One of the earliest post suggestions I received for the Kairos blog was to write a “self-assessment” guide for marketers and small business owners who might be looking to identify any gaps in their current digital marketing efforts.
I’ve been mulling the idea over for a while now, but I’ve been hesitant to approach the subject until now. Not because it’s a bad idea, mind – I think it could be tremendously valuable for not only you (the audience), but also for me (the consultant). For me, it’d be a marketing tool; for you, it’d be a helpful resource.
No, the reason that I haven’t gotten around to writing a “digital marketing audit” guide until now is that frankly, I didn’t know how to do it.
To be sure, I knew all of the ways I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want it to be filled with “benchmark” and “industry average” stats that I cherry-picked from whichever source helped me to paint the rosiest picture. I also knew that I didn’t want it to boil down to a pitch for you to hand over your email address to “download the whitepaper” or “contact us today for your FREE audit”.
What I wanted was to write a guide that offers genuine value to a range of marketers, regardless of their organization’s size, industry, or expertise.
And therein lies the challenge: because every business and organization is unique, there are no “one-size-fits-all” solutions for their digital marketing needs. Identifying the “gaps” or deficiencies in an organization’s online marketing often requires some fairly esoteric skills – especially when trying to decide which areas should be focussed on first, in order to drive the greatest results and impact.
For a while, that’s where I was stuck. It wasn’t until recently, while looking for new leads and potential clients, that I realized that many of my own methods of sales prospecting could be restated and repurposed as a “self-assessment” guide for those same prospective clients.
Now that I’m actually typing it, the idea sounds pretty obvious – I’m a bit embarrassed that I didn’t get there sooner. If I had to guess, I’d say it probably took me this long because A: marketing agencies/consultants tend not to openly discuss their own sales processes, and B: I don’t know that many consultants or agency sales reps who prospect for clients in a way similar to mine.
Personally, I have neither the resources nor the bandwidth to commit to full-time sales prospecting, so I don’t really mind the idea of “outsourcing” that task a bit by sharing some of the details with you. I’m also not especially concerned about revealing this info to any competitors, as my current process is somewhat tailored to my own service offerings.
It’s not like there’s any lack of opportunity out there, either – using the methods I’ll describe here, I’ve already identified more opportunities for improvement by/for local organizations when it comes to their online marketing than I’d be capable of handling myself in an entire year. There’s plenty of work needs doing out there.
Plus, I tend to think that I’m really good at this stuff.
“We’re Not So Different, You And I...”
Running my own digital marketing consultancy, I face three main challenges when prospecting for potential new clients.
The first challenge is to understand (in broad strokes) a prospect’s current marketing challenges, in order to determine which of my service offerings will be most likely to resonate with them. I’m a big believer in “solution selling” in general, but when it comes to delivering on client expectations for a digital marketing project, it’s practically essential for any sort of long-term success. So, if I’m going to make the effort to reach out to a potential new client, I want to already have some idea of the value I can offer – to them, specifically – before I ever pick up that phone or send that email.
The second challenge is one of access. Without having some established business relationship with a prospect (the kind where they’d be willing to provide direct access to their internal marketing data), my sales research is basically restricted to “customer-facing” assets alone – in other words, the same information that anybody in the general public can access.
The third challenge I face is one of efficiency. When I’m conducting prospect research, I need to quickly (and consistently) gather information and insights about an organization’s online marketing practices, and those details should prove valuable to later stages of my sales process. Try to recall the last time that you visited a tailor or stylist who was able to look you over, eyeball your measurements, and bring you something that looks just great on you, first try. That’s more or less what I’m going for here.
(Incidentally, this is going to be a fairly lengthy guide, but in practice I can usually perform my preliminary audit as described here in somewhere between one and five minutes.)
As I said in the intro, the “eureka moment” for me came once I realized that these same challenges I face while prospecting largely mirror the challenges faced by other business owners (and marketers) when evaluating their own marketing efforts online.
We’re both trying to identify current business challenges and come up with potential solutions, both of us often have to work with limited information, and we’re both trying to make our assessments as quickly and efficiently as possible.
So, since we’re both starting from the same place, allow me to share a few tips that I’ve picked up along the way. I’ve been down this road a couple times myself.
Let’s Go Over The Basics
The first place I’ll look when conducting sales research on a new prospect is – naturally – their website. A website is usually the most direct point-of-contact between marketers and their audience online, and it’s generally where most key online interactions take place (ecommerce transactions, contact form submissions, email list signups, whitepaper downloads, and so on).
Users will typically access a web page via a “web browser”, which requests the resources located at a specified “web address”, and then renders/presents this content for the user. A web browser can be a standalone application (such as Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, or Apple’s “Safari” browser), or an extended functionality (as is the case for various “in-app” web browsers, like the ones included in the mobile apps for Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn).
Beyond simply fetching and displaying content from the Web, every modern standalone browser (on desktop, at least) also features a built-in suite of web development tools, to aid developers in testing and debugging their web projects. Most browsers even use the same keyboard shortcuts to open developer tools, which is honestly pretty thoughtful of them.
Popping The Hood On Your Website
Now, you might not be a web developer – I’m sure as Hell not – but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn something through using these web development tools. Nobody’s gonna yell at you for taking a look around back there (I promise).
If you’ve never opened developer tools in your browser before, the interface can be pretty overwhelming at first. Don’t panic. When it comes to performing a digital marketing audit on your own website, practically all of the information you’ll need can be found in just one place.
Specifically, we want to be able to look at all of the network requests being made as the web browser loads your page. In Google Chrome (my preferred browser when prospecting), these requests are listed under the “Network” panel. I won’t go into detail about how to access network request logs in every browser’s development tools suite, but they all present this data in a fairly similar way.
Chrome’s development tools also feature a “Sources” panel, which lists all of the resources successfully loaded by a web page, grouped together by HTML frame and origin domain. As a quick visual example, here’s what the “Sources” tab looks like in Chrome for my website’s homepage before a visitor consents to the use of tracking cookies:
… And here’s what the “Sources” tab looks like after cookie consent:
Note how after a user consents to my site’s use of tracking cookies, a number of new origin domains appear in the Sources panel, which I’ve highlighted in red above. These are the origins domains for my website’s various marketing “tags”, many of which I’ll be discussing below. These resources can be inspected by drilling down into the origin domain of each.
When I’m prospecting, I tend to start in the “Sources” panel first, and then dig into the “Network” panel if/when I need more specific details about those resources. That being said, again, it’s entirely possible to find all of the information you’ll need to conduct this digital marketing audit through network request logs alone.
In digital marketing jargon, a “tag” refers to a small snippet of code which allows third-party software to be integrated into your website. These code snippets have gone by a lot of different names over the years – web beacons, tracking pixels, web bugs – but “tag” has become an accepted, generic term in the industry.
If you’ve spent any time working in online marketing, you’ve probably worked with a number of different tags already. When it comes to conducting a digital marketing audit, one of the benefits of our industry’s reliance on third-party tags is that they’ll always show up in a web page’s network requests in a fairly consistent manner, loading from the same origin domains and using the same filenames.
By looking at the resources requested by a web page as it loads, we’re able to identify which marketing tags are being “fired” on that page, and even gather some understanding of the data being sent by/to these third-party marketing tools.
All Set? Let’s Get Auditing!
Now that we know what we’re looking for and where we’ll need to look, we’re ready to begin our digital marketing audit!
In the following sections, I’ll be discussing some of the more common tags that I look for while prospecting, and what each tag can tell me about an organization’s digital marketing practices. I’ve grouped similar tags under generic headings, based on their intended purpose and function.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but by looking into the marketing tags included below, I can usually gather enough information about a prospect’s business to form a compelling value proposition for my own digital marketing services.
Tag Management Systems
Tag Management Systems (or “container tags”) allow digital marketers to simplify the process of implementing, managing, maintaining and removing tags from their website. Container tags also provide marketers with a greater degree of control over how and when these third-party tags are fired, which data these tags are permitted to access, and offer other “governance” benefits such as version control.
Google Tag Manager (gtm.js)
What gtm.js Is
First released in 2012, Google Tag Manager held one immediate advantage over the dozen-or-so other container tags already on the market: it was free. As a result, GTM saw rapid and widespread adoption by digital marketers, and that user community has proven essential in guiding product updates, as well as in developing resources and support documentation for those who might be new to the product (or tag management in general).
According to BuiltWith, Google Tag Manager is now been installed on roughly half of the top 100,000 most-popular websites (at time of writing). Plus (fun fact!), it basically prevented Europe’s entire online economy from collapsing back in 2018, as many websites rely on GTM to implement the business logic required for GDPR compliance.
What gtm.js Tells Me About Your Website
- If gtm.js isn’t installed on-site, odds are good that all marketing tags have been hard-coded onto the web page. If there are a number of tags firing on the page, there’s likely be some “technical debt” to address in the website’s tagging structure.
- If gtm.js has been installed, additional investigation is required to understand how Google Tag Manager has been implemented on the website, which tags are being fired via GTM, etc.
Other Things To Watch For With Tag Management Systems
- Alternative, less common tag management systems installed on the page (Tealium, Adobe TagManager, Ensighten, etc.).
- I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen any tag management systems besides GTM in the wild, but hey, you never know.
- Tag Management System has been installed, but marketing tags are still “hard-coded” onto the web page.
- I’ll often find websites with hard-coded tags for both Google Tag Manager and Google Analytics, which earns a tsk-tsk and a weary head-shake from me.
There’s a common maxim in business: “that which is measured, improves.” While the origin of the phrase is often disputed, there’s no denying its impact on modern business practices and organizational decision-making.
In order to collect data on their website’s performance (and its impact on their overall marketing efforts), organizations typically rely on one of several third-party web analytics providers – Google Analytics being the most popular by far.
Google Analytics “Classic Analytics” (ga.js)
What ga.js Is
One noteworthy example of this is the official website of the Progressive Conservative Party of Manitoba. At time of writing, the PCs serve as Manitoba’s official Government, and still rely on the ga.js library to measure visitor interactions with their official party website.
What ga.js Tells Me About Your Website
- No one has given any serious attention to your web analytics in at least five years. We should talk.
- Your organization isn’t capable of gathering gender, age cohort, or interest-based data about its visitors via Google Analytics.
- Your organization isn’t capable of building audience lists for retargeting/remarketing purposes via Google Analytics.
- Your organization isn’t capable of associating individual visitors with a unique, persistent User-ID via Google Analytics.
- Your organization isn’t capable of implementing Enhanced Ecommerce tracking via Google Analytics.
- Your organization isn’t capable of sending/linking data from other web-connected systems (CRM systems, point-of-sale systems, smart devices, etc.) to your website’s Google Analytics via the Measurement Protocol.
Google Analytics “Universal Analytics” (analytics.js)
What analytics.js Is
Released in 2013, analytics.js introduced a raft of new features and functionality to Google Analytics, and is generally considered to be superior in every conceivable way to its predecessor.
Today, Universal Analytics is the operating standard for all reporting in Google Analytics properties, and Google has been urging users to update their Google Analytics tracking code for more than half a decade, in order to take advantage of Universal Analytics’ range of features.
What analytics.js Tells Me About Your Website
- Your organization is capable of doing all the things I listed as limitations of the ga.js library.
- Additional research is required to understand how Universal Analytics has been implemented on your website, which features you’re taking advantage of, and how.
Google Analytics “Global Site Tag” (gtag.js)
What gtag.js Is
Arriving to incredibly little fanfare in 2017, the “Global Site Tag” is the most recent update to Google Analytics’ “default” tracking library. It isn’t really an update of Universal Analytics, though – the gtag.js library simply requests and loads the analytics.js library. However, it does allow for easier integration and data-sharing between Google’s various website and conversion measurement products (Google Analytics, Google Ads, Google Optimize, Display & Video 360, Search Ads 360, Campaign Manager).
Personally, I suspect that Google moved to make gtag.js the default as a way of dealing with some of their own business challenges, owing to the European Union’s adoption of GDPR in April 2016, and Apple’s introduction of Intelligent Tracking Prevention to WebKit/Safari/iOS in June 2017.
What gtag.js Tells Me About Your Website
- Your Google Analytics tracking code has been updated fairly recently, indicating that either it’s a fairly new website, or that your business has made updates to its web analytics configuration fairly recently.
- Google Analytics has been “hard-coded” onto your website, rather than having been implemented via Google Tag Manager.
- Additional investigation is required to understand how Universal Analytics has been implemented on the website, which features are being taken advantage of, and how.
Google Analytics “Enhanced Ecommerce” tracking (ec.js)
What ec.js Is
ec.js is a supplemental library (or “plugin”) which is loaded by Google Analytics whenever Enhanced Ecommerce tracking has been enabled.
One of the main issues with “standard” ecommerce tracking in Google Analytics is that it only records transactions once they’ve been completed – that is, after a visitor has successfully completed the entire checkout process. This information is helpful if you’re trying to understand which products are your top-sellers online, or what the average order value for online purchases might be.
What standard ecommerce tracking doesn’t tell you about is the process which led to those transactions: the number of visitors actually shopping on an ecommerce site, which products or website content those shoppers are engaging with, or how far along an online shopper might get before deciding to abandon the purchase process. This kind of insight into user behaviours is absolutely vital to improving the performance of an ecommerce storefront, and that’s where Enhanced Ecommerce tracking comes in.
What ec.js Tells Me About Your Website
- If ec.js isn’t loaded, Enhanced Ecommerce tracking has not been implemented on your website. This is especially concerning for any pages which act as an online storefront;
- If ec.js is loaded, Enhanced Ecommerce tracking may be implemented on your site, or it may simply have been enabled. Additional investigation is required to confirm that Enhanced Ecommerce data is actually being sent to Google Analytics, and that Enhanced Ecommerce reports are populating properly.
Other Things To Watch For With Website Analytics
- Multiple Google Analytics libraries firing on the same page.
- There are valid reasons for seeing multiple GA tags firing on a webpage, but typically it’s a sign of dead code and/or sloppy implementations.
- Alternative, less common web analytics services (Adobe Analytics, Matomo, etc.).
- No web analytics libraries whatsoever installed/loaded on the website (because hey, who needs facts right?).
Social Media Analytics Integrations
Of course, websites aren’t the only significant online channel in most business’ overall marketing strategy. Social media platforms have become increasingly important to online marketers due to their massive user bases, access to first-party data for audience targeting, and their ability to facilitate one-to-one interactions between audiences and brands.
Facebook Pixel (fbevents.js)
What fbevents.js Is
The Facebook Pixel collects data on the behaviour of your website’s visitors, similarly to the Google Analytics tracking libraries discussed in the previous section. Rather than sending this data to Google, however, the Pixel sends this data to Facebook for use by its online platforms. This additional data allows marketers to execute far more effective advertising campaigns via Facebook’s platforms (including Instagram), by connecting the dots between ad impressions/interactions on those platforms with user engagement and conversions taking place on your website.
As a basic example, let’s say that you wanted to stop spending money on delivering ads to Instagram users after they’ve made an online purchase, or filled out a contact form on your site. Alternatively, let’s say that you wanted to keep delivering ads to those users, but you want to change the ad creative they see after “converting” in order to highlight some of your other offers or services. Without the Pixel installed, Facebook has no way of knowing if (or when) these conversion events occur on your site, and therefore has no way of adjusting the delivery of your ad campaigns.
What fbevents.js Tells Me About Your Website
- If fbevents.js isn’t loaded, Facebook Pixel has not been installed on your website. If your organization advertises on Facebook or Instagram, these campaigns probably aren’t being optimized based on website visitor behaviour.
- If fbevents.js is loading, the Pixel has been installed. Additional research is required to determine which on-page events the Facebook Pixel is listening for, and other details of its configuration.
Twitter Universal Website Tag (uwt.js)
What uwt.js Is
Similar to the Facebook Pixel, this tag allows Twitter to collect data on user interactions with your website, for use in optimizing Twitter Ads campaigns. Granted, I don’t know that many businesses who actually run paid ads on Twitter, but if your organization has a Twitter profile as part of its online presence, it couldn’t hurt to get this tag set up as well.
What uwt.js Tells Me About Your Website
- If uwt.js isn’t loaded, the Twitter Universal Website Tag hasn’t been installed on your website.
- It’s possible that your website relies on “single-event” website tags to pass conversion data to Twitter, however these won’t load on all pages (and would feed comparatively less data into Twitter Ads for ad campaign optimization).
LinkedIn Insight Tag (insight.min.js)
What insight.min.js Is
Same deal; different platform. The “Insight Tag” passes data on user interactions with your website to LinkedIn, for use in optimizing ad campaigns executed via LinkedIn’s “Campaign Manager” advertising platform.
What insight.min.js Tells Me About Your Website
- If insight.min.js isn’t loaded, the LinkedIn Insight Tag hasn’t been installed on your website.
- It’s possible that your website relies on “single-event” website tags to pass conversion data to LinkedIn, however these won’t load on all pages (and would feed comparatively less data into LinkedIn Campaign Manager for ad campaign optimization).
Other Things To Watch For With Social Media Analytics Integrations
- Other, less common social media analytics integrations (Pinterest Tags, Snap Pixels, or… um… I know there are others, but I can’t think of any right now).
But Wait, There’s More!
I could go on listing various marketing tags and what they can reveal about a business’ online marketing efforts, but this post has already gone on for about 3,500 words, so by now you’ve probably spent more time reading this guide than it would take to conduct your own audits, once you get the hang of it.
Depending on the feedback I receive, I might revisit this guide and add/update certain sections later on down the line. Hopefully though, this post has offered enough information for you to take a crack at auditing a few websites yourself, and helps you to identify a few aspects of your own digital marketing that could use some attention.
And, if you ever get an email or phone call from me out-of-the-blue, hopefully now you’ll have some idea as to why I’m so eager to chat.