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Making Sense of Analytics


If you read my blog, How Do I Know My Blogs Are Working, you know I put little stock in hard numbers on any given day. You also know I don’t care about comparing published benchmarks against your own experience – because the only meaningful benchmark is your own. But analytics are your friend. They are invaluable if you know what to look for and how to spot trends.

Here are the top 6 measurements I always use, and how to interpret results for upping your blogging or content marketing game

  • Number of Visitors – The first question to ask is simple: Are your visitors growing over time? The next thing to track is the number of average visitors for a particular topic. Overall, If you have five general topics that generate the same number of visitors and suddenly you have one way below the average, you can bet that particular topic is not an issue for visitors. Drop the topic and come up with a new one. The only time it’s ok to see a big, sustained dip is when you’re getting very specific with your content for a small segment of your audience.

  • Time on Site – The actual average time visitors stay on your site. For blogs don’t be surprised if TOS reported is less than the time it takes to read a blog or watch a video. Most visitors skim read and glean the highlights. In the case of a blog, make sure your sub-headlines deliver the details, hopefully enticing visitors to read the entire blog. If you're posting videos you have to make sure the text surrounding it gives them a reason to watch the entire video. If your TOS rises you know you're hitting the mark with visitors.

  • Page Actions – This measures the number of pages visitors go to after landing on the first page, be it a blog or static web page. Again, don’t be surprised if this number is low when you’re promoting blogs. Most visitors enter your blog to find out info they want to know – and then leave. But if your number of Page Actions remains the same or dips over time it may indicate you have a problem with your call to action in your blogs or on the sidebar. Build stronger calls to action and use linked text in your blog copy which direct readers to more information. Another good tactic is to ask questions and then provide links to the answers.

  • Bounce Rate – Bounce is the percentage of visitors who come and go without viewing another page, or for some analytic programs it could mean visitors are leaving before enough time has gone by to realistically count them as a visitor. I don’t pay a lot of attention to bounce rate except for one application: When you compare the rate for certain promoted ad campaigns against others. Hopefully your ads will be spot on, but once in a while they may mislead visitors as to the topic of your post. If your Bounce Rate plus Time on Site takes a dramatic turn for the worse for one ad versus another for the same post, your ad is likely off target and misleading the public. You'll want to immediately fix the misleading ad because it's costing you money without driving a return - and it hurts your quality score, again costing you money over the long haul. (Also know that different traffic sources result in differing bounce rates. It sounds crazy, but it is true. Take note of bounce rates coming from your promoted posts from sources like Twitter, Facebook and various PPC vendors. If ads across platforms are basically the same you might want to consider dropping the traffic source with an extremely high bounce rate >90%.)

  • Visitor Flow – This is where your visitors go after the initial page. If they are going from the promoted post to “home”, “services” or “about” you can be pretty well assured they liked your post and are checking you out further. If you have set up a campaign that purposefully takes visitors from one page (such as a landing page or call to action in a blog) to another, Visitor Flow will tell you if it’s working. It's also important for spotting topics visitors are interested in, which you can expand upon, or "dead ends" (a page visitors continually leave your site from) which are either poorly written or uninteresting. One important point to remember when you want to increase Page Actions and drive Visitor Flow is to always lead the audience by the hand; i.e., don't just assume your audience will click around your site on their own...because they won't. Lead them to where you want them to go with links and calls to action. Then use Visitor Flow to see how deep they dive.

  • New Versus Returning Visitors - As analytics platforms will store the IP address of visitors they will be able to tell you who is a first time visitor and who has returned. Here again you're looking for a trend. Is your content engaging enough that visitors are returning because they see you as a thought leader? If so the number of returning visitors should rise over time. If the number of returning visitors isn't rising there are two possible reasons. First, you'll possibly need to dig deeper into the content within your blogs. You need to deliver valuable content that is helpful and original, not regurgitate what visitors have already found on the web. At the same time it needs to have practical application that helps visitors quickly solve a problem. Secondly, you may be coming off too pushy. Remember that blogs should not be overly promotional. Follow the 80/20 rule: 80% of blogs should be written strictly to enlighten the visitor with helpful information. Only 20% should push a product or service. That doesn't mean you can't have links to your solutions, or references at the end of your blog. But don't make more than 20% of your blogs totally about your products or services.

As you can see, most analytics measurements should be taken over time. In all but a few situations you're looking for trends, not moment by moment numbers. That's how you know whether you're on the right track and your content marketing strategy or blog topics are hitting the mark with visitors.

Would you like some help figuring out your analytics and trends? Contact me. When you do you'll find I don't use Google Analytics. Ask me why.

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