Category Archives: Business Marketing Online

What to do about data retention in Google Analytics

If you’re an administrator of your company’s Google Analytics account, you’ll have had an email in the past couple of weeks about ‘granular data retention controls’ and deleting data. It’s the usual techno-legal babble which leaves mere mortals wondering what on earth it all means, and in particular you may be wondering: “is all my historic Google Analytics data about to be deleted?”

The short answer is “mainly – no”. But read on.

The implementation date of these changes gives a clue as to why they’re being introduced. May 25th is when GDPR comes into effect, and Google is giving Analytics users the ability to match the way the service archives data to their own user data policies. So what we can now do is to instruct Google Analytics to delete user-based data after a set time (just over a year, just over two years, etc).

The main thing to know is that aggregate data will be unaffected. By this I mean the number of visitors, the sources, etc. What you’ve now got the ability to delete is any data held at a user level, which means stats like ‘New and Returning Users’ and certain events which track specific visits. I suspect that for most Google Analytics users, the data falling off the system isn’t something they’d ever have wanted, years down the line.

The default setting, if you do nothing, is 26 months. There is a setting to not delete data (“don’t automatically expire”). However, if you deliberately choose this setting, it suggests you haven’t got policies in place to conform to GDPR requirements. So you can safely leave things unless you have a particular time frame which fits better with your policy.

“User and event data retention” settings can be found in Google Analytics under “Admin > Property > Tracking Info”.

Can we continue to email everyone in our database?

There’s still plenty of unease and uncertainty surrounding the new GDPR legislation due next month, and understandably so. I’ve read more articles about the subject than I’d want to count, but as with all such things, I’d rather offload the responsibility to someone who’s more confident in their legal understanding. I imagine you’re the same. However, here’s what I reckon we should be doing.

On the big question of whether we can continue to email everyone in our database, I can’t see that there’ll be any problems if we’re just being reasonable to recipients. I’d say that as long as our marketing mailings are reasonably frequent (and we can demonstrate that), and have contained a way of opting out, it’s fair to say we assume they want to hear from us, because they haven’t objected. But I also think we should declare a period – say a couple of years – during which we should insist on hearing from people who didn’t explicitly ask to receive our mailings in the first place. If we don’t hear from them, we should take them off the list. If we don’t know when they joined our list, we should stop mailing them until we get their consent.

That means if someone becomes a customer, I think we’re fine to send them marketing material for a defined period, provided it has an opt-out. After that, it should not continue without their explicit consent. Once we’ve got that consent, I think it’s reasonable to send them material (with an opt-out) indefinitely. If there’s anyone on our list who we haven’t heard from in that period, we should stop sending them material unless we do get consent from them.

I also think that we should commit to only sending material related to whatever led us to have a relationship with the recipient in the first place. That will probably cover most things the company wants to promote in the future, but makes it clear that the contact details will not be used for unrelated products and services.

Whatever you decide, write all this down as a policy document and I think it’s a reasonable approach to compliance. Include details of where the data is held (imagine you’re writing instructions for your successor), and where requests to join and leave the list can be found.

(Please note that you should take legal advice on this – the above is only my own interpretation)

What is a sitemap and do I need one?

Does your website have a sitemap? It certainly should do. And if it does, is the sitemap automatically updated?

A sitemap is a list of the pages on your site which search engines can use to discover what you’ve got on the site and how it’s organised. It’s one of the first things any search engine web crawler looks for when it arrives at your site. A sitemap can also offer metadata about the pages you list in that sitemap, such as when the page was last updated, how often it might be changed, and its importance. The sitemap can also give search engines helpful detail about videos and images.

If you’re thinking: “I’ve no idea if my site has one of these”, the chances are – if you use a content management system – that it’s all taken care of. The location of your sitemap is normally held in another file called ‘robots.txt’, which is another critical part of any website. This will be found at the top level of the domain; for example, you’ll find ours at www.bmon.co.uk/robots.txt.

From here, just like the search engine crawlers, you’ll find the location of your sitemap. You can see that ours is at www.bmon.co.uk/sitemap_index.xml.

Take a look at our sitemap, and you’ll see it’s actually a list of smaller sitemaps. This is not uncommon, and indeed, if your site has more than 50,000 pages (the limit for any sitemap), it’s essential. The system we use – a WordPress plugin – breaks up the site’s ‘posts’ into sitemaps of 1000 each. It also creates a separate sitemap for the site’s ‘pages’ (it’s a WordPress thing) and for its post ‘categories’, which helps the search engines understand how the site is set out.

This is not the only way to do things: a list of pages displayed as part of a normal page on the site is another approach, but it’s not the obvious method which the search engines look for. The standard ‘XML’ sitemap that we use can also be created manually, but it’s a real chore, and is only necessary if your website is still a collection of manually-created documents without any management system behind it.

If your sitemap has its location in the robots.txt file, you don’t need to do anything else. However, you can specify its location to Google by using Google Search Console (look for ‘Sitemaps’ in the left-hand menu).

Sitemaps should use your preferred (and final) URL format. For example, a typical entry in our sitemap file will include ‘https’ (because we’ve changed to that); ‘www’ (because we prefer to include that); and a trailing slash (because our system eventually adds that, if not included). Our site automatically sorts things out: if you visit http://bmon.co.uk/about-us, you’re seamlessly sent to https://www.bmon.co.uk/about-us/. However, the sitemap should only have the latter entry in it. If you use canonical tags, the sitemap should list identical page addresses too.

If your site uses a content management system but has no sitemap, it’s probable that you just haven’t switched it on. Do so! If it doesn’t have one because the site is just a few documents you’ve uploaded, think about creating one. Or regular email readers can contact us and we’ll produce a starter one for you. There’s no charge, but you’ll need to maintain it to account for site changes in the future!

When subtitles are just what we need

I was doing a bit of ‘how-to’ research this week and it turned out that many of the most interesting search results were videos. This is an increasing occurrence. However, a video was no use to me, as other people were in the same office and playing the video would disturb them. This of course is an old problem, but the thing which most people forget is that it’s not the video which is the problem here, it’s the audio.

So how do we get around it? The obvious move is to transcribe the video, and many sites do this really well. Indeed, there’s a massive SEO benefit from having the entire commentary spelt out in words too. But that doesn’t help when people are watching the video on other sites, including YouTube or wherever the video is hosted. In that case, the solution is to have a video which can be watched in silence.

Many slideshow videos do this by default: they just have background music which contributes nothing of substance to the presentation, and are narrated by captions on screen. Videos with an essential voiceover, or interviews, need subtitles or captions adding. It’s a bit of a chore, and you wouldn’t do it for a video of a half-hour conference presentation, but on a three-minute corporate presentation? It’s worth considering. A top tip would be to show the subtitling in the video thumbnail image, so people can instantly see that they might be able to follow it without any audio.

Help – I can’t put anything on my own website

I don’t know if this is a typical proportion of engineering and scientific companies, but I’d guess that 10–20% of our clients over the years have only a limited ability to add content to their own website. This can be for a number of reasons, but it’s usually because they’re the UK part of a worldwide organisation which has its website protectively managed somewhere else. Slightly disappointingly, most companies in this situation seem to use it as an excuse not to do anything on the web, shrugging their shoulders and saying things like: “That’s how head office wants to run things, so there’s nothing we can do about it.”

However, I’ve been pleased over the years to see one or two companies in this position declare this to be not good enough, and set up their own initiatives. While it doesn’t make sense to create alternative ‘corporate’ sites, it’s been relatively easy for them to create a simple (but professional looking) site where they can post background articles, videos, case studies and more, all linking to the main company site. In one case, an independent site like this started to get such good search engine rankings that it became the largest driver of traffic to the main site after the search engines. When the corporate site was next redesigned, the independent site was incorporated into it, and other countries were encouraged to add equivalent material in their own sections.

Most of the articles you read online about managing business websites seem to be blissfully unaware of the sort of reality faced by many marketing managers. Not having access to their own website is just one example. Other marketing managers I know have to put up with difficulties such as not being allowed to use website analytics or any social media. For those of you who read this blog despite being unable to action almost anything that gets discussed, I salute you.