Hello and welcome to the April edition of Online Advertising Answers – a monthly look at three questions I’ve been sent about digital marketing.
This month I discuss the pain point of the moment – GA4 and whether or not to switch. I also give advice on measuring SEO performance using CPC stats and whether can trust recommendations in Google Ads (Spoiler: not really).
Keep asking questions, and I’ll keep sharing them!
Let’s dig in.
This month’s questions are:
- Should I use GA4?
- Can you see a CPC for SEO reporting?
- How much can you trust recommendations in Google Ads?
[Click these links to skip down to the question]
Q: “Should I use GA4?“
“I heard that we’re being forced to switch over to it, but that it’s very different and they’re deleting all our old data. Is it time to switch or should I stick with Google Analytics?”
A: “Hi Emma,
I am personally a huge fan of the current GA… and hate GA4. The new version of Google Analytics is very difficult to use and very difficult to set up. It’s like they’ve started again from scratch – but not in a good way.
However, it’s not really as simple as just ‘upgrading’ (for want of a better word) to GA4 or switching to another platform – because there simply isn’t another platform that is as good as the current GA.
To be clear, it’s not just me who dislikes the new version of Google Analytics. You can look at the comments on their announcement of the switch to see how people feel. Here it is on Twitter:
Two and a half years ago, we introduced Google Analytics 4 to address evolving measurement standards and help businesses succeed. Today, we’re announcing that we’ll begin sunsetting Universal Analytics next year.
— Google Analytics (@googleanalytics) March 16, 2022
and here it is on LinkedIn:
Weirdly they don’t have such a presence on Facebook. You can do your own sentiment analysis on the comments to see what the consensus is (Spoiler: it’s overwhelmingly negative).
I personally don’t think the switch is about Google upgrading or updating their product, but instead for a range of reasons that I wrote about in this thread:
My best guesses on why Google are forcing GA4 on us:
– There is a ridiculous amount of personal information hidden in historical UA data (often collected accidentally), and it’s all on Google’s servers. Best delete it.
– It’ll save money to delete all that data.
— Justin Driskill (@JD_256) March 20, 2022
So if everyone hates it, and it’s not really an upgrade should you still use GA4?
The answer, for now, is (sadly) probably that you should. You can run it side-by-side with your current version of Google Analytics without much trouble – and of course it is free. The setup complexity is annoying, but if you do it now then at least you won’t be left with nothing when they switch off the current Google Analytics.
To help with the switch, Google has a Skillshop course that you should take when you have the time. Be warned though: setting up conversions is oddly very difficult.
Once you are setup on GA4 you should then take a look at some alternatives. I’ve been recommended Matomo by many people and will be looking into it. With Matomo you don’t need cookie permissions so you will get 100% of your data, and there is a GA data importer which might be vital. I have been however told that it is a bit unwieldy itself to use, so even switching to that will require some upskilling.
The best recommendation I have received is to run Matomo side-by-side with GA4. That way you can get better analytics (from Matomo) in the short run at least – and in the long run, if GA4 improves then you’ll have historical data for that too.
Everyone is in the same boat at the moment so I suspect a consensus on a good plan will emerge soon enough. Hopefully, it will just be a massive improvement to GA4, but I’m not holding my breath.
[This question came in via email]
Q: “Can you see a CPC for SEO reporting?“
A: “No you can’t directly see a CPC for SEO reporting as they are two different types of marketing.
CPC stands for cost per click, and you don’t pay for clicks in SEO.
However, many people use their CPC from Paid Search to estimate the value of their Organic Search traffic. If you want to find the CPC for keywords you can use a tool like Keywords Everywhere (it’s a Chrome extension). Otherwise, you can use the Keyword Planner in Google Ads.
I personally prefer to use the CPC for my own search ads though as then you’re getting the amount YOU would have to pay for these clicks. This makes it a much more useful measure as it takes into account your brand etc.
This still isn’t an exact science though as Paid Search and Organic Search don’t work exactly the same. It is, however, more or less the only reasonable way to estimate the base value of the traffic your SEO is driving.
When I measure the value of SEO I go one step further and add the revenue made from the clicks to work out the real value of organic search clicks – so then you’re capturing the value of the traffic AND the revenue made.
So this would be:
(Organic Search Clicks x Paid Search CPC) + Revenue
I made a calculator to help with this (you can use it here). As SEO isn’t about improving results and not just a one-off event, I find it helpful to track this over time.
My process is :
- Work out the “SEO Value” of page or keyword
- Record it on a spreadsheet with the date
- Do some optimising as appropriate
- Check again 3 months and 6 months later and record it again
- If the trend is that it’s improving, then great! If it’s flat or getting worse, I optimise again.“
Q: “How much can you trust recommendations in Google Ads?”
A: “I don’t think that you can trust recommendations in Google Ads very much at all to be honest. Google is thinking about Google when they recommend things to you, and its algorithms aren’t thinking about anything as they’re not people. It’s not a good system to help out individual ad accounts.
When the recommendations tab first came in it seemed to be full of useful things. Now however… not so much. Perhaps if your account is new, or you are new to Google Ads it will still provide you with a lot of value.
But if you’ve been running your ads for a while and know what you’re doing, it’s more or less trying to get you to fit a square peg into a round hole.
What I mean by this is that every business is different, and so there are nuances that work for your Google Ad account that may not work as well for others.
Perhaps you’ve written a really great very short ad. Perhaps sitelink extensions never work out for you. Perhaps you know that using your brand name is a big no-no. Whatever. You can run ads, look at results and make your account all that it can be. This works for most advertisers… but it doesn’t work for Google.
This is because recommendations aren’t about your specific account. They are looking at ad accounts on a massive scale from the point of view of “How can this make us (Google) more money?”. And you have to remember that more clicks on ads means more money for Google, so they’ll tell you things that they know work… in general.
Google: "Trust us! Our ML is great. No need to see search queries"
Also google: "These are good matches for a brand that has "b" in the brand name" pic.twitter.com/WzySwQo6FS
— Collin Slattery (@CJSlattery) March 3, 2022
Google will see things like accounts that have longer ad text work better in general – so they try to get everyone to write longer ads. They will see that sitelinks work in general so they try to get everyone to use more sitelinks.
But they’ll also tell you things which are much more about them than you. For example, they’ll be able to see things like the fact that most accounts have multiple versions of the same keyword running.
This may or not be a problem on an individual account, but taken as a whole across all accounts it is a problem… for Google. It costs them in computing power, which isn’t free. So getting everyone to simplify their accounts may help performance for some advertisers, but it definitely helps Google.
This is why I don’t trust recommendations in Google Ads. They have recommended to me things such as “Removing Conflicting Keywords” – but the ones they want me to remove are my best performers. They’ve suggested endless terrible ad variations in Responsive Ads.
And they always suggest adding every ad extension that I can, even when they are not at all relevant or useful to my account.
As I said to start – if you are new to Google Ads, or even if you’re just starting a new account then Google Ads recommendations could be helpful. I do personally look at them sometimes to check if there are any good ideas.
But most of the time I would ignore the majority of them. If you do take their recommendations, always do your own testing to see if they work for you.“
See you next month,