Organisations need to trust their data to make decisions confidently and with profit-generating results. And research shows that 77% of global business leaders say data accuracy is under greater scrutiny than ever before.
After working with dozens of businesses, I noticed they had similar web analytics related challenges in common. These included:
- People used different terminology for the same metrics or a term would mean a different thing to different people within the same organisation.
- Stakeholders and marketers were not aligned on which KPIs they should optimise for, and these sometimes changed from one meeting to the next.
- Whenever a web analytics data question came up, marketing team members would waste hours investigating data discrepancies or stitching together multiple data sources and manipulating raw data in Excel.
- Other team members with similar questions replicated the same time-wasting process, often independently of their colleagues, reducing productivity.
- Campaigns would be launched without tracking in place to measure their effectiveness. It was wrongly assumed that someone would be able to measure their performance.
- Performance reports would break when new campaigns were launched or when websites were upgraded or changed functionality.
- Often, data analysis was abandoned in favour of opinions, because no one trusted the data or knew how to interpret it.
- Analysis was erratic and didn’t provide sufficient answers, so marketing budgets were dependent on gut feel and short term financial fluctuations.
The problems were not for the lack of goodwill. I realised that marketing teams need to be supported by efficient processes and governance to help data to become and stay useful.
And simply outsourcing the function to a web analyst is not a good enough solution because they essentially become the gatekeeper between data and insights. This slows down decision making and teams look for ways to find guidance needed to make decisions.
So how do we ensure web analytics data is accurate and meaningful? When it comes to Google Analytics, I believe implementing data governance helps to ensure your data is reliable. In this article, you’ll learn what Google Analytics governance is and how you can implement it in your organisation.
In this post…
What is Google Analytics governance?
Google Analytics governance is a collection of documents, processes, and frameworks that help your team find profit-generating insights in Google Analytics quickly and consistently.
A Google Analytics governance document outlines elements such as how your Google Analytics account is set up, who has access to it, what audiences have been created, and which attributes and metrics are being tracked.
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What are the benefits of having Google Analytics governance?
Having Google Analytics governance has countless benefits for your organisation. These include:
- Speeding up analysis and decision making. Having Google Analytics governance can speed up finding the insights you and your team need. By documenting everything from which custom dimensions and events are being tracked to where to find them and whether it’s in a dashboard or a report in Google Analytics, your team has a reference on how to find this information, instead of having everyone find out for themselves.
- Increasing organisational confidence in data. Ensuring that data is configured properly with minimal discrepancies will increase your team’s confidence in the data you have. The process of creating Google Analytics governance means you need to document all the configuration and tracking, which forces you into doing an audit. If data isn’t set up properly, then this should be highlighted in the governance as an outstanding task to do.
- Aligning business goals with your website metrics. Effective Google Analytics governance starts with a measurement plan. It aligns everyone on what the purpose of the website is and how you measure performance against it. The plan should be approved before the rest of the governance is built and the approval should come from senior stakeholders in your company. This ensures everyone knows what the website is for and your KPIs are consistent and meaningful.
- Reducing onboarding time. New team members and agency partners can effortlessly understand how your visitors interact with your website. You no longer need to spend meetings explaining how reporting works. Even with basic Google Analytics knowledge and a well-put-together governance document, new staff will be able to understand how you’re performing and where potential improvement opportunities could be. As they dig into their role more, they have a useful reference to look back on too.
- Ensuring resources aren’t wasted on repetitive work. Governance makes sure everyone is on the same page in terms of what configurations exist and where to find the information they need. With meaningful naming conventions and data organised in a consistent way, the need to manipulate it is drastically reduced.
- Improving marketing and sales campaigns. Instead of digging through data, your team can focus on building campaigns, producing new content, and focusing on the things they want to work on the most. It’s more enjoyable to know that when you finish building a campaign, it’s more likely to bring results. Without data, you are in the dark. You might only have indications or “guesstimates” about how the campaign might perform. With data, you are much more targeted with what you produce.
- Improving data transparency and accessibility. The governance document should be shared widely across your team, so that anyone can feel empowered to use it. And it’s not just about being able to benefit from the fact that more people can give you answers related to web analytics data. It’s also about everyone, even junior team members, getting the tools and the permission to analyse data, discover insights, and suggest improvements using Google Analytics. That’s how you build a data-driven team.
The 4 principles of successful Google Analytics governance
Before I move on to how to develop Google Analytics governance for your business, I wanted to highlight some core guidelines and principles to keep in mind.
I’ve adapted Gartner’s 7 foundations of modern data governance to apply to Google Analytics governance. Here are the four principles you should follow to develop a robust and effective document:
- Accountability. Governance should spell out the Google Analytics responsibilities for different individuals and teams within an organisation.
- Accessibility. The goal is to make Google Analytics more accessible to anyone who needs it. This includes providing training where needed.
- Quality. Data governance should ensure Google Analytics data is trustworthy, accurate, and relevant to your business objectives.
- Security. Governance should ensure that how data is extracted, accessed, used, and stored follows regulations; your processes should also minimise data breaches.
Who’s responsible for Google Analytics governance?
It shouldn’t be down to one person to be responsible for Google Analytics governance. It should be a shared responsibility and asset of an organisation. Who is responsible for data governance will depend on each business and how they’re set up. However, the key thing is to identify who is responsible for what and that they understand the processes they need to do.
In terms of the general structure, I advocate for having a single Google Analytics governance document that is managed by a limited number of people. In many companies, one person managing this core document is enough. And this person should usually be the same person who is responsible for your Google Analytics configuration and maintenance.
The Google Analytics governance document should then link to additional resources that can be managed by other members of the team. E.g. all members of your marketing team should update campaign tags or the notable events log as they work on their individual campaigns.
In addition to this, it’s good to have someone in your business who will act as a governance champion and who will be responsible for making sure that activities and changes are correctly logged. This can even mean that they regularly chase all relevant people for updates.
This increases the probability of success because the people with the knowledge rarely want to or have the time to create documentation or reference guides. The champion can interview them and put the info together.
The exact structure will depend on your internal and external make up and resources but the guidelines above should be helpful to get started.
What components should you include as part of your Google Analytics governance?
The components to include in Google Analytics governance include documents, processes, and frameworks.
I like to create a central Google Analytics governance document that includes all the key information, guidelines and references all in one place. It should ideally be managed by your Google Analytics strategist and implementation specialists. Any information that needs to be regularly updated by your marketing team should be logged in a separate document or spreadsheet that is referenced from the goventance document. This way, it’s easier to assign roles to different activities and manage the maintenance of your governance tools.
Below are the different elements to include in your Google Analytics governance document. I suggest that the items listed in the “Documents” section are included directly in the central file, while the other sections reference suggested additional documents and links.
Information included directly in the document
- Measurement plan: Document what your website should do for your business and your customers. Get all your stakeholders on board with where to focus optimisation efforts. My measurement plans are based on Avinash Kaushik’s framework and I usually include them in the Google Analytics governance document for easy access.
In addition to tracking business objectives, it’s good practice to also include a user experience reference: the overview of key user journeys and interactions, together with their tracking status.
- User experience overview. This section is based around a user journey map – a tool borrowed from UX design. I think it’s a great resource for teams to better understand how users interact with your products and services. A user journey map shows how customers are likely to interact across their journey with your website and brand from awareness and considerations to purchase behaviour and eventually post-purchase behaviour. The purpose is to see what they do, how they feel, and what could be influencing them along the journey.
Metrics and KPIs are then matched with the different stages of the user journey map to help measure their performance.
- Google Analytics configuration details: A complete reference of what is tracked and how, plus where to find it. Achieve seamless onboarding and finding insights in minutes, not hours. This document should include a Google Analytics configuration guide, which outlines:
- How the account is set up
- List of settings selected
- List of events and conversions
- List of custom dimensions and metrics
- List of audiences
- Page tracking details (e.g. for single page applications or where you applied modifications for easier analysis)
This list can include all the elements that are currently set up as well as those that are on your wishlist or in planning.
- Reports, explorations and dashboards. Including the list of all your visualisation tools will show your team where to find the information they need. I like to supplement this list with: 1) which stakeholders they are built for, 2) what are the example use cases for using them 3) filter and customisation recommendations for making the most of the tools.
- GTM governance. This section, particularly useful for staff and partners who are tasked with maintaining configuration and managing third party tags, should include all the details needed for building on the existing set up and maintaining consistency. You can include: 1) naming conventions, 2) list of folders, tags, triggers and variables, 3) third party tracking reference, and 4) cookie consent management overview.
- Maintenance and analysis schedule. A schedule where you check certain elements of your web analytics on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis – the exact schedule will depend on how much website optimisation you do as well as on your business priorities. You can include your schedule directly in your Google Analytics governance document or separately.
Additional resources to link to
- User management. A spreadsheet that outlines who has access to what in your Google ecosystem. This ensures old employees or marketing partners are removed, along with the process of granting and revoking permissions. This document is useful for privacy purposes to know who has access to what.
- Notable events log. Another spreadsheet listing all the events that are happening externally and internally. This can include everything from when you publish a new blog post to when a competitor is launching a new product. It’s also important to note more global events such as pandemics or wars. All of these things can impact your traffic and conversions. Therefore it’s a good idea to keep a log of these events so that you’re not wondering why there’s a sudden spike or drop in your Google Analytics as it may be influenced by external factors. A great way to use the notable events log is to then visualise it in Data Studio as part of your KPI dashboard.
- UTM tracking tool. Usually set up as a spreadsheet, the tool helps you keep track of all the campaigns you’re running and how they’re referenced in Google Analytics so that you can find them more quickly. It also makes sure everyone is following the same naming convention and that these campaigns are referenced consistently.
This section refers to a series of processes and schedules for who should be accountable for updating all the documentation and maintaining configuration, plus the processes for how to do it. These should be tailored to your business, using your existing project management tools and building on your existing systems. Here are some processes you can include:
- Data maintenance
- Campaign tracking
- User management
- Logging notable events
- Business objectives reviews
If you have access to frameworks you’ve developed or that have been developed for you, it’s good to reference them in the Google Analytics governance document. Here are examples that I often include after delivering workshops for clients:
- Analysis and insight generation framework. A system anyone can use to find actionable recommendations. How to use Google Analytics data and other data to answer business questions and optimise your user experience. I’ve developed a process for this that we teach in workshops. It helps even the least technical and most junior team members to find actionable insights.
- Insight presentation framework. A structure for how to present insights to stakeholders. It builds on the insight generation framework and shows you how to present findings in slides without filling them with overwhelming rows of numbers. Instead, you have the structure for how to filter information to what is needed to promote action.
How to implement Google Analytics governance in your business?
At Business Ahead, we have a process for implementing fit-for-purpose and best-in-class Google Analytics tracking. Documenting the configuration is an important part of this process to make sure that data is meaningful, usable and stays accurate for longer. Although each business is unique in how governance is put together, here is our rough step-by-step guide:
Step 1: Create the measurement plan.
Step 2: Create the Google Analytics governance document which outlines what is tracked and where to find it.
Step 3: Check that your Google Analytics is set up accurately so the data there is reliable. If it’s not reliable, it needs to be called out in the governance document.
Step 4: Call out any additional metrics that should be tracked but aren’t at the moment. This will form the basis for a roadmap for further tracking for your website.
Step 5: Upgrade your governance with frameworks and processes around maintaining your Google Analytics tracking and also around helping your team read the data and be able to generate insights and present these insights. You can do this gradually and build on your original governance document over time.
Step 6: Create a maintenance schedule to determine how often to review your Google Analytics governance and what else to implement.
As you can see from the process above, you don’t need a perfect configuration before you start with governance. Rather, it’s a tool that will help you achieve better configuration in a systematised way. It also should not be a one-off exercise but, instead, should take place regularly. Consider how you can build it into your regular business processes.
Having Google Analytics governance in place is an important part of any business looking to become data-driven. Without governance, your organisation is likely to run into challenges around referencing KPIs and metrics, taking longer than expected to answer questions, and not being confident about data accuracy and decision making. Governance can give your team confidence in their web analytics data so they can go out and find insights themselves.
Need a reference for implementing the Google Analytics governance document in your company? I created a cheat sheet of all the elements to include – you can download it here and it comes with a video where I walk you through how to set it up.