Using Google Analytics to Improve your Content Marketing

What we’ll cover

Before I jump into how to measure and improve your content marketing I want to quickly run through what we’re going to cover. You can also skip straight to the section you’re most interested in:

  1. Spend your energy on analysis, not reporting
  2. Basic terminology
  3. Using the Behavior Reports
  4. Understanding content themes with Content Grouping
  5. Looking at social interactions with your content
  6. Measuring your promotions
  7. Aligning your content to goals
  8. Assigning value to your goals
  9. Deciding what content you should create next

I’ll start with a few core basics just to make sure we're all on the same page. And then we'll jump into some more intermediate and advanced tips, so keep reading or skip ahead, up to you! My overall aim is to give you at least one actionable take-away you can apply immediately.

If you want a quick 'go-to' reference, then you can download my handy (and free) Content Measurement Checklist.

So what is content marketing? Well, from my perspective it’s about creating value for your audience, building a community and then being able to amplify your message by reaching more people in your target audience. The content you’re creating as part of your strategy could be just about anything – it might be written content, it might be a video, a infographic or even a PDF workbook. Most of us have a business objective tied to the content we’re creating – a goal. We're also of course trying to deliver added value to our audience as well.

Here’s what we’re going to travel through today. First off, we really want to look at the data that's available inside Google Analytics to understand what people are currently doing on our website or on our blog. We need to begin by understanding what people actually like and what they're engaging with.

From there, we want to layer on some additional insights. One way we can do this is to start looking at not just what content is popular on our website or blog, but also what's creating value for our business. We'll look at how we can use goals to understand that value.

We can then use Google Analytics to help inform what content we create next. This will help maintain our focus and can even help inform our content marketing strategy. Finally, I’ll wind down with a few more advanced ideas to get you thinking about what’s possible.

Spend your energy on analysis, not reporting

Google Analytics and other web analytics tools help us measure what's happening on our websites. But it's up to us to perform the analysis, to actually jump into Google Analytics and look at what's working and what's not working. Otherwise all we'll be doing is measuring our content and creating lots of pretty reports that don't mean much at all.

We need to interpret the data! 

Why do we want to do this?

Because our objective is to drive improvement. We want to use Google Analytics to perform our analysis and then we want to use those insights to make changes to our content to improve our results and achieve our objectives. When it comes to our content marketing, that improvement is going to be creating more engaging content for our audience. 

It’s really this analysis where we get value out of Google Analytics.

And if something's not working, then we don't want to keep doing it. Instead, our analysis allows us to change direction and pivot our strategy. This simple shift will make a big difference to your own and your audience's engagement with your content. 

Basic terminology

I did say we'd start off with some basics. When it comes to measuring the impact of our content, there are some really important terms we need to understand. We need to understand what a pageview is, a session, a user, and the bounce rate. (If these are familiar, then feel free to skip to the next section.)

First off, what is a user inside Google Analytics?

A user is simply someone we count once within a selected time period. The total number of users will be the number of unique individuals accessing our website within the time period or date range we have selected.

Next up, we have pageviews

Here we can see two types of interactions with a website. Let's say someone comes to your website on Monday and they browse three different pages. This means we have three pageviews within our Google Analytics reports. 

How are pageviews combined into sessions?

If someone went from the ‘Homepage’ to the ‘About Us’ page and then to the ‘Blog’, those three pages occurred within a single session on the website.

We can also see this user decided to come back on Thursday and browse two pages. This means we’ll see two more pageviews inside our reports and we’ll also have two separate sessions reported into Google Analytics.

And because these two sessions came from one individual we will see two sessions from one user inside our reports.

And bounce rate...

Bounce rate is a really great starting point for helping us understand if people are engaging with our content, so I definitely encourage you to have a look at your bounce rate. Bounce rate is simply the percentage of sessions where there was only a single pageview. This can be really helpful, depending on the context, to understand the ‘stickiness’ or how engaging the content of a particular page is when your people land on it.

Here we can see a simple scenario. On the left hand side, there are two sessions that only have a single pageview. And then we have two different sessions where people have viewed two pages each. This means we have a 50% bounce rate.

In other words, two people are just viewing a single page within their sessions, while the other two are viewing more than one page – they’re navigating deeper into the website. A 50% bounce rate gives you a quick, overall understanding of your content’s health. Ideally, we’re encouraging most people to navigate to (and engage with) more of our content.

It’s really important to consider the context when looking at your bounce rate. You need to think carefully about what you expect people to do as they're landing on your content.

Consider this scenario where you’d want a low bounce rate...

If you have content you’re directing people to from paid ads and that content is designed to take people through to a lead form, then you’d be aiming for a lower bounce rate.

And here’s an alternate situation...

If you have a blog, then you’ll probably find that the bounce rate is higher than the previous scenario. If you think about it, people can come through to an individual blog post, they can read that single page, you've given them the information they were looking for and then they leave. Everybody is happy, but you also have a bounce.

So really think about the particular context and what you expect and want people to do on those pages when they're visiting your site. In some cases a higher bounce rate is actually okay.

Using the Behavior Reports

Now that we’ve covered the basics, the first question we really want to ask, is; "What do people like on my website?" It’s a fantastic question to be asking, and this is where we want to jump into the behavior reports. These are default reports, so we can jump in and see what content people are viewing.

In this example, we've navigated to ‘Site Content’ and then ‘All Pages’ (within the Behavior Reports). This is a great starting point, it’s simple, but this is showing us all of the page on our website, and by default it's listing out the pages by their popularity based on pageviews. 

We can ask ourselves, “What has the most pageviews?”. In this example it’s a blog post about creating a DIY shelf. So we might then say, "Okay, great. This is our most popular post. Let's create more content based on that theme to try and engage our audience." 

The other thing that we can see in this example is that the bounce rate for this landing page is actually lower than the bounce rate average for the website overall. We know that people are more likely to travel on to view a subsequent page from this piece of content. So the ‘All Pages’ report is a great starting point. We can create more content that's already getting traction on our website.

Understanding content themes with Content Grouping

Now if you are creating lots of great content, you might want to use a really awesome feature called Content Grouping. It does require configuration to use, so it is more advanced than just using the default reports. If you’re already using Content Grouping, that amazing, but I find very few people make use of this great feature. 

Content Grouping allows you to combine all of your different content into categories. If you think back to that previous example about creating a DIY shelf. That was our most popular blog post, but if we actually looked at our content categories, we might find that other types of content are more popular. So Content Grouping can provide us with a top-level view of the performance of our content themes.

Here we can see the page categories for a WordPress website. This example is using a plugin that is feeding the page categories (or even content tags) into Google Analytics. 

Now we can see that the ‘Interiors’ and ‘Interviews’ are the two most popular content categories. This can now be used to feed back into our content strategy – we might want to create more posts that fit within these popular themes.

Looking at social interactions with your content

Another way to measure and understand how engaging your content is, is to look at how many people are performing social interactions. Looking at social interactions allows you to see if your audience is amplifying your message. Using Google Analytics we can ask, “What do people share and like?”

One way to do this is by using a social sharing platform like AddThis. AddThis allows you to quickly add social sharing to your content and you can easily collect data on social sharing too.

This is the AddThis code snippet, which is a little bit of JavaScript that allows us to include the social sharing widgets. You can modify the AddThis code to also feed data into your Google Analytics reports. The code I've highlighted in red is our Google Analytics Property ID.

What this means is that when people actually click to share or like content, it's going to feed that into the Google Analytics social reports. It’s like magic!

This provides us with a report along these lines…

Now we can actually see if people are sharing our content on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and all of the other social networks. We can even go a step further and see which particular pieces of content are getting the highest level of engagement, directly within Google Analytics. It makes our life a little bit easier!

If you're wondering where to find that, you'll actually find it in the acquisition reports, under ‘Social’. And then once you've added those few extra little lines of code, you'll be able to come into the ‘Plugins’ report and find your data.

Measuring your promotions

Now you might be running promotions along with your content – this might be your own banner ads, calls-to-action asking people to signup for your newsletter or any other special offer. In the following example you can see the right hand column is being used to share promotional messages.

If we had a similar promotion being displayed along with our content, then we should be measuring the success of those promotions, to understand what’s resulting in the highest levels of engagement and the most conversions. This is going to provide insights into which content is actually driving our desired actions (and from which pieces of content).

There are a few options for doing this. The first option is event tracking – with Google Analytics we can use event tracking to measure these custom interactions that are occurring within our content. There are different ways to go about this, but the two most popular options are using Google Tag Manager or using a CMS plugin (for example on WordPress).

Event tracking will allow you to identify what’s being clicked on within your website.

An alternate option, which is more on the advanced site, is to use Enhanced Ecommerce to measure your promotions. This allows us to do more detailed reporting – we can even measure the impressions of our banner ads, so that we can see how many times they display, the number of times they’re clicked and their CTR (Click Through Rate).

Now, I need to emphasis, that just because Enhanced Ecommerce is designed for ecommerce sites, you can use this even if you have a content-only (or non-ecommerce site) too. It’s really awesome!

Aligning your content to goals

It’s super important to align your content strategy with your business objectives. By configuring appropriate goals for your website and content you can ask the question “Is my content converting?”

You’ll need to configure goals in order to measure the performance of your content based on conversions. We’re not going to deep-dive into goals here, but remember there are three types of goals you can set up inside Google Analytics. First there are goals where you’re trying to get people to a particular page, usually a thank you page on your website – these are destination goals. Secondly there are goals that are tied to interactions, like people watching videos or clicking particular links – these are even-based goals. And finally, there are engagement-based goals for people viewing a certain number of pages or spending a certain amount of time on your website.

Make sure you’re not missing any goals...

When it comes to identifying goals, let's have a look at a scenario to understand the importance of measuring all of your possible conversion actions.

Looking at the Buffer blog you might think at first glance that they only have one website goal – getting people to signup and use their product. But when we spend a little more time looking at their blog, there are actually a lot of different actions that could be configured as goals.

Yes, we can see at the top of the page there is a strong call-to-action asking people to use their product, but then we can also see there are social sharing widgets (which we may want to track into the social reports as we’ve discussed or as goals).

Scrolling down this post we can then see there is an embedded video – another potential goal.

Scrolling further there is a notification that pops up – another goal.

Then there are comments for the blog.

Finally, there is the option to sign up for their daily emails and a button asking people to use their product – two more goals.

So we need to spend the time looking through our website and identifying all the possible goals we might want to configure. Some of these will be macro-conversions (primary objectives) and some will be micro-conversions (secondary objectives). It’s best to track all of these because then you’ll have a more complete picture as to how your content is performing for all of those objectives.

Once you have all your goals mapped out you can then make sure they’re configured correctly, using destination, event and engagement goals (and don’t forget ecommerce if you’re selling online).

Assigning value to your goals

Now that you have all the appropriate goals configured to measure the results of your content it’s important to assign a value to each of these actions. I really encourage you to work through this. Don’t skip this step because as we’ll see in a moment you’ll get richer insights about the performance of your content.

And don’t think that assigning value is only for people selling products or services, it’s really not the case. Even content-only and branding sites can assign a value to their goals.

Since this is a really important topic – you really need to read my in-depth post on assigning value to your goals. It covers four techniques for assigning values which can be used for every type of website.

Deciding what content you should create next

Now the next question is, "Well, what should I be creating?" The Google Analytics reports allow us to do this. The ones that I really encourage you to start with are the Site Search reports. These can provide some really quick insights into what your current audience members are looking for on your website.

Site Search, for those who are not familiar, lets you measure your website’s search function. If we go to the SEMRush blog, we can see in the top right hand corner there's a search function. 

If we enter ‘Google Analytics’ we get the search results page. We can then configure Google Analytics to report on all the different search terms people are entering. Read my post on setting up Site Search for more details.

Take a moment to think about what’s happening.

People are actually taking the time to tell you want they want.

Wow!

Amazing!

If you don't have any content on what they're looking for, then this is a great opportunity to create some new, engaging content to appeal to your existing audience.

Making a content marketing dashboard for quick insights...

Another thing we can do is to make reporting and analysis of our content easier by creating a dashboard.

You can add this dashboard to your account now. It combines some of the things we’ve already talked about. It gives you the number of users viewing your content, some engagement metrics, like the average number of pages people view in a session. 

It allows you to see your top performing content by pageviews, but also by social engagement. It also includes page value which takes the value of your goals and shows you which pieces of content are helping to create that value.

This widget within the dashboard shows you the number of pageviews by hour of the day. You can use this to inform your posting strategy. In this example, we can see that the majority of the pageviews are happening at 4pm. So what we might want to make sure that our posts are out before that peak time.

And there is also a widget for Site Search that we just converted. There are more widgets that include audience demographics, overall trends and marketing channels.

I encourage you to get the dashboard and add it to your own Google Analytics account. (You can tweak it and change it as you need.)

Some more ideas to get you thinking...

You might want to consider measuring how people engage with your content based on scroll depth. If you're creating longer content pieces, then this can be really useful to understand.

In this example we can see the page is actually super, super long, so being able to understand how far down people are making it can provide insights into where people are abandoning (hopefully they’re not). If you have lots of long content it can also tell you which of those posts are getting read the most.

I recommend using Komito which is an open source piece of JavaScript you can quickly use to measure scroll depth. It’s absolutely brilliant! Read my post on Komito for measuring forms (and scroll tracking) to get started.

Finally, you should make sure you’re using Google Tag Manager to look after all of your tracking and other third party tags. It’s going to make your life easier when you want to add new tags (or modify existing tags).

You can use Google Tag Manager to add the Komito tag I just mentioned for tracking scroll depth. I also use it to put the AddThis social sharing widget code on my websites.

Conclusion

Here’s my quick wrap up with some key takeaways…

First, make sure you grab the dashboard we covered – it will allow you to understand how your content is performing in a single report. 

Get my handy Content Measurement Checklist to ensure you're covering the best practice techniques from this post. You can get it now...

Focus on what’s useful for you!

You don’t need to use every single report inside Google Analytics, focus on the ones that help you the most. If one isn’t helping to inform your content marketing, then skip it and move to the next one.

I definitely encourage you to assign value to your goals – doing this will allow you to use the Page Value metric. This shows you how much value each piece of individual content is generating on your website.

Finally, don’t forget there are a wide range of options to explore when it comes to measuring your content. Take a moment to consider content grouping, events, social widgets and scroll depth. Start by configuring what you feel is going to be the most useful for you and your business. Focus on (and use) the data that's going to help you drive improvement.