Most people realize Google Analytics is useful for tracking web traffic over time, but they don’t realize how much valuable data is available for other means, including improving your content marketing strategy. In fact, there are five distinct ways you can use Google Analytics—right out of the box—to refine your content over time.
This process is part of an effective SEO content audit.
Your first—and biggest clue—to the effectiveness of your content should be your patterns of growth over time. For this, head to the Acquisition section of the dashboard and take a look at your inbound streams of traffic. Direct traffic refers to users who enter your URL directly, so instead look to Organic traffic, Referral traffic, and Social traffic.
Organic traffic is a measure of how many people found your site through search engines—it’s a way of telling how much your content has led to increased domain authority and higher search ranks (though there are a combination of other factors at work here). Your Referral traffic, if you break it down to its individual sources, will tell you how effective your guest posts have been—look for high-traffic sources and growth over time. Social traffic works much the same way, telling you how many people have found your site on social media. Again, the strength of your content is the major indicator here. If you notice slow or stagnant growth in any of these areas, you’ll know where you need to focus your efforts to improve.
This is critical. The effectiveness of your content marketing campaign begins with choosing the right topics. You have to choose headlines and subjects that are personally relevant to your audience, useful, yet still unique and rare enough that they don’t attract much competition.
Stay in the Acquisition tab, and take a look at the landing URLs of your traffic—you can either look at all traffic here, or drill down to a category of sources. Arrange the columns by order of visits (this should be the default), and you should get a clear picture of which content topics are netting you the most traffic. Be sure to evaluate this figure at multiple points in time—you may find that a hugely popular topic from a year ago falls flat today, or vice versa. Either way, you’ll learn which topics are most and least effective in your campaign, and you’ll be able to adjust accordingly.
Head to the Behavior tab, and you’ll be able to see how your content affects the actions of your users. This is useful for determining your content’s ability to motivate readers to explore your site further (and eventually convert). Track the “average” path of an inbound user by evaluating the Behavior Flow chart; see what most readers do after visiting one of your articles. Do they head to another article? Do they visit your Contact page? These insights will tell you how effective you’ve been at drawing your readers in further. If you notice a lapse, or if the majority of your readers end up on a page you don’t have as a high priority, you’ll need to adjust your internal linking strategy.
Bounce rates aren’t the best way to learn about your traffic because people can bounce for almost any reason (and just because a user stays doesn’t mean he/she is meaningfully engaged with your content). However, high bounce rates can be an indication of weak points within your strategy. For example, if you notice your “how to” posts have a much higher bounce rate over time than your listicle-style posts, you know something in your listicle posts is doing a better job of keeping your audience engaged. Use these insights to compensate for any weaknesses you find and learn from your best material.
Finally, use the segmented traffic options in the Acquisition tab to find the most appropriate, effective distribution channels for your content—and this can mean Referral or Social sources. Take a look at your inbound traffic on a per-channel basis, and arrange those sources according to total figures. Your most valuable sources will be at the top (in both Referral and Social sections). Don’t limit your distribution to only these sources, but do favor them, and do learn from them—why are these sources bringing you more traffic? Why does your audience prefer them?
Knowing how to audit your content strategy appropriately is the most important part of the process. As long as you’re looking at the right information, you should be able to draw real, valuable conclusions, and make meaningful improvements to your strategies from there.
Fortunately, there’s a free tool you can use to delve into the statistics on your content marketing campaign, from how well your content is at attracting visitors to how well it leads to conversions—and chances are, you’re already using it.
Log into Google Analytics, and I’ll show you how to use it to audit your content strategy.
First, you can measure the SEO impact of your work by taking a look at the organic traffic your site has brought in, month over month. Organic traffic is a measure of the number of people who found your site after searching for something—the higher this number is, the more successful your SEO strategy has been. You can find it by heading to the Acquisition tab and looking at the Acquisition Overview, then drilling down to look at just organic traffic.
If you find that your organic traffic isn’t increasing month over month, there may be a problem with your SEO campaign. It could be that you aren’t posting frequently enough, that your topics aren’t related to your industry, or that your content isn’t long or detailed enough to get you the results you need. Of course, there could also be a problem with another facet of your SEO strategy, such as with your link building or social strategies.
For this report, we’ll stay in the realm of the Acquisition tab, except this time, we’ll be looking at social traffic instead of organic traffic. Your social traffic, as you might imagine, is the number of people who visited your site after clicking a link on a social media platform (such as Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn). The higher this number is, the better your social campaign is faring, and of course, your social campaign is fueled by your content.
Take a look at the details of your inbound social traffic. Are they coming strongly from one source but weakly from another? It may be time to learn from your more successful social profile and make changes to your less successful profiles. Are your numbers remaining stagnant? It may be time to change up what types of content you syndicate on your social channels.
This report of Analytics will let you know how effective your topics are at attracting new visitors to your site. Depending on the ways you syndicate or publish your content, there are two areas where you can gain this understanding.
The first is where we left off—the social traffic area of the Acquisition tab. Here, you’ll be able to see exactly which links attracted the most traffic to your site. Based on this information, you should be able to determine what types of topics and what type of headlines and lead-ins lead to the most traffic. You should also be able to see which topics fall flat, and adjust your upcoming editorial calendar accordingly.
The second area is for judging content you’ve circulated through means other than social media. Here, we’ll head to the Behavior tab and take an extended look at the pages most responsible for site entry. Toward the top of the list, you’ll find some of your most successful blog posts, which you can then use to adapt your strategy further.
It’s nice to know that your content is pulling people into your site, but you also have to learn whether your content is keeping them there. If your content is weak, or doesn’t give people what they’re looking for, they’re going to bounce. There are several ways to tell whether your content is keeping people on your site, including measuring the respective bounce rates of your different posts under the Behavior tab.
However, one of the more effective ways to determine this is by using the interactive Behavior Flow chart, which visualizes the average paths your users take throughout your site. If you notice a large percentage of visitors dropping off after encountering your blog, you may have a problem with sticky content.
Under Google Analytics, you can set up items called Goals, which help you measure specific instances of conversion on your site. You can set up a specific Goal for a specific conversion related to your blog and directly measure your content’s ultimate conversion rate, or you can tie the effectiveness of your content to a separate Goal. For example, if you set up a Goal to track conversions on your Contact page, you can then use the Behavior Flow chart to determine how many blog visitors ultimately make it to that Contact page. From there, you’ll be able to tell how good of a job your content is doing at converting visitors.
Google Analytics is much simpler to use than it looks on the surface. Once you get a feel for where to look for your content auditing purposes, set up an automatic report to generate at the end of each month for each dimension you use in your consideration. You can even have it emailed to you directly in a PDF format. That way, you’ll be automatically reminded to check in on your content’s progress, and you can keep making improvements and adjustments uninterrupted.