Step 1: Planning Your Digital Marketing Audit – Establishing Objectives and Scope

When planning a digital marketing audit, you must first establish its objectives and scope. Start by asking yourself: “what pain points created the need for an audit in the first place?” Answering this question is the first step in establishing the objectives of your audit. When you have a clear idea of your objectives, you can establish the scope.

The objectives of a digital marketing audit should clearly state:

  1. The problem statement or pain point(s) – this is the reason the audit is being conducted. (e.g. “our cost per lead (CPL) has been steadily rising over the past 6 months” or “there are discrepancies between our advertising conversion data and our in house sales data”).
  2. The goal(s) and desired outcomes – how will you know if the audit has been a success? Usually this takes the form of a statement like “to provide X so that Y can be achieved” (e.g. “To provide insights into what factors have contributed to a rising CPL over the past 6 months and recommendations for reversing this trend .”)

Once the objectives have been established, you should be able to start creating the scope. The scope of a digital marketing audit addresses:

  1. The digital channels and platforms to be audited. For example Paid Advertising/Google Ads, Organic Search/Google & Bing, Social/Facebook & Instagram, Email Marketing, Affiliate, etc.
  2. The time frame of the data set. Ideally this will be a minimum of a 12-month vs. 12-month report to control for seasonality. However, this is not always possible if the company is young or there are data reliability issues (see pain point 3 below).
  3. The key performance indicators (KPIs) and associated data set that the marketing team and executive use to measure success. These typically include Qualified Leads, Phone Calls, Form Fills, Samples Ordered, Sales Revenue and others. 

In what follows below, I offer examples of three common pain points we often encounter during an audit. I have also included how these pain points tend to indicate the need for specific audit objectives.

3 Common Pain Points Leading to a Digital Marketing Audit

Common Pain Point #1: It’s unclear how to value the return on investment in each digital channel.

A common question we hear from our clients is “How do we know if the money we are spending on paid advertising, SEO, content marketing, etc. is actually bringing us a return?” This is very much in line with the old adage attributed to John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t which half.”

In our opinion, this is no longer a compromise that organizations need to make. A digital marketing audit should establish a method and means to regularly evaluate the ROI of each marketing dollar spent. This leads us to the first possible objective of a digital marketing audit.

Objective 1: To provide a method and means for evaluating the ROI of each digital channel so you can efficiently allocate budget and formulate new strategies.

This is obviously easier said than done, although the core principle is relatively simple. Each of your digital channels has associated daily/weekly/monthly/yearly costs (advertising spend, agency fees, in house labour hours, etc.). It is important to measure the difference between these costs and the gross revenue attributed to each digital channel to arrive at the net revenue per channel, as well as the cost per action (e.g. cost per lead, cost per sale). From this vantage point, you can calculate your ROI per digital channel and establish your marketing spend as a percentage of revenue. Ideally it should be somewhere between 5-20% of gross revenue. Having these figures available for trend comparison as well as comparison against each other leads to better budget allocation and insights for the creation of new campaigns.

Our experience is that outside of B2C ecommerce companies who sell online direct to consumer and have relatively short sales cycles (e.g. online clothing retailers), most companies struggle to implement even a simple version of the above model. This is due to the practical challenges of tracking the customer journey over a longer sales cycle that may involve anywhere from 8-15+ touchpoints (website visit, phone call, webinar, email campaign, etc.). This is otherwise known as full funnel tracking. Beyond tracking each of these touchpoints is the added challenge of establishing a multi-touch attribution tracking system that can more evenly distribute credit for a lead or sale across both online and offline channels. We will cover both challenges in more detail in a future article.

Common Pain Point 2: There are data gaps that render important team and executive level questions unanswerable.

We often find that CEOs, executive teams, and board members are frustrated with the marketing metrics they receive in weekly, monthly, and quarterly financial reviews. A common complaint is that the marketing stats that so often fill up spreadsheets and PowerPoint decks such as impressions, clicks, engagements, and even leads are often presented without reference to their impact on sales. I have personally witnessed many marketing VPs dressed down by their CEOs for not being able to answer what the CEO considers to be a relatively simple question concerning cause and effect (e.g. “How many sales did our SEO efforts create last month?”).

Conversely, and equally important, marketing leaders and their teams are often frustrated with their inability to adequately communicate the value of their efforts to executive teams. It is often the case that the marketing team simply does not have access to the software infrastructure, technical resources, or bespoke data sets that are necessary to answer specific questions from executives. Beyond this, we have rarely seen marketing teams, even in bigger organizations, that are resourced with a data scientist or database expert that can operationalize complex data requests. When organizations do have such a technical resource, they are often not prioritized for marketing needs, and understandably lack the wealth of knowledge required to lead on building the appropriate reporting solution.

And so, leading from this pain point, another possible objective of a digital marketing audit could be to understand where there are data gaps for both the executive and marketing teams, and make recommendations on how these data gaps can be filled through an appropriate business intelligence solution.

Objective 2: To provide recommendations for a data model and business intelligence solution that can connect marketing efforts with Organization objectives and insights for executive-level decision makers.

Common Pain Point 3: The marketing team lacks the confidence to draw insights from its existing data sets in platforms such as Google Analytics, or make bold decisions because the data is unreliable, inconsistent, or is out of sync with internal company data sets.

Marketing teams that are trying to make decisions with unreliable data are analogous to a group of hikers that have become lost in the woods. In the best-case scenario (as is advised by wilderness survival guides), the team stays put. Because there is no real way to tell which is the right direction, the conservative move is to not take any risk at all and wait for rescue. In other words, unreliable data leads to paralysis and risk aversion. In the worst-case scenario, the team is either unaware or unwilling to admit it is lost. They stride off in random directions hoping for the best, not understanding why efforts are continuing to fail, becoming increasingly demoralized along the way. 

Unreliable data is created in and by common marketing platforms such as Google Analytics, Google Tag Manager, Google Ads, and Facebook Business Manager. This could be due to a wide variety of reasons related to errors in tracking and measurement. It’s worth mentioning that we have yet to conduct an audit where we did not find at least one or two key data sources that were incorrectly tracked or measured, with the marketing team basing key decisions off of faulty data.

This is why, once the scope and objectives of a digital marketing audit are decided (Stage 1), the very next step (Stage 2) is to evaluate the reliability of the data set. Use step-by-step quality assurance testing methods borrowed from the software development world to ensure that the data points the marketing team relies on are tracked and measured properly. Beyond this, it is also important to reconcile any lead and ecommerce data tracked in Google Analytics that is also tracked internally via the organization’s CRM or accounting software. If discrepancies are discovered between Google Analytics and the CRM, for example, step by step testing can isolate where exactly the error is occurring.

Objective 3: To verify the reliability of the digital marketing data set and provide recommendations on how to fix any tracking or measurement errors affecting the data.

Conclusion: Derive your Audit Scope and Objectives from Your Digital Marketing Pain Points and Unanswered Questions

In summary, the scope of a digital marketing audit encompasses the digital channels to be audited, the time frame under study, and the KPIs that will be evaluated. The objectives of an audit should be created as a direct response to the pain points of the organization.

The scope of an audit should naturally flow from the objectives, the reliability of your data, and your audit budget (whether this be measured by time, money, or both). For example, if your organization is principally concerned with evaluating whether or not you are getting your money’s worth from Google Ads campaigns, your scope should be limited to that Channel/Platform, with a timeframe as far back as data reliability allows, with a clear focus on evaluating your cost per action (CPA).

In the next article in this series, we will discuss different approaches and methods for validating the reliability of the data set under study. 

If you need help planning your digital marketing audit, contact us for a free consultation.

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