How to Use Google Analytics to Audit Your Content Strategy
It’s not enough to merely have a content marketing strategy. No matter how perfectly thought-out your approach was, how brilliant your tactics are in theory, or how successful you are in executing your campaign, there’s still one more step preventing you from fully reaping the rewards of content marketing: review.
Reviewing your procedures and results is a necessary step if you want to know whether all your efforts were worth it; skipping this process is akin to throwing darts at a dart board, blind, and never checking to see if you hit the target. Not only will you remain ignorant of whether or not your content strategy is working, you’ll never gain the opportunity to make improvements, because you’ll never figure out what weaknesses you can compensate for or which strengths you can enhance.
There’s a big hurdle most companies face before even beginning a content marketing audit, however: the many moving parts of a content marketing strategy. Though the basic concept of content marketing is simple (attracting more people to your brand through the publication of unique, valuable content), the reality touches many areas at once. This makes measuring the effectiveness of your campaign and diagnosing potential problems equally difficult.
For example, let’s say you’re trying to figure out how much value your content is brining you. Which channels do you look at? Theoretically, content can bring you organic traffic from search engines, direct traffic from repeat visitors, referral traffic from outside sources, and social traffic from your social media platforms. Besides that, how do you measure brand loyalty you’ve gained, or what kind of impressions you’re making?
The Right Tool for the Job
It’s tough to hit all these points with only one tool, and even harder to reduce them all to quantitative values, since so many content effects are both qualitative and long-term. Rather than explore the many types of tools you can use to evaluate different angles of your campaign (perhaps I’ll save that for a future post), today I want to narrow my focus to one tool that can help you get a “big picture” snapshot of your campaign. It’s highly effective, easy to pick up, and best of all, it’s free for everyone: it’s Google Analytics, and we’re going to use it to audit your content marketing strategy.
We’ll be getting into some of the measurable effects your content has, including how much traffic it generates, a bit later, but first, let’s take a look at how well your posts are performing in general. Performance, or “success” here is hard to pin down, since there are so many factors you’ll want to consider:
- How appropriate your topics are for your demographics.
- How much attention your topics are generating.
- What kind of impression your content leaves your users with.
- How engaged users are with your content.
These are mostly qualitative measures, but we can indirectly infer how your content is performing with a couple of key areas in your Analytics dashboard.
How to Measure
We’re going to be looking at the “Behavior” section of Analytics, where we can learn how people are accessing and engaging with your site. To start, open up the Site Content submenu and click on All Pages.
Here, you’re going to see a pretty massive breakdown of all the pages of your site, along with a number of metrics relating to those pages. At the top will probably be your “main” navigation pages, such as your home, about, and contact pages, but as you scroll down (and expand the chart to account for all pages in your sitemap), you’ll start finding your individual blog pages.
There are a number of dimensions to look at here:
- Pageviews, which tell you how many people visited this page of your site.
- Unique pageviews, which tell you how many “unique” visitors you had for this page (i.e., no repeat traffic).
- Average time on page, which tells you how long a user has spent on this page.
- Entrances, which tell you how many people used this page to first enter your site.
- Bounce rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the first page of your site.
- Exit rates, which tell you how many people left this page after viewing it as the final page of your site.
You should also note the degree of control you have over this menu. For starters, you can adjust the date parameters to reflect a certain time period. If you want a “zoomed out” look at your content strategy overall, you can set this to months or years, but for most people, the past month is a good range to look at. You can also segment the traffic that appears in this breakdown, which is extremely useful for determining your content’s effectiveness in different sectors. For example, you can look at how only your social-originated traffic engages with your content. Play around with your options here.
There are a handful of key indicators to look for here to evaluate your content performance:
- Post popularity. Which posts are receiving the most pageviews? This report filters pages by this statistic by default, so take a look at your top-performing posts. What do they have in common? Similarly, which posts seem to be underperforming? This will give you a general indication of how attractive these topics are.
- Time on page. This is an excellent measure of how interested people are in your content after visiting it, and will tell you how “good” your material is. This is different from initial attractiveness; for example, let’s say you have a post with only a handful of pageviews but the time spent on page is extraordinarily high. This tells you your headline isn’t very attractive, but your content is engrossing. In the opposite scenario, your headline may be powerfully compelling, but your content can’t back it up.
- Exit rate. Your goal should be to have your content be so interesting, or so positive that it encourages people to explore your site further. If your exit rates are unnaturally high, it means your content isn’t doing a good job of making people interested in your brand.
We’ll be taking a look at a few more “performance” metrics in the “bottom line” section of this guide, but these should get you started in the right direction.
The SEO side of content is at once harder and easier to explore; you can gather tons of data about how you’re doing from a search optimization perspective, but it’s difficult to tie this specifically to your content marketing campaign. For the most part, you’ll have to look at the broad strokes of your SEO efforts, and make adjustments to your content strategy to compensate for them. For example, if your rankings and organic traffic are stagnating, you know something needs to change in your approach.
How to Measure
There are a few different places where you can learn about the state of your SEO campaign (and a ton of third party tools that can dig even deeper), but we’re interested in the big picture here. Let’s start by taking a look at the Acquisition section, where we can learn about where your site traffic is coming from. Start by heading to the Overview section.
Here, you’ll see a handy breakdown of the four main sources of traffic your site receives: direct, referral, social, and organic traffic. You can compare and contrast various metrics related to these traffic streams, which is valuable, but for right now, we’re only interested in organic traffic (traffic that comes from search engines).
Click on “Organic Search” here, and you’ll see a breakdown of your traffic similar to the breakdown you saw for all the pages of your site, with information about the visitors coming in.
On the left, you’ll see a “keyword” section which may provide you information about the most popular queries that led people to your site. However, Google has gotten stingy about providing this information (since it prompts people to try and manipulate their ranks). For the most part, you’ll see “not provided” listed here. There are some ways around this data hurdle, especially with third party tools, but again, we’re looking at the big picture here.
The biggest factor you want to monitor is how your organic traffic is developing. With a proper and upward scaling content strategy, your organic traffic figures should increase month over month (with occasional discrepancies for seasonal changes or random fluctuations). If you aren’t seeing this growth, or if you suspect something’s wrong, you can gather that at least one of the following is true:
- Your onsite SEO is flawed. This is unrelated to your content strategy, but is important to note.
- Your onsite content has dropped in quality. This could result in less engaged traffic, lower authority measures, or fewer inbound links, all of which could negatively affect your SEO growth.
- Your offsite content has slowed or dropped in quality. Your offsite content efforts are responsible for building the links that pass authority to your site. If there’s a flaw in the quality of your material, your sources, or your patterns of growth, your momentum could suffer.
- You’ve failed to scale. As your business climbs in ranks, gaining more and more visibility, you’ll have to pour more and more effort in your strategy if you want to continue growing. Of course, if you’re happy where you’re at, it’s possible to maintain your traffic flow with consistent continued efforts—but why stay satisfied with where you are, when you have the chance to grow even further?
- A competitor has emerged. Your drop in organic traffic could be the result of a newly emerged competitor, and there’s not much you can do about that other than step up your strategy to fight back against their arrival.
Any of these could be the root problem, and it’s up to your personal insights to figure out which. With a little digging—such as evaluating your backlink profile to determine the state of your offsite strategy, or conducting competitive research to see how your content stacks up against a competitor’s—you should be able to pinpoint the problem further. Otherwise, take note of your traffic figures and count them as a beneficial effect of your strategy. If you’re consistently growing, month after month, you know you’re doing something right!
This section assumes you’re using social media to syndicate, promote, or otherwise enhance the visibility of your content marketing strategy—as well you should. One of social media marketing’s most significant benefits is increasing the reach of your onsite material, and it also helps you realize how effective your campaign is at attracting attention. It’s hard to filter out non-content-related social factors as influential here, such as engaging in conversations with other influencers or responding to social comments; however, these can be interpreted as forms of content in their own right.
How to Measure
Remember that Acquisition Overview where we just looked at organic traffic? Now we’re going to take a look at social traffic. You’re going to see a fairly similar chart here, broken down by the individual social media source:
The basic stats here are going to be familiar. Sessions, new sessions, new users, bounce rate, and pages per session are the main indicators here. You can also click into any of your social media profiles for more details about the types of people visiting your site and what their resulting behavior is.
If you’re engaged in an offsite SEO component to your content strategy (i.e., guest posting), you’ll also want to take a look at the referral traffic here. This is going to tell you where most of your external-link-based traffic is coming from, distributed by source. This is useful for determining not only which publishers are sending you the most traffic, but which posts are resonating with which segments of those audiences the best.
Your takeaways here will be dependent on a number of variables, so I’ll try to keep this high level:
- Your most effective social distribution channels. This is an easy metric to spot, and should speak volumes about your target demographics. However, this is also dependent on how active you are on this platform and what tactics you’re currently using; for example, you might have tremendous potential on Instagram, but if you aren’t using it correctly, it may appear at the bottom of your list.
- The appropriateness of your content strategy for each platform. Is there one platform that seems to be underperforming compared to the others, or one platform that’s a rock star? It probably means the appropriateness of your strategy matches its demographics better than the others. You may need to tailor your content strategy a bit differently to account for this.
- Which topics perform best per platform. Once you drill down to the individual platform metrics, you’ll able to uncover which content topics are performing best on each platform. You can use this information to customize your content distribution to appeal to these segments. For example, you might find that your Twitter audience prefers “quick tips” style posts, while your Facebook audience prefers in-depth analyses.
- Platform-specific engagement rates. Don’t forget to look at metrics like bounce rate and pages per session on a per-platform basis, as well. You’ll probably find that some of your platforms have higher engagement rates, which may mean that this platform’s demographics are closer to your brand’s target audience, or that your content strategy is simply better in these areas.
Ultimately, you should be able to use this data to perfect your platform-specific strategies, and reallocate your resources to favor the most useful platforms to your brand.
Traffic and engagement figures are nice, but what really matters to the overall “value” of a content strategy is how many conversions you’re able to earn. Once you calculate the value of a conversion (either with an average sale, or average close ratio and customer lifetime value, depending on the nature of your conversion), you can measure conversions and assign a roughly accurate figure to the overall ROI of your campaign.
How to Measure
First, you’re going to want to create “goals,” which are Analytics’s way of helping you identify, categorize, and track the meaningful conversion actions throughout your site. You can track things like checkouts, form signups, or other forms of interaction (like playing a video or clicking a specific link). Head to the admin section of your dashboard, and click on the Goals section.
The process is relatively straightforward. Unless you’re doing something abnormal or crazy, you can use one of Google’s many approachable templates to build a goal that suits your needs.
If you need further help getting set up with the goals you want to track, Google has a fantastic guide on the subject.
Once your goals are created, you can track them in a handful of different ways. From the highest-level perspective, you can track your goals globally just by accessing the goals section and looking at each of your constructs. You can even assign a value to a goal to make your at-a-glance value even more apparent.
You also have the ability to track goals as they relate to different reports you’ve already generated. For example, in our page breakdown (in the section on topic performance near the top of this guide), you can evaluate how many people from a specific page ended up completing each of your goals, which can tell you the conversion potential of each blog post you produce.
The biggest takeaway here is the conversion potential of your content strategy. When viewed as a percentage, you’ll be able to see exactly how well a piece of yours converts compared to your other pieces; from these, you can glean key insights about which topics have the greatest potential to convert, and which calls-to-action generate the best responses.
Analysis and Action
Throughout this guide, I’ve shown you all the ways that Google Analytics can help you understand the effectiveness of your content marketing campaign, but there’s still one more step to take. Data and conclusions are important, and can make you feel like you’ve accomplished something, but they’re only meaningful if they lead to some kind of action. Unless you compensate for the weaknesses you’ve uncovered, boost the areas of strength you’ve measured, or otherwise adjust your campaign to see better results in the future. Everything you glean from Google Analytics, or any other measurement platform for that matter, should be boiled down to some kind of actionable takeaway. Focus on doing, rather than just evaluating, and you’ll end up with a higher performing campaign in no time.
Want more information on content marketing? Head over to our comprehensive guide on content marketing here: The All-in-One Guide to Planning and Launching a Content Marketing Strategy.
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