Email Marketing Campaign Tracking in Google Analytics

Email Marketing Campaign Tracking in Google Analytics

If you use an email marketing platform to manage your email campaigns you already know what your open and click-through rates are. But do you know how many leads and sales your email campaigns generate and what ROI you get on your email marketing efforts? If you don’t yet track your email campaign performance or want to audit your setup, no worries – we put together this guide for email campaign tracking to help you do just that.

First, lets cover some basics – the most common way to track visits from an email to a website, and analyze activity for those visits, is by implementing utm parameters for Google Analytics. If you are curious what the other options are it’s setting up custom landing pages for each acquisition channel or even campaign, that’s what some very large companies do.

How to use utm parameters to track marketing campaigns

First, make sure your website has Google Analytics tracking installed site-wide. When you use Google Analytics (GA) for your website you can take advantage of special utm parameters that are appended to URLs to identify traffic sources (acquisition channels and campaigns) that are tracked on GA platform.

utm_medium – lets you see how your traffic is coming to your site (organic, referral, paid, social, video)
utm_source – tells you where your traffic is coming from, allowing to compare different referral sources
utm_campaign – helps you track how different marketing initiatives are performing
utm_content – lets you tag a specific element within a marketing campaign (ad creative, specific link)

Utm parameters are generally used in 2 ways:

1. Many marketing platforms automatically self-identify to GA by appending utm parameters.

Example: URL with utm parameters auto generated by Buffer

Example: URL with utm parameters automatically generated by Buffer

2. Marketers can define utm parameters themselves by adding values they choose.

Example: URL with utm parameters for tracking a link in an emailExample: URL with utm parameters for tracking a link used in an email

In the examples above, the text in blue is the pre-defined utm parameter names GA is expecting and the text in green is the values being passed in. The examples above are missing a utm_content parameter that helps identify the exact element that was clicked on, but it’s not as commonly used or as useful as those listed in the examples.

How to add utm parameters to links in email marketing platform

Unfortunately, not all email marketing platforms support custom tracking with utm parameters for Google Analytics, and some (like SendGrid and MailGun) don’t have link tracking turned on by default, so make sure you have link tracking enabled first.

Important: utm parameters for email link tracking should be defined at campaign level, not globally

You can look for link tracking settings either at account level, or as an option on each email campaign. In BigMailer, campaign management screen has a section for link tracking where you can define your utm parameters in an open text field.

Google Analytics utm parameters tracking

Google Analytics utm parameters tracking in BigMailer

Tip: If you have control over the utm parameter values, identify your email source as a type of email instead of the email vendor so you can compare historical performance for your email campaigns over time. For example, you can identify marketing emails as utm_source=mktg-email, automated campaigns as utm_source=auto-email, and transactional as utm_source=transaction-email. This way you will be able tell how your marketing or automated emails perform in aggregate.

Where to find data in Google Analytics based on utm values

You can map customer activities with your website pages (using URLs tagged with utm parameters) in Google Analytics by going to “Acquisitions” tab, see mapping below.

utm_ parameters Google Analytics mapping

Once you drill down into the reports by channel, source, or campaign, you can evaluate your visitors engagement with the site.

How to optimize email marketing campaigns with Google Analytics

You can analyze your traffic from email and act on the data in 3 main ways:

  1. Engagement with your site – time they spent on the landing page, bounce rate, page views per visit. These metrics will help you evaluate the content quality on your site and a fit with your audience.
  2. Conversion of your site visitors into leads (trials, registrations) and paying customers, if you setup Goals or e-commerce tags for conversion tracking within your Google Analytics account.
  3. Compare your engagement or conversion metrics change over time (month-over-month or year-over-year for seasonal businesses), and especially based on any change in setup (email sequence design), frequency or schedule for bulk campaigns, or creative (email templates).

What happens if utm parameters aren’t present or defined incorrectly?

When Google Analytics doesn’t see any utm parameters on the URL, it will try to identify the referring site, using built-in data passed in as part of the browser request for the page, called http_referer. The referrer info is only passed in between browser requests but not from other applications that open web links in a browser window. So when a desktop application like Outlook, which is used by many large companies, opens an email link in a browser the browser doesn’t know what the referrer is and GA doesn’t know how to attribute the website visit unless the links in the email have utm tracking parameters on them.

Email Clients in 2019 (report from Litmus): 18% of all emails are opened with desktop clients. Outlook is #1 desktop email client.

So without utm parameters being explicitly, intentionally, and accurately added added the site visits from emails can appear in various acquisition channels:

  1. Referrals – when platforms identify themselves as website domains names, they may show up under Referral traffic
  2. Other – when utm_medium is incorrectly set to something GA doesn’t recognize or “Email”
  3. Direct – when no utm parameters are present on URL and no referrer info available to browser
  4. Email – when utm_medium=email (case sensitive)

So the short story is – your data is only as good as your tagging, so make sure you tag your links correctly because there is no going back once data is collected and classified incorrectly.

Did you find this info helpful? Is there anything you wish we covered in more detail? Please share your feedback with us in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you.

Improve Email Deliverability – A Guide to Best Practices

Improve Email Deliverability – A Guide to Best Practices

With crowded consumer and business inboxes, email deliverability and inbox placement has become a top priority for marketers in recent years. Getting emails flagged as spam or blocked by mailbox provider has an impact on sender reputation and future inbox placement.

Many marketers use “deliverability” as an equivalent to “inbox placement,” but the terms are not the same. Emails that go into Spam folder are considered delivered, where is marketer’s goal is to ultimately get emails into subscriber’s inbox.

The major factors that affect deliverability are:

  1. Global engagement (overtime, across campaigns)
  2. Content and format of the email (spam words in subject or message body, format – use of images, etc)
  3. Relative engagement for you (sender) versus other senders in the recipients inbox
  4. IP reputation
  5. Sender reputation (e.g. sender being your domain or exact email address the emails are sent from)
  6. Server and domain configuration (DKIM, SPF, etc)

email deliverability factors

Email deliverability factors

On the diagram above, the green box represents factors that vary and change more with each campaign sent and the square on the left with 4 factors are not subject to dramatic changes on a per campaign basis. In this guide, we are covering 5 out of 6 factors, but you can learn more about IP reputation management here.

The list of best practices below can help you achieve better email deliverability from building and maintaining a strong sender reputation, while improving your engagement. 

Global engagement – keep bounce rate low

An average email list decays at a rate of 2% per month for B2C lists and 3% for B2B lists. The rate is higher for B2B lists because people change work emails more frequently than personal emails, due to job changes. So if you haven’t engaged with your email list for more than 6 months you are likely to have a more than a 10% bounce rate on your first bulk campaign. A bounce rate over 10% can get your account suspended with many email service providers (ESPs), but it also has a negative impact on your email deliverability and sender reputation, not to mention cost (since you pay to send email to invalid addresses). Inbox providers pay close attention to bounce rate and may block emails from a sender that attempts to deliver to invalid email addresses.

At BigMailer, a bulk campaign with a bounce rate over 8% (default, configurable by customer) is automatically paused to protect sender reputation.

Old and unengaged lists should be validated before being imported into an email marketing platform. Most email validation providers recommend that you validate your entire list once a month, or before every campaign you send, to keep your bounce rate as low as possible. While that tactic can be pricey, the good news is that most email validation providers offer great volume discounts for purchasing credits in bulk (that usually never expire).

We have partnered with low-cost email validation services Bouncer (GDPR compliant, recommended for customers in Europe) and TheChecker to get our customers a discount on their services.

Email content and format (including email headers and links)

1. Use a custom tracking URL in your emails

Using a custom tracking URL in your emails can help your emails appear more authentic and help with inbox placement. Consider customizing tracking URL for your emails, using the same domain as your sender address. For example, if your sender is sales@your-domain.com you can use email.your-domain.com as your tracking URL.

custom tracking URL

Examples of commonly used tracking sub-domains

This will require updating your domain’s DNS records (to create that email subdomain and map to email provider servers) and then adding the updated records to your email provider’s platform as a configuration or setting. Most market leaders allow this, although some call it white labeling and most charge extra for it or make it available on higher tier plans. 

2. Create a plain-text version of your email

While only a tiny fraction of your audience may see the value in a plain-text email, SpamAssasin, a widely used spam tool, considers it essential. The tool assigns two points to your email if no plain-text version is available. If your message reaches a score of seven, it’s identified as spam, so two points is a pretty big penalty for something that’s fairly easy for a savvy marketer to execute.

While some email platforms (like BigMailer) will auto-generate a plain-text version from the HTML version, most of them don’t require one. If you have to create a plain-text version yourself, don’t cut corners – it should match the message in the HTML version and not be any shorter. Check out this article from Litmus for more guidance on formatting plain-text emails.

3. Make it easy to unsubscribe

Making it super easy for users to unsubscribe is not a tactic that’s obvious to benefit the sender, but it is. If email recipients can’t easily locate the unsubscribe link they are likely to hit the Spam/Complaint button instead. Complaint is the worst type of engagement for your email campaigns. 

Your unsubscribe or “subscription preferences” link needs to allow a user to either opt-out from your brand communications or  select the message types they want to receive (see the example below) and not to a page that requires them to log in to their account to retrieve or save their preferences. The latter has become a more prevalent practice among some high profile brands that use their own built-in-house email tools. This practice is actually in conflict with anti-spam laws. It’s advisable to provide users with a straightforward method for getting off an email list and honor that request in a timely manner.

It may be helpful to offer subscribers a way to opt out from certain communications instead of all brand communications at once. Providing this option has become even more necessary with the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) laws in May 2018, which states that the consent to receive emails should be explicit and not be bundled (e.g., if subscribers only opted in to receiving product updates, you can’t additionally send them promotional emails or messages on behalf of your partners).

Example: unsubscribe page with preferences format

Example: BigMailer.io unsubscribe page with preferences format

4. Specify a useful sender (from) address

Be it a question or general feedback, email recipients commonly want to respond to the messages they receive. For this reason, it’s best if your reply-to email address is one that goes straight to your support team (or at least forwards to them). You don’t want to discourage your subscribers from responding to your message by using a no-reply address, such as noreply@your-domain.com, because replies are part of the engagement metrics that some email service providers (Gmail, for example) use for determining the importance of your email and whether it belongs in the inbox or spam folder.

Another consideration is that customers will sometimes request removal from a mailing list, and if they see noreply@your-domain.com they are more likely to hit the “Spam” or “Complain” buttons instead – complaints are the worst form of engagement you can have on your email campaigns.

Lastly, no-reply addresses run a greater risk of being sent automatically to the junk folder. As this GlockApps article states, “Some ISPs, network spam filters, and customers’ personal email security settings are set up to move messages with ‘no-reply’ addresses to the junk folder.

In short, if you care about your email campaigns’ engagement rate and future deliverability, specify a meaningful sender address for and avoid using a no-reply email address.

5. Use a descriptive Sender label

While a clever subject line can certainly help you stand out in a crowded inbox, your subscribers will still need to recognize your brand’s communication when they scan their inbox. You don’t want them left wondering why they’re getting an email from someone they don’t know with a cryptic subject line that promises to solve pain point XYZ.

Consider these three basic options for sender labels:

  1. Brand or Product Name
  2. Brand or Product Name + Function (e.g., Support, Sales)
  3. First Name at/from [Brand or Product Name]

With the third option, consider the name of the person as well as your product name. Is your product name a single word, one to two words or longer? Will the entire label fit in the “From” field? Whatever format you choose, make sure to be consistent across all of your sender accounts and test for appearance before you start using a new sender label.

6. Use preview (aka preheader) text

While it isn’t always a visible element of your email’s design, preview text provides valuable real estate to expand your message. You should think of it as a second subject line – an additional opportunity to convince your recipients to open your email. The better your open and engagement rates are, the better chance you have of landing in the inbox. Many platforms, including BigMailer, support specifying this text. If your platform doesn’t support it, you can still have a preheader element as part of your email template design.

7. Test emails with spam tools

Testing every email adds an extra step, but it’s an incredibly important one. Because testing typically has to happen outside of an email marketing platform using tools provided by websites like Litmus, Email on Acid or GlockApps, you may be tempted to skip it. You shouldn’t – it may mean the difference between your message being successfully delivered or it being flagged as spam.

With that said, even experienced marketers using these tools can’t avoid landing an email in the spam folder every once in a while – this is especially true for Gmail and is often due to the topic of the message.

Starbucks email in spam folder

Example of a high-quality email and sender in spam folder

Don’t stress – if the occasional email gets a low engagement rate because a few spam keywords made it into your message, know that you are not alone. It’s become necessary at this point for email marketing platforms to embed email testing into their platforms to simplify a marketer’s campaign workflow. This is exactly what the team at BigMailer is currently working on, and we hope to delight our customers with this workflow improvement soon.

Relative engagement

Mailbox providers keep track of how your email recipients interact with your emails, so you need to maintain a high engagement to achieve a high inbox placement rate. Consider these tactics:

  1. Periodically remove unengaged subscribers from your list. Identify anyone who hasn’t engaged with (didn’t open) your emails for 90 or 120 days and either permanently remove them, or exclude them from your frequent mailings (you could send them your highest engagement/appeal content or only critical service notifications regarding their accounts).
  2. Send emails with appealing call-to-actions (CTAs) and make it necessary to click and interact with your email. It may seem obvious, but it’s not uncommon for some marketers to include phone numbers to place orders or have the website address in giant font to make it memorable, which may push a user to simply type the address when they are ready to place an order instead of clicking on a link in an email (and for a marketer to correctly attribute a conversion or sale to the email sent).
  3. Engage in email exchanges with your customers using the same email address that you use to send emails, or at least using the same sender domain, for example for customer service inquiries. Any email interactions between your and your customers signal trust to mailbox providers.

Consider using a dedicated IP address

IP (internet protocol) address is a unique address that identifies a device (computer or server) on the Internet or a local network. When you start using a hosted transactional or bulk email marketing service, by default, your emails are being sent from a group of servers with different IP addresses, and that group of servers is shared by multiple senders like you. So your emails use a “shared IP pool” and the reputation of those shared IP addresses is shared as well.

The biggest factor in IP reputation is whether it’s blacklisted, which happens when emails sent from a given IP get flagged as “Spam” by the recipients. If the % of complaints is high enough, the IP gets blacklisted and may get blocked by ISPs.

You can benefit from a dedicated IP address IF:

  • You are looking for a fresh start and looking to invest in building a strong email sender reputation
  • You have a small list now, but plan to grow it fast and monetize it, while controlling cost and ROI by using a low cost provider
  • You have built up a sizable list (over 20,000 subscribers) and ready to engage it with high quality content

Unfortunately, low volume senders are limited in their options because most low cost bulk email marketing service providers don’t offer an option to get a dedicated IP address on lower pricing tiers. And if you use an ESP that does offer access to a dedicated IP, it may come with a hefty price tag (for example $250 per IP at ConvertKit). If you use an ESP that runs on Amazon SES, like BigMailer, you can request a dedicated IP(s) from Amazon anytime, at a cost of $25 per IP per month.

Manage sender reputation – keep complaint rate low

Just like with an IP reputation, the sender reputation is affected by email recipients marking the emails as “Spam”. An industry benchmark is to keep complaint rate below 0.1%, but it’s more nuanced than that. The lower the volume of sending the less sensitive a mailbox provider is to the complaint rate, due to statistical insignificance (just 1 complaint can change the ratio dramatically). High volume senders have to be more vigilant – being close to the 0.1% ratio can trigger a manual campaign review from an ESP they use and can be followed by an account suspension.

A site/domain can also be blacklisted as unsafe with various monitoring services, like Google Save Browsing. You can monitor your domain/IP health by signing up with various providers, like Google Postmasters, or blacklist monitoring services.

Manage your sender domain identity

While this step is optional with most email service providers and requires a little more technical knowledge than the other items in this guide, most email platforms allow you to configure Sender Policy Framework (SPF) and DomainKeys Identified Mail (DKIM) for your domain to help improve your sender reputation by making it appear more authentic and safe. We highly recommend getting both SPF and DKIM configured for every sender domain you use to send emails. 

Use a different sender domain and IP addresses for any cold email campaigns, which have the lowest engagement and can burn your sender reputation. You may want to consider using a different sender identity for your marketing and transactional emails as well, to ensure your transactional email delivery doesn’t get affected by your bulk campaign practices.

Did you find this article helpful? Were you able to find a few useful practices to include in your email campaigns? Please leave a comment – I would love to hear from you.

 

Email Marketing Terms You Should Know

Email Marketing Terms You Should Know

If you work with email campaigns in any capacity you probably heard of all the terms listed below, but do you really understand what they mean and how they can be helpful in analyzing success of your email campaigns? We break it all down and provide you with some links for additional reading.

MBP – MailBox Provider, any company that provides end users (i.e., subscribers) with an email account. The largest MBPs in North America are Gmail, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL, and Comcast. It’s important to not forget corporate email providers with their custom setup and unique spam filters, which can make a big difference for some industries – for example schools and universities tend to have very aggressive spam filters so fewer emails reach recipients.

Blocked – if email is blocked, the MBP filter has determined the message or sender is suspicious and has stopped the mail (and any other volume from the sender) from going through to the recipient.

Blacklist – blacklists are lists of IP addresses that have been reported and listed as “known” sources of spam. There are public and private blacklists. Public blacklists are published and made available to the public – many times as a free service, sometimes for a fee. There are hundreds of well-known public blacklists. If your email marketing platform account is on a shared IP with other customers and the IP gets on a blacklist, your emails can get blocked. This doesn’t mean you must have a dedicated IP, although it does help to avoid this particular problem, a good provider will rotate IPs and work on getting their IPs off blacklists. Large providers tend to have “cleaner” IPs because they have resources to maintain a healthy IP list. Many providers offer dedicated IPs at extra charge,

Since BigMailer uses Amazon SES, which has a very large pool of IPs (and servers), the email blocking and blacklisting is not a big issue and so deliverability tends to be higher compared to many other low-cost providers.

Bounces – a bounce means that the message cannot be accepted by the MBP (MailBox Provider) and is the email equivalent of “return to sender.” There are two types of bounces: hard and soft. Hard bounces indicate an email address is invalid or no longer exists; soft bounces indicate a temporary reason, such as a full inbox, for returning the message.

Delivery Rate – a ratio of emails that didn’t bounce and weren’t blocked by email provider (MBP)

Inbox Placement Rate – a ratio of emails that landed in the Inbox (didn’t go to Spam/Junk or Promo (Gmail) folders) to total emails sent.

Many marketers confuse “delivery rate” with “inbox placement rate” and use the two terms interchangeably, but they are quite different. Inbox placement is something marketers can optimize for using spam testing tools like GlockApps or Litmus that analyze inbox placement across many MBPs and consider things like email content, subject line, and even implementation (code).

Double opt-in – a practice to ask email subscribers to verify their subscription by clicking on a link in a verification email automatically sent out once a user subscribes. Double opt-in can significantly limit marketing opportunities for a given list while slightly improving list quality. Single opt-in is considered a superior subscription process by many marketers because it maximizes list growth and overall performance by minimizing signup barriers and opportunities for errors. Chad White from Litmus on advantages of single opt-in.

Re-permissioning – a practice to reach out to existing list subscribers to obtain a confirmation of permission to send emails. This has been discussed a lot lately due to GDPR’s requirement to have an explicit consent from subscribers. From what we had seen and heard, few companies had engaged in this practice, especially for US-based subscribers since GDPR scope is limited to customers located in EU, although it is recommended by experts at ReturnPath.

utm parameters – these are URL parameters that are used to help identify the source of traffic (e.g. social networks, email and display advertising campaigns) in Google Analytics with names that start with utm_ (e.g. utm_medium, utm_source, utm_campaign). Some email marketing software providers automatically add some utm_ parameters, like utm_medium=email and some providers allow defining additional parameters in a freeform field, either globally for an account or on a per campaign basis. Read more about email campaign tracking with Google Analytics.

relative engagement – an email subscriber engagement with the email from your sending domain relative to all other sources of email in their inbox. So a good sender reputation may not be enough to guarantee inbox placement.

Did you learn something new from reading this post? Are there any other terms you think we should add to this list? Please let us know by leaving a comment, we appreciate any feedback.

10 Early Stage Tools Every Bootstrapping Entrepreneur Needs

10 Early Stage Tools Every Bootstrapping Entrepreneur Needs

As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, you might not have the money of a venture-backed startup, but you still need to compete with them and match their pace.

It’s not uncommon for a first-time founder to build out a prototype while holding a day job and fund it with personal savings; however, just because you’re bootstrapping that doesn’t mean you need to be cheap – you just need to be smart about how you use your resources to get the most value for your dollars.

To help you get started, I’ve compiled a list of affordable tools I used when bootstrapping two of my own businesses.

Startup Formation

Ideally, you’ll be able to test and validate your ideas before forming a company, but if your project takes off quickly, you’ll have to tackle the legal side of it sooner than later. If you have multiple co-founders, and if building your minimum viable product (MVP) demands significant resources, it might make sense to address your basic legal needs early on.

1. LegalZoom to Form Your Company

Law firms are expensive – LegalZoom isn’t. You might first need to consult a lawyer (or the internet) to educate yourself, but once you know what you need, you can file forms at LegalZoom for a fraction of the cost of hiring a law firm.

LegalZoom offers quick, top-quality legal services and documents at budget prices. From incorporating your business to filing trademarks and other legal forms, they’re a useful resource for every bootstrapping entrepreneur.

Make sure that when you incorporate your startup, you pay close attention to what decisions are permanent (like the location of your company), and what can be changed later (like the name of your company). A bad decision here can come back to haunt you down the line. For example, if you plan to raise funds in the future, you might be better off incorporating in Delaware, a place many venture capitalists will find appealing, and not in New York or California.

2. UpCounsel to Structure Your Legal Agreements

Another tool you might want to check out in this stage is UpCounsel – think of it like Elance but for legal projects. It has a great library of free agreement templates and legal documents that you can download and customize to fit your business needs.

You can also hire an attorney through the platform and have custom legal agreements created to fit your exact specifications for a reasonable fee. Whether it’s your website’s terms of service or privacy policy, or key legal documents such as founder agreements or non-disclosure agreements, UpCounsel has it all. You’ll unlock the best savings when you hire an attorney that specializes in your particular need (for example, custom terms of service or privacy policy documents), not when you hire one for a variety of needs.

Get a $100 credit toward any project on UpCounsel with this affiliate link (disclaimer: I get a $100 credit for projects completed using this link as well).

Day-to-day Operations

Once your business is formed and you get down to work, these two tools will make your daily activities a lot easier.

3. Teamwork and Git for Collaboration and Task Management

There are many applications out there to help you manage tasks and collaborate with your team, but I’m a fan of Teamwork. This beautiful, easy-to-use suite of tools helps you keep all of your team’s tasks in one place as well as collaborate in real time.

They have a rock-solid free plan, but you can also apply to get the pro version for free for one year, which includes powerful Google Docs/Sheets integrations and more. This will give you plenty of time to launch your MVP or get some traction for your product.

If you are building a technology product and your team is small, say just you and a developer, consider indulging your developer should they request to track work in Git. It’s simple to do and it works; plus, it will make your developer happy.

4. GoDaddy Bookkeeping to Organize Your Books

GoDaddy Bookkeeping (formerly known as Outright) makes bookkeeping simple. It organizes all of your finances in one place without requiring hours of data entry or tracking down receipts.

Accounting is important, but it can be a hassle. You don’t want to waste your valuable runway time worrying about getting the books sorted out. The trick is to do it right from the start by creating a business checking account and obtaining a business credit card for ALL of your business expenses, and then letting the software do the rest.

Simply tag and categorize your expenses throughout the year, and when tax season comes around, all you’ll need to do is take the profit and loss statements to your accountant to file the taxes. Bookkeeping doesn’t have to be hard.

Building Your MVP

The real work starts when you build your MVP. The following are essential for validating your idea or even launching your product.

5. WordPress for Website Hosting

When you’re building your MVP, you need to act fast. Many startups forget this when it comes to their website, and they instead overbuild, scale prematurely and waste too much time perfecting it for an idea that hasn’t yet been validated.

Don’t make this mistake. Use the tool that gets the job done with minimal effort: WordPress. With it, you can easily create your coming soon page and your first content pages. It isn’t just for blogs – you can configure it to power all of your content or marketing pages in addition to a blog, which is exactly what we’ve done at BigMailer.io using the premium Divi theme from Elegant Themes. There’s a good reason WordPress powers more than 25% of the websites on the internet – it’s inexpensive, easy-to-use and just works.

6. 99Designs for Basic Designs

Designing your logos and other visuals doesn’t need to be expensive. 99Designs offers fantastic full-range design services at affordable prices. From free logo templates to $99 logos to complete website designs for under $1000, it’s got all of your basic design needs covered.

So long as you have a solid idea about what you’re looking for and are able to provide clear instructions for it, you’ll be pleased with the outcome.

7. Stripe or PayPal to Collect Payments

Gone are the days of needing heavy development to implement a checkout solution. With Stripe, you can simply drop a piece of JavaScript code into your web application and configure all of your business logic on the Stripe website without needing a developer to manage application settings (product price points, discounts, etc.).

Once Stripe has been set up, you can use financial analytics tools to pull and present data from it in a way that’s easy to analyze and track.

I highly recommend ProfitWell. With its free price tag for unlimited users, it’s much more startup friendly than tools like Baremetrics and FirstOfficer.io.

PayPal is a widely recognized and trusted payment option used by some well-established brands (like AppSumo) and can help you increase conversion rates for some audiences. When you’re still testing your MVP – especially if your product is business-to-consumer (B2C) or targets international customers – consider adding a “Checkout with PayPal” button to your test pricing page. On my last B2C business, we AB tested checkout pages with and without PayPal as a payment option, and the version with PayPal produced 10% more in sales.

Getting Traction

Once you’ve got that MVP up and running, it’s time to get some customers.

8. Google Analytics to Track and Learn

Building a startup is all about fast learning, and Google Analytics is the perfect tool to help you do it. You NEED to track how well you’re doing, and this tool lets you do it for free. Just drop a small piece of code onto your site, and you’ll get powerful tracking, data, analysis and enterprise quality reporting.

Make sure you define the conversion goals (sign-ups, registrations, payment page views) that will help you see how well your MVP is performing. Start collecting this data early on so you can accurately track whether each change you make brings you closer to success. Check out this guide for a closer look at conversion tracking.

In the early stages, you might not have enough traffic yet to be statistically significant. If this is the case, look for qualitative data (e.g., customer feedback), not quantitative data, to drive decisions until your data set grows big enough to be useful.

9. Google AdWords to Drive Traffic

Now, it’s time to get prospects to visit your site. If they don’t come on their own, you can use Google AdWords to drive traffic to your MVP.

For as little as $10 dollars a day, you could drive enough traffic to your website to help you quickly validate your idea. Better still, Google AdWords usually offers a free $100-150 ad spend bonus for new accounts – just sign up and wait for a promotional email.

Driving traffic with Google AdWords is one of the easiest ways to get your MVP in front of your target audience, so don’t overlook it.

10. Email Collection and Email Marketing

Once you have your website up, make sure to begin collecting email addresses immediately, even if all you have is a landing page and no product. 

As you begin to receive emails from early adopters and beta testers, be sure you keep in touch with them by providing updates and usage tips. Talking with prospective customers is one of the most powerful ways to get the crucial feedback you need to improve your product. Every email you send is a chance to ask about features, functionality and what your audience really cares about.

If you plan to spend a long time building out your MVP in private beta, consider an email marketing platform with a good free tier so you don’t pay just for storing your contacts or sending minimal emails with no positive return on investment.

Most email providers offer free tiers, but they’re usually capped at 2,000 contacts. BigMailer.io offers a generous free tier – up to 5,000 contacts free, and only $1 for every additional 1,000 contacts above that. Keep an eye on your growth rate and future cost, and consider taking advantage of product pricing that scales well.

Try Them Out

So there you have it. These are the tools that brought me success when bootstrapping two of my own businesses, and I hope they help improve the chances of success for your startup as well. They’re effective and affordable, which is great for any bootstrapping entrepreneur.

Good luck and happy bootstrapping!

A Guide to Conversion Tracking with Google Analytics

A Guide to Conversion Tracking with Google Analytics

If you’re a startup founder, a growth marketer in an early stage startup, a developer working on side projects, an aspiring professional blogger or simply someone who wants to be a data-driven decision maker, this post is for you.

When product your is past its minimum viable product (MVP) phase and in a growth phase, you can afford premium analytics tools. In the early stages, however, you probably don’t have a lot of data, so using one of the many available free tools to help you collect conversion and engagement metrics can be a smart choice. The data you’re able to collect and analyze in the early stages of product development is not only important in illustrating what channels and tactics work best, but it can also be crucial to your startup’s success or failure.

While there are many analytics tools available, none can claim the large-scale adoption and proven value of Google Analytics (GA). For purposes of this post, I’m going to assume you already have Google Analytics tracking set up on your website and dive straight into some conversion tracking instances that don’t require additional steps from a site owner or developer.

Conversion Tracking Using Google Analytics Goals

Effort: Minimal – you define your goals in the Google Analytics UI with no code updates required.

You can set up goals for your main non-sale conversions like email sign-up, free account/trial sign-up and product activation. These can help you understand your conversions from site visitor to member, trial member or email subscriber. For many products, you can also add goals as steps that indicate product usage, allowing for certain functionality that enables users to evaluate your product and its value.

To get started, go to the Admin tab on the bottom left (look for gear icon), find “Goals” link under Views.

GA Admin Goals

Click “Goals” and then “+ NEW GOAL.” From here, there are two simple ways you can define goals:

1 Use a unique URL path of the page that indicates a task completion such as /email-signup or /regi/welcome.

GA goal setup by destination

2 Use a unique name=value string that your site might already be using to indicate some other completed action. For example, you might be redirecting a user to the page they were on prior to creating an account and appending ?regi=true or ?email-signup=yes or a similar parameter to indicate to your application that the user just joined the site or mailing list. This can be used to display a custom welcome message or launch a tutorial-style widget to tell the user more about your site or product.

NOTE: Google Analytics allows you to assign a monetary value to a goal, but unless you’re actually using Goals to track sales or other actions you monetize (like automatically opting in your members to partner email lists or products during the registration process), you shouldn’t assign it. An exception would be if you only sell one product at one price point, like an ebook. You can actually use Goals to track your sales in this case, so you don’t need to read the rest of this post if your setup is that simple. 

Email to Web Engagement Tracking Using Goals

Effort: Medium – depends on how and where you currently manage your emails.

If you send emails of any kind to your customers, make sure to tag all of them, marketing and transactional, with utm_ parameters.

If you’re new to utm_ parameter tracking, check out this guide. At a bare minimum, always pass utm_medium=email on all links in your emails to attribute your traffic, engagement and sales to the Google Analytics “Email” channel. Many email providers have click tracking disabled by default (SendGrid, MailGun), so make sure to enable it first and define values, preferably at campaign level.

If your email links don’t pass utm_medium=email, your stats will be attributed to catch-all “Direct,” “Referral” or “Other” channels depending on the email provider you use and the email clients your subscribers use. Once you add utm_medium=email, your stats will shift from one or more of the other predefined channels in the Email channel.

GA Email channels

Utm_medium should always be set to “email” for your email links. If you set utm_medium to something you came up with yourself and it isn’t a convention, like email-[provider], then all your data will be attributed to the Other channel.

Conversion Tracking for Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Campaigns

Effort: Medium – requires your developer to drop the code in the right place but without customizing it.

If you run any PPC campaigns, simply drop the conversion tracking code (aka “pixel”) from your network to your subscription confirmation page. PPC platforms such as Google AdWords, Facebook, Pinterest, and many others all offer the option of adding a tracking code to your site. This allows you to track the return on investment (ROI) for your campaigns and ads inside those platforms.

E-commerce Conversion Tracking

Effort: Medium to Large – requires a developer be familiar with the checkout setup to drop the code and add values from the application into the code.

The best thing you can do for your conversion-to-paid tracking is to add e-commerce tracking from Google Analytics and pass the value of the sale or initial (first month/year) subscription from the sale/subscription confirmation page to Google Analytics. This will assign sales/revenue to the appropriate channel automatically, and you’ll even know what landing page the user originated from (i.e., an individual blog post) if you drill down to report by landing page (“Behavior” tab on the left > “Site Content” > Landing Pages).

GA channels with E-commerce data

Google Analytics Report Example: E-commerce Data by Acquisition Channel

IMPORTANT: If you sell in more than one country and display prices in multiple currencies on checkout or receipt/confirmation pages, make sure to convert the value to your desired currency before adding the information to the e-commerce tracking code. Your e-commerce data in Google Analytics will otherwise be an irrecoverable mess until you fix it.

Special Case – You Offer a Free Trial

Effort: Large – requires development work, including database work.

Typically, when someone signs up for a free trial that requires a credit card, they’re moved to a paid plan after the trial period ends. If your product supports this model, then the goal and e-commerce tracking described above will only track your free trials and not the actual revenue you collect unless you’ve included a custom step in which a user manually upgrades and chooses a plan or adds a payment method.

One way to track your sources of revenue beyond a free trial is to record referral data (http_referer and utm_ parameter values) to your database during the conversion to trial step. This will provide a referral source for each trial record. To implement this process, record a referral source (check HTTP referer and/or utm_ parameters on query string) into a cookie, and then record the source from the cookie into your database with the account record during the trial sign-up step. You can later cross-reference that record with subsequent renewals and determine your churn, life time value (LTV) ratio and ROI for the individual acquisition channels or specific PPC campaigns (if you use unique utm_campaign parameter for each PPC campaign).

For more info on implementing custom conversion tracking, check out Building Your Own User Analytics System in SQL from Periscope, which was written for developers and outlines an implementation in great detail (data tables, columns, etc.).

Did you find this article helpful? Was there anything you wish we covered in more detail or provided examples for? Please share your feedback in the comments.

Happy conversion tracking and growth hacking!