Measure and Analyze Editorial Impact Using Google Analytics
Many editors feel that once content has been created and uploaded, their job is done. Wrong! The next step is to analyze how well that content is doing its job. Using a web analytics tool, you can measure its effectiveness. It is possible to measure how well the content is performing even for purely informational websites, including intranets, that are not supported by ad or product sales.
If you don’t measure, you can’t analyze. If you don’t analyze, you can’t improve. Get Google Analytics if you’re not already using a tool. It’s free, so there is no excuse not to use it. And, yes, it works for intranets, too.
One of the first things you need to do—a step that is easy to miss—is to make sure you filter out writers and editors from your stats. Otherwise you’ll get inaccurate data.
You are not allowed to store personally identifiable information (such as social security numbers or names) in Google Analytics. You may, however, store data that can group visitors together in different clusters. For intranets that may be things as divisions and departments. For websites it could be consumers and businesses. By using custom variables to group visitors together, you’ll be able to analyze how different groups of visitors behave.
Keep in mind that file downloads are not automatically tracked by Google Analytics. If you want to track, say, PDFS, you need to trigger a virtual page view when a visitor is clicking on links to them.
Six measurements to maximize the impact of your content
Here are a few key performance indicators (KPIs) you can track to see how well your information is performing. There are many different things that can be measured—which KPIs are best to track varies from company to company, site to site. If you feel uncertain, talk to a web analytics consultant.
1. Readings per writer and writer impact
Find out how many times articles by a particular writer are being read, the number of conversions that happened during visits where the writer’s content was read, how long those visits lasted (best measured in intervals, use the Length of Visit report under Visitor Loyalty), and more. This is done by segmenting and creating custom reports based on a custom variable, as described below.
How to measure it: You need to edit the tracking script on your website that is used by Google Analytics. Trigger a page-level custom variable after a certain number of seconds on a page. Base the timer on a reasonable amount of time it takes to read an article. Add the name of the writer to a custom variable and the URL + “(read)” in _trackPageview(). This will result in the writer’s name being tied to the page and the page being marked as read. In “Top Content” you’ll have two entries for article1 looking like this: “/article1/index.php” and “/article1/index.php (read)”. You can filter the Top Content report by “(read)” to see how many times different articles have been read. If you only want to look at articles by a specific writer, use an advanced segment based on the custom variable containing the writer’s name.
Keep in mind that triggering an extra page view, as will be done above, will affect other metrics such as number of page views, page views/visit and bounce rate.
2. Page impact
If you have configured goals, you can find out how frequently visits, during which a certain page was viewed, led to goal completions and what the total goal value was for those visits. How well have those visits performed compared to other visits?
How to measure it: Create an advanced segment including only visits during which a specific page, or a certain group of pages, has been viewed.
Measuring visitor satisfaction per writer and page adds an important extra dimension to your analysis. Imagine if you could find out how satisfied readers of specific writers are? Well, you can!
How to measure it: There are two ways. You can incorporate the possibility to give a rating for an individual page, or you can trigger a survey after the user has done certain actions, spent a certain amount of time on the site, or left the site. The key is to store the grade in Google Analytics. By combining behavioral and attitudinal data in Google Analytics, you’ll be able to see how frequently certain pages, or writers, have been involved in high and low satisfaction visits. Survey data can be stored as custom variables or virtual page views depending on what works best for you.
4. Time spent writing vs. reading
This measurement can tell you if there are pages that readers spend less time reading than the writers and editors spend creating. It is particularly valuable for intranets or websites with low traffic. If you spend a lot of time on an article and few people read it you’ve either failed at marketing the article or it’s simply not appealing to readers. Besides learning what content works best, this KPI will let you know how well writers are spending their time.
How to measure it: This requires a CMS hack.
Caveat: It will paint the true picture only if all writing is done directly in the CMS.
5. Unread pages
Pages need to generate at least one page view to be included in Google Analytics. Pages with no views won’t be listed. If you do not track unread pages, you won’t be able to accurately measure the average amount of page views per article or the average amount of readings per article. Both of those metrics are valuable to look at to evaluate content.
How to measure it: To find out which pages did not generate a single page view or reading, you need to match a list of pages from your CMS with page view data from Google Analytics. I recommend using Excellent Analytics, a free plug-in for Microsoft Excel, when combining data from Google Analytics with data from other systems. You can download it for free from: http://excellentanalytics.com/.
6. Cost per reading
Some organizations have goals stating that writers need to produce a certain amount of articles per week. I believe that it is more important to measure the impact of a writer’s articles.
How to measure it: Cost per reading = writer cost/number of times the writer’s articles have been read.
Better articles should generate more readings. Writers should strive to achieve a low cost per reading and a high satisfaction score.
Note: I originally wrote this article for Website Magazine in March. As a favor to them they got to use it exclusively until now.