Choosing content marketing analytics is like entering a forest. The analytics dashboard is crowded with data. Many of the individual metrics resemble one another, just like trees. Without a clear sense of direction or some navigational aids, it’s easy to get lost.
To navigate the content marketing analytics forest, you need to be clear on your destination—that is, on the objective of your content marketing program. You also need a strategy for getting where you want to go.
To choose content marketing analytics, it helps to recall why you are publishing content in the first place. Typically, we want to attract visitors who will:
- Find and consume our content
- Engage with our content
- Take action on our website
With these purposes in mind, we might ask ourselves questions like:
- How many visitors view my content?
- Who views my content?
- How do visitors arrive at my site?
- Which pages do they like best?
Let’s explore Google Analytics to find some ways of answering these questions. In the discussion that follows, we’ll use Google’s own categories for grouping different measurements of content performance. Within each category, we’ll touch on key metrics, which can be used to measure almost any content marketing program.
Elements of a Google Analytics Report
Before we delve more closely into content marketing analytics, let’s take a closer look at the elements of an analytics report.
An analytics report is composed of two elements: metrics and dimensions. Google provides the best explanation on the page Dimensions and metrics: Understand the building blocks of your reports.
Dimensions are attributes of data, or questions that can be answered in words. If you want to know where your users are located, or which of your pages are most popular, you are looking for dimensions. It’s also possible to combine dimensions. For example, you can combine location and pages to learn how many visitors within a particular location viewed a particular page.
Metrics are quantitative measurements, or questions that can be answered in numbers. If you want to know how many visitors you received in a given period, or how many pages the average visitor viewed in a single session, you are looking for metrics.
No matter what goals we set for our organization, we need an audience to view our content. We need people to read our words and view our images.
What we’re primarily trying to measure here is:
- The number of people who see our content
- How much of it they consume
The Audience Overview section of Google Analytics can answer many of these questions. To access this section, click Audience in the left hand sidebar, then Overview. (For convenience, I’ll use notation like Audience > Overview in the rest of this post to indicate particular areas of Google Analytics.)
At one glance, the audience overview will give you a view of the following important metrics:
- Page views
- Pages per session
- Average session duration
- Bounce rate
As its name suggests, the Audience Overview section displays metrics averaged across all of your content. If you’d like to drill down to learn more detail—to learn the bounce rate for an individual page, for example—you can do that as well. We’ll explore some of the possibilities in Behavior Metrics.
If you’d like to learn even more about your audience, continue exploring the audience reports listed beneath Overview. Demographics, interests, geographic location, and technology—it’s all there. But track only the metrics you can use to measure progress towards your objectives. Don’t count just for the sake of counting.
This metric purports to be a count of unique individual visitors. You can find it by clicking Audience > Overview, then viewing the list of metrics below the graph. The count given for users in this list is actually for unique visitors. This metric is located between Sessions and Pageviews.
Scott Bateman at Promise Media explains this metric in How to Understand Unique Visitors in Google Analytics. Google defines unique visitors as “the number of unduplicated (counted only once) visitors to your website over the course of a specified time period.”
Still, unique visitors gives us a pretty good idea of how many individuals see our content. It’s one of the best ways to count them.
The pages per session metric tells you how many pages your average visitor loads during an individual session. It is calculated by dividing the total number of page views by the total number of sessions.
You can use this metric to gauge how interested visitors are in your content. You can also use it to gauge the effectiveness of your site organization and internal link strategy.
Bounce rate is the percentage of visitors who load a page, then leave without taking any action. This metric requires careful interpretation, however. A bounce can mean that a visitor was dissatisfied with the content of a page, or that the page took too long to load. But it can also mean that the visitor loaded the page, found what they were looking for (a phone number or address, perhaps), and left with their needs met.
Your site’s average bounce rate, therefore, gives you only a rough approximation of user interest. For more useful information, examine the bounce rate for individual pages. We’ll touch on this point again in Behavior Metrics.
Acquisition tells you how visitors arrive at your site. Click Acquisition > Overview to gain access to some of the key metrics in this area. The key dimensions are channels, source, medium, and referrals.
Channels group traffic sources into broad categories, such as referrals (inbound links), organic search, direct (from people typing your URL into their browser address bars or selecting bookmarks), email, and traffic directed by social media. For each channel, you can also view your content’s performance in secondary metrics, like new users, bounce rate, and pages per session.
Source and medium provide additional detail on your traffic sources. Source identifies the origin of your traffic, such as a particular search engine or a referring website.
Medium identifies individual categories of traffic, such as organic search, cost-per-click advertising, and web referral. These two dimensions are often presented as the compound source/medium. For example: the dimension google/organic designates Google as the traffic source and organic search as the medium.
Referrals are another way of identifying traffic sources. If you receive inbound links from another website, they will be identified here. Traffic from email campaigns also appears here, provided the links in the referring emails are correctly tagged.
Behavior metrics tell you how visitors respond to your content. Click Behavior > Overview to gain a high-level view of how individual pages are performing.
The overview graph lets you select individual metrics, such as average time on page, bounce rate, and page views. To the right, you can select the time period over which you want to view performance: Hourly, Day, Week, or Month.
To learn more about individual pages, click Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. You’ll see a list of all pages on your website, plus key metrics. Note that you can also click on individual pages for further information.
Page views captures the number of times a visitor loads a page of your content in their browser, but this metric can also be misleading. If a user loads a page, clicks on a link, then uses the Back button to return to your page, you rack up two page views. For a more meaningful count, use unique page views, which tallies all page views by a single user within a 30-minute session as one view. The good people at Moz explain this point in their Beginner’s Guide to Content Marketing, Chapter 8: Content Analysis and Reporting.
Time on Page
Time on page gives an indication of how much people like your content. It measures the amount of time that elapses between the time a visitor loads a page and the time they take another action on your site. But notice the italics here. If a user follows an external link to another site, then closes your page, it counts as zero time on page, even if they read your post from top to bottom.
An alternate metric is scroll depth, which tells you how much of a post was actually consumed. You may need a specialized tool to capture this information, however.
The overall bounce rate for a website, as we noted in Audience Metrics, provides only a rough approximation for user engagement. It’s far more useful to look at the bounce rate for individual pages.
When you evaluate bounce rate, consider the function of individual pages. It’s legitimate to have a high bounce rate for pages that provide only reference information or don’t require (or provide opportunities for) user action.
But a high bounce rate should concern you for long-form content or pages that call for users to take action on your site, such as forms.
Conversion metrics tell us how successful we are at persuading visitors to take action on our website. Signing up for a newsletter or completing a purchase on an ecommerce site are two examples of goals we would want to track in Google Analytics. Once we begin tracking goals, we can track additional information about them, such as the number of users who reach a certain goal or the path users take in completing the goal.
Some setup is required to track conversion metrics, but it’s not terribly difficult. I’ll explore the details in a future blog post.
Some Wisdom about Content Marketing Analytics
I often close a post with some caveats to put things in perspective, and I’ll do that here as well.
First, metrics don’t always mean what we think they mean. A metric like page views has a technical definition, not a commonsensical one. Make sure you know exactly what your metrics are telling you. When you discuss content marketing analytics with others, especially people who don’t share your specialized knowledge, make sure they know, too.
Two, don’t let yourself be seduced by so-called vanity metrics. Always remember that the purpose of content is to further your organization’s objectives. If your content seems to be running hot, that’s great, but resist the natural human tendency to let it go to your head. Focus on the metrics that matter.
Three, remember that most metrics give us a relative indication of our content health, rather than a definite picture. For this reason, we should look at analytical data with a discerning eye. Look for trends. Make appropriate comparisons of different periods, either month-on-month or year-over-year for seasonal content. Use analytics as a way to become a better content creator and publisher.
Finally, be purposeful in setting up your analytics. Think about what you’re trying to accomplish, then measure your progress towards those specific objectives.
What Is Content Marketing?
Setting Goals, Objectives, and Metrics
Optimizing Content for Your Audience
How to Do Keyword Research
Promoting Your Content
How to Create a Content Calendar