How do we measure content success? We all want our websites to serve us well. We want lots of happy, satisfied visitors and we want those visitors to convert, by whatever our measure—whether it’s to becoming a customer of our product or service, enjoying our content and sharing it with others, or engaging with learning content.
To that end, we work to create engaging experiences and high-quality content; we wrap it in a nice visual package, put it out there and hope that it works. But of course, we don’t just hope it works—ideally, we regularly review and measure site effectiveness. Site analytics are widely available but they aren’t usually enough to truly define effectiveness. We want to include various sources of information about how well our sites are performing, including direct feedback, customer service or support requests, mentions or reviews, and so on. To really leverage all of this input, a strategy for adding analytics to your content audit can make the process more manageable, scalable, and insightful.
In this article, we’ll look at site analytics data and how adding it to your content audit can help you measure content effectiveness.
It’s often written that the difference between a content inventory and a content audit is that an inventory is quantitative and an audit is qualitative. Inventories are described as exercises in gathering data; auditing involves analyzing the data against various criteria, depending on the project goals. As we discussed in the first article in this series, what enables an audit is the additional information we add to the basic inventory data.
But the lines are increasingly blurring, particularly as we noted in the previous article on turning an inventory into an audit—the basics of a CAT-powered inventory already offer a lot to work from as you begin your audit.
Even basic analytics data is incredibly helpful in proving the case for content prioritization. For example, prior to the content inventory, you may find stakeholders (or even designers) fixating on one page or experience, when the analytics point out that no one is actually visiting that page. Knowing where people are actually going and how much time they’re spending there helps us choose the order of our audits, so for tight timelines and budgets, we know what comes first.
Obviously, to be able to use data to assess your content, you have to have the data. First, it’s best to choose a set of analytics to review. Analytics offer us a great deal of data but for most projects, a few key categories give us the most actionable insight. To get started, use CAT to create your inventory and utilize the built-in Google Analytics integration. CAT includes the ability to add pageviews, exit percentage, and bounce rate to your job setup, so the data will be included in your crawl (learn how to add analytics to job setup).
Understanding what these numbers mean will help you know what to look for. In brief, pageviews is exactly what it sounds like, the number of times a page was viewed. Note that most analytics programs, such as Google analytics, track both overall pageviews and unique pageviews (which tracks the number of visitors to a page). Bounce rate percentage tells you how often the person entered the site from that page and left it directly from that page without viewing any others. An exit percentage, however, shows that the user left the site from that page only after having been elsewhere on the site. Anna Lewis at Koozai offers a simple guide to basic Google Analytics definitions that can elucidate the subtle differences.
Once you have the data, you may wish to limit your audit. If your site is large and your time or scope limited, you might apply the 80/20 rule and delve deeply into the data only for the top 20% of your visited pages. Alternatively, you may decide to focus your effort on your most important pages for conversion—landing pages, product pages, and so on. If you’ve set up goal pages in your analytics program, you’ll definitely want to include those in your audit. (Google offers a video tutorial and Avinash Kaushik, Google’s Analytics Guru, has a handy 101 guide to key metrics.
Once you’ve decided how much to audit, add the data to your inventory spreadsheet, and start your review.
If your audit time is limited, it can be helpful to focus your attention on the pages that are receiving the most and the least traffic. With that list in mind, you can review the pageviews data again and find not only how many visits a page has received, but the source of the traffic, and how long the person stayed on the page once reaching it.
If much of your traffic is driven by organic search, you have a good indication that your content is ranking well for keywords and links—but if the bounce rate is high or time on page low, perhaps what they’re finding when they get there is not what they were led to expect. High bounce rates can have negative consequences with search rank and users if expectations are disappointed. Use your audit to look for pages with a high number of pageviews but also high bounce or exit rates and review the page content and experience to see what might be causing that user behavior. As Aviva Jorstad says in a Portent blog post on optimization tips, “Once you’ve attracted visitors to your site, you need to ensure they’re getting the information they need. You can drive all the traffic you want, but the point is moot if visitors aren’t buying.”
Other traffic sources may include direct links, referrals from other sites, and ad campaigns. This isn’t an article about search engine optimization, so we won’t go into the details of how to evaluate different types of traffic; we’re more interested in the final result and how to use it to locate which pages to audit.
Redundant. Outdated. Trivial. If your site has been around for a while, there’s a good chance you have some content that fits one or more of these adjectives. Use analytics data to locate pages that have little to no traffic and mark those pages for further review. While at first blush it may seem like the pages with low traffic are obvious candidates for weeding out, take this as an opportunity to see whether there is a fixable cause—i.e., is its content good but title misleading? Is it written in an unengaging style or is the information hard to understand? What is the connection to other pages or interactions on the site? If the traffic is low but time on page is high, perhaps the problem isn’t with the content, it’s because it’s hard to find—but worth the effort once reached. In that case you may want to improve your cross-linking strategy and/or surface the content higher on the site.
Most analytics programs will also tell you what terms users searched on to arrive at your site. Internal search analytics can also offer immediate insight. Try searching your site for those terms—is what you see what you would expect if you were a visitor? If not, how can that content be made more relevant for that term? Perhaps you need to create new content that is a better match for terms commonly used by your target audiences. Are there any surprises in the list of terms? Again, perhaps an opportunity to create content that fulfills what users are coming to your site to find.
We’ve looked at basic analytics but if integrating search strategy and website analytics. For much, much more about using search data to understand your site, go buy Louis Rosenfeld’s excellent book “Search Analytics for Your Site.”
For more sophisticated content performance analysis, see Kevin Gibbons’ article “What’s Your Content Performance Ratio?” Kevin offers a methodology for calculating your performance ratio using additional data and formulas in Excel to identify top performing content, good content, and poor, or under-performing content.
Coming up next in our Inventory to Audit series, we’ll look at auditing using personas. See also our first article on how your CAT export provides the template for doing a content inventory or content audit.