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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. We will discuss an in-depth, analytics based approach to finding out how to find out what people are reading on your site and how to make more content that people want to read using Google Analytics.
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 the NewPath Consulting website.
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.)
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.
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 minus (-) 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?
How do you exclude pages from your report?
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’ll need to experiment. See what results are returned with the set of regular expressions you used, and then tweak them as needed.
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.
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.
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.
The Average Pageviews Per Month spreadsheet report measures how well your content performs. The more pageviews per month over time, the more that content is resonating with your audience. Now 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 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)
Earlier 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” (here’s 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.
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 the Google Sheets template, you’ll see that these two key columns are highlighted:
- D – Post Age Months
- 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
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:
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.
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.
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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