Using data to create great content isn’t something new. Marketers have for decades now made all they could to gather data to enable their work. Before in time, this used to cost a lot of money and take a lot of time. With one word, it wasn’t something for a blogger or an owner of a small site.
The good news is that this changed when Google Analytics was introduced on November 14, 2005. Since then all of us have been able to gather data easily and for free. In fact, the amount and depth of data is so great that you can indeed use it effectively to optimize your content and conversion strategies. Here’s how.
Important Google Analytics Metrics To Keep An Eye On
When using Google Analytics data to create great content, you should keep an eye on the following metrics and reports: sessions, new sessions, users, landing pages, exit pages, behavior flow, session duration, and bounce rate. More advanced users should also set up goals and track conversions.
Sessions are the total number of sessions for a given period and can be monitored both for the whole site and for individual pages/posts. While the total number of sessions shouldn’t be a goal in itself, as it can hide a lot of bounces and coincidental clicks, when combined with other metrics, it can signal the popularity of your brand or the success of different campaigns.
New sessions are the percentage of first time site visits for a given period. This metric is an important indicator of the health of your brand, as there should always be a balance between new and returning website visitors. Too many new visitors can signal that your content or offer isn’t deemed valuable enough to generate loyal consumers. Note that the unique visitors value is calculated only in relation to a given period. This means that a returning site visitor can appear as new, as long as you review a period that doesn’t include the date for their first visit. In addition, every time a user clears their browser cookies or uses a different browser, they’ll appear as new.
Users is the total number of unique site visitors for a given period. This number should be monitored in order to evaluate the performance of your site and marketing campaigns. High number is of course better than a low, however only in combination with low bounce rate. Sudden drops can point to site performance issues, while slow continuous drops can signal loss of consumer trust due to specific events or strategy changes. Same limitations as above apply.
Average session duration is the average duration of sessions for a given period in minutes. While it doesn’t universally mean something, you should monitor session duration in relation to your strategic goals. Sudden drops can point to site performance issues, while slow continuous drops can signal loss of consumer trust due to specific events or strategy changes.
Bounce rate is the percentage of sessions resulting in an immediate exit without interaction with your pages. High bounce rate can signal poor content or conversion strategy, as well as the presence of misleading meta titles and descriptions. Because bounce rate affects SEO negatively, it is crucial to figure out what causes it and work to change it.
In connection to bounce rate, it’s good to keep an eye on the Exit Pages report under Behavior->Site Content. It will give you an idea about, where in the funnel there might be an issue. Are people leaving your site from the shopping cart page without ending a purchase? Then chances are that the purchase process is too complicated or the shopping cart is difficult to navigate in. Do people leave after checking out your front page? Then you must work on your design, presentation, and navigation strategy. Do people leave after reading a blog post? It might be that they lack a clear next step in their journey. Try to identify the issue and fix it.
Landing Pages report is also found under Behavior->Site Content and shows the list of pages, site visitors initiated their sessions on. This report is quite valuable as it gives you an idea about what kind of content generates traffic. Especially because Google is reluctant to reveal a big portion of the organic queries that result in page views, you can use this report to better understand what keywords your site ranks for.
Behavior flow is a report under the Behavior tab. It provides you with a quite useful graph of site visitors’ journey from entering your site to exiting it. What you should be on the lookout for is, whether site visitors follow the steps to conversion or not. If not, you should consider reorganizing your site or navigation in order to guide users better.
Gathering Data for Content Optimization
Before starting, it should be noted that gathering analytics data should be performed for the first time after having accumulated enough data to draw conclusions. Afterwards, data should be reviewed regularly to evaluate and adjust your strategy.
When using Google Analytics data to create awesome new content or optimize existing pages, there are several steps you should follow.
Here’s how to do it step-by-step. The shown graphs present real data from WPBloggingNerd’s Google Analytics account.
Identify Your Most Popular Content
Click on Behavior->Site Content->Landing Pages to the left of the screen Google Analytics’ dashboard. Choose a period to explore. Depending on your strategy, amount of available data, and goals, the appropriate period can vary from a week to a year. Reviewing a period shorter than a week can be problematic, as numbers can be affected by unexpected external factors.
You will then get a report looking something like this:
Even though the site offers wide range of different WordPress, optimization, and SEO-related content, it’s clear that WPBloggingNerd gets most traffic from technical topics.
Do Site Visitor Find What They Are Looking For?
After identifying your most popular topics, take a look further to the right in the same report. Check the Behavior tab. Does some of your most popular landing pages have above 80% bounces? In the case of WPBloggingNerd, there’re two such pages and this is a clear sign that they have to be redone, both in terms of better content and more precise meta data.
When ready, identify the most popular pages with lowest bounce rate. In the report, the three pages with lowest bounce rate are the ones on removing query strings, image optimization, and alternatives to getting published. Analyze these pages. Are they somehow different? Are their meta title and description more precise? Note down content structure and eventual differences between these best performing pages and others with high bounce rate.
Do Your Pages Meet Expectations And Guide Visitors?
Take a look at the next two columns in the report: Pages/Session and Avg. Session Duration. As you can see, the average values for the top pages are 1.5 pages per session and 1:30 min. per session. However, there are two exceptions: a page with average session duration of 5 secs. and another one with sessions lasting around 6:48 min. The latter page generates also 4.3 page views on average per session.
Analyze such pages and compare them to each other. In this case, we are talking about a page (poorly performing) and a post page (top performer) with different formatting and navigation options. What should be done here, is to compare the poor performer with other similar pages’ performance to figure out, whether it’s the page’s content or design and navigation (common for all pages) that makes site visitors bounce.
When it comes to the WPBloggingNerd’s top performer, it’s easy to figure out that it’s the page’s content that makes the difference, as most of the other top 10 pages share design and navigation with it but generate 3 times shorter sessions. To be more specific, it’s the combination of quality content and relevant internal linking that results in more page views and longer sessions.
Do Site Visitors Behave Unexpectedly?
As mentioned above, helping site visitors take the steps to conversion is crucial, no matter what the goal is: purchase, subscription, download, watching a video or something completely else. It is therefore very important to check, how site visitors behave, once on your site. Do they follow the path you want them to, finding and reacting to your CTAs or do they get distracted by something else? Do they leave your pages before ever converting?
To find out, click on Behavior->Behavior Flow in Google Analytics and explore the graph, showing the journey of site visitors, starting on your most popular pages.
As you can see in the picture, it’s easy to track customer behavior, especially in terms of next interactions, which is what you should focus on. Do site visitors drop out unexpectedly on the way to conversion? Where? This is a great way to identify problematic pages and improve them to boost conversions.
Do site visitors’ behavior deviate from your expectations? Do they overlook your CTAs or misunderstand your clues? Do they get confused about, which step they should take next? You can figure that out by performing heat map analysis and A/B tests on the pages you identify as problematic.
You can also go deeper and perform the same behavioral analysis for specific groups of site users. Add a predefined or custom segment by clicking on the Add Segment button on top of the chart.
Where Does Traffic Come From?
When analyzing web traffic, traffic source is one of the factors you have to pay attention to. In order to get to know your target group, it’s crucial to learn how they find your site. This way you can improve your marketing strategy, as well as create optimized content serving best the most important traffic sources.
You can analyze traffic sources either in general by clicking on Acquisition->Overview in Google Analytics or by performing a drilldown and analyzing them in relation to your best or worst performing pages. If you choose to do the latter, you should click on Behavior->Site Content->All Pages and choose a secondary dimension Acquisition->Traffic Type (or Source if you want to learn, exactly where site visitors came from).
You can use this analysis to adjust your content strategy for different channels. When checking traffic sources in relation to best performing pages, you get the benefit of revealing where you get the most value from and what helps you do that. For example, if Facebook was the source of the majority of traffic to your most popular pages, what kind of content performs best there, i.e. which posts got most clicks (choose Source as a secondary dimension to be able to explore preferences on different social media and other platforms)? What pages drove most traffic from organic search? Are your meta titles and descriptions precise enough or do they mislead site visitors and result in high bounce rate? Is certain channel underrepresented? Maybe you have to put more effort into it? Or remove it completely from your to-do list and focus on your best performing channels?
Get To Know Your Target Group
You cannot create great content, if you don’t know, whom you are writing for. Google Analytics gives you the possibility to learn a lot about your audience, including gender, age, interests, location, what device they are using, a historical overview of all sessions and page views of an individual user, and much more.
You can find all the reports under Audience in Google Analytics.
The data you can gather from the Audience reports can help you adjust your content strategy to fit your target group’s preferences and expectations. In addition to the demographic data, you can find In-market Segments and Affinity Categories that are used to categorize internet users according to their behavior online. You can use these to fine-tune your content strategy to target these groups of users specifically or to change focus and aim at another group of users that is more relevant to your business goals.
In addition, the Geo reports allow you to explore your global presence. With Google focusing on proximity in search results, it becomes increasingly important to target locally. Analyze your current geographical presence and consider, whether adjustments are necessary.
How To Use Google Analytics Data To Create Awesome Content?
Here’s how you can use Google Analytics data to create awesome content, step-by-step:
- Identify your most valuable content by combining data for number of sessions a page generated, bounce rate, and session duration. Your most valuable pages are the ones, generating considerably more traffic than the average for your site and being engaging enough to keep bounce rate lower than average and session duration longer than average. Study them and figure out, whether they have something in common. Is there a topic your target group is especially interested in? Then work on providing more quality content on this and related topics. Does it seem somewhat random, what content generates traffic? In such case you should examine your meta titles and descriptions. Can you see a difference when comparing to other pages on your site? If yes, use that to optimize the rest of your content. If no, consider further options. What images have you used on your top performing pages? Are they better than the rest? Did you maybe published at a time when there were more users on social media? Or did the seemingly random topics have that in common that they were presenting breaking news or exclusive content of sorts? Make the effort to truly understand what made your top pages generate so much traffic and adjust your strategy according to your findings.
- Identify the pages that generate most engagement in terms of session duration and page views per session and analyze them. Are they somehow different than the rest? Do they offer more in-depth content or different types of content? Do they feature better internal links or more prominent CTAs? Is their media more intriguing? Figure out what makes people stay longer on your site and give them more of it. You can get a better understanding of what engages people on a page by performing a heat map analysis.
- In cases where your top pages have high bounce rate, you must go in and redo the page. The topic is obviously of interest to your target group, so work on providing more value in terms of, for example, better data, more facts, different media types, etc. If you aren’t sure what works best for your target group, do A/B testing.
- In cases where top pages perform well or at least average in terms of bounce rate and session duration but generate fewer than average page views per session, you must rethink internal linking on the page. Are your CTAs visible and appealing enough? Do you offer links to related content? Do you link to detailed explanations of the different subtopics? Performing A/B tests is recommended here as well.
- Top pages should be kept fresh. Update them regularly, at least once a year for evergreen content and once an hour/day/month/week for dynamic content, depending on your industry standards. Updating popular pages is better than just publishing new content on the same topic, as the combination of fresh and popular will result in a SEO boost. On the contrary, publishing too similar content might hurt your SEO.
- Turn the report you used to identify top pages upside down and identify your worst performing pages in terms of generated sessions. Note down the bottom 10-20 pages and analyze them further by clicking on Acquisitions->Search Console->Landing Pages on the dashboard in Google Analytics. Check which pages received the least impressions and compare the list to your worst performing pages. Is the problem that nobody ever saw them in search or were their headlines and descriptions not appealing enough? If they never received any impressions, it might be that Google deemed them as low quality. Are they somehow different from your average content or page structure? If this is the issue, consider redoing and making them more compliant with the rest of the website. To analyze further, you can use the chart shown in the Where Does Traffic Come From part of the post. How did the bottom pages perform on social media? Did they generate any sessions? The first thing you should do, is to work on enhancing their titles, descriptions, and featured images to make sure that the issue isn’t poor presentation. Next, analyze the topics. Do they deviate much from your top performing pages? Then you might have to adjust your content strategy by excluding such topics.
- Analyze which top pages generate the most traffic from the different channels and sources. Compare performance of the same content on several platforms. Use this analysis to create content strategies for the different sources (for example, post cat images on Google, food on Instagram, self-enhancement articles on LinkedIn, problem-solving content on Google+, etc.). Focus on offering preferred content on each of them and experiment with posting times.
- Use the Audience data fully. Create content that fits your audience’s preferences concerning topics, content types, language, etc. Any changes should be implemented only after performing thorough A/B tests. You can fix things that aren’t broken, contrary to what people say, just make sure you don’t break them in the effort.
- Use geographical data (Audience->Geo) to figure out, whether your content finds the right users geographically or ends up in countries/cities that aren’t of interest to you. If this is the case, optimize for local search. Do that by adding addresses, area of operations, area codes before phone numbers, making business listings with Google MyBusiness, using relevant keywords in your text, etc.
- Remember to continuously monitor performance and adjust your content strategy. Audience preferences can change quicker than expected.