This post is the 5th in a series about how to make content marketing work for your business. You don’t have to read all these posts in order, but if you’d like to, you can find the 1st post about content marketing here.
You’ve put in the work, and it paid off. Finally, your website is starting to see some traffic. Now what? If you’re like most online entrepreneurs, you quickly discover that getting people to visit your website isn’t the miracle you hoped.
Sure, it’s great to see your numbers jump, and attracting traffic will always be important for your online store. You just have to figure out how to turn your traffic into some kind of desired result.
Why analyse your traffic?
Obviously, all the different people who visit your website are…well…different. More importantly, though, the groups of people that you attract to your website from different sources behave differently depending on factors like:
- Available time
It might make more sense to think of it this way: imagine you click a link to an article about funny DIY disasters while you’re browsing social media, and it takes you to a humorous blog post on a popular home improvement website. On the same day, your friend finds that very same website by looking for “places to buy interior paint” in a search engine. Who do you think is more likely to make a purchase from that home improvement website – you, or your friend? This is called traffic quality, which means that traffic from some sources is more likely to convert (take a desired action) than traffic from other sources.
Paying attention and analyzing the way people use your website helps you figure out the quality of the traffic you’re attracting. That’s important for you to know, especially if you’re spending money to get people to come to your website. Low quality traffic is a frustrating, and sometimes expensive, problem.
How can you tell low quality traffic from high quality traffic?
The difference between low and high quality traffic is whether or not it does what you want it to do. By tracking where your website visitors come from and what they do once they land on your site, you can make some assumptions about quality. There’s a catch, though:
Traffic quality isn’t the only thing that might prevent a person from making a purchase, joining your mailing list, signing your petition, or doing whatever else you want them to do. The way people behave on your website is also influenced by the way your site is designed and built. Haven’t you ever left a website because it was frustrating to use?
Decoding your analytics is part art, part science. Well, technically it’s more maths than science because it’s statistics, but who’s counting? You can collect a lot of data about your website and only wind up more confused than before. Let’s look at some of the most important indicators to help you figure out what’s going on with your traffic.
Where do I find this information?
Plenty of services are available to collect data from your website. Some are better than others and depending on your industry and business model, you may want to use some specialized tools. For most businesses, Google Analytics is the right place to start.
If you don’t already have Google Analytics set up on your website, create an account and get set up. You won’t have any data to analyze until you’ve been tracking for some time.
Also, if you have a low traffic website (less than 10,000 visitors per month) your data will be a bit skewed. In this case, you should still analyze your traffic. Just be cautious about making broad assumptions and allow plenty of time after making a change to collect more data.
You might already be using a different tool, and that’s okay. Just look for the same or equivalent data we’ll talk about in the next section when you’re analyzing your traffic.
A note about advanced tracking
Google Analytics is a wonderful tool, and it’s free. It does have a few shortcomings, though, especially for businesses that rely heavily on lead tracking and sales funnels. As your business grows and you have more money to invest in tools, you might want to consider more advanced tracking options that are tailored to your individual needs. For example, businesses that generate leads online and employ a sales team to finish the transaction might want lead tracking software that is capable of tracking specific data such as where a lead came from, who talked to them, and how much that person purchased.
Without these kinds of tools, we’re going to have to apply the scientific method to try to draw some conclusions. Using Google Analytics isn’t as exact, but it’s still pretty darned good.
Understanding your analytics
The first time you log into your Google Analytics and see all those charts and options, it’s a little overwhelming. Take a deep breath, remember how much you love having an online business, and just start clicking on things. There’s nothing there that’s going to break your website. Just like learning your way around a new town, all you need to do is look around and get familiar with what’s available.
Some stats are going to be more valuable to your business than others. You’re also going to wonder what some of these things even mean. It’s okay. You’ll learn as you go. In the meantime, let’s go over a couple of the basic metrics that you can and should track on your website.
By default, you can find your bounce rate right on the first page when you log into Google Analytics.
You may have things set up differently on your dashboard. If so, you can also find your bounce rate in the behaviour overview.
Bounce rate is displayed as a percentage, and it tells you how often people come to your website, only visit that one page, and then leave your site. Maybe they clicked on a social media link, read your article, and closed the window. Perhaps they searched a question on Google that led them to you and immediately bounced back to Google to check the next site on the list.
It’s difficult to answer “why” questions from raw data. You can’t tell why someone left without looking around, just that they bounced for one reason or another. Still, monitoring your bounce rate is super important. Here’s why:
Google uses bounce rate as a ranking factor to determine how high your site appears in the list of results for any given keyword. They assume that sites with very high bounce rates probably don’t do a good job of providing value to website visitors, because if the information really was valuable, more people would stick around and check out what else is available.
A high bounce rate (over 50%) is a red flag. It might indicate a user experience issue like really slow loading speeds or a cluttered design, but if you’re confident in your website quality, it’s probably a sign that you’re attracting a lot of the wrong kind of traffic. You can’t really determine the source of the problem by looking at bounce rate alone. The next thing to consider is:
Time on page
Time on page and session duration are not the same thing. Session duration measures the average amount of time a person spends on your whole website, and time on page measures the average duration spent per page. That’s an important difference, because you want to know whether or not people are sticking around long enough to read or if they’re skimming over multiple pages. Time on page shows up in a lot of different places. The best place to look is on All Pages, which is located in the Behavior section under Site Content.
This section allows you to see your overall time on page and a breakdown of how long people spend on each individual page of your site. By default, it shows you the most popular pages first.
A “good” time on page number is relative. For your home page, it might be perfectly reasonable for someone to only spend 10 or 15 seconds glancing around before they click on something else, but a blog post with 15 second average time on page probably isn’t being read. Looking at time on page and bounce rate together helps you make sense of what you’re seeing.
- High time on page and low bounce rate: This combination is what you’re going for. People are probably reading your content, and they are finding enough value to visit multiple pages.
- Low time on page and low bounce rate: While a higher time on page is normally preferable, the fact that people are clicking deeper into your website is a good sign. It’s probably not a problem unless people are only spending a second or two per page – in that case, you’re probably getting robot traffic.
- High time on page and high bounce rate: People are apparently finding something worth reading, but for some reason, it’s not enough to keep them around. This combination is seen a lot on blog posts – try adding internal links and some kind of call to action to encourage people to visit more pages on your site.
- Low time on page and high bounce rate: If you’re seeing this combination, you’ve got a problem. Quick bounces tell you that the traffic landing on your site isn’t finding what they expect or want.
Again, it’s easy to see what’s happening. It’s harder to determine exactly why. Make gradual changes to your website or your traffic strategy, then watch how your analytics change before making another adjustment.
The acquisition overview gives you a snapshot of where your traffic comes from. More importantly, you can find stats about the performance of each individual traffic source. For example: maybe you’re getting a lot of traffic from social media, but the bounce rate for that traffic, in particular, is high. That’s a clear indicator that you have opportunities for improvement in your social media strategy.
In this section, you can also find more detailed information about your traffic sources and performance. If you’re using pay-per-click ads, this is a good place to see how well they’re performing.
Other useful bits
Exploring your analytics on your own is one of the best ways to learn – you’ll discover data that’s useful to you and your unique strategies and you’re more likely to remember how to get back there because you found it yourself.
While you’re looking around, take note of these:
- Behaviour flow can show you how your traffic moves through different pages of your site
- Audience overview tells you some interesting demographic information about your visitors
- Search console queries lists the search keywords that are driving traffic to your website
- Most popular pages gives you an important look at the pages where most of your traffic ends up
Being able to find and understand this kind of information is fantastic. Knowing what to do with it is necessary.
Using this data effectively
The whole reason you’re looking at all those statistics and charts is so that you can make better business decisions, right? In order to do that, you’ll need to translate those numbers into some kind of usable insights that help you reach your goals. The most common goal of a business website it making sales, so let’s assume that’s what you want to do.
Start with the big picture: are you struggling to complete any transactions at all, pushing to improve mediocre performance, or doing pretty well and looking for ways to optimize? With that main goal in mind, your analytics can help you identify potential problems that might hinder your success. Look at where your traffic comes from and what happens once it gets to your site, and you’ll have a much easier time making some educated guesses about where you need to put in some work.
Don’t just start making huge changes to your site and strategy, though. Looking at your traffic data will probably give you a bunch of ideas about how to improve your site. Take a more scientific approach. Rather than making several changes at a time, make a list of changes you think will help and organize them from the most important to the least important. Once you’ve thought through the tweaks you’d like to try, implement one at a time and carefully watch how your visitors’ behaviour changes.
This is important – without making gradual changes and monitoring results, you can’t know what’s working and what isn’t.
Traffic numbers and the bigger picture
Content marketing is not a one-size-fits-all strategy, so it’s difficult to say what kind of numbers indicate success for your business. If you’re not making a profit, that’s probably a sign that something is wrong, even if your traffic numbers are high. Some pages and posts on your site will generate huge amounts of traffic. Often, those pages have the highest bounce rate, too.
Other pages will do a great job at getting readers engaged, though it takes more effort to send traffic there. Healthy sites have a balance of both, and both are useful. As long as you’re accomplishing your business goals, there’s no need to obsess over the performance of every single page.
In the next and final post in this series, we’ll talk about how you can create a content schedule, stick to it, and never run out of ideas again!