Google Analytics is a powerful tool. And better yet, it’s free! Often times, though, it can feel like you’re drowning in data. Maybe you don’t know exactly what is important and what isn’t. Or you don’t know what the most efficient way to tell what content is performing well. Or perhaps, most of your interaction with Google Analytics is guesswork. How do you make that information that’s available to you actionable and improve your content strategy?

Chris Berkeley, Sr. Account Manager at Seer Interactive, and Caroline Gorman, Sr. Product Manager at WP Engine, recently conducted a webinar to dissect the appropriate way to interpret and act upon data from Google Analytics.

Definitions You Should Know

In order to utilize the wealth of metrics that Google Analytics provides, you have to know exactly what the metrics mean.  

Above are some of the must-know, common metrics in Google Analytics. Sessions are probably the most useful metric when using Google Analytics and give you arguably the most insight. Sessions and pageviews are directly related; a single session can include many page views. Within page views, unique page views indicate if users are visiting multiple individual pages or not.

These metrics are arguably less valuable but still worth noting. Page views per session and bounce rate are noteworthy for ad-based sites where you are trying to get a lot of page views to drive ad impressions and ad revenue. Average session duration indicates the average amount of time the user spends on the entire site and Average time on page indicates the length of time the user spends on a specific page. 

This diagram represents the real-time flow of some of the previously mentioned definitions. John Smith, a new user, and Jane Smith, a returning user,  represent two visitors to the site. John had 2 different sessions whereas Jane had 3 different sessions. Within that, there are varying numbers of page views associated with each session.

Finding & Analyzing Google Analytics Data

Once you understand what some of the basic Google analytics metrics mean, you can use and interpret the analytics to begin to understand what it means and why it’s important.

The first thing you want to do is select Accquisitons>All Traffic>Channels within Google Analytics; the channels and sessions report is arguably the most useful report within Google Analytics. Secondly, pick a channel to analyze. People behave very differently on social media then they do on email and when they are performing searches on search engines. To truly convert data into something meaningful, we have to analyze these metrics separately. If you don’t know the appropriate channel to evaluate, look at the amount of traffic you get to each of them, pick a more successful one, and start there.

The next step is to set your date range. This is a step you don’t want to skip because when you log into Google Analytics, the date range is automatically set for the past week. A week’s worth of data isn’t enough data to make decisions on. Select a longer date range; the previous month, the year-to-date, or a specific quarter are appropriate ranges. Larger date ranges are better for gathering statistically significant data and making conclusions.

Next, we are going to look at landing pages in order to see what pages are performing. Under Primary Dimension at the top, select Landing Page. Using an average of these metrics isn’t really helpful because you are unable to compare and contrast pages; compare the actual numbers associated with each page against each other. When selecting social media, always choose a network. People perform differently on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, etc.

Always look at the numbers to determine which pages are performing well. Performance can be analyzed 3 ways: number of sessions, session duration, and bounce rate.

When moving towards analyzing content qualitatively, we already know the metrics and have analyzed the content quantitatively. Qualitative analysis involves analyzing what actually makes the pages successful. Successful content on this example site is characterized by how-tos, colloquial language, long-form content, and content that contains images and videos. Analyze your particular top-performing pages and infer what commonalities they have.

Using Categories & Tags Effectively

Next, we are going to talk about how you can use categories & tags, how you can structure your site with them, and how you can use them for analytics purposes.

If you are concerned with SEO, as you should be, there are appropriate ways to use categories and tags. One key takeaway is: keyword stuffing will not help with SEO.

This is an example of what keyword stuffing looks like. Try and use fewer tabs. The tabs on the right show many tabs that are very similar and are just slight variations on each other. This is an age-old tactic for improving SEO but it’s not effective anymore. Instead, methodically plan out tags and categories.

This represents a way you might want to structure your tags and categories. Compile a list of categories you are going to use regularly in order to expedite the process. If you have a lot of categories and tags that aren’t well organized, those aren’t going to be easy to analyze; make sure to be methodical about the categories and tags you use.

Integrating Google Analytics Data & Incorporating it Into Workflows

How do you actually use this data? Now, we’ll explore how you can take this data and pratically incorporate it into your day-to-day workflow.

A process is everything.  Follow these 4 recommended steps to in order to make your process of content creation comprehensive. If you use these steps, you’ll continuously be improving your content strategy.

Building out a content hierarchy will set the stage for a content roadmap. The first step is to build out the content criteria based on your previous qualitative analysis on your content. Based on that analysis you can decide the criteria for content that best performs on the site. In this case, the content would be long-form, contain rich media, etc. Before you begin writing, decide categories and tags you’d like to write about and then start writing that content.

When creating a workflow, get tactical. Using your already created hierarchy, build a calendar of content you’re going to create. Include, categories, tags, and topics and then build out titles, descriptions, and dates from there. This will serve as a reference document for you and any other members of your team.

Wrapping up, there are four steps to this process. Developing a Strategy is where you what you will spend most of your time doing in order to set the stage for content development. Always measure and analyze; it’s good practice to do monthly reports of existing content to stay on top of what is performing well and what isn’t.