So, how is your event doing with digital?
“Umm, yea, you know...”
Yea, we do know. It's a tough question for most event organizers to answer.
And it makes sense that it would be. You have so many other responsibilities to handle to make your event successful. That’s why even the most progressive event organizers from the largest event companies in the world are generally unable to answer that question.
But tracking and measuring the digital analytics of your event is absolutely critical. Digital is eating the world and whether you are ready or not, the success of your event is becoming more and more dependent on its digital presence, marketing, and monetization. Most of us agree about that. But here’s the thing – great digital marketing and monetization is dependent on having a solid framework of analytics. Without it, you are unable to measure and optimize the performance of all of your digital properties and campaigns.
But analytics tends to be ignored. Why? Because 1. it isn’t easy to get started with and 2. it can have a steep learning curve. And who wants to work hard at something they probably won't understand?
However, in our time working with 350+ events we’ve seen the absolutely necessity of laying a foundation of digital analytics.
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be hard to get going, and it isn’t that difficult to understand.
You just need the right information, explained in relevant language, presented in a way that you can quickly apply.
It's super detailed and includes helpful terms and ideas that you may not yet be familiar with. So, to help you follow along, I’ve made a quick cheat sheet you can download.
In this guide, we’ll cover the full gamut of digital analytics from the perspective of events. After reading it, you’ll have a good understanding of the world of digital analytics, as well as clear ideas for using analytics to improve your event.
Let’s jump in. Stick with me, ok?
Put quite simply, analytics is the process of measuring and evaluating something. When that something exists, analytics for that thing also exists – at least potentially.
Take your event for example. Each year when your event rolls around, so does its analytics.
You know that. You already perform analysis on your event across a variety of metrics:
These metrics help you determine the health of your event and identify areas to leverage or improve.
If your revenue per sponsor was growing year over year, but your sponsor retention rate was decreasing, you could use that information as an opportunity to dig in and learn why sponsors were not renewing, for example.
That could lead to key experiments, like having more regular sponsor communication throughout the year, geared towards improving sponsorship retention.
That’s an example of the analytics process in a nutshell.
Now the digital world has taken its hold, and digital analytics has come along with it.
It took some time to develop and even longer to become widely accessible. But digital analytics is here and ready to be used by businesses of all kinds – even businesses that are largely conducted offline, like events.
Just like the offline aspect of your event has a variety of offline data points and metrics related to it, the online aspect of your event has its own set of data points and metrics.
The online aspect of your event is made up of your:
Each of these properties has a variety of key data points and metrics related to them.
Your website is the most critical piece of your digital presence. It is the main source of information about your event and, most importantly, is where registration takes place.
So it should receive the largest amount of attention and analysis. Whenever a person interacts with a website of yours, there are several data points that are available to be captured:
These are all made available by the internet browser that your visitor is using. It’s standard. Built in.
But you need to be using an analytics tool (like Google Analytics) to capture it. We’ll get into tool setup later.
Capturing those data points is the first step, but data points need to be turned into metrics before they can be analyzed.
A metric is a useful aggregation of data points.
Knowing that User 1hd715 visited your site at 7:14pm on August 05, 2016 is nice, but not particularly useful.
But aggregating data points for all of your visitors to see that the count of Unique Visitors increased from 6,000 to 10,000 between July and August is potentially useful.
You can easily extrapolate these standard metrics from the data points that your analytics tool captures. They are often built in.
Now we’ve got useful information. But it can be better!
There are acquisition related metrics that you can (and should) report. These metrics will help you understand the performance of your acquisition channels as a whole and sliced by various parameters.
For a marketer, this kind of information is invaluable. Murkiness around performance, attribution, etc. are rectified by having these metrics available.
Email is a big part of most event marketing plans. And for good reason. Although opens rates are continuing to drop (in general), the sheer prevalence of Email makes it a channel that can’t be ignored.
Here are metrics to pay attention to for Email.
An example email report from MailChimp
Social media. Everybody is talking about it, but no one is quite sure how to use it. This guide isn’t about that – although that's probably a piece we should write :)
Here are the metrics you should be looking to improve with social media.
We consider all of these metrics “table stakes”. They’re easily tracked within the channels themselves (for Email and Social) and a tool like Google Analytics makes website metrics easy enough.
We believe there is a category of analytics that is more important than anything else for events. We call it Event Specific Digital Analytics.
These metrics only apply to events. They’re not as straightforward to track, but they are the most valuable.
The idea here is to track a dynamically updating group of your digital audience that is related to a particular event and is currently “active”. Remember how we talked about tracking engagement earlier?
This is based on that, but we’re adding a couple of elements.
You may not have heard this term before, but digital reach is a critical metric to measure. With it, we aren't looking at registered visitors, or even unique visitors. We’re looking one level higher. With digital reach, we’re answering the question, “What is my overall digital presence like – and how has it grown?”
At Feathr, we measure digital reach by unique audience members across all digital properties:
The total count of audience members across these channels equals your digital reach.
A healthy level of year-over-year growth in digital reach is a good indicator of a strong digital event.
An interesting thing to measure is the amount of time it takes for someone to register for your event after their first interaction with any of its digital properties.
This is measured by looking at each registration, seeing when the person who registered first interacted with a digital property for your event, and calculating the time in between.
This can be a very valuable metric to improve.
This is related to attribution. Instead of looking at referring websites, searches, emails, or campaigns, we are trying to attribute visits and registrations to particular partners – attendees, exhibitor, speakers, or sponsors.
Running and measuring referral programs for your event becomes a breeze with this kind of reporting, and allows you to get creative with how you incentivize them.
This kind of measurement can be tricky, and a massive headache.
Shameless plug – Feathr has a tool that makes it very straightforward.
An event organizer who has clarity around these aspects of the digital performance of their event is in a very strong position to both understand and improve it.
Follow these simple steps to get started.
1. Choose an Analytics Platform
There are dozens of analytics platforms on the market today and we won’t go into an in-depth review of each. But, here is a shortlist of products that have good reputations.
Dig in and do your own research to determine the best fit for you. Google Analytics is a good (and free) place to start.
2. Set Up Tracking (Place Pixels, Integrate API, etc.)
A tracking pixel from one of these tools will look something like this. You install it on every page of every website you want to track, usually by placing it in a universal website element like the header or footer.
3. Create Segments and Audiences (Specific Events, Categories, Exhibitors, etc.)
Once you’ve put your tracking pixel in place and are starting to aggregate audience data, create segments of your overall audience.
Attendees and exhibitors are two very different audience segments. Tracking, and then marketing to these groups individually is important. They have different patterns of behavior, different considerations, and different buying cycles.
So, instead of analyzing your audience as one giant group, segment it into useful buckets. Useful segments for events include:
The main thing you are segmenting by to create the groups above is URL. To create a segment of attendee prospects, you would include visitors who visit attendance related pages, e.g.:
Then exclude registered attendees by excluding your registration confirmation URL.
Do the same for exhibitor and sponsor prospects.
This will be carried out by your analytics tool once it is configured and your segments are set up.
5. Report and Analyze
Ok. You’re aboard the digital analytics train. You understand the different metrics to track per property and know how to get set up.
Now what? What’s the goal of all of this anyway?
It isn’t simply to track data.
The goal is to grow your event. Now that we have metrics defined and tracking in place, we need to venture into the world of analysis.
Don’t be nervous. Analysis doesn’t mean sitting in front of a screen watching a bunch of bouncing line charts.
It simply means asking the right questions.
And although we can’t cover every scenario that you’ll encounter, we can provide you with an analytics framework you can use to process your data, come to a place of insight, and take meaningful action. Here it is:
Here’s an example to help illustrate this process.
Meet Jane. Jane is the Marketing Director for the country’s most beloved baking event, CookieCon.
Jane has recently ventured into the wild world of digital and is reviewing some reports in her analytics tool.
She’s looking at a report that tracks attendee registration conversion rate by campaign.
In the previous four months, Jane launched a variety of programmatic advertising campaigns to drive attendee registration and wants to understand how she can improve her performance.
She has run a total of six campaigns across different registration windows – pre-registration, early bird, and advance. Each window lasts a total of four weeks.
For each window, she ran two different ad campaigns. One with standard messaging for the first three weeks of the window and another "last chance" campaign during the last week that the window was open.
Her report looks like this:
She notices something interesting. Her last chance campaigns produce nearly double the amount of registrations as their standard counterparts.
But, the price for the last chance campaigns is the same as their standard campaign counterparts. Why are they performing better?
Her hunch is that the scarcity effect is in play – people are converting from last chance campaigns because the price to register is about to go up. She digs a little further to verify.
Hrmm. She had assumed that last chance campaigns work because the time to lock in the last chance rate would be closing shortly.
But the conversion rate for last chance campaigns one week prior to the cut off date is just as strong as one day prior.
Jane sees this as an opportunity. She creates a hypothesis to experiment.
Making last chance campaigns a larger portion of the overall dates for a price tier (what) will create a sense of scarcity for attendee prospects (who) regarding the availability of the current best price (why) and increase overall conversions for that price tier (quantifiable goal).
Tangent: create a hypothesis for each experiment you decide to run. It's really the only way to clearly understand what is working/not working and why. More on that here*.
For the next price tier coming up for her show, standard registration, she extends the "last chance" period of that tier to cover the last three weeks of the total six weeks. Like before, she runs a "last chance" ad campaign for those three weeks.
After the standard registration time period completes, she runs another report. This is what she sees:
Nice! Like she expected, the registration count of the registration tier nearly doubled during the entire last chance window, even though it was extended from the standard one week to two weeks.
Her takeaway, extend last chance windows for every price tier next year.
You've probably heard the phrase, "what gets measured, gets managed", right?
It's thrown around a lot for a reason: it's the truth.
I'm going to go ahead and take it a step further to say, "what gets measured, gets better".
You've just been armed with information covering the complete process for setting up, measuring, analyzing, and improving your event's digital presence.
Now you have a choice. You can either continue generally ignoring digital analytics, and just "get by" online.
Or, you can create a digital strategy, start using digital analytics, and start making tangible improvements to grow your event.
This guide should be a reference for you and can be looked at again and again. The best part is that the more you get into analytics, the more adept and self-reliant you'll become.
If it feels like there's a lot to remember here - you're right. That's why I've created the cheat sheet for you that outlines the entire analytics process and includes a glossary of all of the metrics we've defined throughout.