Data anomalies in Search Console

In the past 5-6 years or so, a lot of online businesses, especially the ones who are hungry for growth have relied on organic traffic as one of their key sources. Now growth could mean an increase in pure numbers (traffic, sessions, users) … or it could mean an increase in more tangible business parameters (revenues, profits). One of the things that I have learnt is that depending on which success metrics we chase, our own identity undergoes a shift.

Search as a major source of traffic

The major contributors to organic traffic are search and social. Wherever there is a site which has great and unique content by the loads, there is a chance for driving organic traffic.

At different points in time, I have been skeptical about Social Media and me-too posting that most brand pages do on platforms such as Facebook. However, Search for me has always been fascinating and I still have faith in Search :).

SEO can’t be a method

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) has evolved over a period of time and I have blogged about it on multiple occasions. Unfortunately, the number of times the algorithm changes and the rate of evolution of what Google (the market leader in this space) construes as quality content ensures that you can’t have a steady SEO “process”.

Having said that, SEO involves a fair amount of design thinking.

The reason behind this statement is because the problem behind search visibility (and the factors that control that) keep changing. It’s a wicked problem. Design thinking can solve such kind of problems because of its test and iterate mechanism.

Data to drive Design Thinking

This is where having the correct data to decide on next steps is crucial. Having a data driven design thinking approach would entail that there are periodical reviews of what kind of data we have available to make the right choices.

Search data has always been plagued with incomplete information. Starting from the 2011 encrypted search announcement, where a bulk of the data in Google Analytics was being reported as (not set). There have been ample approaches to clarify this data, unfortunately, as Google Search goes more towards handhelds and as digital privacy increases, the percentage of data where there is clear visibility will keep going down.

This can’t be helped. What can be done is take these “anomalies” into account and factor those in while doing your analysis.

So what kind of Data anomalies in Search Console do we expect to find?

Google Support has compiled this list. They keep updating their data reporting logic and keep updating this page as well.

One of the major changes that you can see is that last month, they started reporting more data in Google Webmaster Tools. Please bear in mind that this is just a change in the data that is being reported and not the actual search traffic that is on your site.

The link also explains why there is data disparity between Google Analytics and Google Webmaster Tools and any other third party tool that you could be using to generate keyword data.

So, my data is incomplete, what to do?

Don’t panic.

Work with the list of data anomalies and identify which ones are impacting you the most. Having visibility on which parts of data are not available to you is also better than not knowing anything and assuming that the data you have is complete.

In iterations, the first comparison is always your previous state. In both cases the data being made available to you is pretty much the same. Hence, a week on week comparison report is much more valuable as opposed to a comparison report with your closest competitor.

As long as the measures of success is on the same tool, the data anomaly should be cancelled out. Please bear in mind that for most of our data work, we do not need precise data but can work with coarse data.

A simple approach to identify this would be – if you work with charts and graphs more, then you can work with coarse data and absorb the anomalies. If you work with more than 4 decimals, then you might want to add 3-4 lines of disclaimer below your data.

Importance of Context in Analyzing data

Recently, I was analyzing some user generated data in a mobile app. The app was sending content on specific categories to a niche audience, and at the end of each content piece, there was a simple 5 star rating feedback for users to rate the piece.

The assumption that the design team who thought of this was that the feedback data was an objective metric.

Objective metric for Subjective behavior

Unfortunately, the behavior of users and how they understood the content piece is a very subjective topic. By subjective, I mean to say that for two different users, the value they would associate to the usefulness of the same piece varies.

We could always say ceterus paribus, but I would say – “Let’s not fool ourselves here”.

In the world of subjectivity, ceterus paribus doesn’t exist

There could be so many factors that are associated to my giving a 5/5 to a piece v/s 4/5 to the same piece, that in the end, I’d be forced to say it depends, and then list out of a whole new set of variables.

Slicing the Data with new variables

This is a problem. Since, my existing data set does not have these new variable. So, from analyzing – now I am back to collecting data. To be frank, there’s no end to this cycle … collect data, realize that you might want more data and rinse, repeat.

Where do we divine the new rules and new variables? We start from the context.

Ergo, the simple and freeing approach of the answer to the questions we were looking for in the data, sometimes lies partially in the data points, and partially in the context.

Let me illustrate this

Let’s take a fairly popular metric – Bounce rate.

Now, if I were to say that my website’s bounce rate is 100%, what would you say?

Sucks, right??

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Now, if I were to tell you that my website is a single page website where I want my users to watch a product launch video. That bounce rate suddenly pales and aren’t you itching to ask me about the number of users who played the video upto a certain point?

If you have been working with Google Analytics, then some of you might even suggest that adding a non-interaction event in GA when the play button is hit.

One more example

Let’s take one more metric. Pages/Session to measure how much content the user is consuming on a site.

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Let’s see this in a different spiel. A user is on your site, searching for content and is not able to find what he wants, and keeps visiting different pages. After going through 8-9 pages, he finally gives up and leaves the site. That 8.5 as pages/session now doesn’t seem that sexy now does it?

 

Understand the context

Therefore staring at a pure data puke may not help. Understanding the context under which that data was collected is as important as going through excel sheets or powerpoint presentations.

TL;DR – Data without context is open to too many interpretations and is a waste of time.

Using Data Studio to create beautiful Reports

In the month of November 2016, Data Studio was made available for all users in India. The product was launched quite some time back, however, it was only accessible in the US and for premium Google Analytics 360 users.

However, as of today, anyone can use Google Data Studio to create dazzling reports that can be shared with teams and clients.

So how does one go about creating awesome reports?

That’s where Data Studio shines, it allows users to create one template which can be utilized across multiple data sources. I tried to create a quick report using one of the default templates provided, here’s a step by step guide on using Data Studio to create reports.

An update: As of 2nd Feb 2017, Data Studio has been declared a free product for everyone to use.

Adding a Data Source

First, we need to add our data source (in this case my site’s Google Analytics account) to the Data Studio.

Choose the Data Source menu from the Dashboard
Choose the Data Source menu from the Dashboard

Once you click on the menu, you would be directed to a screen listing all the data sources that you have added to your account.

Note, by default Google keeps some data sources in your account, so that one can practice on the product before moving on to your own data sources.

List of Data Sources
List of Data Sources

As all Google products, you can see the clear use of Material Design in this interface. Use the blue floating action button at the bottom right of your screen to add your own custom data source.

Connecting GA as Data Source
Connecting GA as Data Source

As the screenshot above shows, that most of the Google products can easily be integrated to this product. What’s more you can even use a MySQL database or a Google Spreadsheet (Excel ahoy!).

So, I could do most of my number crunching in existing styles, and use this tool only as a slick presentation layer.

After I press connect, this GA property of my site is now added to Data Studio as a source of data.

The minute you choose the right property, you would see all the dimensions and metrics that Google Analytics has. This is a pretty exhaustive list and you can import most of these into Data Studio.

GA Fields Imported as Dimensions and Metrics
GA Fields Imported as Dimensions and Metrics

Now that the important fields are linked (do check the respective fields you want to pull), we can go on to using a report template.

List of my Data Sources
List of my Data Sources

The screenshot shows the recently added data source. Great! We are all set to creating awesome reports!

Using Report Templates

We would be using the Acme Marketing template that’s there in the account. It broadly shows basic user level data in one simple report.

Keep in mind that Data Studio reports can span across multiple pages, but for this guide we are sticking to a one-pager.

Go back to your dashboard and choose the Acme Report template.

Acme Data Studio Template
Acme Data Studio Template

Click on the Use Template button, and now this is the most important point when it comes to using Data Studio report templates, choose your own data source.

Selecting the right Data Source
Selecting the right Data Source

Something for beginners to keep in mind again, is that if you choose the wrong data source (for e.g. of the default ones provided), then the report would be generated, however the data won’t be yours!

If in case, you have done this, it’s easy to change the data source after you have created the report.

Let’s move on to customizing the report

 

Customizing the Report
Customizing the Report

What I did was choose the Acme logo, and change it to the Big Fat Geek logo! A small change in the header color, and I have a branded look for the template.

This is what the finished report now looks like –

Finished Report
Finished Report

Using Data Studio

The cool part of Data Studio now shines through. What I have is a report which talks to data in real time. So I can change my data range, and my report updates!

This report can now be shared with my team or my reporting manager or clients without worrying about giving access to all the dimensions and metrics.

Data Studio Working Report
Data Studio Working Report

That’s all for today folks! It’s your turn to go and try out this tool and churn out spectacular looking reports.

Food for Thought

The Slow Winter

A hilarious take on Moore’s Law. If you have studied hardware and transistors, then definitely read through this article. Do note, that it’s a PDF document. What is Moore’s Law? … well

Moore’s law is the observation that, over the history of computing hardware, the number of transistors on integrated circuits doubles approximately every two years.

5 Dos and Don’ts of International SEO – Whiteboard Friday

I had earlier written about Moz’s Aleyda and her checklist for International SEO. Last week Moz had a Whiteboard Friday with Aleyda running us through that Checklist. For people wishing to target other geographies where they do not have any presence, this is a must see video.

Six Visual Solutions To Complex Digital Marketing/Analytics Challenges

Avinash Kaushik gives simple and clear answers to most challenges that digital marketers. The explanation uses Venn Diagrams to make strong points. If you are a HiPPo (Highly Paid Person with an Opinion), then do take some time from your busy schedule and go through this. If your organization is not actively working on any analytics initiatives, then it is high time that you should start!

Sexy Up Your Marketing Data

Annie Cushing shares her presentation from SMX East and drives a point home. For marketers to make sense to the top management, data visualization is crucial. People prefer looking at great looking data instead of just a series of numbers.

Visual.ly now supports Google Analytics data

Visualy Google Analytics

I love infographics. The way they break out data into beautiful little pictures and help you understand their impact is excellent. However, it can take a fair bit of efforts to create an infographic … believe me, I have tried and used multiple tools to do this. If you are thinking of doing those from the ground up, then you are faced with challenges such as choosing the colours, typography and which data to show in what manner.

If you are design impaired like me, then this steep learning curve is bound to turn you off.

This is where visual.ly really shines through. It provides you with templates for creating infographics. Templates which have been tried and tested and make your job of creating an infographic easy. What’s awesome is that they keep releasing kickass integrations such as this one, where in you simply have to give access to your Google Analytics data and it will create a weekly infographic such as the one above.

If you are a data nerd, then you may not appreciate the findings of this report, but then you should be able to relate to some of these important points. As a webmaster and a data nerd, I am happy that the organic search results have dropped … since now I am slowly looking at other sources of traffic. This drop in organic traffic has come due to a decent rise in social traffic and that makes me a happy webmaster.

You can create your own infographic here.