How to Use Google Analytics to Create More Effective Content
What do you think of when you think of Google Analytics? Usually, it’s search engine optimization. But Analytics also holds a treasure trove of data and insights into how you can create better content.
There are a dozen ways to slice and dice the data in your Google Analytics account to come up with killer content ideas. For the sake of brevity, we’re going to focus on just three. These short-list tactics pack the most punch and are super-easy to implement. None of them takes more than 15 minutes to do.
Everything I’ll cover here is for Analytics newbies. You don’t need advanced Analytics skills to do any of this. Just being able to log into your account is enough. Another great resource for understanding how to use Google Analytics with your content marketing is Andy Crestodina and the Orbit Media team. Here is a post on 8 ways to measure your content success using analytics.
What’s “effective” content?
Before we get too far ahead, let’s define “effective content.” It’s content that supports your business goals. Those goals might be building your email list, nurturing leads, and/or attracting new leads. Better content gets better results. Measurable results.
Because we’re focused on using Analytics to create content that gets results, the very first thing we should talk about are Google Analytics goals. So let’s roll right into Tactic #1.
1. Set up goals for important conversions on your site.
If you haven’t set up at least a few Google Analytics goals (or set them up in another analytics platform), you’re basically flying blind. Without goal tracking in place, trying to figure out which pieces of content are supporting your business goals is like trying to braid spaghetti. It’s really frustrating, and you end up with a mushy mess.
You’ll need Edit permission at the View level to create a goal. Don’t have a clue what that means? No worries. Just follow along through the next item. If you don’t see a red “New Goal” button on the goals summary page, it’s likely a permissions issue.
Setting up a goal requires that you first choose a goal. Here are a few ideas for goals you might want to track:
- Email list sign-ups
- Webinar registrations
- White paper downloads
- Contact form completions
- Views of a specific page
Don’t go too crazy creating a lot of goals. Your account limits you to only 20. And for every goal you add, you’ll see an extra column in many reports. This is good information to have, but it can get unwieldy if there are more than a handful of active goals. Start off with one or two, get familiar with the reports you’re going to be generating, and go from there.
For this example, I’m going to set up one super-simple goal. All it does is track how many times a given page was viewed. Now, why would that be helpful? Because many sales funnels or lead nurturing campaigns work by bringing people through a series of pages until they reach a final confirmation page.
Maybe that’s the page they actually download the report from, maybe it’s the final “thanks for signing up for our email newsletters” page. Maybe it’s the webinar confirmation. Whatever the page is, or does, is the final step of what you want to track. And so that’s why views of this magic, final, confirmation page are so critical. You want to know how people found their way to this page, whether they started from a search engine or a Facebook ad or wherever.
Once you know which content marketing techniques are really getting people to this final magic confirmation page, you’ll have a better idea of which content marketing tactics work. That’s powerful. That’s why we’re doing this.
Here’s how to make it happen:
- In your Google Analytics account, click on the “Admin” link at the very top of the page.
- Then, click on the “Goals” link in the third column, on the right.
- Click the big red “New Goal” button. (And remember: if you don’t see this page, go find out who can give you the permission to do this.)
- You’ll see this page:
This is the page that often freaks people out. They don’t see an option for the goal they want to set up, and the custom option seems too scary to even try. But that custom option is that we want to click, so let’s walk though and de-mystify it.
- Click that custom radio button and then click the blue “Next step” button, you’ll see this:
- Enter a “goal description” that you’ll easily remember and understand even if you don’t look at it until a year from now. Leave the “Goal Slot ID” pull down menu alone. Then choose a “Type” in the last section. Because I want to track visits/views of a specific page, I’m going to choose “Destination”. The sample text “ex: thanks.html” after the Destination is a hint to remind you what kind of selection to make.
- Click the blue “Next step” button again.
This is what you’ll see next.
This is the last page of setup. Only four more settings to go, and two of them you can skip.
- First (and most important): tell Analytics exactly which page you want to track the views of. Go find that page, copy the URL, and come back here and paste it in.
As soon as you’ve done that, you’ll probably notice the gray text under this field. It says, “For example, use My Screen for an app and /thankyou.html instead of www.example.com/thankyou.html for a web page.”
- Lop off the domain name at the front of your link. Just include the directory/directories and/or filename.
And my return on this effort? I’m tracking views to the index page of this “coaching tutorials” directory.
- Once you’ve completed this process, click the “Verify” link to see if your tracking is set up correctly.
- If you’ve just created this page in the last day, or no one is visiting it, the verification will show no “conversions” (in this case our “conversions” are page views). Analytics will ask you to try again. Ignore its complaint if you’ve got a brand new page. But if you have been getting even a trickle of views to this page, you’ll see something like this:
That’s a working Analytics goal. Yay! We could stop here and leave well enough alone, but often it’s nice to tie goals to monetary value. That way you can actually see what each visitor from a given traffic stream is worth to you. It’s pretty cool, and smack-your-forehead easy.
- Just go up to the “Value” setting (right below “Destination”). Click it from off to on. Enter a value – what each of these page views is worth to you. Let’s say it’s worth $2 to me every time someone gets to this page.
- Once you’ve entered the value, just click that blue “Create Goal” button.
You’ll now be able to quantify what different kinds of visitors are worth to you. This is essential information if you do pay per click or other advertising.
Funnel tracking does just what it sounds like it does: lets you see at which points people fall out of your funnel. If you want to set up a funnel tracking system, there are a few more steps.
If you just want to skip funnels for today, that’s fine. It also means you’re done! Now you can sift through all your site’s traffic and see which content is actually getting people to this page. No more flying blind.
2. See which pages hold people’s attention the longest.
The “Average Time on Page” report holds important clues about which pieces of content your visitors really love. This is in some ways a purer measurement of interest than which pages get the most traffic. That’s especially true if you buy advertising, or if you did well with your search engine optimization and happen to have a nice high ranking for a couple of pages.
- To see time on page, and rank your pages according to time on page, click the “Reporting” link at the very top of any page in your Analytics account.
- Then choose “Behavior” from the left column.
- Once you click on it, the menu will expand. Click “Site Content”, then “All Pages”. You’ll see something like this:
- Click “Avg Time on Page” to sort the list by… time on page (you guessed that, didn’t you?).
You can also sort by page value after your goals data has had some time to populate, or by any of the other columns in this report. This will give you insight into which pieces of your content hold visitors’ attention. It will also show which pieces get passed by like a blank road sign.
Signposts to more engagement-worthy content
If you’re looking at these lists and seeing that certain kinds of content do well, ask yourself: What other similar topics could we cover? What format should those topics be created in? Sometimes even great content ideas fizzle if they’re not in the right format. For instance, should you do a new tutorial as a video, or as a blog post, or as a SlideShare?
Also consider which phase of the sales cycle people are in when they are drawn to a particular piece of content. Ask yourself:
- What’s the next best piece of information to offer them after they read/watch this?
- Do you have that piece of content created?
- Is it being promoted near the close of that first content piece?
Want more insight about how to nail these questions down? See our post on content that converts.
3. Find out what they’re searching for.
If you’ve set up a Google Search box on your site, you’ve got a goldmine of content ideas at your fingertips. You can see every search query visitors have entered on your site. It’s in the “Site Search” report. Find it by going to Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms.
My test site doesn’t have a search box set up, so I’m losing out on this tip. But here’s where you’d find the report in your own account.
I’m probably going to add a search box to this site, just to get the query information. Search data is especially valuable because it shows you what people want to find, but are currently not finding. That’s why they turn to the search box. The queries from those searches reveal where the content gaps are on a site and if the navigation serves users well enough.
So, those are the three easiest, most effective ways to use Google Analytics to see which content you could create that is most likely to foster engagement.
There are dozens of other Analytics tricks that can reveal which content you should be working on next. Do you have any reports that you use to come up with content ideas? Any reports that shape your content marketing decisions? Please tell us about them in the comments.
For more tips on writing for SEO, take a look at our eBook, How to Make Any Content SEO-Friendly, where we will walk you through the 3 easy steps to optimizing your content for search engines.