Google Analytics: The Content Marketer's Playbook

Google Analytics: The Content Marketer’s Playbook

by Liam MoroneyJuly 6, 2016

Google Analytics is possibly one of the most powerful, impactful, and customizable free tools available to marketers. Yet in most cases, the surface is barely scratched on what it can actually do. When speaking with marketers at our annual #ThinkContent Summit, we heard the same analytics problems over and over again. To help with these issues, we’ve compiled the most essential tools in a marketer’s playbook for Google Analytics.

This post isn’t intended to give an intro to Google Analytics, but rather serve you with tips that will take your reporting to the next level as a marketer, and in particular help take your content marketing to the next level. Here are the tools and insights that every marketer should understand and utilize to optimize their content marketing campaigns. 

1. Make Google Analytics Fit your Business Goals, Not The Other Way Around

When most marketers approach content marketing, defining KPI’s ranks high on the list of challenges. Once defined, tracking results and finding the means to actually know what is working and what isn’t can be equally as difficult. As a result, there is a tendency to look to Google Analytics for the answers. What happens as a result is that marketers rely on the out-of-the-box analytics that Google offers as the solution, and this rarely satisfies the CMO or CEO in the long term. While pageviews, bounce rate, time on site, and pages per visit are all valuable metrics, trying to fit them to your individual business goals can be entirely problematic.

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What marketers should aim to do instead is look at the goals of their individual business and try to find metrics that would indicate success when it comes to content marketing. What does this look like in practice?

If you’re a B2B company who sells direct from an e-commerce store, measuring the volume of content visitors who transition from content to the store is a much more tangible measure of success than general visitors. Or if you’re a B2C company who is using content marketing to drive awareness of a social responsibility campaign, getting visitors to sign up for more information would be a strong success metric.

Whatever your business, identifying what identifiers of success from a business perspective look like is a key starting point to gaining success in your content marketing analytics. If you can use Google Analytics (GA) to show metrics that matter to your boss and your business, even minor ones, then you’ll gain far more momentum to build on that success. Once you’ve identified some key metrics that will show success, then it’s time to use GA to record them.

2. Create Goals to Measure Business Specific Behavior

Setting up goals in GA may be more valuable an exercise than any other element in this post because it allows you to record instances that are unique to your business and your campaigns. While channels, pageviews, and other metrics are a common measurement option, GA goals allow you to record very specific, and even very complex, behavior that are true indicators of content marketing resonating with the right audience.

How do GA goals work? When setting them up, Google allows you to choose 4 different options for goal recording: 

  • Destination: This option records a success every time a visor either lands on a particular page, or goes through a particular journey of pages that you deem valuable. This could be any visitor who goes from a blog post to your about page, or a more specific journey of a visitor who visits a blog page, then moves to the corporate site, and then checks out the pricing page. However granular a journey depends on your own success metrics, but GA will allow you to capture it as you decide. This can give you recorded instances of content moving people to pages of value for your business.
  • Duration: How long a visitor spends on a piece of content is a valuable measurement of the level of engagement and resonance that piece had. It’s a reason NewsCred relies on engagement as a core element in our own product analytics. Setting up a time goal allows you to see if your content is resonating more as you publish more content and will be more valuable than standard visit counts alone.
  • Pages/Screen per visit: Combined with #2, setting a threshold for pageviews can be used to measure success if your content hub is geared towards deeper reading.
  • Event: This is perhaps the most complex of the goals in GA, but also the most versatile. Depending on your technical skills, or access to them, you can use GA to record very specific actions – downloading a file, watching a video, sharing a post on social, becoming a follower of your social page. If you can identify a very specific action a visitor would need to take this would be an invaluable tool to record that success.

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Once you’ve set up goals that are specific to your own business, the next step is making sure that your own content is tagged properly so that inbound traffic is recorded in a way that you can measure:

3. UTM Parameter Best Practices

When you add a link to one of your articles, whether in an email, on social, or even as a referral link on an external site, having it set up to record where it came from is a key to success for content marketing. The easiest and most common method is by using what are called UTM parameters (Urchin Tracking Module). At their most basic, they are instructions that you add to the end of a link so that Google, and your marketing automation software, can recognize and keep track of.

This is hugely important when it comes to measuring the success of specific channels, and even individual campaigns. It is broken down into three typical buckets (there are more, but we’ll leave them out for now):

  • Source: This tells GA exactly how the traffic got to your site. Examples of this include Newsletter, Referral, Search Engine, etc.
  • Medium: This is the method by which your traffic travelled to your site – e.g email, social, banner ad, etc.
  • Campaign: The campaign is the granular element of the visit, such as a specific topic, send date, or anything that tells you the unique piece of content or campaign that delivered the content.

Creating a UTM parameter for a piece of content is extremely easy. You can use Google’s own builder, and the resulting string will look like this:

Once set up, having a consistent UTM practice will allow you to measure with precision just how traffic reaches your content. This will allow you to identify channels that work, as well as once that don’t.

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Now that you’ve got a good system of record for your inbound links, it’s important that you clean up the standard ones so that you get an accurate measure of traffic, and there’s one source that’s the cause of more errors than any other:

4. Clean Up Your Referral Channel

Google looks at referrals as any source of traffic that comes via a link on another site’s web page. The trouble with this, is that Google often counts traffic coming from your own efforts as referral traffic and bundles them into this channel, giving you a false reading. In theory, better referral traffic is a good barometer for blog health, but if you’re getting a bad reading it can trick you into thinking things are better than they really are. What does a false reading look like:

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Using Google’s standard definition, it counts traffic coming from email links (without UTMs), our corporate site, and even our old subdomain as referral traffic. In fact, in this example, out of over 209K visits, only 59K were accurate referrals from social. So how to you update your referral channels? The answer lies in GA’s Admin section, under Channel Settings: 

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By spending a little time in this section and by giving GA some instructions on what your channels should look like, you’ll develop a much more accurate identity for traffic coming to your site. This will give you much more honest feedback about what’s working and not, as well as removing any uncertainty about your numbers.

5. Shortcuts are Your Friend

Google Analytics allows you to get very granular with your reporting, looking far beyond visits into the demographics of visitors, browsers used, comparing channels against each other, and much much more. The trouble is that replicating this information on a repeatable basis can be extremely difficult which is frustrating at best, and can undermine accuracy in your data at worst. The simplest method to combat this, one which surprisingly few marketers are using, is shortcuts.

Once you’ve gone to the trouble of building a report specific to your needs, GA has a simple button on the top of the report:

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By hitting save, you’ll create a shortcut on the left of your GA platform that will allow you to recall that report to the exact level of granularity that you used when you built it. This mean that if you have separate filters, groupings, or some other advanced criteria, GA will replicate that every time you click the shortcut so that you can go direct to the results without setting things up first.

As simple as this sounds, it’s a hugely valuable tool when you begin to look towards trends that are very granular, such as new visits from a target region, or referral visits from a particular source. Having shortcuts set up will allow you to switch between very complex filters at a whim without having to reset them to go to your next report.

Have more thoughts on GA and Content Marketing? Continue the conversation with us on Twitter at  @newscred

Liam Moroney is a Demand Generation Manager at NewsCred.