Make Smart Marketing Decisions With This 6-Step Framework

Make Smart Marketing Decisions With This 6-Step Framework

A simple framework to help you make data-informed decisions without spending hours wading knee-deep in Excel.

This article was inspired by a reader question:

Whenever I make a report on our marketing team’s activities, it always takes forever since I’m not sure how to analyze the data. I’m don’t know where to begin.

What’s your process for analyzing data? Do you have any examples?

Looking at numbers can indeed be a giant time-suck. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Once you apply a framework to your marketing number-crunching, not only does it become a much faster exercise, it becomes a lot easier to get smart and actionable next steps.

In this detailed, step-by-step tutorial, we will:

  • Introduce a 6-step framework for analyzing marketing data
  • Crunch numbers using real data from this blog
  • Analyze those numbers to come up with recommendations

Getting Started: Our Plan of Attack

Here’s the framework we will follow:

  1. Review objectives and goals
  2. Identify key questions
  3. Pull the analytics data
  4. Prepare the data for analysis
  5. Probe the data to address our key questions
  6. Plan next steps and action items

What we’re trying to do here, especially as we get to the last steps, is to get as many actionable recommendations as we can as efficiently as possible.

Another way is to just look at the numbers and and try to find patterns like some kind of marketing John Nash, but that would require us to have lots of time to burn (and to be slightly insane).

We’ll Use This Blog As Our Guinea Pig
I really dislike tutorials and lessons where all the data is made up. I have trouble remembering what I’m learning, because I know it’s all fake and nothing is at stake.

To make this as real and concrete as possible, we’ll look at real data from the Growth Hero Google Analytics account.

I haven’t looked at any data whatsoever for Growth Hero since it launched in April 2013, so as I’m writing this, I frankly have no idea what I’ll be writing in my closing paragraphs.

As we go through the framework, this will be a real “look over my shoulder” exercise.

1. Review Objectives and Goals

We’re about to spend a lot of time looking at piles of data, so before we do that, we need to have an idea of what we’re ultimately trying to achieve, and what numbers we can measure our progress.

Before you begin, take the time to ask questions and think deeply about the purpose of your marketing team. What numbers are you responsible for driving, and why?

If you don’t define what you’re working towards — it’s like going to the supermarket with no grocery list, with only the vague objective of “get some food to eat”. Without a plan, you’ll wander around, easily get distracted and look at a lot of random stuff that may or may not help you achieve your objective.

In our case today, let’s briefly define the objective of Growth Hero: to build a community of multi-disciplinary marketing people who love learning new skills.

Let’s also now define the goal: to convert visitors into email subscribers.

2. Identify Key Questions

In this step, we’ll come up with a list of questions that we need to answer when we’ve got the data. First we’ll establish some context, then think about what information will help us better achieve the objectives and goals we outlined in the previous step.

Now that I know what my objectives are — I have my grocery list — I can think about what information will give me the most actionable data.

One way I can do that is to look at my funnel, then study it from the bottom up.
Let’s do a quick sketch of what my funnel looks like:


Looking at it from the bottom-up means I’m more focused on numbers surrounding my email subscriber metrics (Submit Email, Confirm Email) than how much traffic I’m getting (Awareness, Visit Growth Hero). Both sets of numbers are important, but I have a more direct, measurable influence on the former, so I’ll get more bang for my buck if I focus on those.

To put it briefly: I’m more concerned with conversion rather than traffic. Traffic is a problem you have once you’ve sorted out your conversion problems. Let’s now set some context and see where Growth Hero stands on both fronts:

Since Growth Hero is very new, and I haven’t seen any data, I just want to get some grounding on how I’m converting. I’m not yet at the point where I want to examine conversion trends or compare it to other blogs.

Therefore, I’m chiefly concerned with the percentage of Growth Hero visitors that become subscribers. Once I have that number, I’ll have a benchmark metric I can monitor and run tests against. I’ll also keep an eye out for any anomalies in conversion rate.

My marketing efforts thus far have been very ad hoc, so looking at traffic data will give me some ideas of what’s working, if I’m having any effect at all.

Key Questions

Based on the context from the above, let’s now jot down a list of our key questions:

  • What’s my conversion rate?
  • Are there any events that significantly affected conversion rate?
  • How are my marketing efforts affecting traffic?
  • Where are my visitors coming from?
  • Which traffic sources sent the highest quality leads?
Keep It Simple: Don’t Distract Yourself
I don’t need to distract myself by analyzing what day of the week my posts get the most views, bounce rate, most popular posts, what country my visitors are coming from, my Twitter follower count, etc.

Once you start to analyze things that are too far removed from your conversion event, the easier it is to wander into vanity metrics territory.

3. Pull The Analytics Data

Here, we’ll get the data we need to answer the questions we identified in the previous step. In my case, I’ll be using data from Google Analytics and AWeber, but the general process should be applicable to whatever software you’re using.


First, I’ll tackle the conversion data:

Conversion rate = Total email-confirmed subscribers / Total unique visitors

As of writing, Growth Hero has 68 confirmed email addresses on its subscriber list. We also find that only 1 person has submitted an email address but not confirmed. (Good, this means that I’m not losing a lot of people at the last stage of conversion.)

Now, let’s use Google Analytics to get the second half of our conversion equation.


We find that my conversion rate is about 3%.

Whether this number is good or bad is irrelevant for now, the most important thing is that I now have a benchmark. I now have a number I can try to nudge upward with tests and experiments.


Now, I want to know more about my visitors, which will help me inform my marketing efforts. I’ll translate the relevant key questions into data requests:

(a) How are my marketing efforts affecting traffic?
(b) Where are my visitors coming from?
(c) Which traffic sources sent the highest quality leads?

I have an idea of (a) from the chart above. We can see a general upward trend with spikes surrounding content releases. We’ll now turn to Google Analytics to learn more about (b) and (c).

A custom report in Google Analytics shows us the data:


This is showing traffic source by date, perfect. But it’s a hassle to analyze this in Google Analytics. So let’s export it to Excel.

If you want to follow along, here’s the resulting Excel file, which we’ll use for the next section.

4. Prepare The Data For Analysis

At this point, you’ve got a big mess of data. You now want to organize it in some way that gets you closer to answering the questions you’ve identified.

Right now, I have a file that looks like this:


And I need a way to slice and dice this data to make it digestible and readable. I could use any tool that helps me organize and visualize the data: charts, tables, printing it out and writing on paper, etc.

In this case, I’ll use Pivot Tables in Excel, which produces an output like below.


To help with analysis, I’ve grouped together similar traffic sources. Right now, thanks to the magic of Pivot Tables, we’re much closer to answering our key questions.

Stay Focused On Your Grocery List
This is the part where it’s easy to lose focus and waste a lot of time. Going back to our grocery store analogy, this is where you get distracted and start to wander up and down the aisles, reading prices and nutrition labels of things you never intended to buy!

You might be lucky and find something awesome, but you’re not here to be lucky, you’re here to get the maximum use of your time and not get sucked into pointless analyses.

So let’s look at our grocery list again. Why are we here? In my case, it’s to understand my conversion numbers and ultimately learn how to get more people into the Growth Hero community.

5. Probe The Data To Address Our Key Questions

Now, you’re ready to start turning data into actions. Staying focused on the key questions we wrote down earlier, we now spend some time investigating the context behind the numbers to see if we can surface any insights.

Let’s go back to my list and look at things we haven’t addressed yet:

  • What’s my conversion rate?
  • Are there any events that significantly affected conversion rate?
  • How are my marketing efforts affecting traffic?
  • Where are my visitors coming from?
  • Which traffic sources sent the highest quality leads?

Are there any events that significantly affected conversion rate?

To do this analysis, I’ll need to look at new email-confirmed subscribers by day, then overlay that on top of the Unique Visitors chart we saw earlier. These numbers should be more or less in sync, so any spikes or valleys in conversion rate will then easily stand out. Here’s what it looks like:


What conclusions can you draw from this chart?

For one, we see that Growth Hero was terrible at conversion before — but then something happened around June 11 — and then the conversions were suddenly a lot better.

What happened?

I’m attributing the increase in conversion to the installation of a newsletter popup, a small green box that flies in from the right side as you scroll down. I’m normally annoyed by seeing fly-ins and popups on other blogs and websites, but the results speak for themselves; I might even try something more aggressive in the future.

Where are my visitors coming from?

Let’s review the Pivot Table output in the Excel file:


Let’s split the sources into buckets and investigate the context behind the numbers:

Most of my traffic is marked as “direct”, which basically means that Google Analytics has no idea where they came from. This is mostly my fault. Whenever I share URLs to the site, I haven’t been adding campaign tracking the web address.

1 in 4 visitors come from StumbleUpon. For my first post, I spent $10 on Stumbleupon Paid Discovery, which was expected to bring in about 100 visitors. While the paid campaign has run its course, I still get organic StumbleUpon traffic to this day.

Not counting StumbleUpon, 1 in 5 visitors come in through Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn (in that order). I use Buffer, so I spend roughly the same amount of effort for all three sites. Twitter stands out in terms of return-on-effort.

I’m also happy to see healthy numbers from Reddit (r/marketing) and Quibb, two tech-focused communities that I enjoy participating in.

Less than 5% of my visitors come from search. This means that I’m not getting any “passive” traffic — if I want people to come to Growth Hero, I have to bring them here myself. As expected, this number is slowly trending upwards as I write more content and build backlinks.

Which traffic sources sent the highest-quality leads?

Immediately, I can see that I’m missing a key piece of data: which traffic source sends me the most subscribers.

Sure, StumbleUpon sends me the most traffic. But what if they’re low-quality leads that don’t convert? I get less traffic from Facebook, but what if all of those visitors signed up for the newsletter?

I’m now kicking myself for not implementing this tech earlier, but at least I’ve already got a clear action item out of this analysis.

For your business, this is a critical metric to have. As a marketer, you’ve always got to be on top of which channels are giving you the best ROI.

6. Plan Next Steps and Action Items

Now, we have a clearer picture of our marketing performance. Thinking deeper into our analysis, we now think about how to turn these insights these into action items to drive metrics in the future.

After answering your key questions, there’s always a few actions that will immediately jump out at you as being no-brainers.

What Would You Do?
Put yourself in my shoes for a second. Based on our analysis so far, what recommendations would you have for Growth Hero?

Whenever I find myself having a ton of ideas, the first thing I do is split them into two piles: Quick Wins and Long-Term Investments.

I can do this off-the-cuff prioritization since I’m a one-man team. For your business, you’ll likely have to sit down with a group of people to determine which ones to do and when.

Quick Wins

1. Track Referrers on Newsletter Signup
To make better-informed decisions going forward, I’ll need to know which traffic sources are most valuable. I’ll add some tech that records the visitor’s referral source when they sign up for the newsletter.

2. Run StumbleUpon Paid Discovery again
The first paid campaign was great at driving eyeballs. I’ll run a second campaign. This time, with better subscriber tracking and better conversion (thanks to the newsletter fly-in), it will be exciting to see the data.

3. Add Social Share buttons
A lot of my traffic is from social sources, and many readers are also active on social media. So I need to encourage sharing articles on social media. I’ll make social “Share” buttons more prominent on each article.

Long-Term Investments

1. Guest Posting
Finding ways to add value to other audiences will be very rewarding while raising the profile of Growth Hero. This takes a lot of time and outreach, but is critical to helping me increase my “referrer diversity” so I’m not so reliant on social sources.

2. Participation in communities
This is a slow-burn strategy whose effects can only be measured over long timescales. In addition to hanging out on Reddit and Quibb, you may also start to see me on Quora and other relevant communities.

In Closing: Same Problems, Different Scale

So there you have it. I started with some questions, and now I have actionable next steps that will hopefully put me closer to my goals.

Even though we were looking at data for a young blog, the framework is applicable to whatever you’re working on. After all, we have the same problems, just on a different scale.

I have limited time; I spend about 7 hours a week on Growth Hero. I have limited budget; I need to be reasonable and logical about how I spend money. Since I have such limited resources, I have to make my decisions and actions as smart and efficient as I possibly can.

I hope this framework will also help you make smarter and more efficient decisions. Analyzing data is always useful, either on an ad-hoc basis, or during a regular status report.

Did I miss anything in this analysis?

Share your thoughts in the comments below, or sign up for the Growth Hero newsletter and let’s chat.

David Fallarme

Hi, I'm David Fallarme. I've been doing marketing in companies big and small. I like learning new things, so I'll share what I know with you.

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