What Google Analytics can tell you about your content marketing success
There are many factors that define whether or not content marketing is “working”. Sometimes these are easy to track, like an influx of traffic and a subsequent rise in conversions. Other times it seems more abstract – how do you calculate the dollar value of newsletter signups and blog visitors?
There are a lot of ways to determine success in content marketing, and one of the key tools to do this is Google Analytics. In today’s article, Castleford digital strategist Chas Lang helps us answer these common FAQ:
- How do I know if my content is getting engagement?
- How do I know if my content is driving my goals?
- How do I know if I’m ranking in search?
- How do I know if my content is performing well on social media?
- How do I know if I’m getting ROI on my content marketing?
- How do I report all of this to my superiors?
1. How do I know if my content is getting engagement?
Before we dive into traffic and conversions, we should first understand what you are trying to achieve. If you have clear expectations, says Chas, the question of how you know your content is getting engagement – and more importantly, turning that engagement into conversions – answers itself.
To see some examples of common content goals, and how to measure them, skip to the bottom of this section. But first, let’s explore some metrics and definitions.
Metrics to use
According to Chas, the main metrics to look at for engagement are session duration, pages per session, bounce rate and time on page. It’s also worth measuring exit rate, and how much traffic is entering your website through a given page – this will help you track customer journeys from click-through to exit.
Let’s look at those first three:
- Bounce rate: Tells you the percentage of traffic that comes to a site, views one page, and leaves. A lower bounce rate is (generally) a good thing. Bounce rate gives you a high-level assessment of whether visitors are engaging well with your content.
- Pages per session: Tells you how many pages visitors view in a single session, so the higher the number, the better your engagement. Conversely you’ll notice a high bounce rate usually goes hand-in-hand with low pages per session.
- Session duration: How long people spend on your site. Once again, this is typically intertwined with bounce rate and pages per session.
What to ask if you have low pages per session
If you have low pages per session (i.e. beneath your benchmark – see below), start by asking yourself these questions:
- Is there a good internal linking structure within your content? Internal links help encourage visitors to go from one page to another.
- Is your general site structure good enough to direct traffic to other pages? A poorly designed website discourages further navigation.
- Can your CTAs be better placed? If all your CTAs are hidden at the bottom of the page, visitors who don’t scroll down won’t see where to take the next step.
— Castleford (@castlefordmedia) January 5, 2017
What is a good bounce rate?
This is a question Chas gets a lot, but while there are common benchmarks to measure bounce rate against, it again mostly comes down to “well, what are you hoping to achieve?”.
The best way to find benchmarks in Google Analytics is to turn on benchmarking. This is very simple, and shows you the behavioural metrics of websites of a similar size in your industry.
To turn benchmarking on:
- Sign in to your account
- Go to “Admin”
- Click “Account Settings”, which can be found under “Account”
- Select “Benchmarking”
- Click save – you’re all set!
What if you have low session duration?
There could be many reasons your session duration is low (i.e. beneath your benchmark). Consider all of the points in “pages per session” above, but also ask yourself this:
Could your content be more engaging?
Poorly written content can turn a reader off as much as a difficult to navigate web page. Talk to a professional writer, graphic designer or video producer to determine if your content itself could sound and look better.
Examples of common content goals
Chas gave us some examples of common content goals – that is, what clients set out to achieve when they begin content marketing. Do any of these sound right for you? We explore the goal, and ways to measure its engagement levels.
- Raising brand or product awareness: This is tough to measure, but simple pageviews, social media reactions or impressions may be enough.
- Bringing visitors into the middle of the conversion funnel: We want these visitors staying on the site for a while, researching products and services to get a general overview. Maybe a low time on page is OK, but more pages per session – with a longer session duration – is what we want.
- Bringing visitors through the bottom of the conversion funnel: Here, we want visitors to spend a lot of time on important content, like case studies. Ideally, they would then click through from these pages to a contact page or similar.
2. How do I know if my content is driving my goals (and how do I track this)?
In Chas’ words: “There are tonnes of different ways!”
Google Analytics has a whole section in the Admin area dedicated to goals data – it’s literally called “Goals” (nice and simple). Here you can specify actions you want visitors to take on your website, like filling in a contact form or downloading a whitepaper.
These goals, when set up correctly, give a really clear snapshot of how you’re doing, especially if you want to compare different goals across your site. Alternatively, you can filter goals per page – for example, maybe you only want to see if traffic is landing on a thank you page that is displayed after visitors complete a specific action (e.g. downloading an asset).
A note about goal tracking
Simply put: If your website isn’t set up to track goals, you can’t track goals!
If this is the case, says Chas, you must either set up thank you pages or event tracking on your website – Chas recommends the former in particular, as it’s much less complicated to set up than the latter. Without these, you lose a key piece of the data puzzle. For instance, you’ll know how much traffic visited your whitepaper’s conversion landing page, but not how much of said traffic downloaded the document itself.
How do I link content back to my goals?
You can specify the individual steps that are required for a goal to be completed. This means that key pieces of content can be included in a multi-channel funnel, and tracked appropriately with Analytics.
However, as anyone who read our previous Google Analytics tips article will be aware, Chas is a big fan of staying curious. Explore your data and you might find more interesting conversion pathways that you hadn’t previously thought about. It always pays to play – which makes a command of creating segments in Analytics a must. Also, Chas says apologetically, it also makes learning regular expressions (a type of code that technically isn’t a type of code, but is close enough that you get the picture) and basic formal logic highly recommended.
Segment tips in Google Analytics
With segments, you may want to look at the following:
- Segment all traffic that went to your blog or a given landing page. Now see how many goals this traffic has completed, which you can do by either looking at your goals data in Google Analytics, or by filtering for a thank you page.
- Create a segment that outlines the customer journey through your website to an eventual goal. For example, you could pull up traffic that entered through your blog and then clicked over to a product page to submit a contact form.
Intelligent URL structures are a must
All of the above means that having intelligent URL structures is crucial. You must create patterns in your URL structure so that you can create easy filters in the future. But don’t worry, Chas has a few tips on this as well:
- Instead of housing each article on example.com/article-name, create a blog subfolder so the URL for each article is example.com/blog/article-name. Then you can segment for sessions that land on a page with “blog” in the URL.
- Do the same for your landing pages, arranging subfolders into categories. For example, if your website sells shoes and socks, you could organise landing pages into example.com/shoes/blue-shoes, and also example.com/socks/striped-socks.
- Stay consistent with your patterns. Make a policy and stick to it!
Finally, you need to use UTM codes
Specifying proper UTM parameters is another important aspect of driving goals with Google Analytics. With easy URL builders like this, Chas says, there’s really no excuse not to set up URL tracking codes for different campaigns.
Once URLs have proper UTM tags, you can easily see the performance of your content based on where that URL was shared. So for example, if you’re sharing the same article across Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and email, UTM tags will help you compare traffic across each location.
And of course, as with everything else, you can create a segment to see how these campaigns did in relation to your more specific goals.
- Quick note: If you don’t like how long and ugly UTM tags can make your website URLs, try using link shorteners like Bitly to bring them back down to a desirable size (especially for social media).
3. How do I know if I’m ranking in search?
Sorry, but we’re going to answer your question with a question! What data do you really need?
If, at the end of the day, the only data that matters is whether traffic is rising or falling, you can find this out easily through Google Analytics. A simple channels report will let you know how you’re going with organic search in general, and let you compare it to other sources (e.g. social media).
However, to get more detail, link your Google Analytics property with Search Console. Search Console can give you good data into how much traffic your website is getting from various search queries, and displays impressions and click-through rate. Linking this information into Google Analytics won’t necessarily get you more data than if you just checked Search Console by itself, but it will provide some minor additional filtering options (and of course, it puts all your data in one place – and let’s be honest, life is always easier when everything is in one place).
4. How do I know if my content is performing well on social media?
A lot of the content marketing analytics tools Chas has talked to us about in points 1, 2 and 3 work just as well for social media analytics.
- Channel reports give a good traffic overview of how you’re doing on social, and can be broken down further into individual networks.
- UTM parameters can mark up campaigns by source.
- Filters and segments help you organise information.
- Benchmarking reports let you see how your website is doing on social compared to similar sites.
Example of using Google Analytics for social media
Imagine we’re trolling through data and we notice, in a benchmarking report, that our visitors are spending a whole minute less on our website than competitors’.
What’s going on? We click on Social in the channels report and it shows we’re mostly getting traffic from Facebook and Instagram. Facebook is our culprit – it’s bringing the average session duration down.
So we get more granular – we need to troubleshoot the issue, which we can do in three different ways:
- We create a segment of just Facebook sessions to investigate if there’s something that stands out.
- We compare specific campaigns, using our UTM tags.
- We look at how Facebook and Instagram perform in terms of goal completions.
We might find, for instance, that our Facebook visitors become conversions faster than other channels. So actually, our session duration issue isn’t the issue we thought it was. Of course, we could also find myriad other causes (not all of which are positive), but that’s why we play with the information and, as Chas always suggests, we get curious.
How do I track if my social content is driving my goals?
Refer to Point 2 above. All of the same techniques apply!
5. How do I know if I’m getting a return on my content marketing?
This is a very common question, according to Chas, and is often asked by clients who aren’t sure how much content marketing is actually worth. As we mentioned at the top of this article, many find it difficult to quantify the hard ROI of something seemingly abstract like “newsletter signups”.
— Castleford (@castlefordmedia) February 1, 2018
Well, everything in content marketing is done to turn traffic into conversions. Even newsletter signups, which don’t outwardly appear linked to conversions, are a part of this plan. When we encourage newsletter signups (or Facebook likes, blog views, etc.) it not only lets us market to new customers and nurture new leads, it allows us to further engage existing customers, helping build loyalty or even cross- and up-selling opportunities.
Calculating ROI with content marketing
To help calculate return at Castleford, Chas says, we start by defining goals. After, we can narrow these down into objectives, then determine the metrics that we’ll use to measure success.
- Goals are measurable actions we want visitors to take. They include getting in touch, becoming a conversion, downloading an asset, signing up to newsletters (and much more).
- Objectives are broader outcomes that we can achieve with content marketing. These include spreading brand awareness, increasing thought leadership, building customer education, increasing website traffic, etc.
- Metrics are the indicators we track to understand how content marketing is performing. These may include visits to a thank you page, incremental increases in organic traffic, increased time on specific pages, and so on.
If you trace the above list backwards, and use some of the common analytics reports and techniques that Chas spoke about earlier, it’s clear how to measure ROI for specific circumstances.
A note about in-market segments
Google Analytics offers some relatively good demographic information within the “Audiences” section. Here you can explore everything from age and gender to interests, all the way down to the more powerful in-market segment – which could help you find converting customers more easily.
- What is an in-market segment? In-market segments come more from the world of AdWords, and how AdWords’ remarketing classifies what a visitor’s purchase intent may be (and whether they should be served with a remarketed ad on the Google Display Network). Users in a given in-market segment are more likely to buy a given product/service. In Google’s own words, these are users that Google thinks of as “lower in the purchase funnel, near the end of the process.”
To get to this section of Google Analytics, click Audience > Interests > In Market Segments.
Using in-market segments
Let’s say, for example, that you own a home renovation business: Take a look at your in-market segments report, and figure out what percentage of visitors belong to the “Home and Garden/Home Improvement” in-market segment (Chas’s hint: if it’s not a large majority of your users, you have a problem).
Going deeper, you can also create segments based on how traffic got to your site, including what pages users visited. When combined with in-market segments, you can get quite granular on how your content is doing.
Back to our home renovation business: Let’s say you have an AdWords campaign going and you want to target searches around “improving your home for sale.” Here you could get plenty of users from a real estate/home selling in-market segment, but you can also capture those who are also still in your home improvement in-market segment as well.
Additionally, you may see a whole bunch of users going through to your “improving your home for sale” page who are interested in employment. Ask yourself why this is happening. Maybe some of the keywords you’re targeting in AdWords have a search intent you weren’t expecting. Fix it, move on, and monitor the results.
6. How do I report all of this information to my superiors?
Of course, it’s all very well playing with numbers, but unless you can report successes to the execs who hold the big, red Shut Down button, you’re not going to be able to keep playing with said numbers.
The good news is, Chas has plenty of ideas for you. Google Analytics has a customisation section where you can save a variety of dashboards and custom reports. Not only do these make it easy to reference your day-to-day metrics, but once set up, they require little to no data literacy to digest.
Even better, by navigating to a given report, you can share it via email in a variety of formats. This sharing function allows users to set up an automatic reports email, from daily to quarterly.
So if you’re reporting data to a superior, Chas recommends following these steps:
- Talk about the goals (e.g. becoming a conversion) you want your website to achieve. Define these goals and make sure they are measurable.
- With goals in hand, figure out the objectives (e.g. increase thought leadership) that apply to your content. This will also help you start to craft specific actions in your strategy – whether that’s blogging for organic reach, creating a resource library, or whatever else you desire.
- Determine the metrics you’re going to use to define success (e.g. increase in traffic).
- Create a custom dashboard or report that shows these metrics in action, and have this sent automatically at agreed-upon intervals.
Google Analytics data can be a lot to take in, but so long as you remember the fundamentals you can get a lot of important information through only a small amount of tweaking.
But remember: Before you go mucking about with traffic, sessions and whatnot, always identify what you are actually hoping to achieve. When you have an expectation in mind, everything else falls into place.