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Interview with SEM Expert Carrie Hill

Writing by Nick Stamoulis in Expert Interviews

Carrie HillRecently I had the chance to interview SEM expert Carrie Hill. Carrie is the Co-Founder of and is a regular columnist for multiple leading SEO industry sites including Search Engine Land and Search Engine Watch. Carrie is also a popular speaker at SMX and Pubcon shows across the country.

Thanks so much to Carrie Hill for spending the time to answer all of my questions!

Question: In your opinion, what is the most important report a site owner can run/create in Google Analytics?

Answer from Carrie Hill: Wow, start me off with a hard one!   The most important report is 100% dependent upon the business & website goals.  Every site, every business, has different goals.  If you’re just starting out, your goal might be to get someone to look at 2 pages of your website without leaving, if you’re established, then the dollar signs may be your #1 focus.

I think reports that show engagement with your website are probably the most important, universally.  I like reports that help me understand how users engage with my pages and what they like or may not like.  Right now, I’m LOVING scroll depth reports.  I wrote about them a little bit at the last few months.  The most compelling information is sometimes not available as a native report in Google Analytics – so we have to dig and find the gems.  I love scroll depth because it’s actionable.  How deep do visitors go?  How deep do social media visitors go in relation to SEO/PPC visitors?  Where is my call to action on the page in relation to how deep visitors are scrolling?  Finding those answers make me a better webmaster, and a better marketer

Question: What advice do you have for a site owner that is just starting to use Google Analytics?

Answer from Carrie Hill: Set aside at least 1 hour a week to “date” your analytics account.  This is a relationship, and you need to spend time on it.  Buy it flowers and champagne and chocolate.  Well, the champagne and chocolate are for you to help alleviate the confusion and feeling of defeat that is inevitable.  Most problems are solvable if you dump enough champagne and chocolate on it.

You need to work past the confusion to really get value, don’t give up.  Navigate build reports, read articles that help you understand how to create a strategy from what you see.  The big hurdle is getting beyond “looking at reports” into “creating a strategy from data.”  My top tip here is to create a separate profile for your experimenting.  Most changes/reports you create cannot corrupt your data, but just to be safe, use a separate profile when you’re dealing with filters and such so you have one profile with 100% pure data should you ever need to “start over.”

Question: What would the “perfect” reporting or analytics tool be able to tell you?

Answer from Carrie Hill: What my husband wants for Christmas?  Seriously, the guy is nearly impossible to shop for.

Actually – the “perfect” reporting tool would be something that gave me data, and then said “these are some tips that might help you improve this metric.”  I think the ACTION part of data is what is missing  out there.  And I think the overwhelming amount of data really hurts the non-professional online marketer.  Small business owners don’t have time to wade through reports, create filters, compare dates, determine causation and correlation – they just know they only got 10 visits yesterday and want to know what to do to increase that number.

Question: How high is too high of a bounce rate?

Answer from Carrie Hill: If you’d asked me this 2 years ago, I’d have said anything over 40%.  Then I started a hobby blog –  If I get below 70% on any given post, I want to buy a puppy and alert the media.  I think beyond bounce rate, you need to look at traffic quality and the GOAL for that individual page.  On my hobby blog, the faster they click on my ads, the faster I get paid.  That, technically in native analytics, is a bounce.  So not all bounces are “bad.”

If you’re running an ecommerce or lead-gen site where you want people to read your content, buy something or sign up for your service – I think my rough target would be 40% or less.  Of course, if I got all pages below 40%, then I’d test and try to hit 30% – you’re not done until you hit 0%, right?

Question: Is there any data in Google Analytics that isn’t useful or could steer site owners in the wrong direction?

Answer from Carrie Hill: Honestly, it’s not the data’s fault.  Data is just numbers, and it can be interpreted in any number of ways.  The biggest “fault” with data in Google Analytics is the “what do I do with this” factor.  I think Google does a great job of “reporting” but they don’t do anything to help a do-it-yourselfer or a small business owner to determine strategy.  That’s really the primary reason I started my new agency, Ignitor Digital with my partner Mary Bowling.  We knew there was a better way to serve the small business than just dumping into some automated software.  They need help with strategy for their business and niche, not canned responses, reports and automated everything.

Question: How can a site owner or marketing manager avoid losing the forest for the trees in Google Analytics?

Answer from Carrie Hill: Educate themselves, or hire someone to interpret and turn data into strategy.  There are a few people out there that specialize in data, and turning data into action items, but not very many.

In fact…hold on…I need to go write that down….

I envision a market for someone to review and interpret analytics into action items for site owners.  Small businesses don’t have time to constantly learn and relearn, because this stuff changes CONSTANTLY.  They want to “DO” things.  Another part of why our agency serves small and very small businesses is because Mary and I excel at finding actionable pieces that help the overall picture.  You’d be surprised at how many times we say “Write a compelling title tag for your homepage.”  But that’s okay, that’s exactly what the small business owner wants & needs – a “to do” list!  We do this by way of a report that analyzes THEIR online presence and assets.  It’s really a pretty neat report and the number of action items that go to the site owners is pretty staggering – we just sent out a report with 30 things they can do to help their marketing.  All customized by looking at their website and answers to a questionnaire that helps us understand their goals and assets.

Our goal is to tell them “why” and “how” and even provide them with some of the keywords and links to make it really easy to do one thing a day or one thing a week to make improvements to their online presence.  The “what do I do with this” is answered for them.  That’s what’s missing from Google Analytics.

Question: “Conversion tracking just means seeing how many people brought my products/services, right?” What do you say to that site owner?

Answer from Carrie Hill: Well – that’s a true statement.  In it’s most rudimentary definition, that’s what conversion tracking is.  But my message is to not just look at how many, but to look at how they got there.  Where are you losing shoppers in the process?

Envision a grocery store – these joints are the PROS at conversion tracking & optimization .  The goal of this exercise is to get someone to buy a loaf of bread.  Grocery stores don’t just throw it on a shelf somewhere, they’ve studied, tested, and optimized where that bread should be placed.  They measure who walks in the door, where they go in the store, what they look at on what shelves, are they shopping at eye level or above? Then they look at what types of bread they looked at before they put their choice in the shopping cart.  The most expensive bread is at eye level on any shelf, cheaper brands on the lower level, specialty brands on top.  This is how people shop the shelves and they KNOW that.

You need to treat your website like a grocery store and analytics will help you understand all of those steps the visitor takes before they put the bread in the cart.  But that’s just data – once you understand the steps, you must start formulating theories and hypotheses around what would make the “store” more effective, and you test those hypotheses.

Lots of people TALK about testing, not very many people actually test.

Question: How can a site owner tie social engagement to tangible profits?

Answer from Carrie Hill: I don’t really look at social media as a huge profit center for a brand new business that is just creating their channels.  I try to help small business owners and site owners understand that the channel is a communication and customer service medium, just like their telephone.  If they use their communication tools well, and optimize their messages and their services as they talk to their customer, the revenue will follow.

The term “community manager” is getting thrown around a lot, but it really is an important role in a company who is looking for online success, especially if they’re looking for that success through social media.  This person knows your customer, they know your product or service, and they know how to bring the two together to create customers and brand advocates.

In my opinion, an agency can’t really do this for you.  They can help you be more consistent across the brand, they can definitely train your community manager on the platforms and best practices – but nobody knows your business better than you.  Don’t hand that control over to someone who makes $30-$40kk a year and handles 10+ different clients.

Question: Have you ever seen a one-to-one relation between a social action and profit? Or is social usually just another step in the funnel?

Answer from Carrie Hill: I’ve seen it, but it’s rare.  My history is in the travel industry.  Vacation rentals and resorts mostly.  When you’re talking about a $2,000+ vacation – social media is a validator, but it’s not the sole decision maker.  Most social media users are on Facebook or Twitter to interact with others.  They do ask for and receive recommendations for products and services – but ONLY being good on social media does not make up for a poor phone, store or website experience.  It has to be holistic.  I have had conversations with businesses who have such poor customer service that there really wasn’t any way to help them grow their business, online or offline.  I run fast and far from ANY business that blames the customer.  The rule is, ALWAYS start with the basics – no customers means no money – doesn’t really matter what platform we’re talking about.

Question: What kind of information should site owners look for to determine the effectiveness of their content marketing efforts?

Answer from Carrie Hill: Well – first they have to know what they want from their content.  Do they want a sale of a product? Do they want someone to submit a contact form? Do they want a visitor to click on an ad?  Once you determine the goal of the content, then you look at the metrics that are the key performance indicators (kpi) towards that goal.  Event tracking on the submit button.  Transactions involving that product.  Phone calls via click to call on a mobile device.  Once you have the list of the activities a user would perform in the path to your goal – you create your list of metrics to measure as indicators, and you can then build a custom report around those items.

It’s not a canned report, sorry.  I don’t have an answer that says “go to reports, content, blah blah” and here is your report…tadaaaaa.”  It’s marketing and analysis, not magic!

Question: What do you recommend site owners do to get around “not provided” when ½ of their data is missing?

Answer from Carrie Hill: First, I’m on the record as saying “Not Provided” is B.S. – They give the information to the PPC clients, but not to SEO?  Yes, Google is not a “non profit” company – but not providing them with data they OWN is pretty shady in my opinion.

That being said, there are a number of ways to get around “not provided” – some use the % method and divide the percentage of traffic generated by the keywords that ARE shown and extrapolate those percentages into the “not provided” data.  I prefer a method first introduced by Dan Barker at eConsultancy that assigns a landing page name to that “not provided” click.  I know, pretty accurately, what keywords are bringing traffic for any given landing page – so I can get close to keyword data this way.  You can read about how it’s set up in my post, “How to turn (not provided) into useful, actionable data.

Question: A store on Etsy might get a lot of traffic through the mobile app but most of their sales come from incredibly long-tail searches on desktops (people remembered a certain product and looked for it by name). How can a site owner string all those interactions together to get the “real” picture?

Answer from Carrie Hill: The short answer? Multi Channel funnels and assisted conversions.  Unfortunately, to the layperson, these reports in analytics look like gobbledegook.

The long answer?  Tie assisted conversions in with engagement reporting using Analytics Goals that measure the metrics associated with your KPIs.  Sounds like fun, eh?  Well, it does to me, but I’m a nerd.  Not everyone has time for that.

I think there’s a need for a system that says “these are my goals” and you check some boxes – then the system has to be smart enough to understand what KPIs can or should play into those goals.  The system would TELL the site owner what those KPIs should or could be – it would then measure those against the goals.

You can do this with Google Analytics – it’s very doable in Google Analytics – but it takes a lot of analysis, testing of reports, custom reports, custom segments, etc to set it up.  Add to that the variations you come across, as the answers to “what are my KPIs” differ for nearly any niche out there.  Building a system that did all of this with the click of a button would certainly take a larger brain than mine to build it :)

Question: What other tools/programs do you use to help with reporting and analyzing?

Answer from Carrie Hill: There’s definitely a need here.  I mostly use Excel and my brain.  I also read, a lot – a TON – of blog posts about analytics every month.  I play with reports and build filters and segments, and I FAIL, a lot.

I wish there was some sort of magic report or software that a novice or someone who doesn’t have a ton of time to dedicate could just plug in and use – but I’ve yet to find anything remotely useful in this area.

Connect with Carrie Hill on Twitter, Facebook, and Google+.


This non-paid interview is designed to give the Brick Marketing audience insights and different perspectives of SEO, link building, social media and web marketing. Past expert interviews include: Ann Handley, Eric Ward, Mike Moran, Andy Beal, and Jordan Kasteler to name a few.

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