Google Analytics is one of the most popular tracking tools when it comes to online marketing.
The platform is free to use, easy to implement, and offers a plethora of reports that can be extremely useful in tracking your site’s performance. On the other hand, it’s also a bit overwhelming, especially because it offers so many reporting options.
The overall interface can be a bit misleading since it crams all that information in one place. Even more, the terms used to describe various user actions and situations are fairly technical and confusing (does Bounce Rate sound familiar?)
So, you shouldn’t feel ashamed if Google Analytics puzzles you sometimes! It happens even to the best of us.
Still, the platform provides site owners and marketers with useful reporting tools, especially when it comes to improving content marketing strategy and driving organic traffic on your page(s). You just need to know which features to use in each report.
For this, you first need to take a closer look at how the platform interprets various events and situations.
Understand the Data & the Platform’s Limitations
There are plenty of analytics platforms out there, and each is useful in its own way.
However, none will be helpful if you don’t understand the mechanics on which it was built!
The same goes for Google Analytics (GA); this is an intelligent platform that uses the data collected from your page based on its interaction with users and provides you (the marketer) with reports and activity charts.
If you’re still not sure, here are a few reasons that speak about why so many marketers consider GA useful:
- Clearly highlights traffic sources (organic and paid);
- It lets you know about the way visitors engage with the pages;
- It pinpoints weak links in your site (pages, articles, Call to Action events, and so on);
- You will know if marketing efforts provide the expected ROI;
- Collected data highlights how to improve content strategy (even when things go well).
But if you don’t know how to interpret a chart or the data in a report, it will be difficult to understand how to use the information GA provides.
For instance, do you know what the Bounce Rate represents?
Bounce Rate Explained
The bounce rate is explained by many as the percent of people who visit your page but leave without performing any actions. Basically, the user gets to your page but is not convinced to stay and look around.
So, a page with a high bounce rate means the content is not engaging enough.
However, Google has a slightly different definition of the term. According to their support page, a bounce is a single page session on your site.
This means that, if a user lands on one of your articles, reads it, and then exits the page (goes back to search or simply leaves the page), this will be registered as a bounce with zero seconds spent on page.
For GA to measure this as a valid visit and register the time spent on page, the user must perform a second action on your site (click an internal link, navigate to a different section in the menu, click on a button, leave a comment and so on).
In conclusion, the bounce rate can be misleading as it doesn’t always show that your content is not engaging. However, a high bounce rate does show that visitors are not motivated to browse more or leave a comment / perform other actions with your content. And this can be valuable information!
Time Spent on Page Explained
Just like with the Bounce Rate, the Avg. Session Duration parameter shows users’ interest towards your content by calculating the average time spent by each user on the site. As you can imagine, if users spend a long time browsing for content or reading, it shows you have something interesting to say, and people are listening.
Still, the way this average is calculated by GA is a bit misleading. For instance, as Google explains, the time on page (in seconds) is calculated as the difference between the initial view time between two successive pageviews.
So, the formula goes something like this: the time user landed page 2 – the time user landed page 1.
Again, we have the same problem described above if the user doesn’t access a second page on the site and leaves after reading the page on which they landed in the first place.
As a result, the activity of an interested user, who spends about 5 minutes on a page and then leaves is not measured. This shows that the GA platform has its limitations (as it happens with many others) and marketers can make mistakes if they don’t use the provided tools to customize the experience.
Customize the Platform
Regardless of the type of content you create (articles, videos, pictures, memes, and so on), its main purpose is to increase conversions. However, this will never happen if the content doesn’t drive user engagement and creates awareness.
Now, engagement and awareness can be measured using a platform like Google Analytics, if you identify the correct metrics for each campaign and make sure they are measured correctly. Moreover, depending on your goals, conversions can represent different things from getting more visitors on your site to increase sales for a specific product/service.
So, to make sure the reports delivered by the platform are accurate and useful, you must customize the platform to fit our needs.
Set Up Goals
Basically, a goal is reached when a certain event is triggered by the user.
GA offers four types of goals to help users track their content’s performance:
- Destination – The user visited a certain page;
- Duration – Users spend a specific amount of time on a page per session;
- Pages per Session – A specific number of pages are viewed per session;
- Event – An action (such as clicking on a button or playing a video) is triggered.
The role of each goal is to keep track of how users navigate your pages and if your efforts help increase your business.
Use On-Site Search Queries
We all know that keywords are important in any SEO strategy. After all, with the plethora of content available out there, it would be extremely difficult to find anything without keywords and search queries, right?
Still, sites can also grow in size, and this tends to happen exponentially (especially with e-commerce platforms). This is why online marketing specialists recommend implementing an on-site search bar. It will make things easier for users, and it will give you a new list of search queries for your SEO campaign.
Now, to access this list from GA, go to Behavior → Site Search → Search Terms
This will display a report with all the search terms used by visitors on your site. You’ll also notice that each term has its metrics, such as Unique Searches and Exit Rate. You should identify the ones with unique high searches and a low exit rate (a high exit rate shows the user doesn’t find useful content based on the search terms they used).
Once you have the best on-site search terms, compare this list with the list of keywords you’re using for SEO.
Go Around Platform’s Limitations
We already talked about GA’s limitations when it comes to measuring engagement for single visit sessions. So, if you’re not aware of this issue and you continue to use the standard implementation for Bounce Rate and Time Spent on Page, you are about to make some misguided decisions when it comes to content marketing improvement!
Luckily, using the tools available on the platform, this issue can be solved through customization.
To improve Bounce Rate reporting, you can tweak the tracking code to recognize sessions over a specific number of seconds as being not a bounce. For instance, if you want GA to count single visit sessions of 40+ seconds, add the following line to your code:
setTimeout(“ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘nobounce’, ’40_sec’)”, 40000).
The ‘Time Spent on Page’ can also be corrected by setting up a timer trigger from Google Tag Manager and connecting it to a custom event (here you can find the steps to create a new trigger).
Quick note: To make sure it will trigger on every page, set the conditions to ‘Page URL’, ‘matches RegEx’, and ‘.*’.
Track Aspects that Matter
Google Analytics offers a wide range of data and can be customized to follow specific events and situations. However, not all data is important for your campaign, especially when your main focus is content marketing.
For this, first, identify the metrics that matter. For instance, loading speed (under Behavior → Site Speed → Page Timings) is a factor that influences your site’s position in SERP. Moreover, Analytics even offers suggestions on how to improve this factor under the Speed Suggestions menu.
In conclusion, it’s important to understand the Google Analytics platform and use only the features and metrics that make sense for your campaign.
Author Bio: Danielle Canstello is a party of the content marketing team at Pyramid Analytics. They provide enterprise-level analytics and business intelligence software. In her spare time, she writes around the web to spread her knowledge of marketing, business intelligence and analytics industries.