How Effective Use of Analytics Increases Your Traffic - A Scientific Experiment
Small business owners know they should create content, but often produce that content willy-nilly, with no plan in mind. They suspect there is some science behind search engine optimization, but don’t know how to balance that with the artistry of writing.
Why people come to your site
A website generates traffic when its environment changes, i.e. new blog posts are added that people discover and want to read, or new inbound links are created that lead from other sites to yours, such as social media networks, or your referral partner websites (inbound link data is found in your Google Analytics Acquisition reports).
If you stop changing the environment (adding new blog posts, also known as content marketing), your traffic will level off or decline. We saw a stark example of that on our own site.
We blogged at least 1-2 times per month in 2014, and even hired writers to help us formulate our ideas. In 2015 we stopped doing that in favour of timed events to more opportunistic articles (webinars, for example) and while that generated traffic, it never really created the steady traffic that connects with long tail keywords (the highly specific search terms that potential customers actually use). We also didn't get as many inbound links as a result.
Sometimes you can get lucky when there is flurry of new interest in a topic you’ve previously written about, and that can bring new traffic to those posts. However, the best way to get new eyes on old content - whether previously published blog posts or static pages like About, Events or Services - is to add new content such as blog posts. That’s because when people visit your site to read the new content, they’ll most likely also click on other pages.
Likewise, if you stop adding new content to your site, you’ll not only lose the traffic you would have gained to those new pages, but your existing pages won’t get the secondary exposure they would have enjoyed.
Before you can analyze your content’s sustainability and increase your site traffic, you need some baseline information, so the sooner you set up Google Analytics to start collecting data, the better. You want to understand who your audience is and what information they’re searching for.
You may think you know the answer, but the data may surprise you. In Google Analytics you’ll find this information in the Audience and Behaviour reports (if you don’t have Google Analytics set up on your site, follow these steps or get in touch and we can show you how to use this free resource!).
Behaviour reports tell you what people do when they visit your site - the first page they land on, the last page the view before leave leave, and everything they do in between. That also includes the words and phrases they type into your site’s search box, i.e., what content they’re looking for on your website.
You’ll want to look at Behavior reports for your site’s most popular pages and most popular blog posts, so you can compare these results with the data for the new content you’re going to create, and how that new content affects views of your existing pages.
The Average Page Views Per Month report - Making Google Analytics work for you
Google Analytics produces an extraordinary amount of data, which can be intimidating. It may look and seem complicated, but it’s simply a set of dimensions and metrics that can be portrayed any way you wish. Here is a full list of what can be measured by Google Analytics.
As Lukas Oldenburg explains on Quora, a metric is usually something you can count, while a dimension is what you are applying the metric to. So for example, the dimension 'Page Title' can be analyzed via the metrics 'Pageviews', 'Unique Pageviews', 'Time on Page', 'Exit Rate' and so on.
If you want to know how effective your content is, I propose that the only relevant analytic is overall traffic trends, and page-level traffic trends. At NewPath Consulting we’ve come up with a report called Average Page Views Per Month, which is a customized dashboard that measures how well your content performs. It harnesses the most relevant content-related data collected by Google Analytics, so businesses can use that data to drive their content decisions.
Here is the formula:
Average Pageviews Per Month = Pageviews Age of Post (in Months)
The average pageviews per month tells you the content that has the most consistent views over the longest period of time. You’ll see how a high-quality, evergreen piece of content resonates with your audience over a long period.
To create a piece of quality content that generates traffic takes a lot of deliberation, thought and effort. For example, our team spent two months preparing the content of a recent webinar about how to run your small business with online forms, and another five hours to create, edit and distribute the follow up blog post.
This effort pays off, because creating new content will increase your overall high-quality traffic. Some posts endure and some posts decay. Analytics can help you predict these results and ensure you’re creating the right kind of content.
How to set up an Average Page Views Per Month report for your own website
Assuming you have already set up the Google Analytics add-on in your Google Sheets (here are instructions), now you’ll have to configure your report to get the information we’re looking for.
Here are the configuration options (click on the image for full size):
Let’s go through each of these fields:
The Profile ID is provided by Google Sheet add on. Your start date should be when you started collecting analytics, and your end date should be the current date (use the =today() Google Sheet function to automatically fill in the end date).
Beyond the reports dashboard, Google Analytics is a data warehouse of all the metrics and dimensions that are collected and summarized all the time. The dictionary of dimensions and metrics are available for easy searching in the handy Dimensions & Metrics Explorer.
The metrics we will select for each blog post are pageviews, unique pageviews, average time on page, entrances, bounce rates, and exit rate.
The dimensions is the page URL (without the domain name), sorted by pageviews in descending order, denoted by the - sign before ga:pageviews.
The next is part is key: to filter out the blog posts from the static pages on your site (such as About, Services, etc.). How do we do this?
Have you ever filled out a form and received an error message such as, “this is not a valid email address,” or “passwords do not match”? Did you ever wonder how the form knew that? The web developers who created these forms used a pattern matching language known as a regular expression (also known as regex).
In order to filter out your website’s static pages and analyze only your blog posts, we’re going to use a regex to configure the filter row of our Google Analytics spreadsheet. If you were to leave this row empty, you would get results from all the pages on your site.
You have to establish a pattern that tells Google Analytics how to identify your blog posts and differentiate between the static pages and blog posts on your site. The blog posts on our website uses a URL pattern of sitename.com/YYYY/MM/blog-postname-html, so our regex filters all page URLs that start with with /YYYY/MM. You can look at the URL of any of your blog posts to find out how your blog’s permalinks are structured.
You have to establish a pattern that tells Google Analytics how to identify your blog posts and differentiate between the static pages and blog posts on your site. The blog posts on our website use a URL pattern of sitename.com/YYYY/MM/blog-postname-html, so our regex filters all page URLs that start with with /YYYY/MM. You can look at the URL of any of your blog posts to find out how your blog’s permalinks are structured.
You’ll need to experiment. See what results are returned with the set of regular expressions you used, and then tweak them as needed. If you need more help, get in touch!
Now that we’ve created the filter, we want to set up an automatically-generated analysis page that will show you, at a glance, what we’re measuring
Here is our finished report configuration, where you can see the highlighted column showing the average pageviews per month (click for a larger view):
When you have this kind of history of content and its performance, you can make smarter decisions about what to write more about and what to write less about or not at all.
In next month’s article we will document how to configure and use the Average Pageviews per Month metric and a few other interesting reports we can generate.