Content Analytics and Data for Non-Numbers People

Sometimes I Feel Like Teen Talk Barbie in a World of Hermiones

“Math class is tough!” That’s what Barbie said when I was a kid. Yes, when Teen Talk Barbie came out, her creators came under fire for encouraging girls to be ditsy. Since then, we’ve made some positive steps toward encouraging girls to become more active in STEM activities.

And me? I’m proud to work with an analytics team made up of 80% women, at a data-driven woman-owned business, with brilliant coworkers who hold brainy Hermione Granger in a much higher regard than any buxom plastic doll.

But as a writer and a content creator, I have to admit: a lot of the time math is hard. I’m the type of lady who puns with abandon and reads Moby-Dick for pleasure, but too often charts full of numbers make my head hurt. But to do my job — to evaluate what and how written website content works within the digital ecosystem — I need to know what to look at and, more importantly, what it means. Here’s where I start:

Making Content Happen Means Doing Data Every Day

I never expected numbers to be a daily part of my job. Yet here I am, every day, logging into analytics tools and eyeing spreadsheets.

To be successful in content, however, you need a decent grasp of what data is important. To make your words work, you need to be able to read which numbers are valuable. And as you may have heard, we can’t judge content by just clicks and pageviews anymore.

A mix of metrics is critical to understanding your full content ecosystem. Here are three dimensions of data to get you started on understanding your website content performance:

(Before I begin, many thanks to the whole analytics & measurement team at Nina Hale, Inc., whose passion for data and internal education initiatives have helped me see the light of charts and numbers!)

Three Content Dimensions and The Metrics That Love Them

1. Organic Search Performance Metrics

  • What: Organic Search Impressions, Clicks, and Clickthrough Rate  — aka how often your website appears in organic search, for what keywords
  • Where: Google Webmaster Tools
  • When: Weekly, if possible
  • How: This requires Webmaster Tools setup, so check with your analytics team to see if this is possible. And if not, make it happen. Webmaster Tools will make your life so much easier. But once you’re in, you can find what you need under Search Traffic > Search Queries. From there you can download your keywords.
  • Why: Because clickthrough rate is the most important ranking factor in Google in 2014. Because keyword data in Google Analytics is not provided anymore. Because you should know whether you are ranking or tanking in Google for the terms you want to rank on, and these metrics can help you assess that data.

2. Monthly Keyword Search Volume

  • What: Monthly search volume around your branded terms, general keywords describing your products, synonyms, and more
  • Where: Google AdWords Keyword Planner
  • When: At the beginning of any content strategy or content marketing initiatives, then refreshed annually
  • How: There are a variety of ways to conduct keyword research. Here’s one. Here’s another. But at the end of the day, you need a list of keywords, average monthly search volume, and, if you want to dive deep and make a schedule, a breakdown of searches by month within the past year.
  • Why: Nothing reveals more about your potential audience than your keyword research. Keywords tell you what your audience is looking for, when they’re looking for it, and what words they use to look. Sometimes I hear “Write for people, not for robots.” Yes, do that, but understand that the data from the robots is affected by what people search for and how people act.

3. Your Top Landing Pages Across Channels

  • What: Conversion rate, bounce rate, session length, exit rate and new vs. returning visits for top landing pages
  • Where: Google Analytics > Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages (I use segments to determine performance by channel)
  • When: At least monthly.
  • How: Even though I’m process-oriented, interpreting landing page data involves a lot of staring, exporting, filtering, labeling and re-organizing within a spreadsheet. But I can tell you: start by benchmarking. What are the average metrics in all channels — social, direct, referral, and organic? What would be an unusual deviation from this?
  • Why: Because to judge whether each page is valuable, you need to know how each page performs, and talking pageviews isn’t going to cut it. There are a lot of factors, and different types of pages perform differently based on the channel where their traffic came from. Do your pages with the most pageviews also have a high bounce rate? Unless they’re brand awareness-driving pages, then they may need to be tweaked or tested to see if they can better meet your goals. Similarly, do you have a landing page that drives loads of conversions from Twitter or Facebook but has low traffic in organic? That may be an ideal landing page to optimize for performance in organic search.
  • Do What Now?: Here are some advanced landing page analytics: Take advantage of Content Groupings in Google Analytics. These allow you to group different types of content together — say, article pages vs. visual how-to pages — and identify their performance at a glance. Content Groupings allow you to see how groups of pages perform as a whole.

Content data can make my writer’s brain buzz on the wrong day — like I’m chasing the white whale until my ship sinks. But on the right day, it can illuminate my whole job, help me prioritize with numbers to back me up, and keep my work based on reality — what our clients’ customers are doing every day.

One thing to keep in mind — it’s all in the setup. We’re lucky to have a talented team who can set up goal conversions and events in analytics tools without much of an issue, so that us content folks can crack open the metrics easily. Really, data-driven life is much easier if the setup is correct. 

And one final note (again, shout out to our analytics team), it certainly helps to get a certification in Google Analytics, or whatever analytics tools you’re using. Barbie probably thought math class was tough because she never opened the textbook. It definitely helps to keep on studying.

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