This guide will help you figure out how to set your blogging goals and use Google Analytics (or a more ethical alternative) to measure the success of your blog posts.
So you’ve created a blog, you’re publishing incredibly valuable content, and you’re doing your best to reach as many people as possible that may find your information useful.
But how do you set goals for your blogging and measure the success (or failure) of the efforts you’re putting into it? Let’s take a look.
Simple yardstick measurements for your blogging progress
Once the honeymoon period of starting a blog finishes, the reality hits you hard. You have no visitors, no engagement on social media and you don’t know what to do next.
Success in blogging doesn’t happen overnight. It takes a lot of effort and a commitment over an extended period of time to gain any recognition and traction.
There is no magic trick and there is no secret.
The shortcut and quick fix promises from different gurus and their sales pages that you might read online or the secrets and tricks of SEO industry are just empty and will not do the magic trick for you.
Blogging is about having a good idea and working hard to make it a reality.
A frequent thing I discovered while talking to different bloggers is the lack of overview and focus.
Some wanna-be bloggers feel overwhelmed and do not know how to take the first step while some existing bloggers just seem lost and stuck in the daily rut with no focus and goals.
If you don’t know your goals and objectives, you don’t know what you are doing and why. You’re aimlessly doing tasks that would not matter in the long term. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
A Charlie Munger phrase that I keep repeating in situations when talking to some of these bloggers is “I go to bed every night a little wiser than I was when I got up”.
No matter where you are at currently, the path to where you want to be starts with the step you are taking right now.
Take one day at a time and think of very simple yardstick measurements for your progress.
And what’s a good beginner advice for finishing a marathon? It’s to break up the race into smaller segments and set small milestones in order to make the distance feel more manageable.
Same works for a blog.
Get started with small but deliberate and purposeful steps. Work on completing these small steps, look for feedback on what the next step could be and how it can be done better.
You get better as you go and you leverage your gains to grow even faster and improve further.
These milestones and tiny wins might feel insignificant to you at first but if you do accumulate many of them over a long period of time they will make the difference.
Even small achievements will result in big things given enough time and dedication. It’s just like the power of compound interest in economics.
Examples of metrics to measure blogging success by
What can be measured can also be improved.
The analytical data you collect can provide you with key insights into how your content is performing and how your marketing efforts impact your blog.
Use the metrics to monitor and judge your performance and help you progress towards a more successful blogging project.
So how do you start measuring visitor data and tracking your progress towards certain goals? You need to become a little bit of a data nerd. Data is objective, pure facts, no personal opinions, biases, or judgments.
You don’t necessarily need to be driven by data alone, but it should influence you, shed light on what’s going on, and help you make more informed decisions.
Key metrics that bloggers use to measure their success are many.
- By visitor numbers: looking at how many people visit the blog and find the content useful.
- By views: If you’ve started a vlog, video views would be a key metric for you.
- By email subscribers: how many subscribe to the newsletter and regularly open the emails sent.
- By social shares: how many share the content on social media platform and the feedback they share there.
- By comments: how many comment on posts and the quality of those comments and the discussion.
- By emails from readers: how many emails visitors send and what type of feedback those emails contain.
- By time spent on site: how much time people spend when visiting the blog.
- By sales of services or products: how many sales there are and how much revenue.
Set your blogging goals and figure out the key performance indicators
So where do I start and what do I do first?
First of all, you have to figure out your goals, set your objectives and plans you want to reach with your blog. Identify the purpose of your blog and start working smart with a plan and a goal in mind.
- Determine where you want to go. Think about what you want to accomplish in the next year. Things that are important to you and goals you want to achieve. 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.
- Develop a plan for how you will reach that goal. Create a roadmap for upcoming weeks and months. Think about the steps you need to take to get to where you want to go. Break the goals down into smaller and actionable practical steps that you need to take.
- Take the first small step right away. When you know your goals and what you need to do to achieve them, you become much more focused, efficient and strategic in your activities. That will then lead you to the right decisions and will help you make right choices.
I’m sure you’ve already heard about SMART goals but it could be useful to repeat them once again: Specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time based.
It is always good to keep the goal in mind at all times and before you do anything ask yourself “How will this activity help me achieve my goal”.
If the answer is “it won’t” you know that the task is probably not the one you should be spending your valuable time on.
This helps you prioritize the time to do the tasks that bring you the results that you care about.
After you know your goals, you can define your KPI’s (key performance indicators) to match your goals.
These are the key metrics that matter to your blog. These are the numbers that determine if your blog is a success or a failure and help you measure your performance and your progress.
Metrics that you define must be actionable and 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. Figure out meaningful metrics and KPI’s that are aligned with your objectives and your goals.
How to use Google Analytics to measure the success of your blog posts
The most popular app for tracking blog visitors is Google Analytics.
You need a Google account to sign up and it’s a quick process to register your blog. Add a piece of code using Google Analytics plugin is the easy way to start tracking on your WordPress blog.
Google Analytics is an advanced app and novices can get lost in all the data it provides. It’s not so easy to find the signal in the noise.
Let’s take a look at the main sections and identify some of the most useful key performance indicators to keep an eye on.
Here’s how to use Google Analytics to measure the success of your blog posts.
Consider also more ethical alternatives such as:
Audience: A deeper look into who your visitors are
The “Audience” section is as straightforward as the name suggests. It gives you full details into who your audience is.
Overview is a gateway to exploring this section. You get the complete overview at a glance:
- Visitors you’ve had in the period (Users),
- How many were new to your site (New Sessions),
- Number of pages they viewed in total (Pageviews),
- Time they’ve spent on your site (Average Session Duration),
- How many visited only one page and left (Bounce Rate)
You can then dig deeper to learn even more:
- Demographics (age, gender),
- Geographics (location, language),
- Mobile shows you devices used (mobile, tablet, or desktop),
- Technology shows you operative systems, browsers, and screen resolutions
- Interests of your visitors, all segmented into categories such as “Movie lovers”, “News junkies” and “Travel buffs”
- Behavior tells you the percentage of new visitors vs. returning visitors
- Benchmarking allows you to compare your site’s performance against similar pages
So how can you use all this data? It can influence many design decisions.
How does your design look on browsers and screen resolutions that most of your visitors use? Use one of the cross browser testing tools to find out.
Are majority of your visitors using smartphones? Better get a mobile responsive design. Here’s some help on designing a blog.
Content decisions can be determined by this data too. Should you introduce content in a new language? Should you publish more content on some topics that you’ve neglected but that your visitors have shown interest in?
Or should you write in the style that might be more appropriate to the age and gender of your audience?
Acquisition: All about how your visitors discover you
Acquisition is all about where and how your visitors find your content.
- Do they find you in search engines? (Organic Search)
- How about the different social media platform? (Social)
- Do any other sites drive traffic to you? (Referral)
- Is anyone clicking on the newsletters you’re sending? (Email)
- Do visitors just type in your URL or click on a bookmark? (Direct)
You can also compare “the quality” of traffic from the different sources.
Do Facebook or Twitter visitors spend longer time on your site?
It’s no longer easy to find the keyword phrases people use to find your content in search engines. Searches are now encrypted, so they show as “not provided”.
What you can do is discover what articles drive the most traffic from search engines. Explore “Organic Search” and in “Secondary dimension” select “Landing page” under “Behavior”.
Connect your Analytics with Search Console. There’s a “Search Queries” report available. It shows keyword phrases your site ranks for, the average position, and the number of clicks.
All this data answers a lot of questions about the efficiency of your marketing activities.
Are you spending a lot of your time on a platform that brings no visitors? Have you neglected a source that shows a lot of potential?
Was that guest post or that interview you did worth the time?
This can help guide you to spend more time on activities that make the difference and ignore those that don’t.
The ghost referral spam
A thing may puzzle you when checking the stats for pages that refer visitors. You may notice sites sending traffic, but if you visit them, you see that they don’t link to you.
“Ghost referral” is a spammy technique from people targeting site owners. This fake traffic is their hope that you’ll notice them, visit their site, and buy their products.
Some domains that are known for using this are buttons-for-websites.com, social-buttons.com, darodar.com, and semalt.com. You may discover some others too.
One way to recognize a spam referral is the 00:00:00 average session duration. Ignore these scams. Don’t buy their products. You can also exclude them from your reports:
- Click “Admin” in the top menu
- Pick your account and on the left-hand side click “All filters” and then “New filter”
- In “Add filter to view” 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
- Select which site to “Apply filter to views”
- Click “Save”
These sites will now no longer show in your referral reports. And Google will get better at automatically filtering these scams out too.
Behavior: All about the performance of your content
Behavior section focuses on your site itself.
How quickly does it load and how your visitors consume your content.
It’s an amazing feeling to have real people from all over the world enjoy content that you have created.
- Discover the number of times visitors entered your site through a particular article (Entrances),
- See which of your articles are the most engaging (Avg. Time On Page),
- Identify which posts have the highest number of visitors leaving your site from (Exit)
- See how fast your web host is (Avg. Domain Lookup Time and Avg. Server Response Rate),
- See how fast your site loads (Avg. Page Load Time)
- See how many visitors use your search field (Sessions with search),
- And what they are searching for (Search term)
- View a heat map that shows you what visitors are clicking on (In-Page Analytics)
- Explore what paths visitors take when on your site (Behavior Flow and Navigation Summary)
So what can you learn from this section? A lot.
First of all, make sure your site is accessible and quick to load.
Then take a deep dive into your content. Analyze how your visitors interact with your site and your content.
What type of posts do people enjoy the most? What do they visit the most, what do they spend the most time on, what has the least amount of bounces.
What can you learn so that you can make your not so appealing posts more exciting?
Figure out what can be improved and attack those problems.
Execution is everything. Also, take note of what your visitors are searching for in the search field.
Is an important post difficult to find and maybe deserves a better placement on your home page or your sidebar? Do the search for a topic that you haven’t covered well enough (or haven’t covered at all). Create some content about it.
You can even do “experiments” in this section. These are A/B tests where you publish more than one variation of a specific page and see which of the alternatives delivers the best results.
This is useful for testing the design and performance of a landing page.
Turning to the adjusted bounce rate
One metric that helps you measure the value your content creates to your audience is the 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 engaging or that you’re not attracting a targeted audience.
An issue with the default bounce rate is that it doesn’t take into account those people who visit an article, find it interesting, spend time on it, but leave because they are happy and got what they came for.
Google allows you to change this. By adding an extra line of code in your Google Analytics, you can alter the definition of bounce rate.
Exclude people who have spent a certain amount of time on your page before leaving. This is the adjusted bounce rate. I set it at 60 seconds.
A minute is enough time for a person to spend on a page and show that the content was interesting and engaging.
Insert this code between the ga(‘send’, ‘pageview’); and the finishing line of your universal code:
Change the 60000 number to include the specific number of milliseconds. 60000 is for 60 seconds. Now you have a more real view of what pages are engaging.
Pages that have a high bounce rate after this change need to be looked at for you to figure out how you can make them better and more enjoyable.
Conversions section is all about the return on investment on your activities.
This is especially relevant if you are selling something or you have other lead generating activities. I’d recommend you set up ecommerce tracking by using this guide.
This helps you track product sales, purchases, and other commercial metrics. Do create goals by using this guide.
Goals help you track different activities such as subscriptions to a mailing list, or clicks on external links.
Privacy concerns: How to make Google Analytics GDPR-compliant
You can turn off every advanced tracking option that Google allows you to. Just like this:
- Remove the “Data collection for advertising features” which includes remarketing ability and user demographics and interest reporting (under “Tracking info” and “Data collection” in the Google Analytics admin section).
- Disable the user-ID feature which associates visitor engagement data from different devices and from multiple sessions over an extended period of time. This setting can be found under “Tracking info” and “User-ID” in your Google Analytics admin section.
- Anonymize the IP addresses of visitors in Google Analytics by adding this piece of code. By doing this, you only lose some accuracy in the city data. Everything else is fine.
Here’s a quick way for you to make your Google Analytics a little bit more privacy-friendly and GDPR-compliant:
- Install and activate the Complete Analytics Optimization Suite WordPress plugin
- In the plugin settings, tick the “Advanced settings” box
- Now make sure to tick the “Disable all display features functionality” box
- Tick also the “Use Anonymize IP” box
- Save and you’re ready to go with a little bit better version of Google Analytics
Doing a blog performance review
You might be familiar with reviews companies do to measure the performance of their employees, things employees have been working on and how to improve in the future.
This can then result in the employee being awarded a bonus or getting together a plan of attack for how to reach future goals.
As a blogger, it’s important to do a similar review of your blogging performance, set aside some time to reflect and evaluate your blog’s performance honestly.
This will help you figure out what worked well, what didn’t work that well and then proceed to make new goals and create a plan of priorities to do to reach them in the upcoming months.
This counts for everything from the look and feel of your blog, to the content creation process, marketing activities but also a deeper and personal look into your behavior, tasks you spend your time on, your motivation, ambition, skills and attitude.
Put everything in perspective, be critical, and ask yourself hard questions and be completely honest with the answers.
It’s a tough exercise but a necessary one if you want your blog to keep growing and improving.
Asking hard questions and doing it often can help you avert from upcoming problems, help you see and recognize things you didn’t consider, and reveal new paths and opportunities towards a brighter future.
You get the total overview that will help you set new goals, reignite your motivation, and drive your activities forward.
A list of powerful questions for an effective blog performance review
These questions and answers to them are meant to get the wheels turning. There are no right or wrong answers but you cannot be passive in this exercise.
This is a list of expansive and open questions smart bloggers should be asking themselves:
- How happy am I overall with my blog out of 10?
- Why do I have a blog?
- What does success look like to me?
- Is my site what I say it is?
- Why does the world need my site?
- What problems do I usefully solve?
- To whom does my site add value?
- Why should my target audience listen to me, follow me and care about my site?
- What does my target audience want my site to be?
- How likely is it that a visitor would share and recommend my site to someone in their network?
- What does my site stand for and what is it against?
- What can I do today or in the very short term to improve my site?
- What risk would I take if I knew I could not fail?
- What tasks and actions am I avoiding?
- Which ineffective tasks am I doing that delude me into thinking that I’m making progress?
- Are the tasks that I am doing now consistent with my main goals?
- Why isn’t this working anymore?
- Is what I do relevant? Will it still be relevant in 6 months or a year?
- How is the environment around me changing?
- Is my business changing as fast as the environment around me?
- How should I respond to the new realities?
- Of the things that I do, which should I stop doing?
- What is it that I am not doing at all and/or not doing well enough?
- What else do I need to start working on?
- Are there gaps in my knowledge that I need to fill?
- Would I recommend my site and my product to someone I really care about?
- What successful things that I do today will stop me from getting into new growth opportunities?
- Which of the decisions and actions that I take today will I regret the most a year from today?
- What trends could make my site and my business obsolete in the near future?
- What potentially critical information do I ignore?
- What would I do in the situation if I had to start a new site to compete against myself?
- If I was kicked out from my site, what would the new blogger that has no attachment to the site do?
- If my site was no longer online, who would miss it?
- Why did my traffic increase or decrease in this period of time?
- Why did the conversion rate and sales go up or down in this month?
- Which goals have I achieved?
- Which goals am I on the way to achieve?
- Which goals seem to be out of my reach and why?
- Which of the tasks I am spending time on bring me the best results?
- What actually works and what doesn’t?
- Is my site where I want it to be?
- What can I do differently?
- What can I do better?
- What activities can I stop doing as they don’t produce results I need?
- What goals do I want to achieve in the near future?
Time for you to take action
Just remember that not everything goes according to the plan, there are always some external circumstances that you cannot control.
So anticipate setbacks on your road and be flexible knowing that you cannot reach each and every goal, but that you know what you want to achieve, you know what steps you need to take, that you are taking those steps, and that you can see gradual improvement in the situation.
Note that stats can fluctuate a lot on a daily basis. It all depends on new posts published, someone influential sharing your content, syndication of your content on a popular publication, and so much more.
Don’t be overly concerned about these day-to-day ups and downs but look at it in the longer term.
Compare a metric across longer time periods as that is a better indicator of real progress.
Remember that just checking the blogging stats and trends all the time will not help your blog grow. It can get addictive to visit the Real-Time section of Google Analytics where you see what people are doing on your blog right at this moment.
But spending hours on that is not a very productive use of your time. Review the analytics and discover what they teach you about content and visitors. Then it’s time to take action and work on improving the trends.