This week on The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast, Mila Sorenson of Blue Tangerine joins Greg and Kevin to discuss the ins and outs of analytics and why analytics should be an essential part of every digital marketing strategy.
Mila says, “I think reporting is key to know how your marketing programs are working or not working, and so it does need to be one of the key things that you look at, and look at regularly...and then making an action plan to correct or course-correct on anything that's not working as well as you'd like it to.”
Home builders often take a myopic view of analytics and only focus on traffic, but it’s imperative to consider much more than that. Mila says, “I think the first mistake is just looking at traffic. Just looking at how many people came to the website. Like I mentioned earlier, if you have a paid search ad or a banner ad somewhere and you're driving a ton of traffic to the website, but they don't do anything on the website, they just come to the website and they bounce, it's not relevant traffic. You're just paying for a bunch of people to visit your site and not take any action. So, that's probably the first mistake that I see is builders get really caught up on what's my traffic. They want to see that trend line going up, but you have to look at that in conjunction with other metrics to know if that's relevant traffic that you really want.”
Listen this week to learn valuable tips and advice about how to use analytics in your digital marketing strategy.
Greg Bray: [00:00:00] Hello, everybody, and welcome to today's episode of The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse.
Greg Bray: Today we're excited to welcome to the show Mila Sorenson, the Senior Director of Marketing and Client Services at Blue Tangerine. Welcome, Mila. Thanks for coming today.
Mila Sorenson: Thanks for having me. I'm really happy to be here.
Greg Bray: Well, Mila for the people who don't know you yet, why don't we start off with that introduction, help us get to know a little bit better.
Mila Sorenson: Sure. In my role, I help builders and Ecommerce [00:01:00] marketers, and also the Blue Tangerine corporate team, as well, reach their business goals through digital marketing.
Kevin Weitzel: That's official. I want to hear the personal side. I want to hear the dirt on Mila. Give me something personal that nobody knows about you that they'll find out on this podcast.
Mila Sorenson: Not a lot of people know that I am the president of a stock investment club.
Kevin Weitzel: What?
Mila Sorenson: Yeah. So, we meet as a group, it's actually a partnership. We each pool our money together, and every few months we meet to talk about different stocks that we might be interested in purchasing for the group, and then we pool our money together, buy the stocks, and hold onto them until we feel it's a good time to sell.
Kevin Weitzel: Greg, should I be offended that I have not been invited into this elite club? She's worried that I'm just going to suggest Bozo the Clown's Balloon Company.
Greg Bray: I haven't been invited either Kevin, so we can be offended together.
Kevin Weitzel: I'm offended. I'm officially offended. As of right now, I'm offended, Mila.
Greg Bray: Kevin, maybe it has to do [00:02:00] with the by in amount that's required to get into the club. Maybe that's why.
Kevin Weitzel: Could be it. Could be it.
Greg Bray: So, Mila, what happens when one person wants to sell and one person doesn't?
Mila Sorenson: Well, it's a vote. So, it's a majority rules type of situation. So, we all take a vote on any of the decisions that we make, whether to buy or to sell, and some people don't get their way.
Kevin Weitzel: So, not to stay off topic, but just out of more of a curiosity, how long has it been going and are you net positive? Do you disclose any of that?
Mila Sorenson: Yeah, we have been doing this for, well, I've been in the club, personally, for over 20 years. It's probably been around for maybe 30 years or so. A lot of the members are actually retired now, and so we're just doing this for fun, but I think we're up like a hundred percent right now.
Kevin Weitzel: What?
Mila Sorenson: Yeah.
Kevin Weitzel: Now, I'm no longer offended, Greg. I'm hurt that I'm not part of this club. Hurt.
Greg Bray: Well, let's see if we can move on then so that Kevin...
Kevin Weitzel: Alright. Let's move on to something more interesting.
Greg Bray: ...can nurse his feelings a little bit.
Kevin Weitzel: Marketing [00:03:00] topic.
Greg Bray: Well, Mila, outside of investing then, tell us how you got into digital marketing, a little bit more about your journey into your career.
Mila Sorenson: Okay. Yeah. I started out actually in the direct mail field, working in a company called Fingerhut. Don't know if you've heard of that, but it's a catalog company here in Minnesota. I started out there and the web was not really a big thing at the time, so there wasn't a whole lot of digital marketing going on. I stayed there for a few years and then moved on to another cataloger here locally. It's called Medical Arts Press and there managed some direct-mail catalogs and other mailers until the president of the company asked me to look into this website thing, and how can we build a website for our company and asked me to lead that.
So, I got involved with building our company's first website and websites after that. Then going into Ecommerce, because the first website, of course, was just an informational website. You couldn't really buy online. Over time, obviously, that [00:04:00] evolved and I needed to get involved with getting an Ecommerce site, starting to do some digital marketing through SEO and email marketing. That was kind of really the start that launched my career into the digital marketing industry. After that, I concentrated on doing just email marketing for about 10 years, managed a team of email marketing consultants, and working with a lot of different companies on their email strategies and the execution. So, that was another step in my career toward the digital marketing industry.
Kevin Weitzel: Number one, I can't do the math, because you're literally the youngest looking 30 year old I've ever seen. You just add 10 years and 20 years, and I don't know where this comes from. Apparently, you've been in here longer, you're a veteran and you were in long enough to where people were still calling them what is this website thingy that I keep hearing about?
Mila Sorenson: Yes. I know. This makes me feel old, Kevin. Thank you for mentioning that.
Greg Bray: What is this website thingy? All right. [00:05:00] Well, Mila, we know that working with Blue Tangerine now, one of your key responsibilities is to help our clients progress in their marketing by understanding their data and the reports, and you help lead our team and in generating reports. So, today, I really wanted to get into that piece of it all, is understanding reporting. How we can use it? What should matter? So, let's go in that direction. From your perspective, where does reporting fit overall in that digital marketing, call it ecosystem or toolbox? Where should they be looking for reporting to fit?
Mila Sorenson: I think reporting is key to know how your marketing programs are working or not working, and so it does need to be one of the key things that you look at, and look at regularly, and I think that's sometimes missed in the analysis of how these programs are working. So, I do think that making that a key part of your initiative, looking at it at least on a monthly basis to see how things are working or what things aren't working, and then making an action plan to [00:06:00] correct or course correct on anything that's not working as well as you'd like them to.
Kevin Weitzel: Can I ask a question about that, cause I've always wondered this, there's a follow-up to this, but how accurate are the numbers that you're presenting to your clients? Let me preface that with, you know, you hear about radio advertisements where they say, oh, we've got a listenership of 200,000 people, or billboards, you know, we get 50,000 cars that drive by this location daily, and that really doesn't equate to anything tactile. On your reports, when you're looking at various reports for your clients, how accurate and how much can you drill it down?
Mila Sorenson: It's as accurate as the Google Analytics that we're using to drive the data in our reporting. Really, all that data is collected based on how people are moving through the website, where they're coming from. It's not just, hey, I think 50,000 people are driving by the dealership. It's actually tracking the people that are coming to the website and the actions that they're taking. So, it's a little bit more definitive than your example.[00:07:00]
Greg Bray: I'm just going to take a little pause here and say to our listeners, if you don't have the Google Analytics login, or if you don't know who has the Google Analytics login, you need to pause now and go answer that question and then come back and you can finish the rest of the episode later, because that is a requirement for you to have basic access to your reports. Okay. All right. Soapbox is being set aside and now we're going to continue. Alright, Mila. So, you already mentioned Google Analytics as a key tool. In general, what are some of those top metrics, or the most important things that you look at to monitor marketing activity?
Mila Sorenson: There's not like one key metric that you should look at, but there's a number of metrics that you need to look at together to get a clear picture of what's happening. So, some of those metrics are visits, how many people are actually coming to your site, the source of traffic, where they're coming from, meaning are they coming from an organic search that they did on Google, are they coming from a paid search ad? So, that source of [00:08:00] traffic is really, important.
Bounce rate is also very important, to know how many people are coming from those places and leaving right away. That's your bounce rate. If you're seeing a lot of traffic from a paid search ad, for example, and they bounce and leave the site right away, then you're not really reaching the right people.
Another key metric is goal conversions. When people come to your website, you want them to take a certain action. Most likely, you want them to fill out the contact us form or book an appointment. So those actions should be set up those goals, and hopefully, you can assign a value to those goals, to know how valuable each visit has been to your website.
Greg Bray: Is Google Analytics the tool, or is it just one of the tools that folks should be using? I mean, we're going to probably talk more about that, I imagine, but just to kind of put in context, I mean, it's pretty popular, it's hard to beat the price for Google Analytics, but is it the tool, or are there others that they should consider as well?
Mila Sorenson: I think it's one of the tools, but there are [00:09:00] other tools that help create that bigger picture. That is definitely a main tool that we use and that most folks are using, but when you combine that with data from other sources, you really get more of a full picture. For example, if you have the metrics on who's coming to your website, where they're coming from. Let's say they come from a paid search ad and you see what their path is throughout the website. Maybe they fill out a contact us or book appointment form. After that point, though, what happens to them? Do they continue down the sales funnel and do they come in for that appointment? Do they sign a contract? All of those pieces are beyond Google Analytics and to close that loop is really the way that you can know whether or not that marketing effort has paid off and you're getting the return on your investment that you're looking for.
Kevin Weitzel: So, let me ask you this, because I know there's people out there that are too embarrassed. They'll claim they're too busy to look at the reports or whatever, but sometimes they're just too embarrassed to admit that they don't know what that data means.
If I look at my [00:10:00] report that my doctor gives me and it says, hey, you have 357 cholesterol. I don't know if that's good or bad, apparently, it's really bad. Apparently, it's really bad, and I need to go exercise some more and eat less foods that have high cholesterol. Anyway, that's a whole different subject and I don't want to go into that because it starts to hurt my feelings, but in your role, do you help your clients decimate what that information is and really drill down the details, and so they can use it as a litmus. Are things improving? Are things getting worse? Are these campaigns working?
Mila Sorenson: Absolutely. You need to really interpret that data, otherwise, it's just a bunch of numbers that don't mean anything. So, really looking at the data, trying to figure out what are we trying to accomplish? Do we want this marketing effort to drive people into the sales office, or do we want to create brand awareness? Those are two very different goals that you have.
So, you can't take an approach where you're looking at everything needs to drive a conversion because that's not necessarily the end goal that you're looking for. For example, social media, that's more of a brand [00:11:00] awareness tool, but there are some tactics within social media marketing that might be more defined as trying to drive people to do a certain action on your website. So, really looking at each source of traffic and what your goals are and trying to see if each one of those pieces of data can drive you to your decision on whether or not you're getting the return that you're looking for.
Greg Bray: So, what you're saying then, Mila, if I understood you correctly, is reports require strategy in order to design the reports to get the information that you want, that will help you then make good decisions. Did I understand that correctly?
Mila Sorenson: Yes. That's a great interpretation. If you're just looking at a bunch of numbers with no real focus on what you want to get out of it, you're not going to get anything out of it. So, yeah, you do need a strategy on, you know, what am I looking to accomplish in my business and what are those key metrics? What are the things I need to look at, regularly, you don't need to look at like every single number and every single metric, but what are the key things that are gonna help me [00:12:00] get to the end result?
Greg Bray: So, then, we've talked about Google Analytics as being that standard tool, that seems to be pretty common. I think, even if people are using other things, they're probably still using Google analytics along with it, but out of the box, again, to Kevin's point, there's just a lot of numbers, a lot of data. What are some ideas or tips or configuration tweaks that you recommend that could make those analytics reports a little more useful and easier to use?
Mila Sorenson: Yeah, I know what you mean. It can be overwhelming, especially looking at Google Analytics. There's so many different reports and so many different metrics. So, a couple of the things within Google Analytics you can use, you can create some dashboards that just have the data that you want to look at. So, you know, taking out just some key pieces of information and data, and then making that dashboard available on a weekly basis or monthly basis. It can be automated to email to you. So, you can look at those on a regular interval.
Another thing that you could do is use a data visualization tool like Google Data Studio [00:13:00] that takes the data from Google Analytics and other places too and combines that together in a more visual way. So, you can look at, maybe you want to see more charts and graphs to help you really understand and digest that data.
Greg Bray: How do we, then, deal with things, so, for example, we see builders that will use a tool like OutHouse's interactive for plans and they'll have their own report that's tied to that, and then you've got the website report, and then you've got, you know, maybe the Facebook report. So, you mentioned Google Data Studio. Is that the kind of thing that you can use to get all of these different pieces together, or is there some better way to get all these different kinds of reports into a more holistic view?
Mila Sorenson: Yeah. There are a number of tools out there that can do that. Google Data Studio is one of them. One other Google product that you can use is Google Tag Manager, which is a way that you can take certain events on your website. For example, when someone interacts with the interactive floor plan, they save [00:14:00] it and then maybe they fill out a contact form. Maybe they're clicking to download a site map. All of those little actions that people are taking on the site, you can use Google Tag Manager to track those events, and those events will show up in Google Analytics and then you're able to see how people are really utilizing all of those little tools on the website and get all that information in one place. You can also take Facebook, like you said, do some tagging on Facebook and tracking people's activity from those various sources.
Greg Bray: Can you define that event concept a little bit more? I'm not sure that's something that everybody is totally familiar with
Kevin Weitzel: Cause you lost me on that one too.
Mila Sorenson: So, an event, in Google analytics, anytime somebody takes an action on your website, a specific action that you define. Let's say, it's clicking on the book now button. You have a button that says book now. You can set up an event, either on your website code or using a tool like [00:15:00] Google Tag Manager, so anytime someone clicks on that, it records an event. You know, one person clicked and then somebody else clicks, you know, it'll increment. So, every time somebody clicks that book now button, you can say, here's how many people clicked book out.
Then, taking a step further, why would I care how many people click the button? Maybe, then, you have a form at that book now. There's a form that they have to fill out to actually book an appointment. Did they fill out the form is another event that you can track. So, now you have, did they click on a book account button, did they fill out the form, and you can see their journey throughout the site?
You know, maybe now a lot of people are clicking the button, but when they get to the form and it's too overwhelming, they don't actually fill it out. So, you can gain some insights by tagging all these different elements of your website as events, and then looking at that data to see if you can find issues or something that's working really well.
Greg Bray: Just to confirm, doing that, we can also tell the difference if they're [00:16:00] clicking the button at the top of the page or the one at the bottom of the page and see which one they're interacting with more often, correct?
Mila Sorenson: Yes, you can tag specific to the location on the website, which page they're on, et cetera. So, there's a lot of information and insight you can gain from that.
Greg Bray: So, we've got our strategy we talked about. Now, we've got reports that are measuring the things we care about, related to that strategy. So, then, we get the reports. So, how do we take that data now and turn it into good decisions, so to speak? What do we do? It's like, okay, great. We got a report. That's nice. Looks pretty. Graphs nice. Going the right direction. What's next?
Mila Sorenson: What's next? The thing that I look for are trends. You can see if things are trending up or down versus the previous month or the previous year, and then take some action. Maybe, if you're looking at different marketing programs and how they're performing. Well, last month we had way more click-throughs. Maybe you changed an advertisement, [00:17:00] a banner ad or something like that in that timeframe, and now you see your results are declining. It's trending down. So, maybe there's something there that we can look at, testing out different banner ads to see which one is going to generate more traffic to the website or more conversions. So, looking for those key trends can help really drive, you know, what action you're going to take next.
Kevin Weitzel: So, you've got reports. They're basically telling you the trends up or down, the action items that are working, not working. You, obviously, see some mistakes out there, too. What are some common mistakes that you see builders doing on a regular basis?
Mila Sorenson: I think the first mistake is just looking at traffic. Just looking at how many people came to the website. Like I mentioned earlier, if you have a paid search ad or a banner ad somewhere and you're driving a ton of traffic to the website, but they don't do anything on the website, they just come to the website and they bounce, it's not relevant traffic. You're just paying for a bunch of people to [00:18:00] visit your site and not take any action. So, that's probably the first mistake that I see is builders get really caught up on what's my traffic. They want to see that trend line going up, but you have to look at that in conjunction with other metrics to know if that's relevant traffic that you really want.
Greg Bray: So, to that point, Mila, and those trends, how do we deal with scenarios? Okay, this year, my traffic is actually down for some reason, but you know what, last year at this time we were just finishing this community that's now sold out and no longer available. How do we pull out some of those occurrences that could really have some real-world impact on traffic and see that within those trends?
Mila Sorenson: I think drilling down into some of the page specific data and the region-specific data, even going down a community level, to see, like you said, how many communities did we have last year and what phase where they. Were they new? Where they at sellout. [00:19:00] You can really, you know, look year over year at what happened. You know, what was the state of your communities last year versus this year and pull out some of those insights.
I like to use the page activity to do that. If you're really advanced in Google Analytics, you can set up some custom metrics, or custom dimensions as they're called, to track activity by community or by city, by region, a number of different levels, which is what we do a lot here at Blue Tangerine, just to try to get that view and that insight at its slightly different levels. So, you're not just looking at it from the source of traffic, like, did they come from organic search or did they come from a paid search ad or Facebook, taking it to the next level and say, you know, of the traffic that came to my site from these places, what pages are they visiting, and compare that, you know, year over year to what was happening.
Greg Bray: I think that's a key point that I'm glad you talked about drilling in at the region and the community level, [00:20:00] because when you think of like, an Ecommerce type site, I mean, yes, there's product inventory issues and availability and such, but with builders, you know, they've got a community and at some point it's sold out. There's only so many lots available or home sites available in a particular location, and that's going to change what happens with your traffic, just as your product availability ebbs, and flows. If we can't see that in these reports clearly, it's really confusing to say, oh, we're up over the last month or we're down over last year or whatever as just some holistic thing when we may be double in this city and, you know, nothing in this other city because of just availability of product. I really appreciate that you pointed that out and that seems like an opportunity that I'm not sure everybody's taken advantage of.
Mila Sorenson: And I see this a lot with Ecommerce clients. We're really used to looking at the buyer journey throughout the website. They visit the homepage and then they go to a category, product category page, then they go to an [00:21:00] individual product, and then they add it to their cart and so on. With builders, I think that's an opportunity to learn from Ecommerce industry and say, okay, what is my buyer funnel? What path do I want them to take throughout the website? I want them to visit the homepage, go to a region page, and then a community page and so on, and looking at that funnel for each one of your areas to see where people are might be falling off.
Greg Bray: So, I think, Kevin talked about just so much data and people just throwing up their hands. What about the busy VP of marketing that's just got so much going on and just to sit and diagnose reports just feels like hard work and I just don't have time to dive in. How do you deal with the too busy excuse? I'm gonna call it an excuse people. I'm gonna say it. It's an excuse.
Mila Sorenson: Yeah. Like I said earlier, I think the key is trying to find what are the key metrics and key trends that we need to look at on a regular basis and visualize it. If you can put it into a format that [00:22:00] is a pretty graph, that's very easy to understand, not a table with a bunch of numbers in it, but just something that can be a quick and easy, trend line, pull out those key pieces of data. That's something that is more manageable to keep on top of. Also, setting up some regular automated emails that come in with those metrics in it makes it even easier, so you don't have to go pull that data all the time. It's just there for you. Monday morning, you've got your latest set of key results right in front of you.
Greg Bray: Could it also be, I'm just having this thought in real-time folks, so go with me here, if we're too busy to look at the reports, could it be that we haven't connected the strategy to the measurement as well as we might have? Because if we know what we're trying to accomplish, we should be excited to see the measurement. Did we do it, right? Did we achieve what we wanted out of this particular activity campaign, whatever strategy there was? And if we're not looking at reports, maybe it's because we need to step back to the whole [00:23:00] strategy discussion of what we're trying to accomplish, because, of course, if we don't know what we're trying to accomplish, the reports don't mean anything. I don't know. Am I way off base here? I'm just, I'm brainstorming in real-time, so it can be scary.
Mila Sorenson: Yeah, no, I agree with that. Oftentimes, I see builders know that they have to drive traffic to the communities and so they just go out there and they say, okay, we're going to do this ad on Zillow, and then we're going to do some Google paid search and we're going to do some Facebook advertising and they just have their money spread out in all these different places, and they're doing all they can to get the traffic, but that's where they stop. They don't look at the results to really see is it driving traffic? Maybe it is, but they're just not connecting the strategy, like you said, to the end result that they want. So, taking that step back is definitely the first thing that you should do and make sure that you're looking for the right data to help support your goals.
Greg Bray: Kevin, I know that you've always been big on the reporting [00:24:00] side, as far as related to interactive floor plans and things. I mean, do you see people just ignoring some of these reports?
Kevin Weitzel: It's actually alarming. So, we track 10 plus thousand interactive floor plans from every builder that we've ever sold an interact floor plan to. We know who's going on, what area the country they're coming on from, how long they're staying on, what options are they selecting. You know, down to the most minute a bit of information. So, when I ask somebody, have you looked at these numbers? I mean, you're only averaging two and a half minutes in your website, but you know that on your interactive floorplan, you're averaging 18 minutes on a floorplan? On average, that's including bounces, and they'll just, look me, and go, where do you find that? I'm like, whoa, it's your analytics, man. How are you not looking at this stuff? So, yeah. No, we see it all the time witht home builders that just ignore that because they're too busy. So yeah. Guess what if your quarterback's too busy to throw a ball? That's literally what they're paid to do is throw ball. So, look at your reports, but yeah. It is. It's alarming. Sorry for the [00:25:00] long-winded answer, but yes, it is alarming when we find out that people do not look at reporting.
Greg Bray: How do we help them with that, Mila? How do we make reporting cool again?
Mila Sorenson: That's a great question. How do we make reporting cool again? I think you just got a start simple. Like I said, Google Analytics, you start looking at the numbers and you just get overwhelmed real quick. So, you need to keep it simple. Start with those basic metrics that you should be looking at. Start there. Visualize it. Make it just easy to interpret and look at it on a regular basis. So, those are the key things.
One other little tip that you can do in Google Analytics is set up alerts. It's a little feature. It's so easy. If you have certain goals you're looking for with traffic levels or things like that, you can set up little alerts to say, okay, if my traffic decreases by 20% in a day I want to be alerted by email. It's just a real simple way to keep track of trends without really doing very much letting Google Analytics do the work for you.[00:26:00]
Kevin Weitzel: You just blew my mind. For two reasons. One, is that I did not know that, and rarely on this show do I just get completely sidelined with I didn't have zero clue that's impossible, and two, this is a little bit of insider information to our listening audience that when Greg said, make reporting cool again, Mila looked agape, with just horror that he would even say, who thinks that reporting is not cool? It was actually a funny little inside thing we had there. I thought it was cute. I thought it was awesome.
Mila Sorenson: That's right. Reporting has always been cool for me.
Kevin Weitzel: It's always cool.
Greg Bray: Kevin's had a lot of special experiences today, between being offended and hurt, and now just mind blown.
Kevin Weitzel: Seriously, Greg, and honestly, I don't mean to sound like a know it all, but there's a lot of stuff that in the marketing world and the sales world that I just know. Information that just passes through my brain from all the different experiences that I've had, but when it comes down to it, is that when you get somebody out here or we get somebody on here that, that literally has mentions something that I did not know. I didn't [00:27:00] know that you can have warning signs or little alerts. So, is it something just pops in email it or does it send you a text? How's that work?
Mila Sorenson: You can set it up by email. So, you just set up whatever emails you want to get alerted, and you can set the frequency, whether it's daily or weekly. Yeah. It's cool. It's easy. It takes like less than a minute to set up.
Kevin Weitzel: That's cool.
Greg Bray: Mila, is there anything that you wanted to share from an advice standpoint today that we didn't get a chance to touch on before we wrap up?
Mila Sorenson: I think the bit of advice I'd leave you with is, if you don't have tracking set up, that's number one. Please set up tracking. Google Analytics is, like I said, the most universal one that is easy to set up. At least get the basics set up, and set up some goals, some goal conversion events in Google Analytics. So, you know, when people are filling out forms or calling you, all of those key events. Setting those up as goals so that you can really see what that traffic that you're spending all this money to drive to the [00:28:00] website, what that traffic is doing and how it's converting, and that way you know what your return is. So, that would be my bit of advice is to set up the tracking and make sure that you have some goal conversions set up within you're reporting.
Greg Bray: Great suggestions. Well, thanks, Mila, for being with us today. If people want to get in touch and connect with you, what's the best way for them to reach out?
Mila Sorenson: The two easiest ways are connect with me on LinkedIn Mila Sorenson, or you can also email me email@example.com.
Greg Bray: All right. Thank you everybody for listening to The Home Builder Digital Marketing Podcast. I'm Greg Bray with Blue Tangerine,
Kevin Weitzel: and I'm Kevin Weitzel with OutHouse. Thank you.