Nonprofits, Societal Benefit, Analytics & Insights, Digital Marketing, Google Analytics

Successful marketing and communication professionals need to rely on fast, efficient access to reporting data in order to inform strategy and optimization of campaigns. There are many tools and strategies including data warehouses and business intelligence solutions that cost lots of money. Google’s Data Studio tool is a great option for getting started quickly and successfully with no software licensing cost. Learn how League of Women Voters is using Data Studio to augment and improve Google Analytics reporting.

Slide Deck


Joe: Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us today. My name is Joe McLaughlin and I’m the director of analytics and optimization at Allegiance Group. I’m here with a couple of my friends from the League of Women Voters. And we’ll be speaking with you today about using Google Data Studio and leveraging that as a platform for creating integrated dashboards to meet your marketing needs. Jason?

Jason: Hi, I’m Jason Johnson. I’m the director of information technology for the League of Women Voters. and we work of course with Allegiance Group and Joe on the analytics side from the IT perspective and largely are consultative and supportive of our communications team. We also have Kayla Vix from our communications team here.

Kayla: Thanks, Jason. Hi. Yes, I’m Kayla Vix, I’m senior communications manager here at the National League, and I am the representative of the communication staff that consumes a lot of this analytics content that Allegiance puts together and decides how to use it for our strategy.

Joe: So today we’ll give a very kind of quick run-through of the way that the League of Women Voters have been using data and in particular, data from Google Analytics around their various web properties, how those needs have really grown as their program has really continued to mature over the years, and how they’ve landed at the position where they needed a more robust data visualization and reporting tool set to really be able to report out on that information. So, we’ll get into some examples here of assets that we’ve worked with the League to create. I’m looking forward to speaking on all these items as we go through this.

Jason: So, why did we need more than just what Google Analytics offered? And that was the question the leadership team asks, why do we need to invest in this?

The first part is Google by default in the dashboards that they provide, make it very difficult to communicate broadly with folks who don’t know what every one of those metrics mean. So, if you bring up the traditional Google Analytics Dashboard there’s a lot of information on those screens and it can be very difficult to parse if it’s not something that you’re in every day, and people will often get distracted by all the data that’s available in those tools. So, when we began to look at it, we really focused on what different departments needed out of Analytics and what they might value in terms of the analytics within GA and then how we can present those better.

So, from the IT side, I’m a little worried about page views because that’s a leading indicator for page load and potential costs through AWS and other resources. Whereas our development and fundraising team is singularly focused on the value of pages and the amount of money that individual campaigns are bringing in.

And again, that’s difficult to see directly out of a Google Analytics Dashboard. And of course, my colleagues in communications have a completely different focus on what is success for their content and what those success metrics might be. Can you tell us a little more about that Kayla?

Kayla: Sure. So, we need these analytics to inform our content strategy. What types of content that we prioritize, how we develop the content, how long a blog post needs to be, for instance. And the way that the data is compiled in the Google Dashboard, it doesn’t separate out things like specific types of content.

So, it’s hard to go through and parse and really look for patterns that we need to be able to inform our strategy. And likewise, even just helping the fundraising department know what types of content are really resonating. It just isn’t laid out in a way that’s easy for us to pass that on and strategize together.

Jason: We tried a few things, including cutting and pasting together reports out of Google Analytics to be a little bit more focused. We tried email reporting where you can have a little more control over the content and delivery of that information. But we were still spending a lot of time doing piecemeal work and redeveloping our presentations and our content for different audiences when we did need to present it. And this involved a decent amount of not only staff time, but time from Allegiance in assisting us, particularly if you wanted to wrap branding around it, or we need something for a board member or a funder reporting.

We ended up spending both a lot of staff time and Allegiance time on creating that content.

So, the larger arc of storytelling for a campaign was also very difficult. We often want to be able to tell a narrative, particularly when it came to funders and especially in relation to the paid advertising campaigns that we had. And that was also exceedingly difficult through the traditional Google Analytics Dashboards.

Joe: Bumped up against all the limits of Google Analytics, right? And so we began to try and search for what would be an appropriate data visualization platform and reporting platform that would meet all the needs of the League.

We landed on Google Data Studio for a number of different reasons. An easy one is that it’s free, right? There’s no big licensing costs as there are with a lot of the other large database platforms that are out there in the world. So, it obviously gives you a very easy transition point if the only cost associated are your time and energy at that point. But it has a lot of other things going forward as well.

Being that it’s a Google product. It has stable, reliable, built-in connections to really all of our key data sources that we have been using. It connects seamlessly to Google Analytics. It connects easily to Google Sheets. If you happen to be sharing data there as you’re moving into other, ad words and big data, and then there’s all these kinds of additional platforms and things like that, that can also connect very easily. And then don’t require any staff time on our part to maintain any API connections or any of those kinds of things that can happen with other platforms.

Beyond the technical side, it also has a lot of design benefits as well. So, it’s extremely flexible in terms of the templates that you can build. So, we were able to work with the League to build something that looks like a League of Women Voters product and an asset that can be shared both internally and externally. Whereas if you’re using just a Google Analytics Dashboard, you’re locked into that GA design. And then there’s a number of things, like there’s no limitations on the numbers of pages that you can put our numbers of charts on a page, whereas GA has built in, I believe it’s 12 charts is all you can have in a single dashboard.

This allowed us to build a single unified dashboard for the League. But as you’ll see, as we go through the examples, we’re able to slice and dice it so that it’s applicable to the internal stakeholders and they’re able to easily see the information that they need. And then also it’s extremely easy to share, right? So, you don’t need a Google Analytics login to be able to see a Google Data Studio report. You just need an email address that we can send the report to, and you can log in and access it at all times. So, our first step really with the League was to build a monthly dashboard. And we’ll walk through an example of what this looks like in a moment, but it pulls together six pages, all of which are geared towards a different internal group of stakeholders. So, whether it’s the content team, email team, the advertising team, it pulls together the information that’s relevant to them. So, they can easily log in and see their info at a high-level overview, but then also slice and dice as needed without really needing to be a Google Analytics wiz in the same way that you would if you were logging into GA specifically. So, you can see an example of the overview slide here. It pulls together a lot of those same KPIs that Jason showed on the earlier slides really in terms of the revenue generated, the page views, the sessions, et cetera. So, you can obviously see how the site is doing just overall which is obviously good for the people who are not in the day-to-day and just really want to know how things are going. But we have a lot of built-in filters that allow you to slice and dice this information as needed as well as some of the additional trending information, which you can see down at the bottom where we really try to provide a bit more context in terms of what’s going on in the real world that may be impacting the way that the site has been performing over time.

Jason: Yeah. And Joe, on this page is pretty much all my chief development officer needs to see. She will look at this and she understands the fundraising pieces and the revenue as compared with prior years really, easily and straightforwardly. But if she wants to dig deeper, of course she has the opportunity. But for the most part, this is really all her department needs.

And of course, Kayla, I know you guys pay attention to the bottom chart quite a bit, right?

Kayla: Definitely. So that bottom line graph is where Allegiance has done some work to give some reasoning behind our traffic spikes, tying content to some of the traffic spikes so we are aware of that. That’s just a level of understanding that we hadn’t been getting previously. And so that really helps to inform our strategy, to know what are the leading things that are really driving people to the website.

Joe: So, here’s another example of a screenshot on the right. There’s an additional page that we have on this report that’s built specifically to report out on demographics, which is a key initiative for the League as they’re looking to diversify their membership. And so, we’ve worked with them to identify what are the demographic traits that are most important that are great indicators for whether or not they’re being successful there. But then we’re also able to tie it back, like Kayla was saying, into the content specifically, and into the actions that people are taking on the site.

There’s a number of spots throughout these reports as we’ve built them, where you can, and you can see it here at the top, where the filters are, there’s a filter for page titles. So, if you want to see specifically how is a specific page resonating with an audience, right? You can see that. Or we have them for the medium that drove them to the site. So, if you only really care about how is my email traffic doing, or how are my paid ads generating traffic among our key audience demographics.

And then additionally, we’ve got age and gender built in there as filters. So, you can see specifically. Really, I only care about the female demographic over the age of 55, how are they responding to content? All of these are things that can be drilled down to and can really help to inform the way the content gets created by the League going forward.

Kayla: Yeah. And just to add here, those demographics have been very helpful for us.

In addition to using this new dashboard, we’ve taken on some digital marketing campaigns. That’s a little bit new to our organization and this has really helped to inform that as well, to see you know, who we are reaching and how those campaigns are driving traffic to the website. And what kinds of traffic they’re driving to the website. Are we meeting our goals on those demographics? And the other thing that’s not shown here, but on some of the internal pages that Allegiance just puts together for us, they separate out the types of content, so our blog versus our press releases. And as I mentioned before, that’s a really helpful level of detail for us. It’s really helped to inform how we want to be writing our content. So, we’ve been able to develop some SEO-optimized blog guidelines for our blog writers internally to know what length is optimal and that type of thing.

And additionally, they show us the blogs every month that are performing well. And just as an example there’s a blog, How to Judge a Candidate that was on our website and it was like eight to 10 years old, really old, but it kept showing up in the top 10 accessed to blog content on our website.

And that really pinged us off that we really needed to refresh that content. And so, we prioritize that, and once we did that, we were much more comfortable with that showing up consistently in the top 10 of our blog content. So that’s just really helpful. And also, seeing the content level is really helpful for our development team as well, because they are formulating their e-appeals based on different issues, different types of content. So, to know what issues are resonating most with people is very helpful for them in their strategy for their email appeals as well.

Jason: And sometimes it can even be a leading indicator for us, especially in the sessions by state and so on, we’ll see a state light up where we weren’t aware of something was happening. And because we have over 750 chapters around the country, we don’t always necessarily know what they’re doing. And so just can help give us insight into some of their work as well, because they will drive traffic to our site, and we can reach back to them as well. So, multiple ways we use the demographic pieces.

Joe: And so, we’ve spoken to this quite a bit already, but one of the great things about using Data Studio is that it lets us filter and home in on what those key dimensions are within our data that are most important to the organization. So, we can focus on things like page title for a specific piece of content or channel, age, and gender, like we were just talking about for the demographic analysis. Obviously having date filters built in is hugely important because it means that this may be a monthly report, but I may actually be most interested in what’s been happening in the last 12 months. And so, I can go in and review that historical data as broadly or as narrowly as I want to, as well.

And then with Data Studio, and you probably saw this on some of the earlier slides, but there are text blocks that we’ve built in there specifically for members of our analytics team to provide some of that more in-depth analysis, not just this number went up by this percent, month, over month, but here’s why, and here’s how we can capitalize on this going forward.

And then Data Studio has built in different ways of visualizing everything, right? So, bar charts, pie, charts, maps, all sorts of ways of looking at these things so that it gives you a lot of flexibility to play around a bit and really figure out what’s the most useful way to get your point across when you’re trying to tell that narrative

And so where do we go from here? So, these reports are obviously living documents, they’re out in the Cloud. They’re not just locked into a PowerPoint or a PDF that can never change. And so, we’re constantly looking for ways that we can improve and build on the information that’s already in there.

And Data Studio makes this incredibly easy to just add a new chart or add a new graph. If I want to see, for example, this grouped bar chart here is showing the age breakdown of all the different priority actions that are happening on the League’s website. So, from an email signup and advocacy action, finding a local League, joining your Leagues all these kinds of things that indicate different levels of engagements and commitment to the organization all of which are hugely important.

But a lot of them happen at different points in a supporter’s life. And so, we want to be able to make sure that we’re tracking how people are going through that constituent journey over time to make sure that we’re really optimizing for that.

Jason: Yeah, and this particular report is playing a big role in our thinking strategically about our member’s journey and finding that our younger folks do want to be advocates and as they move into middle age, they want to be donors. And it really isn’t until they reach retirement age that they want to become members and participate in the League at that level. So, it’s really changed our thinking about what our member journey looks like.

And I know Joe just said, it isn’t trapped in a PDF. Sometimes we do want to trap these in PDFs. And one of the great things about the way this is structured is with our branding and the way it is set up, it’s very easy to turn into a PDF and then email it to a board member as needed.

Joe: In summary, Google Data Studio has really proven to be, in a lot of ways, transformational I think in the way that the League has been able to do a lot of it’s reporting on the web properties. We’ve been able to make the reports more interactive, a bit more actionable.

We’ve been able to really focus on the why of things that are happening on the site, as opposed to just things are happening. That’s great. Now we can actually say why things are happening and how can we build on them. So, data Studio has really given us a lot of opportunities to expand beyond what’s available out of the box from Google Analytics. And it’s really been a great tool for us.

Jason: Well, thank you, everyone for joining us, it’s been a quick 20 minutes. We hope you found something valuable here today. On behalf of Kayla and Joe and myself, I want to offer that we are very reachable at these email addresses, and we’ll do our best to respond to any questions that you have, but have a great day, and thank you again.