10/11/2016

How Effective Use of Analytics Increases Your Traffic - A Scientific Experiment Part II

As small business owners we have limited resources and we must make them count. That includes the time, money and effort put into creating content.

In a previous post we introduced our Average Pageviews Per Month spreadsheet report, which measures how well your content performs. The more pageviews per month over time, the more that content is resonating with your audience.

In this blog post, we will document how to configure and use the Average Pageviews per Month metric and a few other interesting reports we will build.

One of our most powerful reports is called “All Posts.” It automatically generates a snapshot of all traffic to your blog, from the beginning of when you started reporting to the current day (=today). You can then use formulas in your spreadsheet to control what data is displayed, and how.

Google Analytics has its limits

Why do this reporting outside of Google Analytics, when it is such a robust platform? When you go to Google Analytics your starting points are almost always different - the date/time parameters and other elements of your dashboard are always set to  what you looked at last. If you’re always resetting parameters, you can lose track. It’s like you’re always starting from scratch; you’re getting a scattered point of view and it’s hard to focus on a few metrics and measure how things are changing.

Filtering on certain parameters is also not intuitive and difficult to do on the fly while doing analysis. The filter parameters have to be set up each and every time you run a report, or you must set up “segments” - an advanced feature of Google Analytics.

A customized Google spreadsheet, like the one we showed you to set up in the last post, is always reflective of the same date parameters and filters. You get what you expect - every time. Plus most small business owners are already comfortable with reading a spreadsheet, while Google Analytics reports can take some getting used to. Also, when you use Google Analytics without a filter, you get all web pages and blog posts, instead of focusing on just the blog posts, which is what we’re trying to do here.

Another bonus of spreadsheet reports is that if you want to make changes to the data, you can always add new reports and run them using a new report configuration. Since all reports can automatically update every day, this is a powerful alternative to the Google Analytics system, configured exactly how you want.

A closer look at the All Posts report

Here are the metrics we want to capture in the All Posts report:

  • Pageviews (number of pageviews of that post)
  • Unique pageviews (factors out if a person loaded the page more than once; doesn’t count the multiple page views during the same session)
  • Average time on page (amount of time reading before clicking away)
  • Entrances (# of times someone actually started their web visit on that page)
  • Bounce rate (# of times started at that page but didn’t continue to any other pages on the site; the article didn’t engage them)
  • Exit rate (# of times this was the last page someone visited before leaving the site)

In Part One of this post we introduced the pattern matching language known as regular expression (also known as a regex). Here we’ll use regex again to filter for these dimensions:

  • Sort by descending order on number of pageviews using the directive  -GA;pageviews
  • Page path - the text that appears after the domain name of your site, i.e., /myblogpost.html

The page path filter includes the regex code that identifies  which of your website pages are actually blog posts. For example, the blog posts on our website uses a URL pattern of /YYYY/MM/blog-postname-html, so our regex will filter 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 URLs (ie “permalinks”) are structured.

Common permalink patterns

The two most common WordPress permalink patterns are nicknamed “ugly” and “pretty” (click here for more information about permalink structures). There are several other possibilities as well, which is why this filter will be fairly unique to every website.

For the purposes of our All Posts report, the most important elements to have in your permalink are the name of the blog post, and the year and month it was published. If that’s not your situation, get in touch about a function that allows you to grab metadata such as the publication date from the blog post itself.

This filter will include URLs that have year and month, and exclude ones that have the week in them, or other noise data and index pages that aren’t actually blog posts.

Now that we’ve finished that, we can run a report and populate a separate tab of our spreadsheet of raw data called All Posts report.

Here is a Google Spreadsheet template you can use to try this yourself. In Google Sheets you can also make a graph of your data very quickly, e.g., all articles with higher average pageviews than 1.

Average-pageviews-per-month-for-blog-posts

In the Google Sheets template, you’ll see that these two key columns are highlighted: D - Post Age Months, and E - Average Pageviews Per Month

Assuming that your permalink format is the one we talked about, we’ll use this Google spreadsheet formula:

The age of the post in months is calculated with
=(YEAR(TODAY())-MID(B7,2,4))*12+(MONTH(TODAY())-MID(B7,7,2))

This formula extracts and calculates the age of the post in months.

The average pageviews per month formula depends on the age of the posts in months and is:
=if(D2<>0,C2/D2,C2/(D2+1))

So when you’re done, you get these two handy columns of data, and once you’ve filled down the remaining rows, you can sort on the data. Use the menu option Data-->Sort Range-->Data has a header row, and sort by average pageviews in descending order.

Once you do that, your most popular blog posts that are consistently getting traffic every month will float to the top. Now you can see which articles are generating traffic to your site and resonating with your audience consistently, and which ones are not.

The older articles that consistently have a large amount of page views will probably continue to drive traffic to your blog and the rest of your website. People are interested in what you’re talking about; the chart above follows a long tail. The goal is to push more articles to the head of the long tail, thus increasing your overall traffic while resonating with your target audience.

Near the bottom of the report you’ll see the posts that get less than one page view a month on average. The likelihood that anyone will read those articles is low. They may continue to drive traffic to your site, but there is no point is doing anything to promote them.

The Netflix phenomenon

These articles may be well-written and interesting, but they’re just not hitting the mark. In fact, you’ll probably find that if your traffic to the blog follows a long tail, you have a small set of articles that are generating any real traffic, and a large number that are generating none at all.

And it should be obvious by now that as long as you generate more articles you will continue to build traffic, but once you stop it is unlikely traffic to your site will increase. Here’s an automatically updating chart of the traffic to this blog. You’ll notice the marked increase in September 2016 over September 2015 as we continue to write new articles and actively promote the existing popular blog articles in social media and through Google:

NPC traffic sep 2016

Click to see a full image of updated monthly blog traffic.

You can liken this to what happens on Netflix, the popular movie and TV streaming platform, where only a small number of videos out of their huge catalog of content are viewed the most. No one would suggest that Netflix - or you - delete the rest of the content that doesn’t rank, but that you focus on investing your resources - especially if limited - to create and promote popular, high-quality content.

You can’t just rattle 500 words off the top of your head and throw it up on your website with no editing, contemplation, or understanding of your audience. Google Analytics and customized reports like the All Posts spreadsheet give you all the feedback you need about whether you’re going in the right direction with your content or not. Because if you want your overall traffic to increase, your blog traffic must increase. That’s the power of blogging, if you’re doing it right.

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