Using Google Analytics To Measure Content Marketing

When it comes to developing content marketing strategies, the plans created and tactics used are only as good as the results produced. You can design beautiful infographics, create useful guides and publish blog post after blog post — but if your content strategy doesn’t achieve the identified goal, what is that content worth? Not much. […]

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When it comes to developing content marketing strategies, the plans created and tactics used are only as good as the results produced. You can design beautiful infographics, create useful guides and publish blog post after blog post — but if your content strategy doesn’t achieve the identified goal, what is that content worth? Not much.

With any marketing strategy, measurement and tracking are extremely important when reporting ROI, and the same is true for content marketing. There are many different tools available to gather content marketing data, though a number of useful metrics can be tracked using a tool utilized by most websites today: Google Analytics.

As valuable as it may be, Google Analytics can be overwhelming at times, especially when you are just starting out. The amount of data available are innumerable. However, there are specific subsets of data that are valuable in assessing content marketing success once you have determined your goals. Here are four different ways to measure content marketing using Google Analytics:

1. Measuring Traffic & Time On Page

Though traffic on its own doesn’t tell the whole story when it comes to content marketing, it’s a great place to start. Think about it: if a page is receiving a great deal of traffic, you may assume that many people find the content on that page, or at least the headline, intriguing. However, a variety of other factors can come into play when it comes to a page’s overall traffic.

For example, your homepage may be one of the most visited pages on your site because of effective SEO strategies and other online promotion, but not necessarily because of the content available there. Taking this into consideration, a high amount of traffic doesn’t always mean that the content on that page is considered valuable to your visitors. Because of this, when measuring the traffic to a piece of content, it is best to compare the traffic of pages containing similar content. Let’s look at an example.

The graph below is a snapshot of the traffic from a specific URL that contains helpful, evergreen video content; it also happens to be the fourth most visited page on the entire site. Since it went live in June 2009, the page has received more than 25,000 total pageviews and 23,565 unique pageviews.

measure content marketing: traffic 1

measure content marketing: traffic 2

A content page with a high number of page views is likely a good performer, as pages with higher views are undoubtedly drawing more interest than those of the same type with lower numbers. But an additional metric to look at alongside traffic is the average time on a specific page compared to the site average or other pages of its kind. When the average time-on-page for a certain page is higher than the site average, it implies this page captures and keeps visitors’ attention more than other pages.

In this example, the average time-on-page is almost twice the site-wide average. When traffic and time-on-site are significantly higher than those of other content in the same genre, you can use that data to gauge the page’s usefulness. In the example above, the traffic and time-on-page data are also a testament to how evergreen content can help to consistently generate traffic, as traffic has grown considerably over time.

2. Measuring Conversions

Simply defined, a conversion in online marketing is a completed transaction on a given webpage. Similarly, conversion rate is the ratio of people who visited a page to the number of people who completed a transaction. However, what is considered a “transaction” can vary greatly across industries.

An ecommerce website will consider a completed purchase as a transaction, while a company that works off of leads may consider a completed “contact us” form a transaction. In content marketing, downloads, sign ups and other actions related to content consumption can be considered transactions.

In order for conversions to be tracked effectively, you must set up a “goal” in Google Analytics. When setting up a goal, you’ll notice there are different types available:

  • Destination – track when a visitor gets to a specified page on your website
  • Duration – set a length of time in hours/minutes/seconds and select a condition (greater than or less than) and track visitors that meet those parameters
  • Pages/screens per visit – track visitors if they view above or below a set number of pages
  • Event – track an event such as a video play or whitepaper download

Let’s consider an example. In this instance, the content piece was created to leverage leads. Visitors were required to submit their first name, last name and email address in order to gain access to the download.

To track downloads, a destination goal was set, and the specified destination was a “thank you” page. When a visitor wants to download the content piece, he/she must complete the form by submitting the required personal information. Once submitted, the visitor is redirected to a “thank you” page where the content can be downloaded. The only way for visitors to get to the “thank you” page is by completing the form, so by tracking the occurrence of getting to that page through a “destination” goal, the number of people who completed the form is captured.

In the example shown below there were 203 leads (completed transactions) 1,468 pageviews, 1,287 unique pageviews, and a 2:24 average time on page.

measure content marketing: conversions 1

measure content marketing: conversions 2

Also, when deciphering conversion metrics, be sure to consider the conversion rate (the number of pageviews compared to the number of completed transactions). If your conversion rate for a page is lower than your site- or industry-average, you may want to try A/B testing or updating the landing page to reflect best practices in order to increase the number of completed transactions.

Conversions are a great way to measure content marketing because the data tell you just how many people are consuming certain pieces of content. Conversions are especially useful if you can calculate how much each transaction is worth to your business by assigning a monetary value (different content pieces, depending on the target audience is, will be worth more or less money) to each goal.

3. Measuring Downloads

As you may know, many businesses create content and make it available to visitors by way of download. Whitepapers and guides are often obtainable for free, in exchange for a bit of personal information (name, email, etc.). However, in some cases, content is downloadable from the get-go and does not require a visitor to fill out a form. In those instances, it is crucial to set up “event tracking” in Google Analytics to capture the occurrence of someone downloading your content.

You may be asking yourself why a content piece would be offered for download without any personal information in exchange. The answer: to build trust. By offering useful content without asking for anything in exchange, you provide visitors with a sample of your content with no risk. If the content is truly useful, visitors won’t hesitate to download content from you in the future, even if it requires submitting personal information.

When content isn’t hidden behind a form, event tracking is extremely important, as this method does not allow for “destination” goal tracking, like in the previous example. You aren’t able to track the “thank you page” metrics since there is no thank you page. However, once event tracking is live, you can establish an “event” goal to track conversion rate.

Here is an example. In this case, the content piece was downloaded 5,434 times, as measured by event tracking. Also, a goal was set up to register when that event took place (someone downloaded the content). A total of 16,668 visitors, 15,144 unique visitors and 5,434 downloads were captured.

measuring downloads

measuring downloads2

Assess the conversion rate by comparing it to that of similar content pieces. In an instance like this where the content isn’t behind a form, conversion rate is especially telling, since people do not have to provide any personal information to gain access to the content.

4. Measuring Referral Traffic

Referral traffic can also be used to measure the success of content marketing strategies. In Google Analytics, referral traffic reports illustrate visits to your site (or an individual page) that originated from an outside source. Referral traffic is tracked when a visitor clicks a link on another website (like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, blogs etc.) to get to a page on your site.

You can measure referral traffic in Google Analytics in a couple different ways: through the referral traffic report (under “acquisition”) or on a page-by-page basis by choosing “referral path” or “full referrer” from the list of secondary dimensions.

When promoting content, you most likely have a distribution strategy. You might share your content on various social media sites, promote it through guest blog posts and submit it to bookmarking sites. If your content is useful, it will continue to be shared over and over by your audience. One person will share on their own social networks, and then their friends may share, etc. All of that promotion will (hopefully) result in referral traffic.

Take a look at the example below that shows referral traffic to a blog post published in March 2010 from the “full referrer” secondary dimension report. Since then, the post has received 19,550 pageviews (16,480 uniques) and the average time on the page has stayed consistently above four minutes — more than double the site average.

In March of 2011 (a full year after it went live), this post was submitted to StumbleUpon, which resulted in more than 1,200 referral visits on March 11, 2011. This also showcases the value of continuing to check your content. Even after a year, the post had continued success. If the content had not been checked up on, this data could have been missed.

measure content marketing: referral traffic

Measuring referral traffic can tell you what audiences respond best to your content and can influence your content marketing strategy in the future. In this case, StumbleUpon ended up referring lots of visitors. Because of this, the website owner may consider submitting similar content to StumbleUpon right away, rather than wait for someone else to do so a year later.

In Summary

Depending on the goal, there are numerous ways to measure the effectiveness of content marketing strategies, and there are a variety of tools available that can be used to collect the data to do so. However, many metrics can be tracked using the same tool, which is used by more than 10 million websites: Google Analytics. From measuring overall traffic and time-on-page to conversions, referral traffic and so much more, Google Analytics provides a wealth of information that can be used to gauge content marketing success.

What metrics tracked in Google Analytics do you find most useful when measuring content marketing performance? Let me know in the comment section below.

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Arnie Kuenn
Arnie Kuenn is the CEO of Vertical Measures, a content marketing agency with an SEO foundation, focused on helping their clients get more traffic, more leads, and more business. Arnie has held executive positions in the world of new technologies and marketing for more than 25 years. He is a frequent speaker and author of Content Marketing Works. In 2014, Arnie was honored as the Interactive Person of the Year in Arizona.

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