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Marketing | Sep 18
Jessica Greene on February 20, 2019 • 16 minute read
There are dozens—if not hundreds—of tools for every single activity marketers need to complete, no matter how niche. In fact, we recently did a roundup of the best marketing tools and received 80 different tool recommendations.
But a niche tool designed for a very specific purpose isn’t always the ideal solution. Complex problems can often be solved with a simple tool—even if it’s a little dated.
Take email for example. The first email was sent in 1971. In the last 50 years, no one’s built a suitable replacement.
Another great example: spreadsheets. The first spreadsheet program for personal computers was VisiCalc. It went on sale in 1979, six years before Microsoft Excel made its debut.
But even today, spreadsheets are still really powerful and versatile tools.
To highlight what you can do with a simple spreadsheet, we asked 27 marketers to tell us how they use Google’s free spreadsheet application: Google Sheets.
They shared 20 creative and unique ways to use Google Sheets for content and social media marketing, SEO, PPC, lead generation, budgeting, reporting, and more.
Google Sheets, meet Databox: Over the last year, Google Sheets has been the most requested Databox integration–by far. Now, that integration is live. Learn more about how you can turn your Google Spreadsheets into interactive dashboards that are available on desktop, office TVs, and your mobile devices.
There are a lot of really complex ways to use Google Sheets to calculate, analyze, and visualize data, but many of its use cases are exceptionally simple.
For example, one of the best things about Google Sheets is that you can create an expansive table of data, share that data with your teammates and/or clients, update the table together in real-time without overriding each others’ changes, and see a complete history of changes over time.
And it’s these simple features that make Google Sheets a powerful tool for things like planning and tracking your content and social media campaigns.
Stacy Caprio of Conversiono recommends Google Sheets for planning and tracking your content marketing efforts:
“I manually pull keyword data from Google Keyword Planner. Then, in Google Sheets, I track target keywords, publish dates, number of internal and external links, keyword competition, and page ranks.”
Referral Rock’s Megan Mosley uses Google Sheets to create comparison tables when testing apps for best-tool roundups:
“When writing an article on tools, a spreadsheet makes it easy to list out and compare all of the data we find. I even create columns that let me know whether or not I have reached out and tagged them on social media posts after publishing the content.”
“Google Sheets is great for things like competitor research, content gap analysis, and content topic planning,” says Kyle Menchaca of WorkWave.
“My process is pulling the top articles from competitor websites and blogs using a tool like Ahrefs or BuzzSumo. I add columns to the spreadsheet for organic traffic, referring domains, content length, social shares, and publish dates.”
“Then, you can sort this list by organic traffic. Now, you have a quick view of your competitors’ best content, as well as what types of topics resonate with people. I generally add in my site as well to get a visual of how we stack up.”
“I use Google Sheets to test and track if changes I make to content are effective in boosting metrics like on-page click-through rates, time on page, and bounce rates,” says Best Company’s Chad Zollinger.
“Since our landing pages aren’t the final destination on our site, we want users to read our content and click through to our pillar pages. So I’ve recently been testing the effectiveness of shorter paragraphs, bolded sentences, and higher CTAs.”
“I’ve tracked these changes using Google Sheets, and I’ve been able to weigh the effectiveness of each change against each other. Google Sheets was integral in testing these changes.”
“By the way, I’ve found that shorter paragraphs are the most effective of the three changes in boosting time on page and reducing bounce rates,” Zollinger says.
“I currently manage about two dozen social media accounts for my clients, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without Google Sheets,” says Ana Cvetkovic of BLOOM Digital Marketing.
“There are a lot of social media planning and scheduling tools out there, but none of them are as flexible or all-encompassing as a simple, collaborative spreadsheet through Google Sheets.”
“I’ve created a template that I use with my clients to map out social content for the month. I include a column to place an image (via a Google Drive link). I also color code posts as I’m working on them—yellow for works in progress, green for scheduled posts, and red for posts that require attention.”
“I use Google Sheets to keep track of prospects that I’ve contacted when promoting content,” says ATYNTK’s Finn Hayden.
“It’s much easier for me to check a Google Sheet than it is for me to trawl through my email outbox trying to figure out if I’ve communicated with a prospect previously.”
Nina Krol and the team at Zety also use Google Sheets for outreach and promotion: “Our researchers have composed a database of leads and contacts for our outreach team in Google Sheets. It allows us to keep track of who we’ve contacted and when.”
“But the coolest thing for us is that we’ve connected Google Sheets to our email accounts using Zapier. Now, we can update statuses on our outreach email activities, and Zapier will make the updates in Google Sheets automatically. This allows us to create quick but detailed reports on our tasks and how successful they were.”
“We like to utilize Google Sheets to actually communicate with certain clients,” says ClearPivot’s Chantelle Stevenson.
“Links to photos that will go live on social media for a certain month are posted for clients to review, and notes are highlighted in yellow for items that need to be altered. We use it to plan out our month quite often via social media content and premium content.”
“It’s a wonderful tool to use to communicate with clients outside of our organization and have them see our work before it actually gets published. Every update is seen by all parties, and links can be updated accordingly after they’re dropped into their corresponding Google Drive folders.”
Spitfire Inbound’s Sarah Mills also recommends Google Sheets for collaborating with clients:
“We use Google Sheets throughout our business, but I’d say the one I would highlight would be the use of Sheets by our content team to build content strategies. It means that all information can be depicted in text format and graphically, which enables easy collaboration with clients.”
Most PPC and SEO tools are designed to work with spreadsheets. Why? When you’re analyzing thousands of keywords, checking rankings for hundreds of pages of content, or looking for issues in your site’s metadata, a spreadsheet’s ability to sort, filter, and highlight data can save you a lot of time.
Here are some ways our respondents use Google Sheets to expedite keyword analysis, boost rankings, adjust PPC bids, and identify technical SEO issues.
“We pull in search engine ranking data from Ahrefs and enter it into the template. The template finds pages on our site that are competing with one another for the same keyword.”
“By removing extraneous pages or combining pages with 301 redirects, we are able to reduce keyword cannibalization issues on the site—and boost our organic traffic.”
“With this information, I can make improvements to my content to boost search rankings and better answer users’ questions.”
Andrew McLoughlin of Colibri Digital Marketing uses Google Sheets to find title tags and meta descriptions that are either too long or are duplicated across multiple pages:
“After running a site crawl for a client, one of the first ways we organize that data is to import the title tags and meta descriptions, then we use Google Sheets to color-code them like a heatmap.”
“As they approach the optimal character limit, they gradually shift from green to yellow. They turn red when they exceed the limit. Duplicates show in blue.”
“It’s a great way to take in the whole domain’s meta information at a glance.”
“We use Google Sheets for a lot of things,” says GeekSmash’s Joe Delbridge, “but one that we find particularly useful is to scrub pages for content and then export that information into a Google spreadsheet.”
“For example, if we want to see if all images have alt attributes on a page with a lot of images, this method reveals that much faster than checking one by one.”
“Google Sheets is my go-to for Amazon PPC,” says Andrew Maff of Seller’s Choice. “It makes life so much easier.”
“For our e-commerce clients who are on Amazon, we simply download the bulk editor for their PPC campaigns, upload them into Google Sheets, filter, bulk adjust bids with a formula, and re-upload it.”
“Funny enough Excel doesn’t allow us to do it like that.”
You may not have access to the data in your sales team’s CRM (and you may not want to open Pandora’s box by asking for it). With Google Sheets, you can avoid the CRM altogether.
Use these ideas to track and nurture leads on your side with Google Sheets, then send that data to your CRM to assign leads to sales reps automatically.
“We use Google Sheets to assign leads by area code or round-robin,” says Advice Media’s Joe Sloan. “We connect our Zapier account to a spreadsheet that has each area code. When we assign a state to a rep, any area code in that state allows us to automatically assign the lead.”
“Here’s the flow we use:”
“This may sound confusing to set up, and it was. But now we automatically assign leads to the correct rep—all thanks to Google Sheets.”
“We use Google Sheets as an overlay on top of each of our inbound leads that come in from multiple sources—website forms, emails, chats, etc.—to consolidate all leads on a single list,” says Eric Quanstrom of CIENCE. “That list is also updated with subsequent appointments booked with our sales team.”
“One of the main benefits of using Sheets is that we have multiple inbound SDRs and contributors. Sheets offers really advanced collaboration features where you can see who’s logged into a specific tab—even who’s entering data into a single cell.”
One of the most traditional ways to use a spreadsheet is for tracking, reporting, and visualizing data. In fact, 72% of marketers say they spend time visualizing the data they store in Google Sheets:
Between its built-in tools and its integrations with platforms like Databox, there are lots of ways to transform your spreadsheet’s raw data into valuable insights and accessible reports.
“A great way to use Google Sheets is by connecting it to Google Analytics,” says Jonathan Aufray of Growth Hackers.
“Thanks to the power of Google Analytics’ API, you can access all of your website analytics directly in Google Sheets and select exactly what data appears in your spreadsheet.”
“This allows you to create your own custom dashboards, create automated reports, and connect the data you collect in Google Analytics to other sources.”
“In the past, tracking our marketing budget was no easy task,” says Nate Masterson of Maple Holistics. “We have a large team with a variety of campaigns and costs.”
“We decided to use Google Sheets for our marketing budget since it allows each team member to add their expenses on the go, which gives us a constantly updated view of our spending.”
“Visitors subscribe to newsletters after reading an article they like,” says Orbit Media Studios’ Andy Crestodina. “But few marketers know which articles are the most effective at getting visitors to subscribe.”
“It’s hard to find this data because ‘conversion rate per blog post’ is a calculated metric using data from two reports: ‘Reverse Goal Path’ and ‘All Pages.’ You need to divide the total number of conversions for any page that appears as ‘Goal Previous Step – 1’ from the ‘Pageviews’ for that page. This is spreadsheet work.”
“Using Google Sheets and the Google Analytics add-on, you can import the data from these two reports into two sheets. Then, create a third sheet that pulls in the data, matches the pages using a VLOOKUP, and calculates the actual conversion rate per article.”
“This is some of the most valuable data imaginable for any content marketer. It shows which pieces of content you should promote most heavily.”
“Once you’re done with this spreadsheet, you’ll know exactly what to put into heavy social rotation, to put on your homepage, to link to from other posts, etc.”
“I take a page out of financial analysts’ books and make all my tracking sheets automatically update,” says Fundera’s Catherine Giese.
“The first sheet is always pure data that I can easily look at and analyze. Each category I want to measure has a mode of measurement (count, percentage, etc.) associated with it that automatically updates with each data entry.”
“This way, I don’t have to manually calculate or go through all the sheets for reporting each time. Instead, I just pull the first sheet whenever I need it.”
And Christabelle Tani of Brand chemistry uses linking in Google Sheets to maintain identical agency and client reports: “Each of our clients have their own reporting dashboards in both Databox and Google Sheets. Google Sheets lets us easily document historical performance.”
“Our hack: we link separate spreadsheets into one big master spreadsheet as separate tabs. Each time we update the individual client spreadsheets, the tabs get updated in our master spreadsheet, eliminating double handling. It’s a huge time saver!”
“We use Google Sheets to track the growth rate of all of our clients,” says Kevin Barber of Lean Labs. “We chart the minimum growth rate (e.g. 10x over 36 months) and the reach goal (e.g. 10x in 24 months). We track this for organic traffic, leads, and opportunities.”
“As a team, this has pushed us to stay laser-focused on the right activities. It’s also propelled us a company because we have example after example of 10x growth for our clients, as well as our average growth rate in an easy-to-understand chart.”
Google Sheets can be as simple as you want or as complex as you need.
There are tons of apps, plugins, and add-ons that make Google Sheets endlessly extensible by connecting it with the other tools you use to do your work. And most marketers are taking advantage of that, with 79% reporting that they pull data from other tools into Google Sheets:
And while most marketers only pull data from one tool into Google Sheets, many use Google Sheets to collect data from more than 11 different apps:
What tools are they pulling data from? It’s a long list that includes everything from reporting tools like Google Analytics to accounting tools like QuickBooks:
“When it comes to marketing analytics and Google Sheets, there’s no limit to what you can do to improve workflows and the accessibility/usability of campaign and audience data,” says Andrew Becks of 301 Digital Media.
“Sadly, not all platforms and tools seamlessly integrate with Google Sheets, so we sometimes have to get creative.”
“The hackiest thing I’ve done lately is leveraging Mailparser to download CSV files containing analytics that are emailed to me daily, parse through the email attachments’ contents, and upload the details into Google Sheets.”
“In Google Sheets, the data is able to be further manipulated, and a daily running log of the relevant detail is created,” Becks says.
Gray Group International’s Alejandra Melara offers another solution: “We’ve merged Google Sheets with Zapier because it lets us automate the import and export of data in a much more results-driven way. This allows us to save money and time by automating processes.”
Isabella Federico of WeBizz says her agency even creates Google Sheets scripts for customers:
“If they frequently need to update some information on their websites, we help them do this through pivot tables in Google Sheets that are embedded on their sites. Thanks to a proprietary script we developed, they can add or edit the information directly from the spreadsheet with no need to access the admin panel of their sites.”
“This is also a really collaborative way to create and edit content since multiple people can work on it—both inside and outside of the company.”
And Louis John Murray of Futurety uses a variety of tools and custom solutions:
“We use Google Sheets as a unified repository to power our digital reporting in tools. Also, there are a few existing add-on services that allow users to build interactive queries for common tools like Google Analytics or Facebook ads.”
“We take it a step further by building automated API extracts for platforms like Yext, Salesforce, or HubSpot. Automating the data extract process allows us to focus on proactive analysis and drastically decreases the amount of time spent on exporting and reporting in a given month.”
“The ability to analyze and blend data from so many disparate sources allows us to present our customers with a complete picture of digital performance across a variety of paid and unpaid channels,” Murray says.
VisiCalc was called the “first killer app of the computer era,” and it’s easy to understand why. Even forty years after it first went on sale, many businesses’ operations would be much less productive without the help of spreadsheet tools like Google Sheets.
As Eric Quanstrom of CIENCE says: “Despite the negative perception of ‘just a spreadsheet,’ there are few other tools as evolved for real-time collaboration as Google Sheets. And since time is of the essence with inbound leads, using the appropriate tool for the job is actually quite crucial.”
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