The Free Google Marketing Stack Explained
The reason for covering this topic is because I still come across many business owners, senior managers and even marketers who do not understand what the Google Marketing Stack is and how it can be used to benefit their businesses. If that sounds like you, please read on.
Free or Paid?
The Google Marketing Stack is actually available in two versions; one free, one paid. Both are comprised of a number of individual solutions that may be used separately but derive the most benefit for a business when used in combination. This post is dedicated to the free version as this is what most businesses are using. However, I will be covering the paid version (Google Analytics 360 Suite) in a future post.
What’s Included in The Free Google Marketing Stack?
Free to set up and (with the exception of AdWords) free to use. If you have a website and are serious about marketing your business, the insights to be gained from Google’s marketing stack are more than worth the time taken to understand and use these tools properly. Use the links below to skip to a specific solution within the free Google Marketing Stack:
Google Search Console
Formerly known as Google Webmaster Tools, Search Console is the name for a collection of diagnostic tools that help you to understand how your website is being accessed by the Google search engine and enables you, in particular circumstances, to control or modify how your content is indexed.
Search Console allows you to spot common problems that can inhibit your site reaching its potential in the Google organic search results. These include issues such as:
- Duplicate page titles or meta description tags
- Errors Google encountered when trying to crawl and index your pages
- Errors with your site’s XML sitemap
- Errors with your site’s robots.txt page
- Security issues, such as injected malware
- Mobile device incompatibility
I know that all sounds a bit techie but this stuff is important! Whenever I work with a new client on their digital marketing I always ensure Search Console is in place first. Otherwise without checking the site is problem free, any marketing efforts could be undermined.
But here’s the really juicy benefit of Search Console. You can see the keywords people use to find your website in the Google organic search results, along with the number of clicks, impressions, the click-through rate (CTR) percentage and search results ranking. But for me the most interesting insight is that it shows you the keywords your site appears for even if the searcher did not click on your site link. Stop! Read that again. Yes, you can see what you are being found for but not being clicked for. Optimizing the page titles or meta descriptions for pages like these could make all the difference.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Search Console only retains keyword search data for the last 90 days but you can download a CSV export file for historic comparisons.
Google Analytics is the tool most people have heard of or at least have some familiarity with. Put simply it allows you to view reports about the visits to your website and make historic comparisons.
Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning that visitors to your website are not individually identifiable from within Analytics. That said you can learn a lot about how people find and use your website, including:
- Visitors’ locations and languages
- The methods they used to find your website (search, link from another site, email or pay per click campaign etc)
- The devices they use to access your website
- What content they viewed or interacted with, and for how long
- The route taken through your site
- Any actions taken on the site of value to you (goals and conversions)
- And much more besides
The most important marketing questions Analytics can help to answer are:
- How is the content on my website performing? What needs improving?
- Which marketing activities are attracting visitors to my site?
- How do these ‘source’ marketing activities compare when it comes to delivering on my website outcomes (orders, enquiries etc)?
Connecting Analytics with Search Console will allow you to access and view your ‘organic’ keyword searches in your Analytics report. Without this integration Analytics will only divulge keywords from Bing and other non-Google search engines; all Google searches will be shown as (not provided).
Google Tag Manager
Google Tag Manager (GTM) allows you to manage and publish marketing tracking codes and other functional code snippets on your website without having to directly edit your pages or site templates. This enables marketers to add additional functionality and run experiments without the need for support from a developer.
GTM includes built-in support for many solutions that require codes adding to a website, including:
- Google Analytics, AdWords and Optimize
- Third party advertising platforms such as AdRoll
- Crazy Egg and HotJar heat mapping
- Infinity call tracking
- Twitter and LinkedIn
- And many others
If you find your online marketing initiatives are being delayed by having to wait for a developer to implement code on your website then GTM could be worth further investigation. However, if your needs are simple and not likely to change, you may find it overkill.
At the time of writing Google Optimize is a new addition to the free Google Marketing Stack and as a beta product is currently only available as a limited access beta.
Optimize is Google’s latest move into conversion rate optimization (CRO) testing, having shelved previous beta products Google Website Optimizer and Content Experiments in Google Analytics. Put simply it allows you to test variations of elements or content on your website to see which option is most successful in reaching your business goals such as signups, purchases etc. Experiments can be deployed through Google Tag Manager and the results can also be shown in Google Analytics.
Optimize is a feature restricted version of the paid solution Optimize 360 and as such lacks many of the more sophisticated features expected by larger businesses. However for startups and small to medium sized businesses (SMBs) already using other solutions in the free Google Marketing Stack it could be a great introduction to CRO testing at no cost. If you can’t wait to get on the free beta, look at Optimizely or Visual Website Optimizer instead.
We plan to review Google Optimize in more detail later this year. Meanwhile you can request access to the Google Optimise beta.
Google Data Studio
Like Optimize, Google Data Studio (GDS) is also a new addition to the free Google Marketing Stack and also a beta product based on its more feature rich 360 paid version. Although until recently only available as a limited access beta, Data Studio now seems to be available in every region.
Google Data Studio allows you to build shareable and interactive reports and custom dashboards from a number of data sources including Google Analytics, AdWords, YouTube and Google Sheets. Third party data sources can also be accessed using the paid-for Supermetrics add-on for Google Sheets. The free version of GDS is limited to only 5 reports but for simple dashboards with a handful of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) this limit should be more than enough.
So how is GDS different from the custom reports and dashboards you can set up in Analytics? Google Analytics report and dashboards are showing their age and have limited display options. And unlike GDS they cannot display data from sources external to Analytics.
Look out for an more in-depth review of Google Data Studio to follow. Sign up for Google Data Studio here.
Google AdWords is free to set up and use. But in truth it can cost you a fortune in ad fees if you don’t know what you’re doing with it. That said, AdWords has revolutionized online advertising, making it easier than ever for startups and SMBs to gain visibility and new business online.
AdWords enables you to create adverts that appear in number of places including:
- Above and below Google’s organic search results and that of its search partners
- On Google’s display network: millions of independently owned websites and mobile apps
- On YouTube and other video websites
Adverts can be created in a number of different formats depending on how they are to be distributed, and can be targeted at prospects based on a criteria including age, gender, interests and online behavior, to name a few. What you pay depends on a number of factors including how you target people and the competitiveness of your industry.
Connecting AdWords with Analytics allows you to see the performance of your AdWords campaigns from within Analytics. More importantly it allows you to target specific groups of previous visitors to your website (audiences) in AdWords remarketing campaigns. So for example if someone visited your e-commerce site, added products to the cart but didn’t complete the purchase, you can show them adverts for the products they were interested in and incentivize them to return.
Rather than building awareness of your brand, AdWords campaigns are best suited to driving traffic to your website to get visitors to perform a desired action; a conversion such as buying something or signing up for a trial. With this in mind it is important to:
- Know how much you can afford to spend to acquire a conversion.
- Conduct keyword and competitor research to understand what people search for and what you’re up against.
- Create ads and landing pages that are consistent with each other and the user’s expectations.
- Optimize and experiment continually to improve results.
Even if you don’t want to run Pay Per Click campaigns it’s worth setting up an AdWords account just to play with the Keyword Planner and Ad Preview and Diagnosis tools. Keyword Planner can help you to understand what the most popular keywords are for your products or services. While it’s no match for Moz or SEMrush keyword discovery tools, it is free. Ad Preview and Diagnosis is a nice way to spy on your competitors’ ads, especially if they are being run in other Google search regions. Again, better paid solutions like SpyFu are available for this.
I hope you now have a general understanding of the products that make up the free Google Marketing Stack and how they might benefit your business. If the blog post is too simple for you, please look out for more detailed posts on each solution to follow. As always I welcome your comments!