How-To: Use Google Analytics to Support Content Marketing
Published: June 23, 2015
Author: Augustin Vazquez
We’re all about content marketing, but it has to be measurable.
There are a number of specialized tools for content marketers, but Google Analytics is often the first tool we use to set the foundation. With GA’s features we can leverage nearly every point in the content creation process, from brainstorming and targeting to campaign measurement and optimization. If you’re creative, Google Analytics can be the only tool you need to use for your content marketing campaigns.
GA handles a lot of information efficiently, but it’s easy to get lost in the interface if you don’t know what to look for. To help with that, we’ve laid out some ways content marketers use Google Analytics to make better, more targeted content.
Content Marketing Plan. Step by Step.
First let’s outline the content marketing plan. Our process is adapted from the Content Marketing Institute and goes something like this:
(Client goals, metrics, KPIs, content ideas)
(Determine your niche audience and what is interesting to that particular audience)
(Determine story ideas that match the goal and audience)
(Determine channels used by the target audience – and which content works best in these channels)
(Write content! Schedule publishing!)
(Share the information on social media, have conversations with anyone involved)
(Measure your KPIs, determine success, adapt strategy as needed)
Use Google Analytics for each step
Many Google Analytics features that are of particular interest to content marketers need to be integrated and configured specifically. Before you even begin to configure, though, you need to establish what your key performance indicators (KPIs) are so that you know which features you’ll need.
Determine which content on your site has been the most popular in the past (Behavior Reports)
Larry Kim from WordStream stressed the importance of knowing your audience in a recent webinar. Larry advises content marketers to spend as much time researching their content and promoting it after the fact, as the time spent writing it. Research should start on your website using Analytics to gather audience insights.
You can look at which content is most popular in the pageviews reports (Behavior -> Site Content -> Page Views). The tables will show you which pages are getting the most views, the time users spent on the page (Did they read it?), and whether there are patterns on when visitors exit the site (% Exits/ Bounce Rate).
These engagement metrics columns give you insight on what content your visitors like or dislike so you can make informed decisions on content types you need to concentrate on in the future.
The landing pages reports will show which pages are attracting the most visitors to your site.
If you have a technology blog, are people reading more of your Apple vs. Android post or your Top Video Cards for Gamers post?
Choosing content spinoffs of more popular subjects that created more visits should be prioritized.
This information is no doubt useful, but you can burrow under the surface even further and begin to identify which websites and pages are driving the most traffic to your content by looking at referral URLs. This is where you can learn even more about your audience. Was one of your articles receiving traffic from Twitter? That’s great; find out who shared it and why!
We talked about a few metrics that are tracked by GA but depending on what you define as an important KPI, time on page (for instance) may not be a good indicator. Perhaps you define successful content by how many comments it receives, or by how many actions the content has driven like subscriptions or sign-ups. If that’s the case, make sure those actions are configured properly in GA so that you have a sense of how your content is performing. If those aren’t set up as goals in Analytics, they really should be!
Some often unleveraged Google Analytics data is search data. If your website or blog has a search feature, you can learn about what your visitors are trying to find on your website. This can include content that is otherwise hard to get to or content that doesn’t exist on the site. This is potentially great learning for conversion optimization but also lets you know what kind of content you should be adding.
Ok, so let’s recap what content marketers can learn about their audience and demographics from just these few steps:
-What content they are most interested in
-Where they came from to end up on your site
-What they searched for
-How they interacted with your content
All of this information is valuable and should feed back into your content marketing strategy. Make sure you stay organized and make notes of any patterns you see as you work through these audience insights.
Ultimately you want to use this data to discover audiences underserviced by your current content strategy. You may discover 30% of the traffic you receive from search engines to your fashion blog is actually male but the bounce rate of this traffic is very high. With such a high percentage of traffic exiting your site quickly, it might be worth creating content more geared towards males so that this traffic can stick around long enough to be able to convert. You may also gain insight on what is the best time and day to post based on traffic patterns and begin to schedule your posts around this.
Custom Reports and Content Insights in Analytics
During your audience analysis, you discovered which pages were driving the most traffic, which pages have the most time spent on them, and which pages are landed on the most. But you can go even further by deviating from GA’s standard reports.
Let’s get into custom reports. Custom reports ultimately help structure your data for easier access and better viewing. If you have a lot of content on your website, you can drill down and filter by different types or categories of content. You may also have numerous goals set up that can quickly become difficult to track in standard Google Analytics reports. This is where custom reports become essential.
An insight you might glean from a custom report is you find that your ‘how-to’ posts are performing better than your ‘infographics’ despite the fact you’re spending overall more time on developing infographic content.
Because of how flexible custom reports are, there really isn’t enough battery power in this keyboard to cover it all.
If you want to be a true Analytics Ace, you can go a step further by setting up A/B testing. Let’s say you’re getting similar performance metrics for both an infographic and how-to posts in terms of page-views and time on page, but you’re experiencing higher conversions for how-to’s, try setting up an A/B experiment to try leveraging aspects of the how-to pages on the infographic pages to see if they can influence conversions. While these sections may be targeting different keywords and thus different audiences, there should still be transferable learning. It’s entirely possible the tone or words used in the how-to section illicit more action, so leveraging that in the infographic section might improve performance.
Since you’ve already set up your goals to measure, you’re going to set up your A/B test by making two versions of the similar content on one URL. One will use the current wording and tone while the other will use content influenced by the how-to pages (choose which one you want to index). This test will give you insight on which is working best.
As you familiarize yourself with Google Analytics and reach a point where you’re able to leverage features like custom reports and A/B testing, you’ll see that content optimization can reach ever-increasingly granular levels.
Analytics is a great place to start for marketers. It is also a great tool to support ongoing tracking and tweaking of existing content and also influence the creation of newer more targeted content.
Analytics is far from perfect, though. Heat map features or insights about audience scrolling on the page aren’t really covered — at least, not in an accurate way. (We’re looking at you, In-Page Analytics.)
Additionally Analytics lacks proper social integration. Although some social features exist, they aren’t useful or accurate enough to make strategic decisions. Social Media Examiner recently published a Google Analytics Resources Guide exploring how to use similar metrics described above to help uncover more data and insights about your audiences and their social behaviour.
As far as the complete social package, marketers like me will be waiting for GA to improve its measurement of social engagement, amplification, and tracking between audiences on websites and major social networks.
Do you use Google Analytics to improve your content strategy? If so, how do you use it? If not, what tools do you use? Leave a comment!