KPIs, Analytics and Data: The Right Tools for the Job

10 minute read

July 24, 2020

KPIs, Analytics and Data: The Right Tools for the Job

As I discussed in my previous blog, the CAKE framework is the best way to determine, set and measure the KPIs necessary to show the value that your community has to your organization.

If you missed this last blog, I’d recommend giving it a quick read.

This blog will focus on the last step of CAKE, which is “execution,” and then further explore the best ways to report information back to your executives.

Let’s dive in!


As previously mentioned, this step is impossible to do without the proper analytic tools. Some of the tools your company may be using include:

  • Omniture

  • Webtrends

  • Matomo

  • Hotjar

  • Clicktale

  • Mixpanel

  • Google Analytics

  • Marketing automation

  • Your community platform

Now, people have a tendency to get worried when talking about analytics and are sometimes fearful when thinking about implementing these types of tools. The thought here is that “it’s too complicated,” or “I don’t know how to do this.” To this I’d simply say, it’s easier than you think! Or it might already be installed, and you just need to ask for access.

Let’s start with the basics. With any tool that you choose to use for measuring analytics (besides your own community platform, such as Vanilla, if you have one) you first need to add a tracking script. Don’t freak out, it’s actually pretty easy!

A tracking script is literally a simple piece of code that will send information back to the analytics provider regarding the visitor. You might, in fact, already be familiar with what they are, and you just don’t know it. Tracking scripts are extremely common and very useful.

When a tracking script code is applied to a website, the visitor will usually get a notification (due to the GDPR) that’ll say something along the lines of “do you accept that we’ll be tracking you?” and when the user clicks “yes,” the website will set a cookie and the tracking script will fire up. This tracking script will gather information on the visitor and track their activity, and then send it to your analytics provider.

The information that gets tracked by a tracking script and sent to your analytics provider is mostly anonymous (depending on your solution provider) and includes:

  • Usually the IP

  • Location

  • Pages visited

  • Where you came from

  • What you clicked on the site

  • How long you stayed

  • Did you use search?

  • Any actions on page

  • Could be tagged for remarketing

Now looking back at the list of tools you may encounter, I’d like to go in-depth on three analytics tools in particular: Google Analytics, Marketing automation and your community platform.

webinar-Google Analytics for CMGRs1

Google Analytics

Many organizations use Google Analytics. Why?  Because it’s effective and it’s free (as long as you don’t exceed 5 million impressions per month. The cap is waived if you have an active Adwords account).

Google Analytics is a really great tool to have, both for your website and your community. One important thing to note, however, is that it’s not retroactive. This means that if you, for example, have it installed on your website but not your community, when you go to install it on your community, it will only start collecting data at that point. So basically, you won’t be able to go get data from before you installed it.

Google Analytics provides you with a number of useful tools to help sort and filter the data that you want to see. It’s best practice with Google Analytics to use the Views function—let me explain how this is done to ensure that you get the most from this tool.

For your digital property, or your domain, you’ll have a property (, which is your main site. You can then create multiple views, which can then be filtered so that you can see only the data that you’re interested in.

You can do this by leaving one view to be all raw data, and then adding other views as needed for subdomains, such as your blog, or forum, with the filters that you’d like to see. Remember this view only works after the fact and it is not retroactive, so do it as soon as you can.

You can add a view by first selecting “create new view.”

Google Analytics dashboard

From here, you’ll see the “filters” option.

Google Analytics Select Filter

You’ll want to create a new filter named “Community Forum View” Filters > Add New Filter > Custom > Include > Hostname. The filter pattern is


Google Analytics Filter Options

With the filters option you are able to add the type of data that you’d like to see from your community, which is absolutely fantastic. It will help you stay focused on your goals and any/all activity in your forum will be recorded.

The next thing that you need to do is apply your goals to Google Analytics. These will be the KPIs that you’ve determined you want to measure. The goals you set need to fall into 1 of the 4 pre-determined buckets:

  1. Revenue

  2. Acquisition

  3. Inquiry

  4. Engagement

To show you how to set up a goal, let’s just go through a quick example. Say we select “acquisition,” because acquisition is likely one of the main things that you’d want to look at since, as a Community Manager, you obviously want to be monitoring how many people are signing up and joining your community.

Google Analytics Create an Account

You’re then given an additional 4 options to choose from:

  1. Destination: This is a page that someone will visit, and when they visit it, the analytics will assume that an account has been created.

  2. Duration: This is how long someone spends on the website.

  3. Pages/Screen: This is the pages/screens that the viewer had looked at per session.

  4. Events: This a more complicated option that allows you to measure more specific things (out of the scope of this discussion).

So from here, we’d select “destination” since this is the most relevant to our goal of seeing how many people are joining your community. Now, in the case of a forum, the only way an account gets confirmed is when they visit the /entry/emailconfirm url.

Goals on Google Analytics

In our example, we’ve also added a value: we’ve determined to measure new accounts that bring the business $200 of revenue, as seen in the image above. You can work with your business team to figure out this value, but I’d recommend to do this in order to tie value to your work.

Next, you need to enable a funnel. These will prescribe the steps that you want people to follow  before our goal is triggered. In this example, we want people to start at entry/register and confirm their email. By doing this, we’ll see how many people start a registration and give up. If the number is really high, we can work on the workflow or maybe look into how we can make registration more compelling.

That’s it, you now have a goal tracking in Google Analytics for people who create new accounts in your community! Woohoo!

Marketing Automation

In case you aren’t familiar with what marketing automation is, it’s essentially a tool that automates repetitive tasks, such as emails, or social media and other website actions. Some popular marketing automation tools include:

  • Hubspot

  • Salesforce Pardot

  • Marketo

  • Infusionsoft

  • Acton

  • Eloqua

Using marketing automation tools is great for analytics because they also provide a tracking script. This allows you to use it in conjunction with single sign on, and you’ll be able to track how users interact across your digital presence. Not only will you be able to improve your community by knowing what activities your users partake in, but you’ll also be able to collect a ton of data and information regarding the KPIs that you’ve set.

With marketing automation tools, you can also create lists that will autofill with specific data based on user actions. For example, if you’re interested in knowing who is engaging with a piece of content, you can create a list that will compile the names of the specific people who interact with it.

Lists are a great tool to use because they:

  • Update automatically as people do behaviours your want.
  • Identify behaviour based on pageview or events or in community speak categories or discussion that matter.

  • Refine filters based on dates, number of times or other criteria.

  • You have the option to add other conditions, such as looking at lifecycle (for example are they a customer) or if they downloaded a recent ebook etc.


Your Community Platform

It’s likely that if you’re using a community platform, you’ll have access to advanced analytics. Vanilla, for example, offers an analytics dashboard that provides data that’s usually very community specific, which is great to measure your community KPIs.

A community platform is able to capture KPI data that a lot of out-of-the-box tools can’t measure without complete customization. Further, the information you are able to capture is more useful than, for example, information that a tool like Google Analytics can’t share because of privacy concerns (Google has strict rules in their TOS about capturing PII also known as Personally Identifiable Information).

One of the best ways to capture data on your community is (no surprise here!) by using your community analytics. This will give you the best, most detailed information about member activity and behaviour and often times, many communities will use their platform analytics in conjunction with other tools to get the best results possible.


I’ve got to recommend my favourite tool for reporting: Data Studio. It lets you create great dashboards with over 15 connectors or places you can import data from. This can help you with visualizing data from different sources all in one place. You can see the connectors available for Data Studio in the screenshot below.

Data Studio connectors

Other viable alternatives for reporting include

  • Sisense

  • Looker

  • Qualtrics Research Core

  • Zoho Reports

  • QlikView

  • SAS Business Intelligence

  • Microsoft Power BI

  • IBM Cognos

  • Tableau

  • Smartsheet

Now that you’re aware of some of the best tools out there for reporting, I’ll share a few tips with you on how to ensure that you’re reporting the best and most relevant information (there is more in my online webinar).

Don’t Data Puke

First things first, don’t data puke. What this means is that you should only be reporting on things that matter. You might have a ton of data that you’ve collected, but it’s your job to ensure that you’re only reporting on the data that’s relevant to the KPIs that you’ve set. Over reporting or giving more info than is needed is a sure way to ensure that your reports are ignored by managers who don’t have time to read it all. Make sure you get to the point as quickly as possible

Always Tie Data to A Story

Sometimes if you present too much data it can be hard to digest or remember. If you can tie the data to a great story which evokes emotion, this the best way to get your message across. So, for instance, instead of talking only about 30% ticket deflection, you could tie it to a story and say, “our community helped deflect 30% of tickets, including a critical one for ACME corp during Christmas outside business hours. The community was able to rally to solve the issue for them. So in essence, our community saved Christmas.”

Having great stories like that make your data more memorable, and when paired with crucial KPIs that you need to report on, they’re even more effective.

To help you narrow down on what is significant to report, I’d recommend using the “So What” test, created by Avinash Kaushik.

Feel free to check it out yourself, but the gist of this test goes like this: for every metric you think is relevant to present, ask yourself the question “so what” three times. Each question provides an answer that in turn raises another question (a “so what” again). If at the third “so what” you don’t get a recommendation for an action you should take, you have the wrong metric and thus you should kill it from your reports.

Here’s how it looks in action:

Scenario: You have been reporting the top exit pages of your website each month, and to glean more insights you show trends for the last six months.

So What x1

“These are the top exit pages on our website for the last month.”

So what? They don’t seem to have changed in six months.

So What x2

“We should focus on these pages because they are major leakage points in our website.”

So what? We have looked at this report for six months and tried to make fixes, and even after that the pages listed here have not dropped off the report.

So What x3

“If we can stop visitors from leaving the website, we can keep them on our website.”

So what? Doesn’t everyone have to exit on some page?

Bottom-line: This might not be the best KPI for you. Kill this metric from your report!

Use Familiar Tools and Report Regularly

Nobody wants to take the time to learn a new tool, especially if they’re busy managers who don’t even have time for lunch! Make sure that you’re using reporting tools that are simple and familiar so that it’s as painless as possible.

Further, make sure that you report reporting on a regular basis. This should be something that is discussed before you start to measure your KPIs. This, however, doesn’t have to be written in stone; don’t be shy after a couple of months to ask your boss if they still find what you send/share useful and how you can make it even better.

Concluding Thought

While implementing and using analytical tools can seem daunting, you’re not in this alone. I hope this article gave you the information needed to be more fluent with analytical tools, and showed you the value in starting the conversations around accessing the data. More importantly, I hope while you may fret about selecting the right KPIs, you spend just as much time and effort on thinking about how you’ll report on your findings.

Your reports should reflect the business value that your community has and directly speak to the KPIs that you’ve set in the previous steps of the CAKE framework with your internal MVPS. Keep it plain, simple and easy to understand, and you’ll be able to avoid having the value of your community questioned. Most of all, don’t stay siloed and start those important conversations!

webinar-Drive Engagement with Marketing Automation-1



Share Your Thoughts

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Adrian Speyer

Written by Adrian Speyer

Adrian Speyer is the Head of Community and Lead Evangelist for Vanilla by Higher Logic. Besides spending many years in digital marketing, Adrian has been building communities of all sizes for over 20 years.

Have an Article for Vanilla's Blog?

Send us an email to [email protected] with your topic idea and we'll circle back with our publishing guidelines.

Subscribe to the Community Corner Newsletter and get expert insight and analysis on how to get the most out of your online community every Friday.
[contact-form-7 id="5700" title="Newsletter Form"]

Request a Demo

Schedule a product demo now.

Contact Us