When you want to know how your content marketing program is working, of course you turn to your trusty web analytics software. Omniture, Google Analytics and their ilk can tell you a lot about your content’s effectiveness and progress. Or lack thereof.
But you have to ask your software the right questions.
As a web content creator for 12 years, I have personally made a wide and creative variety of analytics mistakes. And my friends and associates on other sites have made the rest.
Here are three simple web analytics mistakes you can stop making today.
1. Focusing on the wrong view.
On a content-rich website, the Google Analytics view that you’ll use most consistently is
Content > Site Content > All Pages
That’s the RIGHT view.
Managing B2B media websites, I look at this view every day. That’s how I find out which content is resonating with the audience. Watching this page-by-page view shows you the story topics and types that work for your readers.
Other, higher-level metrics of website performance are important – of course they are! Bounce rate matters. Time on site matters. Pages per visit matters.
But as my colleague Art Jahnke and I used to say to each other (with mock exasperation), “Staring at the numbers doesn’t make them go up.”
You have to drill down to find actionable information, just as looking at the score of a football game doesn’t tell you what trades the Cowboys need to make.
So don’t burn too much time staring at the Google Analytics landing page for your site. That’s the WRONG view. Live in the content view, where the “actionable” is.
2. Never changing the timeframe.
True story: In the early days of the B2B security website CSOonline.com, I started a blog called Movers and Shakers. As you would guess, Movers covered career advancement and job changes by security department leaders.
Being in the pre-LinkedIn era, it took a surprising amount of time and a LOT of web searching to feed this blog.
Also being in the Pleistocene era with regards to analytics, we just got one report each month showing us the top twenty articles on the site. Movers always hung around the bottom of this list.
After a couple of years, with a site redesign impending, and the blog experiencing this persistently mediocre level of traffic, I gave it up. Left the blog to rot. Bigger fish to fry, had I.
Some while later I was given my own analytics account. I expanded the date setting and looked at all site traffic over the preceding three years.
Guess what blog was the #1 driver of web readership on the site?
Moral: Once in a while take the long-term view. It may change your understanding of the value of different pages and topics on your site.
3. Comparing last month against the ‘preceding six-month rolling average’ (and other Stupid Math Tricks).
Most sites generate traffic reports to show that they are headed in the right direction. Then most of those same sites compare this month’s traffic against last month’s traffic.
Most of the time, this comparison borders on being pointless. In most B2B sites, December stats are going to be worse than November, which will also be worse than October – which is longer and has fewer holiday disruptions. Conversely, there are lots of B2C sites that will spike upwards in November as the gift-shopping begins in earnest.
July is usually worse than June because summer vacations have started in earnest. And so on.
This-month-versus-last-month comparison has never interested me. And I’ve seen reports that attempt to “normalize” versus these seasonal variations by comparing one month to the average of the preceding six months.
These are stupid math tricks.
What I compare December 2013 against is the only timeframe that takes into account all those factors: December 2012. Year-over-year tells me whether I am growing my site or not – and I damn well better be, because I’ve spent a year’s worth of learning, sharpening, and creating additional content in between.
For a brand-new content operation, obviously you can’t do it. But starting in your 13th month, I highly recommend putting this comparison into your analytics and reporting mix. It’s the best indicator of whether you are making real progress on the traffic front.