One of the first things I do after starting a new site is to setup a data analytics tool to help me keep track of visitors to my content. It is important to monitor the visitor data so you can identify the best tactics and strategies in order to grow your site.
Metrics are very important for online publishers. Many bloggers check their stats non-stop. Many use data to analyse their own progress and guide their decision making. This article is here to help you make sense of visitor data and identify actionable insights.
Getting started with Google Analytics
The most popular tool for this is Google Analytics. You need a Google account to sign up for Google Analytics. It is a very quick process to register your website and the only thing you need to do is add a piece of code in order for tracking to start. Google Analytics for WordPress plugin is the easy way to integrate the analytics code onto your site.
We are lucky to work on the Internet, a very trackable medium. People working with TV, books, radio and newspapers all wish they could have the access and possibility to track their users the same way that bloggers can.
- As a blogger you can actually see in real time how your content is performing and how your marketing efforts impact your site.
- The analytical data you collect can provide you with key insights into your blogging, into your visitors, into content you create and into the way you promote the content.
- These insights can guide you and help you progress towards a successful site as what can be measured can also be improved. Use these metrics to monitor and judge your performance.
Most of your blogging activities and goals can be quantified and tracked through analytics. Data is neutral as it is pure facts. There are no personal opinions, biases or judgements. Analytics and all the data helps you make better blogging decisions. These metrics should be the figures you use to measure the progress of your site and the progress towards reaching your goals.
This is where many bloggers fail. They do not look at analytics as numbers that help them track their progress. There are too many tools to use, there are too many metrics to look at and if you are not careful you might just end up wasting too much time on checking your ‘live’ counter instead of doing the work that will boost the numbers on that counter.
Figure out your key performance indicators
Figure out the most important metrics to keep an eye on. What key performance indicators (KPI’s) you will use to guide your blogging decisions with. KPI’s are your key metrics and insights. They are the actionable numbers that will help you measure your performance and your progress. In general I would say that you should ignore vanity metrics as much as possible. Figure out meaningful metrics and KPI’s that are aligned with your objectives and your goals.
For example a meaningful metric could be site engagement vs just looking at a vanity metric like unique visitors. Repeat visitors and time spent on site are so much valuable than page impressions for many sites. They show that the content works and gets people engaged. It shows the quality of your content.
Cutting through all the noise and identifying the most relevant and insightful metrics an be difficult for newbies. For this it helps to know where you want to be going first. You need to figure out your blogging goals. You need to know what the definition of success is. If you don’t have goals you will be aimless in your blogging and would not be accomplishing much by looking at metrics.
After you know your goals you can define your KPI’s. KPI metrics should match your goals. These are the key metrics that matter to your site, these are the numbers that determine if your site is a success or a failure. Metrics that you define must be actionable. You need to know what action you will need to take based on changes in the figure. If you don’t know what action to take after looking at the number it’s a bad metric.
Don’t worry about the day to day up and downs
When you know your goals and you know what KPI’s you are using to reach the goals you can start monitoring your metrics. It is important to compare a metric across different time periods as that shows you the progress over a longer period of time. Stats can fluctuate a lot on the daily basis depending on new posts being published, someone influential sharing your content, you doing a guest post on a popular publication and much more.
Do not be overly concerned about these day-to-day up and downs but look at it in longer term – for example on a monthly basis. Trends over a longer period of time are a better indicator of progress. A sudden spike in the traffic will not necessarily result in a long-term trend. This way your metrics show you bigger trend. Has your site grown and evolved over time? What are the results of your efforts? A yearly review is useful for this kind of a big picture.
Watch and analyze how your visitors interact with your site and your content. Listen to what they are saying about it. This is an amazing experience. Having real people from all over the world use and consume something that you have created. Figure out what can be improved and attack those problems. Execution is everything.
Step-by-step guide to Google Analytics
Let’s focus on “Audience”, “Acquisition” and “Behavior” sections of your report as that is where majority of the most useful metrics are.
In Overview I look at the overview of visitors. I place emphasis on the number of unique visitors, number of pages people look at per visit and the amount of time people spend on site. I aim to have 2+ pages per visit and 1.30+ minutes spent on site per visit.
In Demographics you can see the geographical breakdown of your visitors. This may be important if your site focuses on some specific demographics. My site is born global so I like traffic from anywhere.
In Interests you can use some of Google’s vast data collection to learn more about interests (categories such as Movie lovers, News junkies and Travel buffs) age and gender of your visitors.
In Behavior look at the percentage of new visitors vs returning visitors. My site has a large number of new visitors from search engines with different how-to keyword phrases so I tend to focus most of the front page and content on this target demographic.
In Technology take a look at browsers your visitors use. Make sure to test that your design looks and functions properly in the browsers that most of your visitors use.
In Mobile you can see how many of your visitors surf with mobile devices. These days mobile numbers can go up to 50% of total visitors. In case your site gets a lot of mobile visitors it is advisable to get a mobile responsive design.
Acquisition is all about where and how your visitors find your content. This is where I look at where the visitors are coming from.
In Search Engine Optimization I find answers to questions like are my posts keywords optimized for SEO? What keyword phrases people type to find my content? What posts rank well in search engines?
I also get answers to questions about my marketing activities. I especially like to look into the All Referrals.
That guest post I did how many visitors did it bring me? The interview I did recently, did it send me any traffic? How are my social media profiles on Twitter and Facebook doing in terms of driving traffic?
In Behavior there is a good overview of your site usage metrics. You can see which posts and pages get the most traffic. I also see individual breakdown over how interesting my posts are i.e. how long time people spend on them.
Analyse which posts are more sticky and try to replicate the features of those posts in the posts you will be writing in the future.
You can also see return visitor stats and how long they stay on your site (these metrics are a sign of loyalty) and page views and time spent on site per visit (a sign of engagement).
For a bit more advanced analytics, dig deeper into In-Page Analytics.
This actually shows you which links on your site visitors are clicking on and calculates the percentages of clicks on different parts of the site.
Turning to the adjusted bounce rate
One important metric that can help you measure the value your content creates to your audience is bounce rate. It represents the percentage of visitors who enter your site but leave without visiting any other page on your site. If the bounce rate is high the chance is that your content is not strong or that you are attracting not very targeted traffic.
One issue with the default bounce rate is that it doesn’t take into account those people that visit one of your articles, find it interesting, spend time on it, but leave because they are happy and have got what they came for. Luckily for you Google allows you to change this and take this into account. By adding an extra line of code into your Google Analytics you can for example change the definition of bounce rate to exclude people who have spent a certain amount of time on your page before leaving. This is called adjusted bounce rate.
You could do anything from 10 seconds. I set this at 60 seconds as a minute is enough time in my opinion for a person to spend on a page and show that the content was interesting and engaging. The line of code you need to insert has to be inserted in between the ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’); and the finishing </script> line of your universal code:
This is the line of code you need to include. Change the bolded number below to include the amount of milliseconds you’d like to consider. 60000 is 60 seconds and is what I chose for my blog, but your needs might be different.
setTimeout(“ga(‘send’,’event’,’adjusted bounce rate’,’page visit 60 seconds or more’)”,60000);
Doing this changes the way bounce rate is calculates and now you have a more real view of what pages actually perform well. Pages that still have a high bounce rate after this change, need to be looked at in order for you to figure out how you can make them better and more interesting and useful.
The rise of the “Not Provided”
If you have been keeping an eye on the “Organic” report in “Search” within “Traffic Sources” inside Google Analytics you might have noticed the rising prominence of the “(not provided)” keyword phrase. “Not provided” are searches from people who are logged into Google when searching (this includes Gmail, Youtube and all other Google products) or people who are searching though Chrome browser.
Google encrypts those searches for the privacy of their users and that makes them not visible within Google Analytics. They first started doing this in October 2011 (see the original announcement) for logged in users and have recently introduced this to Chrome browser users (Firefox and Safari browser users also fall within this category now).
“Not provided” is at nearly 90% of my total organic search traffic for the last 30 days on this site. In other words I can only see the exact search phrases people found my content with for 10% of total search traffic I get right now. There’s actually a site that tracks this metric for several other websites.
Google has confirmed that they are working on encrypting searches from all the users who are not logged in aiming to put 100% of searches under the “not provided” category. The work has already started and it is expected that no keyword phrases will be provided through Google Analytics soon. Google is making these changes to provide more privacy to their users.
This is a big thing, this is big news. There is a whole industry that was started about keyword phrases and keyword research and it is a big business. Keyword research is a key part of the search engine optimization industry. Many companies are providing paid tools and servicing to help people create content that targets different search phrases. Without the keyword phrases data and insights they provide this whole industry will have a tougher time.
How to analyze your keywords now?
For bloggers it is still all about creating content that people like to consume, engage with and share with their friends and networks. When it comes to analyzing your efforts in doing this keyword phrases are a big part of it. So what can you as a blogger do now that Google is no longer providing search data and your report goes to 100% for “not provided” category? Here are the options you have:
- Track it at the page level. It is still possible to track your organic search traffic from these “not provided” searches but only at a page level instead of on a individual keyword level. Click on “(not provided)” in your organic search report and in “Secondary Dimension” go to “Traffic Sources” and then “Landing Page”. This report will tell you what specific posts the “not provided” visitors arrived at directly from the search engine results. It might not be the full keyword phrase that you see but you do get to know which of your pages seem to be attracting the traffic from search engines.
- Look at Search Queries. If you’re using Google’s Webmaster Tools you still have the “Search Queries” report available there. It shows you what keyword phrases your site gets impressions on Google search results for, what your average rank is for those phrases and what amount of clicks this results in. It is not as detailed as what Analytics shows you and can only be pulled for the last 90 days though.
- Ad data is not encrypted. Interestingly there is no plan to encrypt ad clicks as that is where a large share of Google’s profits come from and keyword data there is a crucial part of the product. If you click on ads your data and your privacy is not secured. So if you do spend money on ads using Google Adwords you still have the full access to keyword data from ad clicks and by connecting your Adwords to Analytics you can get this straight inside your reports.
- Other search engines still provide this data. Bing, Yahoo and other search engines still provide this data so if you are getting many visitors from them you should still be able to see 100% of the keyword data. The issue is that most sites get majority of their search traffic from Google so Bing and Yahoo data might not be too extensive.
The ghost referrer spam
This is a thing that may puzzle you after you spend some time in Google Analytics checking out the stats for pages that refer visitors to you. You may see different sites sending traffic to you but if you actually visit those sites you will notice that none of them actually link to you.
Ghost referrer in Google Analytics is a spammy marketing technique from people targetting site owners. They get you excited with sending you some ghost and fake traffic hoping that you will notice them in your report, visit their site and buy their products and services.
Some domains that are known for sending referrer spam are buttons-for-websites.com, social-buttons.com, darodar.com and semalt.com. You may discover some others too in your report. One way to recolonize them is that they will always have 00:00:00 average session duration.
There’s nothing to worry about, you won’t lose your traffic but may not not be able to trust all the data fully. Ignore these scams by not visiting their sites and not buying their products plus exclude them from your reports.
You also have the option to filter these sites out of your report. That’s what I do. Here’s how.
- Go into the “Admin” section by clicking on it in the top menu
- Pick your account and on the left hand side click on “All filters” and then “New filter”
- In “Add filter to view” page fill in the spam site name in the “Filter name” field
- Under “Filter type” press on “Custom”
- In “Filter field” select “Referral” and in “Filter pattern” put in the URL of the spam site without http and www (for example put in social-buttons.com)
- Select which site to “Apply filter to views”
- Click “Save”
Do this process for every spam site you want to exclude. These sites will now no longer show in your referral reports. You will now have a simple overview of sites you have blocked that you can unblock at any time that you wish. This is how it looks on my blog for example:
Time for you to take action
For novices especially it can be easy to get lost in all the data that is supposed to help them find the way. Some things are hard to capture and to analyse from data and numbers alone. Numbers don’t have to be the center of your decision making, but they should be a part of it. Don’t necessarily be driven by data alone, but be influenced by it instead.
Your intuition and knowledge about your audience and the latest trends still has a role to play. The data doesn’t decide it all for you, but it is there to shed light on what is going on and help you make more informed decisions.
A last word of warning before you dive into the world of metrics: remember that checking your stats all the time will not help your site grow or be a very productive use of your time. Time for you to take some action, review your analytics and see what they teach you about your content and visitors. Use the stats wisely to guide your blogging decisions.