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How to measure social value in Google Analytics

By Richard Edwards, 06 Mar 2018

Google Analytics is so much more than a way to track a website’s bounce rates and page views. It’s an incredible resource that helps you determine whether your website, app or anything that can connect to the internet is helping to deliver your organisational goals.

Obviously sales-driven websites can gain great insights on the income performance of their products and return-on-investment from their advertising sources. As can websites that take donations.

But what if you’re not selling online? What happens if your organisation’s aim is to deliver social value? Can Analytics help you measure this?

Well, yes. This is also trackable in Analytics. And this post will show you how.

This post is indebted to: Avinash Kaushik’s excellent 2011 blog post on assigning goal values.

Why measure social value with Analytics?

Time for a list!

  1. It helps with your funding applications! You’ll be able to demonstrate the value of your activities.
  2. It helps show where your social value is being delivered, e.g. by age and gender of your organisation’s users.
  3. It helps you understand the effectiveness of what you are doing online. If you are making any form of content, it helps you determine its impact and how it contributes towards the social value you generate.
  4. It helps you decide which content to promote over others and where to do this. This is useful for any website that curates a lot of content or for ANY site that has a homepage. (I.e., all of them.)
  5. It allows you to test hypotheses and make changes that benefit your organisation.
  6. It helps you plan and measure future activity.

 

Photo: Toa Heftiva, Unsplash.com

How to measure social value

The first steps are relatively simple:

  1. Know your organisational objectives (easy enough – you likely know this already)
  2. Know what strategies (i.e. plans) you are undertaking to support these objectives
  3. Know the executable, online tactics that are helping to achieve the strategies
  4. Think of how to measure when these tactics have worked for a user
  5. Assign a value to each time these tactics are successful

Steps 1-3 – knowing your social objectives, strategies & tactics

Let’s take a hypothetical example. Let’s pretend that we belong to an organisation called “Prevent” that provides free advice to those at risk of homelessness.

  1. Objective => prevent homelessness
  2. Strategies => provide free advice and support
  3. Tactics => online-bookable sessions with advisers; free online guides; free online resources; relevant blog posts and case studies

Step 4 – Knowing when your online tactics have worked for a user

Taking our example of Prevent’s website:

  • Online-bookable sessions with advisers -> This tactic has worked when someone completes the booking enquiry form
  • Free online guides -> A success here could be when someone clicks to download or read
  • Free online resources -> Again, maybe a success is when someone clicks to download or read these resources, or when people open these pages
  • Relevant blog posts and case studies -> At its simplest, when someone reads the post (*)

* This could just be opening a post, but a more reliable method is tracking how far down a user reads this post. If they reach, say, 50% or more towards the bottom of the page, then we could argue that they’ve read the content and that this is a success. We will look at how to set up tracking for this later.

Step 5 – Assigning a value to a successful tactic

This may seem hard to work out, but the important thing to remember is that this value is only a finger-in-the-air estimate to help you better understand the performance of your website. You can revise it up or down later.

There are a number of approaches you can take.

#1 Just use whatever monetary figures you are aware of…

The important thing to remember is that this does NOT need to be accurate. It’s really only a guide for you to use to get a feel for your value.

For example: a quick google search of “cost of homelessness” leads us to Crisis, who advise that:

If 40,000 people were prevented from becoming homeless for one year in England it would save the public purse £370 million (Crisis)

Which computes to a saving of £9,250 per person.

#2 … and apply a little reality

For the sake of our example, Prevent’s own rough figures suggest that 1 in 5 at-risk people who meet with advisers don’t become homeless as a result of their meeting.

So the social value of meeting the Prevent adviser is therefore:

£9,250 / 5 = £1,850

But of course not everyone who books a meeting online with Prevent actually comes to a session. Checking our booking requests vs actual attendance, we discover that only 1 in 3 booking requests result in an adviser meeting.

So that gives us a way of working out how valuable an online booking is:

£1,850 / 3 => £616

Great! Booking a session with a Prevent adviser is worth £616 of social value!

#3 What to do when you don’t have data? Guesstimate.

But how about Prevent’s other tactics? How socially valuable is it for someone to access an online guide about avoiding homelessness? How about reading a blog post?

Well, here we can just make some educated, relative estimates and go for what feels right and believable.

For example, we all know that people respond much more to advice from real people than a takeaway document. And we can presume that if a document IS downloaded, there’s a fair chance it will never be read.

So we know that clicking to download a guide is going to have far less impact than meeting a Prevent adviser. It’s certainly not equivalent to £616 of social value.

Maybe it’s worth a fraction of that.

£6 feels an appropriate goal value when taken relative to booking a meeting with a Prevent adviser.

How about blog posts? Well, taken in isolation, maybe these will be even less impactful. Relatively, how much is a read worth?

Say…  £1?

#4 What to do when you don’t have data or can’t make relative estimates of goal value

If you really, really don’t have any numbers or data to go on – and you can’t make any educated, relative estimates – just choose £1 as the goal value for the completion of all of your online tactics.

This will start to give you some reporting data. It won’t be very reliable, and I would be cautious about acting on it, but it will enable you to visualise the social value of your activities. Your team will start thinking about measuring social value, and I’m confident that sooner or later you will want to revise these figures, lifting up some of the goal values and creating more relative estimates.

Photo: Gus Moretta, Unsplash.com

Creating your social value goals in Analytics

Now you know what you’re tracking and how much value to assign when a tactic succeeds for users, it’s time to create your Goals in Google Analytics.

Much has already been written on how to create Goals in Analytics and I won’t recreate it here. You can follow the steps in the Google Analytics official guide to creating goals.

Alternatively a slightly more readable guide to creating goals – if a little out of date on the layout of the Goals setup screen – is available via Monster Insights.

In short, for our Prevent examples, we need to:

1. Track the bookable session form submission

Let’s say the session booking page goes to a thank you or confirmation screen, at:

www.prevent.com/booking-thank-you

So in Analytics -> Goals -> New Goals, our Goal Destination will be /booking-thank-you

To assign a monetary value to the goal, we enable the Goal Value switch and enter the amount of social value from this completed goal. In our example, Prevent’s goal from someone completing the submission form is £616.

We Save the goal and set its Recording to On.

2. Track downloads of resources:

This essentially requires the use of Event tracking. I.e. tracking when something has happened, such as a user clicking on a link to an Avoiding Homelessness PDF.

Event tracking is easiest to set up if you’re using Google Tag Manager in addition to Analytics. This post has a nice step-by-step guide to setting up GTM Events tracking of PDF link clicks.

When you have set up your Events in Google Tag Manager, you will need to create a Goal in Analytics to apply social value to whenever these Events (the PDF clicks) occur.

Go to the Goals screen. Choose Goal Description -> Type -> Event

For Prevent, we enter in our goal value – accessing a PDF guide is worth £6 – then continue the goal setup, save the goal and set its Recording to on.

3. Track when someone has read content, such as blog posts

Prevent wants to track any time the opened URL is a blog post*.

Prevent’s website is structured like this:

www.prevent.com/blog/my-blog-post

… and so we need a goal to be any time a child page of /blog/ is viewed.

To create this goal, we choose a Custom goal type -> Destination. Then where it says Goal Details, we use the dropdown select and text field to enter Matches regular expression and \/blog\/(.+)

This will register a goal any time there’s a visit to a page in the subdirectory /blog/ (it won’t apply to any visits just to the parent /blog/ page).

* However!! In reality it would be much better to track actual READS of the blog posts, rather than just someone opening the post. One way of doing this is to use Google Tag Manager’s scroll-depth tracking, and use it to measure how far down a blog post someone has read.

This will create an event for you in Analytics and you can match a goal to it. E.g. when someone reads at least 50% of a blog post.

Simo Ahava has written a great guide on setting up the Scroll Depth Trigger in Google Tag Manager.

Reporting social value

Now your goals have been set up, you will have to wait a short while before you can start reporting. This is because Analytics is not retroactive and Goals are only tracked from the moment you set up your goal and switch Recording to On.

Showing your social value in Google Analytics

So, after you’ve let your website trundle along for a period of time tracking visits you’ll be able to see your social value in Analytics.

It won’t be directly labelled as Social Value (that requires more of a custom setup), but it will be visible via looking at related metrics.

Open Behaviour -> Site Content -> All Pages. You’ll see a column to the right called Page Vale, as in this example below.

Your content’s social value – Click to view image

Page Value is defined as:

… the average value for a page that a user visited before [triggering a goal]. This value is intended to give you an idea of which page in your site contributed more to your site’s revenue.  (Google Analytics)

Pages with a higher £ value can be said to be helping more towards contributing to the income of your website. Or in our case, more towards contributing to the social value of our organisation.

In this example, the page for booking advisers is obviously helping to provide a lot of social value. However it’s also interesting to see that the pages on free resources are also quite valuable – they are either being accessed many times, or perhaps people are accessing them and then going on from these pages to make a booking with a homelessness adviser.

I.e. these pages are contributing to the success and social value of other tactics too.

So perhaps Prevent should consider producing more downloadable resources? Or advertising them more across their website? Equally they could be writing more blogs about useful resources.

Showing the social value of traffic sources

We might want to know which marketing channels best help generate social value too. And we can measure this by heading to Acquisition -> All traffic -> Source/medium

By switching the Conversions dropdown to “All goals” we can see the value of each source of traffic in the Goal Value column.

Your traffic’s social value – Click to view image

In this example, we can see that organic Google searches are contributing quite a lot to Prevent’s social value – about £3,000. Perhaps Prevent should be investing more effort into attracting traffic via search? They could increase their site’s SEO and aim to better their search rankings. Or maybe run some paid ads on some Google search terms to really ensure they’re getting even more traffic.

Equally social network traffic is bringing in some value too.

One source, the referred traffic from Crisis’s website, looks like it isn’t contributing any value. Traffic is arriving via the link from Crisis, but no social value is being generated.

Perhaps something’s not working out here and Prevent should investigate? Possibly the page that people are landing on isn’t what they expected, or it has a fault and users are getting confused and leaving the website entirely?

Understanding who is receiving social value

Of course, this being Analytics, we also have access to broad demographic information on our users, especially age, gender and location.

This might be useful for organisational reporting, or for funding applications.

Heading over to Audience -> Demographics -> Gender, and switching Conversions to All Goals, we can see in the Goal Value column our social value.

How social value is proportioned to your demographics – Click to view image

In this example we can see that significantly more social value is being received by female website users. Does this reflect the organisation’s objectives? Or does it suggest that something online isn’t appealing to male users and they should change their tactics there?

Conclusion and takeaways

Whilst it may seem abstract and hard to measure, the social value of your online tactics is an easy thing to track in Google Analytics. It just requires a little thinking and some simple setup.

With this information you can better assess how effectively your organisation’s website is delivering social value and who are the beneficiaries of this social value. It can be used in planning future activity, improving your website and content, and for reporting and funding application purposes.

I hope this post has been of some use and got you thinking about how you can measure the social value of your own online activity.

Before we wrap up, here are a few other tips for your Analytics and social value setup:

  1. First an important general tip: in Google Analytics it’s not possible to recover data lost by a misconfiguration (e.g. if you’ve adjusted your filter settings). Whilst we haven’t talked about filter settings here, we really do recommend you create multiple Views in Analytics to organise your data
    Usually this should be: 1) a raw data view (without any data filters);  2) a test View, where you can test out settings; 3) a Master View which has your day-to-day reporting and setup.
    Here’s some more info on setting up Views.
  2. Handling transactions on your site? E.g. via donations or sales of products? Then you will want to separate your Social Value from your cold hard cash income. So create an additional view called Social Value, and apply your Social Value goals and tracking there.
  3. Make sure you filter out your internal traffic otherwise your data will be skewed by internal users! If your office has a fixed IP address this is quick and easy to set up.
  4. Is your blog content organised by categories? E.g. /blog/housing-advice and /blog/legal-advice? If so, you can create goals for each category of content and assign different goal values to each of these.

Lead image by Cristina Gottardi, Unsplash.com