I’ve been using Google Analytics to track activity on our blog and I’m infatuated with this tool. I know that at first, it can be intimidating to non-technical people (especially with the plethora of charts, graphs and detailed reports), but once you figure it out, it is actually quite easy to use. In my opinion, the best way to start using Google Analytics is not to try to review and analyze all the reports at once - but find one specific thing to track/measure - and start doing this regularly, at least weekly. In my mind, I ask myself these questions: "What are the practical conclusions from this information? What can be done to improve my target metrics - and how should it be reflected in this report?"
In this article, I’ll show you how to get started with a Google Analytics account and review one particular example - track your blog’s most popular posts. This will help you to:
- Track your blog’s top posts and find out which ones are read the most
- Understand what content makes your visitors subscribe to your blog and keeps them coming back
What is Google Analytics and how can it help me improve my site?
Google Analytics is a free service provided by Google that gives you reports on your website traffic (or web user analysis tools aka web analytics). This tool allows you to see what visitors are doing on your website, which pages are most popular, and more.
Setting Up Google Analytics:
Go to the Google Analytics page and follow the very easy sign up process to register. If you already have a Google account (for example Gmail mailbox), you can skip this step.
When you log into your Google Analytics, you'll see a summary page known as the Dashboard which gives you an overview of what's going on, where visitors are viewing from, and how they are getting to you.
The content summary section contains the Top 5 Entrances, Exits and Content. The Entrances are URL’s (webpages) that people are landing on your blog (from search engines, from other sites linking to your site etc.). The Exits are the pages that people leave your site from. The content report lists all the pages by most views. By looking at this data, it will help you to find out what links people are clicking on.
To begin pulling up your top blog posts, click on “Content”, then “Top Content”. If your blog is just a part of your website, you have to filter out all other pages. For example, in my case, I am only interested in pages which have 'blog/newsblog' in them. Scroll down to the bottom of the page and enter this text. Here’s what the results look like:
Export your data:
Click on Export “CSV” to export the data into a CSV file (which can be opened by Microsoft Excel etc.) Open it in Microsoft Excel. It will probably not make a lot of sense at first, but you can easily delete and rearrange the data to your needs. Here’s what it looks like before you rearrange the data:
Here’s what it looks like after deleting and resorting data:
Now comes the fun part. The nice thing about GA is that you can take the data you want and make it into anything you want. For our blog, I track total visitors, total page views, unique visitors, % exit (all can be easily pulled from GA). But to help me get an even better idea of which content my readers really prefer, I take the time to do a few more calculations on excel.
Specifically, I need to compare apples to apples - views of each blog page in proportion to the time a particular post has been published. For example, let's say I have a Blog post A from January 1st with 500 views and Blog post B from May 1st with 100 views and today is June 1st. It would be incorrect to say that post A is more popular, because it has been out much longer - so it had a much better chance to be indexed by search engines, linked from other sites etc.
Here is how I deal with this challenge:
- First of all, I need to know the date of each post. Fortunately, on our website the date is embedded in the page URL (and this is the case with many blog programs) and I can easily extract the date with a formula =DATEVALUE(MID(<cell-with-url>,25,10))
- Now I put today's date into a cell F1 and can use the following formula to calculate the number of days a particular post has been out: =DAYS360(<blog-post-date>, $F$1)
- Finally, I can calculate Views Per day = Unique Views divided by Days since blog was posted.
Now what I typically do is every couple of weeks I look at top 20 blog posts sorted by Views-per-day and try to figure out the factor behind the popularity of a particular post:
For example, the popularity of the first post is explained by the fact that some time ago we have commented on a webpage discussing Web 2.0 logos and provided a link to our post: The birth of Wild Apricot logo
More important conclusion seems to be that our readers prefer how-to /step-by-step posts. So my action is to schedule more of these posts (and we are planning a reader survey shortly dig deeper).
What about your experience on tracking top posts with Google Analytics? And if you have queries about using Google Analytics, feel free to leave a comment and I'll do my best to help you answer them. I do plan to publish some other hands-on examples on using Google Anlaytics.
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