Growth requires assessment, there’s simply no getting around it. And that assessment can be rough. Whether your blog is personal or a business, it can be a tough pill to swallow to acknowledge that something isn’t working. But how do you know?
There are a 1,001 articles, tutorials and videos out there that emphasize that you must track your blog stats to grow. The reality is that there is more to it than that. Writing the numbers in your blog planner or entering them on a spreadsheet only helps if you apply that information to your content strategy.
In case you wondered… yes, you need Google Analytics. WordPress’s Jetpack and Squarespace both have their own, but are not enough. Google Analytics are more thorough and more accepted by brands (if you’re blogger looking to work with companies). There’s a lot of information packed into your analytics dashboard, but here are the handful that you must keep track of.
Want to increase the traffic to your blog? Of course you do! Then you must know where it’s currently coming from. Google Analytics spells out your top referrers (the places are the web that people are clicking on to get to your blog). Knowing your top 3 or so referrers tells you where to spend your time and energy promoting your content.
When you created your ideal reader avatar, one of the considerations is where your reader hangs out online. The reality is that your reader is probably on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and maybe Pinterest. But, it’s not just about whether or not they have an account. Is it where they are actively browsing and clicking on links? Is it where they are sharing content and interacting with their friends? That is what analytics tells – where your audience is when they are looking for content like yours.
Your preferences vs your audience’s
I do my online work using Google Chrome, use Facebook & Instagram on my phone and do most of my Pinterest browsing and video watching on my iPad. Aside from knowing that I have too many gadgets, it’s important that as part of my blog management I realize that my audience probably doesn’t share all of my preferences.
Have you looked to see what browser and tool your audience is using when they are on your site? When was the last time you checked your blog on a browser other than the one you typically use? Did you try commenting? It’s not uncommon for themes, especially after updates, to have a conflict with a specific browser. If you aren’t actively monitoring what your readers are using and checking the performance, you are turning away traffic.
While we know that people in general are doing an increasing amount of their web browsing on mobile, have you checked your audience? If mobile usage is higher than desktop, it’s worth investing some resources into making your blog as mobile friendly as possible.
Where are your readers going?
What happens when a reader lands on your blog? Inside Google Analytics, you can look at the average time on site, pages visited and the bounce rate.
Why is this important? Because it’s hard to get new traffic to your blog! You absolutely want to make the most of every single visit. If those numbers aren’t trending up, it may be time to rethink how you are inviting people deeper into your content.
- Re-evaluate your sidebar. Does offer high value to your reader?
- How are you connecting content? Can the reader easily find more, related blog posts? Your internal linking shouldn’t just be at the bottom of your post!
- Experiment with whether a “related posts” plugin is more or less effective than manually placing links (I’ve had clients with very different results!)
- Sort your content in a easy to use/browse way with categories, tags and archive or splash pages
- Make sure your blog is easy to read: page organization, easily legible fonts & plenty of negative space!
- Consider embedded media – a video tutorial added to an informational blog posts keeps the reader there longer and appeals to a different material consumption preference.
- Level up your About page – if someone lands on your blog for the first time and is impressed, this is typically where they go!
Your Most Popular Content
Perhaps the most important feature in Google Analytics is the top content section. You must know which posts are driving the most traffic in order to leverage them!
This list tells you what your readers want more of. That information drives your future content planning. What related topics can you spin off? Is it the content itself or are any of those posts a new-to-you format (like an included video)?
Each month, I make note of my top ten blog posts. Each of those posts is added to an extra CoSchedule ReQueue list to be shared more than the regular rotation of old content. I’ll also pull some short bits of information – maybe 2 or 3 sentences and schedule that as social media shares as well. When I’m planning Facebook Lives or e-mailing my list, I’ll take in mind those best-performing blog posts as well!
Once you’ve been tracking your most popular content for more than a year, you have some super powerful information for planning your next year’s content. What does it tell you? Your readers’ seasonal behavior. We all plan our content with a nod to the seasons – back to school in the fall, holidays in the winter. But identifying exactly when your audience starts looking for seasonal content? That’s blogging gold!
There is a whole, separate blog post on understanding and leveraging your social media stats. I do want to make this point though: it’s not all about the number of followers you have. Don’t get me wrong, increasing your traffic and visibility is important to earning an income with your blog. What’s more important, though, is the engagement of your audience. You don’t just want an audience. You need an audience that wants to see what you’re sharing next, is interested in your perspective, clicks on the links you share and is invested in value as an authority on whatever your topic is!
Instead of focusing on the number of likes on your Facebook page, focus on the number of shares, the comments, the interaction on your Instagram and the clickthroughs coming from your social media. Use a tool like Bit.ly so you can create trackable links and evaluate whether the information you are sharing on your social feeds is interesting and relevant enough for your audience to click on.
New: Group Insights
A new tool for those with a Facebook Group is the native insights available to Group admins. With Facebook’s Mark Zuckerburg announcing at the Communities Summit that their new focus would be on bringing people together, it is likely that we will see continued benefit in highly engaged groups.
The new Group Insights allow you to evaluate the most popular content, highly engaged members and the most active times (a great way to time your Facebook Lives!). Even more than scheduling content at key times, identifying the content that most resonates with your audience adds to your content planning – which topics get people talking and asking questions?
Your email list is a foundational cornerstone of your online presence. Each of your social media channels is dependent on an algorithm that you have zero control over. With email, you audience has forged a personal connection and invited you to have direct contact. You want the number on your list to steadily grow – but with high quality list members since your list will get more expensive as your list gets larger!
Keep a close eye on your open rate, link click throughs and where your active email list is coming from. Your email provider should give you the open rate & click thrus of each email – I use a simple Google Sheet to track them and average per month. THe higher those two numbers go, the more on target you are with providing relevant, compelling information in your emails – which sets your list up to convert into sales for your own products or affiliate programs.
I also like to keep an eye on my cold subscribers – the people who are no longer engaging with your emails. It may be that they aren’t interested or they aren’t catching your emails because of inbox clutter. Once a quarter, I send an email with a compelling free offer to my cold subscribers and invite them to unsubscribe if they are no longer a good fit or re-engage.
What do I not worry about? Unsubscribes. Unless I’m hitting numbers like >5% of my list, unsubscribes are just a part of audience self-segmenting. Either I’m not quite the right fit or they’re looking for difference information, the unsubscribes aren’t my audience (assuming I’m not being spammy and annoying). They are saving my money and effort by removing themselves from my list when they are unlikely to buy anything I’m offering.
So what should you be tracking?
In Google Analytics:
- Audience demographic information
- Browsers & method (desktop vs mobile)
- Referral sources
- Time on Site
- Bounce Rate
- Pages Per Visit
- Top Ten Content
- Click Thrus
- Group Top Content
- Group Top contributors
- Open rate
- Click thrus
- Cold Subscribers
- How they joined your list (I use Tags in ConvertKit)