Google Analytics is one of the most practical tools for executing, evaluating, and eventually improving an online marketing campaign. It’s fairly exhaustive, compatible with any website, and it’s completely free. It won’t give you all the bells and whistles that an advanced software system or a contracted marketing agency can, but it’s everything you need to get started.
The thing is, most people realize Google Analytics is useful for tracking web traffic over time, but they don’t realize how much valuable data is available for other means, including improving your content marketing strategy. In fact, there are five distinct ways you can use Google Analytics—right out of the box—to refine your content over time:
Your first—and biggest clue—to the effectiveness of your content should be your patterns of growth over time. For this, head to the Acquisition section of the dashboard and take a look at your inbound streams of traffic. Direct traffic refers to users who enter your URL directly, so instead look to Organic traffic, Referral traffic, and Social traffic.
Organic traffic is a measure of how many people found your site through search engines—it’s a way of telling how much your content has led to increased domain authority and higher search ranks (though there are a combination of other factors at work here). Your Referral traffic, if you break it down to its individual sources, will tell you how effective your guest posts have been—look for high-traffic sources and growth over time. Social traffic works much the same way, telling you how many people have found your site on social media. Again, the strength of your content is the major indicator here. If you notice slow or stagnant growth in any of these areas, you’ll know where you need to focus your efforts to improve.
This is critical. The effectiveness of your content marketing campaign begins with choosing the right topics. You have to choose headlines and subjects that are personally relevant to your audience, useful, yet still unique and rare enough that they don’t attract much competition.
Stay in the Acquisition tab, and take a look at the landing URLs of your traffic—you can either look at all traffic here, or drill down to a category of sources. Arrange the columns by order of visits (this should be the default), and you should get a clear picture of which content topics are netting you the most traffic. Be sure to evaluate this figure at multiple points in time—you may find that a hugely popular topic from a year ago falls flat today, or vice versa. Either way, you’ll learn which topics are most and least effective in your campaign, and you’ll be able to adjust accordingly.
Head to the Behavior tab, and you’ll be able to see how your content affects the actions of your users. This is useful for determining your content’s ability to motivate readers to explore your site further (and eventually convert). Track the “average” path of an inbound user by evaluating the Behavior Flow chart; see what most readers do after visiting one of your articles. Do they head to another article? Do they visit your Contact page? These insights will tell you how effective you’ve been at drawing your readers in further. If you notice a lapse, or if the majority of your readers end up on a page you don’t have as a high priority, you’ll need to adjust your internal linking strategy.
Bounce rates aren’t the best way to learn about your traffic because people can bounce for almost any reason (and just because a user stays doesn’t mean he/she is meaningfully engaged with your content). However, high bounce rates can be an indication of weak points within your strategy. For example, if you notice your “how to” posts have a much higher bounce rate over time than your listicle-style posts, you know something in your listicle posts is doing a better job of keeping your audience engaged. Use these insights to compensate for any weaknesses you find and learn from your best material.
Finally, use the segmented traffic options in the Acquisition tab to find the most appropriate, effective distribution channels for your content—and this can mean Referral or Social sources. Take a look at your inbound traffic on a per-channel basis, and arrange those sources according to total figures. Your most valuable sources will be at the top (in both Referral and Social sections). Don’t limit your distribution to only these sources, but do favor them, and do learn from them—why are these sources bringing you more traffic? Why does your audience prefer them?
Google Analytics is practical, easily available, and intuitive for newcomers, but it’s not the only resource out there for improving your content—nor should it be your only reliance. Look to the behavior of your social media followers, the comment threads and user responses on your site, and any qualitative feedback you receive from your customers and readers. The more information you have at your disposal, the better you’ll be able to hone your content, both in terms of its inherent quality and in terms of its utility in your marketing strategy.