Marketing executives are all too familiar with the famous quote from merchant John Wanamaker who said, “I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted, but I’m not sure which half.” A lot has changed since Wanamaker opened his first store in Philadelphia in the 19th century. Advertising used to be a blunt instrument; today, it has the power to deliver the right message to the right person at the right place and time.

Today, advertisers and marketers can use tools like Google Analytics to measure what consumers are searching for online and how they respond to ads and websites. With unprecedented knowledge of behaviour and trends, advertisers and marketers can use web analytics data to optimise the path from search to sale, reach new audiences and improve value on their spend.

Now we’re facing a new problem: information overload. We simply have access to too much data, and key insights can get lost in the shuffle. We also have so many new ways to reach customers online – Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, display networks – that it’s difficult to understand how these channels work together toward the common goal of increasing conversions.

In other words, as [former US Secretary of Defence] Donald Rumsfeld once famously said, “There are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns – the ones we don't know we don’t know.” Of course, Rumsfeld wasn’t talking about online traffic here, but the sentiments hold true.

Web analytics data gives us access to the known knowns; for example, if you see a weekend drop in traffic, you can look at analytics data to discover decreases in visits from certain traffic sources. Web analytics data even helps us understand the known unknowns; for example, which new keywords users search for to reach your site. But how do we discover the unknown unknowns in the data presented to us?

We’ve begun to shed light on the unknown unknowns already with Google Analytics. Thousands of Australian websites, such as online designer fashion shopping club, are using the free tool to increase membership bases by monitoring and analysing their Adwords spend. The website receives up-to-date information on key statistics that shape their business, including visitor statistics, traffic sources, page views, user behavioural patterns and, most importantly, how their keywords are performing. Using this information, buyinvite was then able to amend its keyword bids on fashion-related terms accordingly to drive traffic to its website and, in turn, convert visitors into quality members.

Last year, we launched Major Contributors in our Intelligence reports. Major Contributors automatically detects major changes in traffic and the Intelligence reports tell you what may have contributed to that particular change.

These tools help you uncover the unknown unknowns and make it easier to make advertising decisions based on those factors.

This year, we’ll be working on another important area of focus: we want to better understand how multiple media channels work together.

Yes, we can track impressions on our YouTube videos and chatter from our Twitter accounts, but how do these channels contribute to your ROI? We made some progress with this last year with Search Funnels, which allow you to track which ads your customers clicked on before converting. Now there’s the potential to understand even more facets of the conversion path. For example, wouldn’t it be amazing if you could understand that customers who see your post on Twitter and then click on your ad are more likely to convert?

The bottom line is that data unlocks insights and more media channels mean more customers. You have powerful tools at your fingertips; you just have to know how to use them. We’re working to evolve our measurement tools and we’re excited about what’s to come in the next months.