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NEW & IMPROVED! This comprehensive how-to guide to Google Analytics for content marketing was updated and expanded to provide even more information. Enjoy!
Over 29 million websites are using Google Analytics to track the actions happening on their website. But if you’re in that group, you might not realize how you can use it to track your marketing performance — especially if you’re creating content.
Content marketing is notoriously hard to track. People prefer different types of content, and some will read your blog for years before deciding to hit the “purchase” button on your website.
That makes it tough to see whether your content marketing strategy is worth the time and effort you’re investing in it — never mind proving to your boss that it’s a viable (and successful) way to market your business.
We wanted to solve that problem with the tool that is already in your toolkit: Google Analytics.
In this guide, we’ll walk you through:
- What Google Analytics Can Be Used For (and why it's a content marketer's best friend!)
- How to Prepare Your Google Analytics Account for Reporting
- How to Use Content Groups in Google Analytics
- 8+ Advanced Google Analytics Reports You Can Use to Track On-site Performance
- How to Use Google Analytics to Measure Content Marketing ROI
Ready? Let’s dive in.
What Can I Use Google Analytics For?
Did you know that just 39% of marketers say they’re “somewhat successful” at tracking the ROI of their content marketing?
With Google Analytics, you’ve got tons of data available at your fingertips. You can confidently find answers that help prove investment, as well as answer questions that determine the success of your entire strategy, such as:
- Which type of content is most popular
- How often you should be publishing new content
- Which content format performs best in search
- The times of day, week or month that people are visiting
- Whether your content results in conversions
Basically everything that forms your content strategy.
The only problem? It’s tough to dig through your Google Analytics account without getting distracted. (Let’s face it, there are enough numbers in there to make a mathematician’s head spin.)
We’ll show you how to do it — and why Google Analytics is your new best friend.
How to Prepare Your Google Analytics Account for Reporting
In order for Google Analytics to receive data, you need to add a unique tracking code to every page of your website HTML.
You can find it on the Admin tab in the Property column, under Tracking Info:
Simply grab your code and then add it to the header of each page on your site:
Note: this tracking code needs to be installed before you can start taking advantage of all that Analytics has to offer.
Next, make sure you’ve synced your Google Search Console and Google Ads accounts. Depending on the content reports you’re going to be looking at, you’ll need Analytics to pull data from each of these.
And while you’re at it, take a look at these mistakes to avoid when setting up your Google Analytics. Analytics has been around long enough now that there are boatloads of tips, tricks and best-practice advice, so take the time to familiarize yourself with the basics and the more advanced features so you can harness the power of the platform.
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Set Up Goal Tracking
Now that you’ve got the Google Analytics tracking code enabled on your website, you’ll be able to track key things happening on your website — such as which page a visitor has viewed, and whether they’ve visited your site before.
You’ll want to take that a step further and collect even more types of data about your visitors’ interactions with your site. These interactions are called Goals, a feature that allows you to go beyond the simple content performance metrics that Google Analytics tracked to really get a feel for how your visitors are engaging with your site.
Goals are broken down into two categories: Destinations and Events.
Google Analytics allows several methods to create a new Goal, such as:
- Templates (pre-filled configuration)
- Custom Set-ups
- Smart Goals
It’s worth noting that Goal templates will only be provided if you’ve assigned your property an Industry Category. You can find that drop-down menu on the Admin tab, in the Property column, under Property Settings.
To set up a goal for your website within Google Analytics, log in to your dashboard and find the Admin > Goals tab. Here, you’ll be able to create up to 20 Goals:
Notice that you can opt to create a new goal or import an existing one. But choose carefully because you will not be able to delete these later on (although you can deactivate and rename them once you’re finished with a particular goal).
Click Import from Gallery and browse through the Analytics Solutions Gallery. Are there any templates in there that fit your tracking needs? The answer is probably “yes” if your Goal isn’t a complicated one.
Or you can create a Goal yourself by hitting the red New Goal button.
On the next page, make your selection (setting up your own Goal is easy if you don’t see any template for what you want to do, so don’t fear the Custom option!), and hit Continue.
You’ll then be asked to give your Goal a name and choose the specific type of Goal you’d like to create:
Not sure which one to choose? Let’s take a closer look at each type.
1) Destination Goal
Destination goals are great for tracking conversions if a particular action (purchase, download, sign-up) results in a visitor arriving at a particular page (like an order confirmation or a “thank you” page).
In the web page URL field, you only need to input the extension — such as /thankyou.html — not your entire web address.
If you’re unsure what the destination URL is, you can quickly find out by performing the conversion yourself. Go to your website, fill in the form (or download the infographic, or send a note, or whatever), and make a note of the URL of the page after you complete the action.
Whatever precedes your domain is your destination goal URL.
A destination page can be:
- “Equal to” for fixed, static pages like /thanks.html or /blog/google-analytics-guide. The goal completion will only be recorded when that exact page (and only that exact page) is visited.
- “Begins with” for any URL that starts with your inputted extension like /blog/2019/. Select this option if you’re using UTM parameters (such as the utm_source tag) to track specific marketing campaigns and channels.
- “Regular expression” for matching on multiple criteria. This option uses special characters to create wildcard and flexible matching parameters, such as ^/blog/.*
If you know how much a goal conversion of this type is worth to you, turn on and enter it into the Value field. For example, if you know that a “thank you” page visit occurs only after a $30 report has been purchased, enter “30” as the value.
2) Duration Goal
If your content marketing goal is simply to measure and increase the length of time that visitors remain on your site (their engagement with it), select the “Duration” option when creating a new Goal.
Then enter the specific amount of time that people need to spend on the site to qualify — either by hours, minutes or seconds — then click “Save.”
The goal will be only marked as complete after someone hits the duration you’ve specified:
If you happen to know or have a value, enter it in the appropriate field — although it’s much harder to place a numerical value for time spent on site. What is five minutes worth to you? Is ten minutes worth double that?
Regardless of your Goal value, monitoring the session duration of your website can have an indirect influence on your SEO.
Upgrade your content, improve site navigation, make it more visually appealing, and offer more than what you’re offering now. There’s no reason why you couldn’t improve your entire site’s SEO.
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3) Event Goal
Setting up an Event goal in Google Analytics is a little more complicated because there are several variables that can be used depending on what you want to track.
An Event is an action that happens independent of a page load, so you can’t use a destination as a trigger.
Counting the number of times that a video is played will require different tracking parameters than will be needed to count the number of times your pages are shared on Facebook, or how often something is added to a cart.
When you click the “Events” option in Analytics, you’ll see the following screen:
Each event goal is made up of four parts:
- Category: The item that your visitor interacts with (such as “video”, “blog post” or “pdf document”). You’ll likely end up using a category label many times.
- Action: The type of interaction (such as “play”, “download”, “stop” or “share”).
- Label: Used to categorize and organize events (such as “Product X Launch” or “Spring Campaign” or the name of a particular file, video or document). This is an optional text field.
- Value: An optional numerical value assigned to the event.
It’s worth noting that only the first two are necessary for a Goal to trigger, but you’ll get the most accurate, detailed reports if you also add a label and value to each Goal.
You can find a complete list of your created and imported Goals on the Admin > View > Goals page. You’ll see the Goal name, its ID, the number of successful conversions in the past week, and how many Goals you have left for a given Property in your account.
You’ll also notice a “Recording” on/off switch for each Goal, where you can pause it and stop receiving data (if it stops being relevant data for you to collect):
Once you have a few Goals set up and running, you’ll begin collecting data every time a conversion happens and the goal is triggered. You’ll be able to analyze and evaluate them under Reports > Conversions > Goals on the Analytics dashboard.
You’ll see data related to your Goal, such as:
- Goal Completions (the overall number)
- Goal Conversion Rate (number of Goal completions / number of visitors x 100)
- Goal Value (assuming you assigned one somewhere along the way)
- Total Abandonment Rate on the Overview dashboard (for either all goals combined or individual goals. You can change it with the drop-down menu directly on the report itself).
How to Use Content Groups in Google Analytics
Google recently announced their Content Grouping feature in the Analytics dashboard, which is a tool that allows you to group together certain types of content (like “blog posts” or “white papers”) and view data for each group.
It’s worth creating Content Groups inside your account before you start looking at any reports. The reports we’re going to discuss can all be filtered by your Content Group.
8+ Advanced Google Analytics Reports for Content Marketers
Google Analytics offers hundreds of features that allow marketers to create custom reports and get detailed information about the visitors arriving on your website — and the content they’re interacting with.
But signing in to your Google Analytics account can quickly feel overwhelming. You’ve got so much data to play with that you might not know where to start.
Here are eight reports you can dig in to in order to understand how your content is performing.
Bonus: Google Analytics Intelligence
Before we dive in with the reports, I’ve got a quick tip you can use to save time (and headaches) with this reporting.
Instead of manually sieving through your account to find these content performance reports, type the report name into your search bar to quickly find the data you need. The Intelligence feature within Google Analytics will find the data set you’re looking for, and display it on your screen.
In fact, it’s so clever that you can ask questions about your content marketing strategy — such as “which URL got the most page views this month?” — and get the data you’re looking for within seconds by clicking Go to Report:
1) Audience Reports
The first reports we’ll talk about fall within the Audience section of your Google Analytics dashboard. As the name suggests, this section tells you everything you need to know about the people arriving on your website.
With that information, you’ll be able to run uncover:
Buyer personas are a marketers’ best friend. Why? Because with demographic information, you can find out exactly who you’re writing for. Knowing the demographics of your users is an often-overlooked aspect of many content marketing campaigns.
Google Analytics’ Audience reports section provides this detailed demographic information, including the:
- Interests (or “Affinities”)
…of your visitors.
However, too many brands ignore the demographic data available in Google Analytics because they think they already know which visitors are most interested in their products.
Don't make this mistake. You may be surprised that the demographics of your best-converting customers are different than you expected.
Take Scott Perry, the Director of eCommerce at Jerome's Furniture, whose Google Analytics reports suggested that women convert 30% better than men and spend nearly twice as much. Based on this data, his company invested more heavily in reaching women through display advertising.
He also found that visitors browsing real estate sites converted 50% better, prompting him to increase spending on that demographic as well.
Of course, there is one caveat to be aware of: This Google Analytics data isn’t completely accurate. People might be using another device to visit your website, meaning that you’ll use the device owner’s information in your analysis instead of the individual browsing your website.
In a nutshell: Don’t ignore this report entirely, but for now, take the Demographic data with a grain of salt until Google’s methods become more precise.
Do you know how loyal the people visiting your website are?
Find out by checking the Active Users report under the Audience tab in your Google Analytics dashboard. Doing so will show you how many times a visitor returned to your site over different time intervals, ranging from one to 28 days.
Using the example below, we can see that this website has lots of people visiting within the past 14 days, but that volume drops significantly when compared to 1-day active users:
What does that mean? Well, the visitors arriving here within the past 14 days weren’t very qualified. They visited within the past two weeks and haven’t returned since.
It’s your job to figure out why — and fix it.
Customer Lifetime Value by Marketing Channel
Customer Lifetime Value is a key metric needed to determine success.
Analyze where you’re starting from with the Lifetime Value report beneath the Audience tab in your dashboard, and quickly see which marketing channel generates most of the high-quality customers you’re looking for:
Using the example above, organic search ($0.77) has a much better CLV than social media ($0.10). Therefore, it makes sense to tweak your content distribution plan to focus more on SEO than social media shares.
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2) Acquisition Reports
The Audience reports we’ve just talked about provide detailed information about the people visiting your site. The Acquisition tabs give you more information on where these people came from.
The data in these reports is key to optimizing your content marketing campaigns because you’ll be able to identify which promotion channels are driving the majority of conversions — and therefore, better distribute your content.
Before you start analyzing your Acquisition reports, make sure your conversion goals are set up properly. If you haven’t done so, you’ll still be able to identify the referrers that are driving traffic to your site — but you won’t be able to tell which referrers are driving conversions. (That won’t do any favors for proving content marketing ROI.)
Double-check that you’ve got conversion goals set up, then navigate to the following reports:
Marketing Channels by Conversion Rate
The Channels section gives a broad overview of all of the places that are driving traffic to your site, broken down by sources, including:
- Organic search
Head over to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels to find the graph, which helps you visualize which places are giving you the most traffic. You can click on each of these sections to find more details about the people visiting your site:
Taking a top-level look at this data, we can see that people arriving from paid search have a higher conversion rate than display ads (0.34% vs. 0% respectively.)
So, if paid Google Ads promotion forms part of your content distribution strategy, edit your campaigns to remove display ads. Since the conversion rate from that channel is poor, it doesn’t make sense to invest money into it.
Take a look at the individual domains that are driving traffic to your website. These “referrers” are broken down by domain, allowing you to identify the specific sites or advertising platforms that are driving the most visitors.
Find this report by heading over to Acquisition > Overview > Referrals:
Pay close attention to both the volume of visitors from each of your referrers and the ROI that you’re receiving from them. (Sort the Ecommerce Conversion Rate column from high to low to find this.)
You may find that some traffic sources — such as Facebook — provide a huge volume of traffic, but have low conversion rates.
Do you know which keywords are driving traffic to your website? As a content marketer, the answers are a goldmine for you. You can use keywords that are driving traffic to boost overall ranking positions — and maybe even find new content ideas.
That’s why the Organic Queries section is probably the most important part of your Acquisition reports:
You might be surprised by how much your keywords affect click-through rates, too — something that could help to win over Google.
A visitor who clicked on your URL in an organic search result while searching for the phrase “how to start a blog” may be much more likely to click than a visitor who was searching for the phrase “blogging tips.” But you have no way of knowing that until you launch your campaign and check the data from your Acquisition reports.
Are you running Google Ads campaigns to support your content marketing strategy?
Tracking conversions from every single ad, landing page, keyword and referrer with your Google Ads dashboard can be tedious. Sometimes it’s better to just get a general idea of which practices are working.
To do this, check that your Analytics account is synced with your Google Ads account, and start to break down your content marketing strategies into different campaigns. Make sure your campaigns are as granular as possible so you can get detailed data on which practices are working:
You may want to have:
- Different Google Ads campaigns (each of which may have a different landing page or angle)
- A campaign for native ads with your blog posts
- And another campaign for organic search traffic
Using the Campaigns report, you can easily look at the data from your various campaigns to see which are converting best. This will save you countless hours that you would otherwise spend drilling down through all of your referrers, web pages and keywords to look for trends.
3) Behavior Reports
The final content performance reports we’ll look at come from the Behavior tab in your Analytics account. The Overview section does what it says on the tin: provides a brief overview about the behavior that people are displaying on your website:
Within the Behavior tab are some more reports that share detailed information about the actions that users take on your site, including:
- Average time on your site and individual pages
- Whether people use your site’s search bar
- Total page views for each web page
- Time on page
- Bounce rate
- Exit pages
Your Behavior reports can help you optimize your content marketing strategy by monitoring how visitors engage with your content.
For example: If people use your search bar often, take a look at Behavior > Site Search > Terms to see what they’re looking for. Do you have a piece of content that satisfies their search? If not, create one so they don’t have a bad experience on your site.
The same concept applies to time on page. If you notice that people are reading blog posts in your Marketing category for a significantly short period of time, consider adding multimedia (such as videos) to convince them to stick around longer.
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How to Use Google Analytics to Track Revenue from Your Content
Content marketing is known for having an ROI that’s tricky to measure.
A visitor doesn’t just type a query into Google, read your blog post, and immediately purchase your product or service as a solution to a problem they’re facing. Research shows that:47% of buyers read between 3-5 pieces of content before converting because they need to trust that you’re the best company to solve their pain points before they hand over their hard-earned cash. Click To Tweet
Luckily, you don’t have to create content and hope that it somehow results in a purchase. With a Google Analytics account, you can run reports to track how many of those pieces of content your audience is engaging with — and which URLs influence a purchase. (Even if they read it a few weeks ago, it still impacted their decision to purchase.)
Once you start to dive into this data, you’ll learn more about how the content on your website impacts conversions. Plus, you’ll be able to:
- Figure out where your leads and revenue are coming from
- Discover which aspects of your website are seeing the most traffic
- Understand what’s accounting for your highest ROI
- Track the popularity of a certain trend or theme of your blog posts
- Streamline systems by getting rid of inefficient pages and blog themes
Here’s how you can measure the ROI of your content marketing strategy with Google Analytics data:
1) Track Revenue from E-commerce Transactions
If you’re selling a product online, you’ll want to track overall sales. The best way to do that is through the use of custom code embedded in your shopping cart — a type of tracking that allows you to determine a few things using Google Analytics:
- Which pages on your site are leading to the most conversions
- How people arrive at these “money” pages (i.e. do they read a blog post first?)
- Which products represent the highest value in your online store
In other words, you’ll discover which parts of your website are most effective for your sales funnel – and which ones aren’t doing you much good.
You might find, for instance, that one of your landing pages is leading to a 20% conversion rate while another is underperforming at 5%. In this case, you might want to reconsider how you built that landing page.
Knowing the proper steps to building a dynamite landing page can be transformational for your conversion rates. Take Growth Rock, for example. They increased their landing page conversion rate by 75% after a few tweaks.
But before you can play with the data, you’ll first need to enable E-commerce reporting by logging into Google Analytics and switching the Ecommerce set-up button in the Admin panel from “Off” to “On”:
The next step is a little more complicated.
You’ll need to add a customized tracking code to your shopping cart system that reports when and how purchases occur. Depending on your hosting and shopping cart providers, this may be done through a server-side inclusion, a separate module through your content system, or through hand-coded HTML.
For more details on how to finish this integration, check out Google’s E-commerce Tracking documentation. Or ask your web developer.
2) Track Revenue from Non E-commerce Sites
What happens if you don’t sell anything on your website, but use your domain to generate leads for an offline business?
This Google Analytics report still works for you. In this case, every visitor to your site has a monetary value. The only difference is that it isn’t determined by the number of sales that result from a traditional shopping cart system.
To track revenue from non e-commerce sites, log in to your Analytics account and follow the steps we mentioned earlier to create a new Goal.
The best option here is an Event Goal (goals that aren’t tied to arrival on a specific site URL) because they allow you to set a custom event value for each circumstance you define.
Your Goals will evaluate every visitor that comes to your site by using a simple equation. Take the amount of money you’ve made and divide it by how many new (unique) visitors have come to your site. That will tell you how much each new visitor is worth. But that’s just scratching the surface. If you want to truly understand your sales funnel, Goals can help you track much more specific data.
For example, say you generate leads using a free white paper on your site. You’ve already determined that the average value of a visitor who contacts your company in this manner is worth $20. Now you can set up an Event Goal accordingly. This allows you to track how potential leads move through your site so you can optimize your site structure for maximum conversions.
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3) Integrate Analytics with Google Ads
As soon as you’ve paired your Google Analytics and Google Ads accounts, you’ll be able to see several types of useful data in one dashboard — including the earnings based on user visits (rather than just page impressions).
For example: If you’re publishing blog posts regularly, you can use this workaround to analyze the trends in your blogs to see what’s working for you. You can view:
- Which posts are bringing in a higher CPM (if you’re selling ads), or if one of your pages is a prime candidate on which to put an additional ad.
- Click data based on user location, browser type, and referral source — all of which can help you refine your content-based ad monetization strategy.
- Which areas require growth. For example: If you see that the majority of your web traffic comes from New York but the majority of your sales come from Los Angeles, you can rethink your promotion strategy to compensate for a specific region.
Finding out this information allows you to open up channels for additional revenue, or see what is actually helping your website to convert — not to mention, it's one of the easiest A/B SEO testing methods you can use.
4) Use Google Analytics to Measure the ROI of Different Traffic Types
One final way you can use Google Analytics to track your content marketing ROI is to break down your revenue stream by traffic type.
Chances are, you’re using several channels to distribute your content. Social media, online communities, and paid promotion might be in the mix, but it’s likely that not all of these activities result in the same ROI.
That’s why it’s a good idea to break down your channels to see which traffic source results in the most income. This will help you determine how to best allocate future promotional efforts. To do this, you’ll need to set up Advanced Traffic segments, which allow you to break out visitors based on referral sites to see which types of traffic are converting best for you.
Start by clicking on the Advanced Segments tab under the Standard Reporting tab of your Google dashboard. You’ll see that some default segments have been included, but you can also use the button in the lower right-hand corner to create your own segments based on specific sites or types of sites:
A few potential traffic segments you could create include:
- Traffic from Facebook versus Twitter (use the “Source” criteria to set up this option)
- Visitors using their mobile device, arriving from blogs you comment on
- Traffic from forums on which you participate
Once these segments are set up, filter your Goal conversions by segment to compare which traffic streams are most profitable for your site. Doing so will help your content marketing team:
- Understand which of your blog topics people are following to help you shape your brand into a more influential entity.
- See where your visitors are coming from to help you tweak (or even transform) your buyer personas and target new markets.
- Cross reference that information with the success of your previous content to decide what you should write your next piece one about.
As you can see, Google Analytics is a content marketer's best friend. The opportunities you have with the data are endless — from filling your editorial calendar to promoting and distributing your content to measuring its ROI.
Remember to set up your Google Analytics account properly (including any Google Ads or Google Search Console integrations) as soon as possible to start collecting data. Now, go and have a dig through your dashboard and see what insights you uncover!