conditions”. This basically allows you to use AND/OR statements to either Include or Exclude particular traffic. You have access to tons of dimensions and metrics on which you can segment. Additionally you can use “Sequences” to define particular paths or actions that visitors take and filter them out if they don’t follow those paths.

Why use Advanced Segments?

We use segments nearly every day as they allow a retroactive filtering capability to track down issues or to find your most engaged visitors. For instance, we created franchisee advanced segments for a business that had locations all across the country. We used the City dimension and included all of the cities that each franchisee covered. Another example is a school supplies company who offers both hard copy and digital products. We created advanced segments to show us visitors who purchased hard copy vs. digital products to see how they arrived on the site and if they navigated the site differently.

The opportunities for segments is endless (well, within 1,000 or so) so create them to your heart’s content and start going down the rabbit hole to discover your best visitors and optimize their website experience!

How to Set Up Custom Dimensions & Metrics

Back in the day we used to get by with sending specialized user defined variables into Google Analytics. Along with Event Tracking we could really start to paint a pretty granular picture of site behavior and actions. Then came along a new player in town called Custom Variables. This guy allowed us to really take more control over our variables, such as specifying whether it was a page, session or visitor variable. While these variables were great, there were certainly some limitations, especially in the reporting aspect. However with Universal Analytics Google helped solve some of these gaps and brought us to a whole new world of tracking.

What is a Custom Dimension?

Say I have a news site that has multiple content sections. Within those sections I have several different articles. It would be really beneficial to know what site visitors are consuming most of, is it Sports or is it Entertainment? We could create a Custom Dimension for “Section” and fire a ‘hit-level’ custom dimension on each and every page. What about your users? Say I have a log in section where in my CRM I have information about the user, perhaps a “Home Owner” vs. a “Renter”. In this case maybe a fire a a ‘user-level’ custom dimension upon login and therefore I can segment site traffic between those different segments. Google spells out all of the gritty details about custom dimensions here.

What is a Custom Metric?

Without getting too in the weeds (Google explains custom metrics in confusing detail here) I want to paint a few pictures of how you might use a custom metric in the real world. First off a metric is always an integer that can be counted. Whereas a custom dimension is text, custom metrics allow you to start tabulating values. One example might be a real estate site. They could send the home “Asking Price” as a ‘hit-level’ custom dimension and then be able to tabulate the average price of a viewed home (eg: “Asking Price” / “Pageviews”). Or maybe you have a live chat feature and you want to measure the pages where visitors are having to engage with chat more often. You could send a “Live Chat” custom metric at the ‘hit-level’ and be able to view the pages generating the mot live chat engagement. Or better yet, do a calculated metric based on “Pageviews” / “Live Chat” to see the percentage of page viewers who had to engage with chat. Perhaps there’s something on that page requiring attention.

How to set up Custom Dimensions & Metrics?

In the Google Analytics Admin you will want to pop on over to the Property Admin settings and scroll down to “Custom Definitions”. After you click there you have the option to set up both Custom Dimensions and Custom Metrics. Remember to set your strategy first so that you are confident in the scope to use. We like to use a quick spreadsheet that outlines all of our custom definitions along with their scope and a detailed note outlining where/why they are being set.

The examples for custom dimensions and custom metrics go on and on, but our goal here was to provide some strategic guidance into how you might want to set them up. If you’re getting stuck or have any questions feel free to reach out to us!

How to Set Up Event Tracking

Google Analytics’ Event Tracking allows you to easily track user behavior on your website by counting clicks and other actions that visitors do. While we have discussed Event Tracking in the past today we will focus on naming conventions and the strategy for setting them up.

What to Tag With Event Tracking

First off, did you know Google Analytics has a hit limit of 10 million per property per month? For most regular websites this is never an issue, but as you start adding a lot of advanced tagging you may start coming close, so just keep an eye on your usage statistics. That being said, we like to tag just about everything! You never know what you may want to do analysis on so why not track everything you can? Anything that can be clicked that is not an internal link OR is some sort of button or action we want to group together gets an event tag in our book.

How to Name Event Tracking Tags

There are four main naming variables within each event; Category, Action, Label and Value. All are text oriented except for value, this is an integer only. The goal for naming events is to do so in such a way that groups or aggregates them for reporting purposes. For example, “Shopping Cart Buttons” could be the Category for every button within the shopping cart funnel. The Action is often tagged as a “Click”. I despise this strategy because you only have three text fields so why use up one on something as useless as “Click”? In our shopping cart example, maybe Action could be “Continue” or “Add Promo Code”. Obviously this is vastly more helpful than knowing if someone simply clicked a button. Lastly there are Labels. We typically use this variable to track Page Path. We do this so that we can understand what buttons visitors are click8ng on individual pages. Remember that each event group can be viewed individually or together. This means you can look at all Actions that fired on the entire website or just the Actions within a single Category.

Hopefully this helps guide you through your Event Tracking naming conventions, but if you need more help feel free to give us a shout!

How To Set Up Google Analytics Campaign Tracking Variables

We’ve spoken about Google Analytics Campaign Tracking Variables before, but today we want to discuss the strategy behind them. For a quick refresher, Google offers up five open text fields that allow you to specify and describe a link into your website. Remember, ONLY use campaign tracking variables for inbound links to your website and DO NOT use them for internal campaign tracking.

Strategizing Your Campaign Tracking Variables

It is amazingly important to list out your strategy for naming of all five variables. Typically we use a “matrix” of sorts using Google Sheets to make sure we always use the same naming conventions. If you do not use the exact same naming conventions for like variables then they will show up as separate line items. For example, “email”, “Email” and “e-mail” would all show up separately under a Medium report and thus you’d have to add them all together. A matrix allows you to keep track of them all and ensures they will always be properly grouped.

Channel Groupings

Google Analytics already creates a Default Channel Grouping for all your inbound traffic sources. However you may notice that sometimes a Traffic Sources report shows “other”. This is because Google is receiving campaign tracking variables that it does not understand. With the strategy above you’ll also want to make sure that all forms of variables are indeed identified by Google through these channel groupings. You may either just add new rules for any new variables into the Default Channel Groupings or you may add your own group. Keep in mind that you may want to create a group for “Paid” vs. “Non Paid”, or perhaps “Remarketing” vs. “Prospecting”. Google allows for up to 50 different Channel Groupings so filter away to your hearts content.

How To Set Up Google Analytics Accounts, Properties & Views

The setup process is well documented by Google and other websites, so here we will discuss the strategies behind setting these up.


This is the highest level and is the umbrella that houses your Properties and Views. You are limited to 100 Properties within an Account. Very rarely will you need to exceed this limit unless you are an agency or have tons of random domains. Although the latter probably contains SEO issues as well. Our advice is to start with a single Account and read on.


Here is where the strategy begins. Properties are typically used for a single website address. Often marketers will setup a separate Property for sub-domains as well. Our advice is to track all traffic under a single Property utilizing different Views UNLESS:

  • You want to limit login access to different data sets (You cannot do this for Views)
  • Traffic between sub-domains does not happen, so they are independent and visitors do not cross between them


View filters allow some pretty granular targeting so we opt to use different Views when we can. The biggest problem is that Google Analytics restricts you to just 25 Views. To start we always recommend a Raw Data View that is completely unfiltered. This may help diagnose website issues down the line. From there we will discuss how we want to see our data. Here are some questions we typically ask to determine if a View is needed:

  • Do we need to replace URLs to better group webpages?
  • Do we have very specific site sections, such as News or Sports, that we want to easily see separately?
  • Are we focused on a particular traffic source?

Remember that Views are NOT retroactive and often you can utilize Advanced Segments for many of these reports. Typically we only advise different Views if you need to rewrite URLs (your or any other data for that matter). If not, Advanced Segments should do the trick, AND they ARE retroactive!

Marketing Shortcuts are Short-Term: Why CRO Matters

A reliance on marketing shortcuts due to a swell in responsibilities and aggressive goals for marketing teams is helping in the short-term but hurting companies in the long-term.

When a marketing team is challenged with increasing their KPI’s, the majority of marketers often looks at ways to send more traffic through their conversion funnel. The reasons are simple. If we’re off by 10 leads and our funnel converts at 2%, we just need to send 500 more visitors through the funnel.

This same routine typically repeats itself over and over again as more aggressive goals begin to strain the efficiency of your funnel, requiring more and more budget for additional top of funnel visitors.

While this solves the short-term, over the long-term this adds up in terms of budget costs and the inevitable discovery they’ve hit a plateau with “good traffic”.

More often than not, client’s come to us asking us how they can get more “converting” traffic once they’ve hit this plateau and our answer is usually “When is the last time you looked at your conversion funnel?”

Digging into the Conversion Experience

Most marketers dig into the conversion experience only when they realize that their traffic performance is dwindling and they’re in danger of missing their department goals.  The inherent danger of that is that by this point, this quickest fix is throwing more traffic at the problem and the most common way to do that is to pay for it.  You slide just over your monthly/quarterly/annual goal, now with a tighter budget and the problem compounds.  More money spent on throwing users into a broken conversion funnel.

So how do you fix this?

Create a Testing Plan

Trouble with conversion rate optimization is that most marketer’s don’t know where to start.  Traffic is the easiest so we always start there but we forget that the biggest reason users don’t convert is because we didn’t let them. The landing page didn’t load on mobile.  The email didn’t tell them where to go if they’re interested.  The sign-up form asked them questions they didn’t think were relevant for your offer. Sales didn’t call them back for a week and your competitor called them back the same day.

The list goes on.  Truth is, start somewhere.  The below infographic from KISSmetrics is a great starting point.

Online Testing Essentials: An infographic on what online marketing activities to test.
Source: Online Testing Essentials: An infographic on what online marketing activities to test.

How to Set Up Google Analytics

Over the last few weeks we have encountered several businesses that either do not have web analytics of any kind or they have analytics implemented but not well. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart as a data geek but also as a marketer in general. How is it possible to know what is working and what is not when you don’t have proper tracking in place? So in the interest of making everyone smarter and better at tracking we have decided to do a six-part blog series that covers everything you will need to develop a strategy for setting up Google Analytics from start to finish. There are a million blog posts out there about the tactics of setup, but with this series we are trying to explain the how’s and why’s so you can develop a killer analytics strategy to get the actionable data you need!

How to Set Up Google Analytics