by Dean Levitt, Chief Of Culture at Mad Mimi, LLC |
I began blogging about 10 years ago. I was in my early-ish twenties, living in New York City. I played in a punk band and lived in a hostel while life alternated between an illegal (probably) amount of fun and angst filled bouts of navel gazing. I blogged about life, daily.
Years later, I began blogging for my company, Mad Mimi. I started with short posts,inspired by Seth Godin, focused on email marketing tidbits. Over the years, I grew up and so did my blogging. I wrote search engine optimized posts that were full of nuts, bolts and whatnot. I used an editorial calendar. I invited guest bloggers to post. I interviewed experts, incorporated images and worried about Flesch–Kincaid scores.
I saw our posts go from the 30th page of Google results to the 1st. I took it seriously!
The most addictive part of blogging, however, was Google Analytics. I’d get out of bed to see how my traffic volume was doing, annoying my wife and cat. Mostly the cat.
The silly thing is, I didn’t DO anything with that info. I looked at Google Analytics obsessively but it never drove action. It was only a couple years ago I began to really measure my traffic, set personal goals and track the results. The difference has been marked. It’s like sitting in a parked Land Rover making vroom noises versus hitting the trail and getting muddy!
Here are some of the things I like to measure, and why.
Before diving in, I want to stress that you shouldn’t try to do everything at once. Pick one improvement and go for it fully before moving on to the next!
Are you turning new visitors into return visitors?
The foundation of a successful blog, is a healthy balance of new readers and an ever increasing foundation of regulars. There are many tricks to get in front of new readers. Sites like Problogger and The SITS Girls have tons of great advice. The magic lies in turning new eyes into ol’ pals.
Let’s break it down a little…
Say you get 100 new visitors a month. Now, let’s say you totally win over 10% of those newbies; you now have 10 regulars. Next month, you get 100 new visitors again. And you win over another 10%. The following month, you have 20 regulars and 100 new visitors making up 120 readers. As these numbers grow, so does your foundation of readers who keep coming back. These folks are your backbone, your community, your growth engine and your friends. If you’re patient, proactive and write great content, you’ll grow and grow.
In Google Analytics, let’s start at the basics. Under the Audience menu, click on Behavior > New vs Returning. To start, we’re going to ask, and then answer the following two questions:
- Are you able to sustainably reach new visitors?
- Are you growing your foundation of readers?
Are you able to sustainably reach new visitors?
To answer this, just click on New Visitor in the User Type column. Next, let’s widen our date range and straighten things out a little. Click on the date picker on the top right of the page and select about 3 months worth of time. On the graph, select week, or month. I like looking in terms of month because it makes it easy to see the trend but week is fine too.
So, how did you do? Moving up overall? If so, congrats! If not, well, time to be more proactive in getting your blog in front of new visitors. Share on social media channels, network with other bloggers and, my fave, beg, plead, cajole (and even threaten) your friends and family to share your posts.
Later on, we’ll discuss some more advanced ideas like measuring engagement with bounce rates, conversions etc.
Are you growing your foundation of readers?
This is pretty much the same process, except instead of clicking on New Visitors, you’re selecting Returning Visitor. Again, you’re looking for a trend. Are you growing your return visitors? If the number stays static or doesn’t trend upwards, it’s a sign that there’s a disconnect between your readers and your content.
This doesn’t necessarily mean you should change your content but it does mean you should investigate _where_ you’re drawing your readership from. If you’re getting new readers who’re interested in cars and football but you’re writing about business processes or your experiences as a new mom, it’s useful to know. You can adjust your strategy a little and work on drawing the right audience to your blog.
Striking the Balance Between New And Return
Really it could be whatever you want it to be. I believe that if 60% of your traffic is new, while 40% is returning visitors, you’ll have steady growth. If you go out of balance, it’s a sign that you’re either not retaining readers or that you need to work harder to get new visitors. Think of the balance as your bellwether. If things get out of whack, it’s a sign to dig deeper.
When should I be posting?
The simple answer is: You should be posting regularly. Many say, you should post on a predictable schedule too.
The complicated answer is: If you’d like to figure which day is best, you can find that out in Google Analytics, pretty easily. Under the Audience menu, just pop over to the Overview submenu and look at about 1 or 2 months worth of time. See any patterns? Most folks see a sort of wave starting on Monday, peaking on Wed or Thursday and dropping off Friday. Finally, the wave settles down for the weekend.
I actually prefer to go and look only at my return traffic for this. I’ve found that it’s easier to spot daily trends with my regulars. They’re the folks I’m posting on a schedule for. New visitors don’t care whether I post on a Tuesday or Friday. It’s the regulars who do and I want to make sure I’m posting just before they’re likeliest to stop by.
Look back at your posting schedule and see if it correlates. Do you post randomly? If so, do your posts result in increased traffic? If not, well, that’s fine – you might say you found when most of your traffic stops by – ie. on their schedule, not yours. If your content is time-sensitive, then I’d recommend posting a few hours before the traffic ramps up (not at the peak). If, however, your traffic spikes correlate to your posting schedule then, honestly, fuggedabautit. The traffic is probably due to you sharing your post and bringing the traffic yourself. Which brings me to the middle answer between simple and complex…
Don’t be passive. Work hard to build a newsletter list. Use RSS to Email. Share like the dickens on social media. Ask everyone you know to share your post. Bring the traffic yourself!
Now you don’t need to worry about when your visitors are stopping by. Instead, use the exact same data to gauge how effective you are at bringing the traffic. If you proactively drive traffic on a Monday, is it consistently higher than on a Friday? See? Now you’re cooking! Now you can learn when you’re most effective at reaching your readers.
By the way, once you’ve found the best day, you can dive into this same info by hour but I’m not sure it’s worth that much attention. Morning works best to reach everyone.
Just a quality of life caveat here: If there’s no clear consistent day that stands out, stop caring. Post on a schedule that suits you and focus on things that make you happy instead of stressing over data minutiae. Have a cup of tea instead.
What Content Is Bringing New Readers To My Site?
Well, here’s the toughest nut to crack! Google Analytics hides most of the valuable keyword information behind the dreaded (not provided). However, there is a little extrapolation that can be done to come close to figuring this out.
The place to start is at Google’s Search Console (previously called Google Webmaster Tools) . It’s separate from Google Analytics but they’re very related. What you’ll learn here is what search terms are bringing you traffic.
To get this info, click on the Search Traffic > Search Analytics.
Basically, all you’ll see here is which key phrases got clicked. This is great info. But there are wheels within wheels. You might think, at first, that this info shows you the topics you should be writing about. After all, if it’s bringing you clicks, it’s the right stuff, right? Sort of, but not exactly.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s a lot of value in Search Console but it’s only a piece of the puzzle.
What Search Console tells you is what keywords you’re ranking for. Think about it for a second. What you’re ranking for, and what brings you traffic that is interested in you and your content are two very different things.
What you won’t learn is the quality of that traffic. You won’t see bounce rates and you won’t learn whether visitors stayed, how long they browsed your site. Nor will you be able to know which keywords bring you customers that convert (for example, signing up for your newsletter).
So, if you’re interested in learning which content is bringing you engaged readers, head back over to Google Analytics.
In Google Analytics, under the Behavior menu, drill down on Site Content > Landing Pages. Next, right above the table, there’s a menu where you can add a secondary dimension. Add a secondary dimension of Medium. You’ll see a new column appear called Medium. Click on the table header and you’ll sort everything by the medium. Find where the “organic” results are all bunched together.
Now, step back and look at what you’ve got.
It’s pretty cool right? You can see which pages people landed on when they came via search results. You can also see important info like whether these visitors were new and if they stuck around. Oh, and if you set goals, you can see if those visitors actually converted.
But what about the dreaded (not provided) result?
That’s where Search Console comes in. Hold up your list of search results and clicks next to your landing pages. Let your gut guide you. Use these two related lists of info to help you understand which content of yours really matters. Here’s how I think about it:
I start by looking at Search Console and a keyword result. Then I go back to Google Analytics and try and figure out which landing page contains those keywords prominently in blog post titles, in the post URL itself, at the top of the post etc. It’s not scientific and it’s not 100% certain but you can, with some thoughtfulness, get an idea, not only about which content brings traffic, but which content brings you the right traffic.
If you’d like to get this analysis via algorithms, there are a few services that do this quite well. I’ve heard good things about HitTail.
About Google Analytics Goals And Your Personal Goals
There are two types of goals I like to discuss. The first type is technical. A Google Analytics Goal is something you set inside Google Analytics. It could be signing up for your newsletter. It could be the time a visitor spends on your site. It could be clicking a certain link to get to a certain page.
The second type of goal is more personal. It’s a goal you set for yourself. If you’d like to grow your audience, write better content or gain more advertisers, then you should be setting goals. And I don’t mean goals like “Be super successful.” I mean goals that are achievable and measurable. Goals that you’re reasonably able to reach.
Why should a blogger set personal goals?
Without a goal to reach, there can be no achievement. Keep a clear head and set goals that adhere to the following three rules:
1. Goals must be measurable.
A goal like “be successful” isn’t measurable. It’s subjective. So are goals like “get rich” or “be happy.” Even a goal like “grow my readership” isn’t quite enough to be measurable in the sense I’m talking about.
A goal like “grow my average monthly traffic by 10%” is measurable. In this goal, we have a clear point of success or failure: 10%. We have a clear unit of measurement: traffic. I also like to add a deadline too. The deadline is not so much a point of failure or success. Rather, it’s the point of review and reflection.
2. Goals must be achievable.
A goal must be reachable. So, it’s unlikely you’ll ever be able to increase your audience by 1000% in a month. However, it is likely that, if you work hard, you could increase your audience by about 2% month over month. That’s achievable!
Be realistic, not optimistic. Once you start achieving your goals, you’ll see that you’ll be more motivated to keep on achieving goals.
3. Goals must have plan of action.
You should have a pretty clear idea of what you need to do. I like to draft a simple plan and time box it. This means that I write out what actions I need to do and how long each day I think it’ll take to do those actions. It’s ok if the time is 10 minutes a day. It’s not a good idea to set a goal that requires 5 hours a day if you’ve got a day job and kids. They need you too!
Put together, these rules work to make you better at blogging. Let’s look at an example:
To increase my average monthly site traffic by 10% in the next 6 months.
Plan of action:
To write content that my readers are most likely to share. Also, I’ll make sure to send a newsletter each week with my latest posts and share my content socially. I’ll also get more active in various LinkedIn groups and engage socially where my content would be of interest. I’ll spend 1 hour a day writing new content and 1 hour a day promoting it.
Each month I’ll review what I’ve done and what the increase in monthly traffic has been. I’ll be able to review what worked and what didn’t because I can see which actions or content brought more traffic to my site via shares, referrals or social engagement.
At the end of the six month period, if I’ve failed to achieve my goal, I’ll know that I no longer need to waste time on those actions. I can try new ideas. If I succeeded, awesome! I can keep doing that and grow every month!
Now isn’t that worthwhile? It’s much better than floundering. The best part of this all is, is that Google Analytics helps you measure and understand whether your actions worked. Without Google Analytics, you’d be guessing.
Why should a blogger set technical goals?
Is there something you want every reader to do? Sign up for your newsletter perhaps? Or visit 2 or more pages on your site? If so, then setting a goal in Google Analytics is a great idea.
Here are the instructions regarding how to set a goal in Google Analytics.
Now, be careful to avoid setting goals just because you can. For sanity’s sake keep it simple and only set a goal if you have something you’d really like your audience to do and you want to measure it. Common ideas are:
- Subscribe to my newsletter or RSS feed
- View X pages on my blog
- Click a specific link
- Purchase my ebook
Note that these are all based on actions that you’d want a visitor to take and require an active role on their part. Keeping this in mind allows you to push these “conversions” along. You can see, in Google Analytics, whether your overall page or site design is shepherding your readings towards the actions that you’d like.
Sure, these goals are often aligned with the personal goals we discussed earlier but I view them from a slightly different lens.
I like to think of personal goals as being broader growth-based achievements requiring nurturing, routine and lots of personal work. Technical goals can tie in to the measurability aspect. However, when you set a goal in Google Analytics, it’s because you seek an answer to one question:
Are my visitors doing what I hope they’ll do?
You should know that answer and do what you can to make things easy for your visitors convert. I also like to set technical goals that indicate engagement like subscribing or visiting my “about me” page.
It’s a subtle difference at times but there is a difference. You don’t need to create technical goals to measure your personal goals. You don’t need your personal goals to be measured by technical goals.
I do urge you to create at least one technical goal based around the question I mentioned above: What do I want every visitor to do when they visit my site? If there is an answer to this, create a goal and track it. And seek to increase the percentage of visitors who do that.
How to tell if your readers are engaging with your blog
I assume that you want engaged readers. I also assume that “engaged” means different things to different people. Sometimes, it even means different things to the same person, depending on the page.
You can, however, pick 2 or 3 metrics that indicate, perhaps a little loosely, what an engaged reader should ideally do when they visit your blog. My typical metrics that indicate engagement are:
For bloggers, the methodology of how bounce rate is calculated, has particular significance. Google Analytics calculates bounce rate as single page sessions in which the visitor leaves without taking any actions on the site.
The implication here is that if readers visit your home page or one single post, see the ads, increase your visitor count, don’t take action and leave, then that’s still considered a bounce. So, be prepared for high bounce rates. The key takeaway here is improvement, not a benchmark. Whatever your bounce rate is, aim to lower it little by little, over time.
One trick to improve your bounce rate (remember, lower is better), is to give your readers something to click on at the end of each post. Encouraging an action (like related posts, subscribe links etc) does wonders for keeping your readers on your site!
Site depth and time on site:
These guys go hand in hand. Together, they show you how long folks are spending on your site, and how many pages they meander through. For a blogger, a few minutes is fine. Just the fact that people are browsing is great.
Like bounce rate, your goal here is to note where you’re at today, and bit by bit, make improvements. Don’t try to compare yourself to anyone one else, just work toward getting your engagement to a place you feel is comfy.
Recency and Frequency:
These are pretty obvious, right? If people are coming regularly to your blog, well, you’re doing something right.
All things taken together add up. By monitoring these metrics individually and together, you’ll get a sense of whether your hard work is paying off. You work hard for your readers, these metrics can tell you if what you’re doing, is working.
Whew, we made it! Before you dive into the deep end of Google Analytics, remember this:
Take it slow. The first step to making the most of Google Analytics is to realize that you’ve got some awesome opportunities to learn, act and remove uncertainty. Please tackle each idea one by one, get it to a place where you’re happy and move on to the next one.
Go slow, and have fun!