Head of Strategy Insight: Understanding Basic Content Marketing Metrics
Analytics metrics are like pieces of a content marketing puzzle. Individually they’re almost meaningless, but when you put them together you’ll see a clear picture.
Sometimes what you piece together isn’t pretty, but it does give you a firm understanding of how your strategy has performed – this is key to ensuring your content marketing is as effective as possible.
In this article I’m going to explore all of the common content marketing metrics you should be looking at, and how to decipher what they are trying to tell you.
Most companies don’t have proper processes in place to effectively measure #contentmarketing data. Here’s a look at the metrics that truly matter — and those that don’t: https://t.co/0lZP1qjXsc pic.twitter.com/hjz43Hw4Pb
— Brafton (@Brafton) March 5, 2018
Overall sessions is a staple metric in your content marketing arsenal. It is the most basic metric – the number of visitors to your site. Overall sessions looks at all types of traffic and gives you a number. The word ‘session’ in this metric refers to a single user who takes actions on your site over a period of time. A session is broken after 30 minutes, after midnight on any given day, or if a visitor leaves the site and returns through a new campaign.
What overall sessions means for content marketing
Since overall sessions looks at all website visitors, you can’t read into it too much when evaluating your content marketing strategy. It is a very high-level metric that can be influenced by many factors. There are more specific metrics we will explore later in this article that can give you a clearer picture of your website performance.
Organic sessions as a metric refers to visitors who navigated to your site through a search engine (Google, Bing etc.). As this is another session-based metric the timing rules apply here too.
What organic sessions means for content marketing
Organic sessions is the base stat for everything organic. While that might sound obvious, this metric can identify major issues or successes with your content marketing strategy. Let’s take a look at a few basic scenarios:
Scenario 1: Organic sessions on a constant incline
This is great! You are seeing your organic sessions slowly increase over time. The next question is ‘why’. What is happening to your website that is seeing more organic visitors hitting your site? Other metrics in this article will explore the next steps in detail, but it’s important to remember not to see the positive results and leave everything as is.
Scenario 2: Organic sessions have plateaued
While many people will see this as a neutral outcome, for anyone actively running a content marketing strategy it’s not a positive stat. Even a basic blogging strategy should see slight, constant increases in organic traffic. Even if the content isn’t amazing, each piece should drive small amounts of traffic. A plateau generally indicates a declining strategy or another issue.
Other traffic channels (non-organic)
In a nutshell, traffic channels are where the website visitor came from. Traffic channels include organic (from search engines), direct (typing in the URL), paid (services like Ads), referral (finding your site through a non-organic link), email, and social.
What non-organic traffic channels mean for content marketing
Non-organic traffic channels are regularly ignored by marketers when it comes to assessing content marketing performance. ‘Rankings’ and ‘SEO’ are commonly the only thing they care about. This is an extremely dangerous mindset to be in as you may be missing some incredible opportunities. Without exploring the engagement metrics attached to traffic channels (we will look at that later in the article), there are plenty of golden nuggets you can come across by looking solely at the number of sessions through these traffic channels. A good example is noticing a large percentage of traffic coming from referrals. A very basic dive into this channel might identify a website that is constantly linking to your content. This is extremely useful information which might lead to further opportunities.
Pages per session
Pages per session is an engagement metric that measures the number of different pages a user visits in a single session (on average).
What pages per session means for content marketing
Pages per session is all about engagement. If visitors are looking at more pages on your website, you are much more likely to convert them into customers or get them to achieve the goal of your website. A common mistake that leads to a low pages per session metric is not having anything for a website visitor to do next. One example of this is having a blog article without related posts. It is such an easy thing to do, but so many blogs will have you get to the end of the article with only white space around it. BuzzFeed is a great example of how to keep people on your site. While for most websites it’s overkill, the sheer number of related posts they display works extremely well.
Average session duration
The average session duration metric is simply the length of time a user spends on your website. We explored the definition of ‘session’ earlier, and this also applies here.
What average session duration means for content marketing
The longer a user spends on your site, the more likely they are to become a customer. This is a similar rule to ‘pages per session’ and that’s because it’s also heavily engagement-focused. When you land on a blog article on a website you have never visited before, you will generally read the article then leave, or read the article then take a look around the site. The latter person is much more likely to interact with your brand because they’re interested enough to have taken a physical action to navigate your website. Remember, we aren’t talking about how long a user spends on a single page, we’re talking about how long they spend on the site as a whole.
Pageviews are simply the number of times a single page has been viewed.
What pageviews mean for content marketing
When running an important campaign, pageviews might be one of your core objectives. You just want as many people to see the page as possible. Of course, from an overall content marketing point of view just getting lots of pageviews doesn’t mean your work is done, but it can be indicative of a lucrative opportunity. Pageviews is a useful ‘at a glance’ metric. By this I mean if you’re just having a quick skim through your analytics data, it’s easy to get a top-level understanding of your best performing pages. You must explore these pages further, but it gives you a place to start.
Unique pageviews are different than pageviews just by being ‘unique’. Unique in analytics terms means ‘not of the same session’. If you visit a page, navigate to another page, then navigate back to the initial page, this would count as one unique pageview. If you visited the same page the following day, it would count as another unique pageview.
What unique pageviews means for content marketing
Similar to standard pageviews, this metric is mainly useful for a high-level look at how things are performing. In instances where a page shouldn’t need to be viewed more than once (a conversion landing page for example), having a large discrepancy between pageviews and unique pageviews could be indicative of a problem – whether it be an issue with tracking or that the page isn’t optimised from a user-experience point of view.
Average time on page
Average time on page is very self-explanatory – it’s the length of time (on average) that a user spends on a single page of your website.
What average time on page means for content marketing
Looking purely at page performance, this is one of the key metrics you should be analysing. Each type of page can tell a different story. Here are some examples:
Blog article: if a blog article takes 5 minutes to read and the average time on page is 1 minute, it may indicate that people aren’t reading the article. Remember, this is an average, so average time on a blog article will always be less than the read time because not everyone will read the whole article.
Conversion landing page: this is very dependant on the page itself and how much information you present, but you would expect a shorter time on page. You are delivering quick information and aiming for a quick conversion. You must support this metric with actual conversion data to make real sense of it.
Homepage: again, another page that is heavily dependant on how you structure it. A homepage should generally be a gateway to the rest of your site. It shouldn’t give away too much information, and it needs plenty of CTAs directing people to specific pages to understand your product or service in more detail.
Entrances as a metric show which page visitors are entering your website through. It ignores all other pageviews during that session and only focuses on the initial page.
What entrances mean for content marketing
Depending on what campaigns you are running, entrances can vary wildly. For example, if you are running a Facebook ads campaign driving traffic to one specific page, you can expect this page to have more entrances that other similar pages. Entrances can be used to map a reverse path and figure out where your traffic is coming from, and why this is the page they are entering through. You might see a huge number of entrances from a blog article that isn’t anything special. When you investigate further, you might find that your article was shared by a popular Facebook page and many people are entering your site through that source.
While the specific definition of bounce rate is commonly debated, in a nutshell, a ‘bounce’ is when a user lands on a page and leaves the site before navigating on to another page.
What bounce rate means for content marketing When you have a high bounce rate on one page, and a low bounce rate on another page, you can visually compare the two and usually figure out why quite easily. In a lot of cases there just isn’t anything else for a user to do once they have consumed all relevant information. Some pages can throw out some really interesting insights using bounce rate:
Homepage: you NEVER want a high bounce rate on your homepage. There are almost no cases where you are able to properly describe your product or service and get a conversion through the homepage alone.
Contact us page: it’s fine to have a high bounce rate on a contact page since users will generally use this page as the final stop on your website. The very important caveat here is that this needs to be the first page they land on for it to count in a bounce rate metric. It also needs to be a form which does not send you to a contact page.
Blog articles: you will often see higher bounce rates on blog articles, but you do not want this. This generally means that someone found the site via that blog article specifically, and has no interest in the rest of your content. You may be attracting the wrong types of visitors with your topics if this is happening across all blog articles.
Exit rate is the rate at which people leave the site from a specific page. This shouldn’t be confused with bounce rate, as someone can navigate 30 pages of your site then leave through a specific page. This page is where the exit rates comes into play.
What exit rate means for content marketing
A high exit rate is simply used to make you ask ‘why’. Like in the above examples we looked at for bounce rate, specific pages will generally lean themselves towards high or low exit rates.
You should look at pages with high exit rates and figure out why and whether it makes sense. For example, if you have a checkout system on your website, you would expect a high exit rate after the payment has been processed.
Pages with low exit rates should also be explored as they are clearly working well. After figuring out what these pages have in common, you can apply what you’ve learned to other website pages.
Device split looks at whether your visitors used your site via desktop, mobile, or tablet devices.
What device split means for content marketing
This metric is different to the others explored in this article. I felt it was important to add because of the prevalence of mobile use and its dramatic impact on content marketing.
5 years ago you would struggle to find a website that had more than 10% of its traffic from mobile or tablet devices. These days it’s hard to find sites with less than 50%.
The landscape has changed dramatically, and all content marketers need to immediately adapt. Websites need to be mobile friendly, and you need to be able to convert visitors across all platforms. If you have not set up this capability, you are missing out on a lot of opportunity and ultimately money.
In an ideal world your website will be ready for all types of visitors, but given budget restrictions this might not be possible. Use the device split metric to help you decide what is the most important device to focus on in the short-term.
This article was not meant to explore anything too advanced, but instead to highlight that basic metrics often aren’t used to their full potential.
Many marketers will skip these types of metrics and jump straight into more advanced metrics. While the advanced metrics can be useful, the basic metrics can, in many cases, give you all of the information you need to make correct strategic decisions.
Advanced metrics do not need to be used during every dig into your website analytics, but basic metrics should. Basic metrics should be used to help you decide what you need to explore further – which is where you bring out the advanced stuff!