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Why Content Marketing Really Matters and How to Prove It

Call it content marketing, inbound marketing, or just call it the company blog. Whatever the name you give to the act of churning out regular, high quality, SEO-optimized writing, the benefits are manifold. But how do you prove that your content marketing efforts are paying off? You need to show results to your bosses or, […]

Call it content marketing, inbound marketing, or just call it the company blog.

Whatever the name you give to the act of churning out regular, high quality, SEO-optimized writing, the benefits are manifold.

But how do you prove that your content marketing efforts are paying off?

You need to show results to your bosses or, if you’re a freelancer, your clients want tangible proof that their investment has a return. And considering that good content strategy takes a long view, how do you justify the paycheck?

We’ll look at various reports and metrics that will work for you, the mastermind behind the content, and prove the value of your wordsmithing.

The Goals Of Content Marketing

To demonstrate the impact of content marketing, first lay out the business goals you aim to influence. Content marketing has many benefits, but we’ll pick a few and discuss the measurement strategies needed to show success (or the need for improvement).

I’ll focus on five goals of content marketing but, to be sure, there are other goals and benefits. A good marketing strategy will leverage content marketing in positively affecting multiple goals, but each of these goals will have different metrics and reports to track outcomes.

  1. Brand Identity
  2. Micro-moments and the Customer Journey
  3. Search Engine Ranking
  4. Generate Leads
  5. Customer Re-engagement


Content Marketing Goal 1: Brand Identity

A company’s brand is the voice with which the business communicates with customers; it is the foundation upon which customer relationships are built. The company’s brand is also a major part of how the business is positioned in the customer’s mind concerning their needs and in relation to rivals. Brand imparts credibility, implies price, and influences word-of-mouth growth.

Measuring the impact of content on brand is tricky, but possible.

In general, brand performance and brand awareness are outside the scope of a content marketer, but if this is a priority for the business, then these metrics can demonstrate success.


Measuring Brand Through Social Media Activity

Many companies equate brand awareness with “people talking about us.” Your content’s shares on Facebook, Reddit, Twitter and elsewhere are excellent indicators that the content and thus the brand is being well received and gaining traction in the public’s mind.

One quick way to show impact is to merely illustrate the traffic from social media in relation to the company’s overall traffic. I’ll use a simple Teacup dashboard summary to demonstrate:

Measuring Brand Through Social Media Activity

Simple Social Media Traffic Comparison

Alternately, I often show the trend of social media traffic with another more in-depth report called “How Much Quality Traffic Is Coming To My Site From Social Media?”

This report highlights the traffic trend over the last few months, the quality of the traffic and allows for more detailed analysis.

In the “Detail Breakdown” section of the report, you can see the number of new visitors, as well as which articles (landing pages) drove the most traffic.  

Of course, the “source” row shows which social media platform your traffic comes from.

Social Media Traffic Report

Social Media Traffic Report

Demographic Site Traffic Analysis

Diving into the demographics of web traffic can show the impact of the articles in bringing new people or engaging existing customers (or past customers).

You can find this info in Google Analytics here: Audience > Behavior > New vs. Returning. I prefer to use a Teacup report again because it makes it easier to drill down into the landing pages that are drawing in the visitor types. Also, you can glance at other fun metrics like frequency, recency, device, etc.

New vs. Returning Web Traffic Report

New vs. Returning Web Traffic Report

However, back in Google Analytics directly, you can combine the audience interests with the landing pages that attract them. 

Give this a shot:

  1. Click Audience > Interests > In-Market Segments

In-market segments are the people who, based on their browsing data are actively looking to purchase. i.e., they’re “in the market for…”

  1. Click on “Secondary dimension” and choose “Landing Page.”

At this point, you’ll see something like this:

Google Analytics Interests

Notice that the home page seems to loom large. That’s ok. We can clean this up quickly.

  1. Click on the “advanced” option and exclude the home page.

Like this:

Google Analytics Interests By Landing Page

That’s it!

Now you can see which landing pages attract which customers based on their interests. You’ll demonstrate the effectiveness of your content in reaching the right potential customers.


Taking Control Of Brand Identity

What if your content is not driving the amount of engagement you want? How do you positively influence these metrics and not only demonstrate your writing’s quality, but demonstrate an ability to drive engagement?

Take Distribution Seriously

As a content marketer, you’re being paid not only for content but also for marketing. Thus you need a distribution plan for each client including:

  • Relevant websites where you can share your content. I call this a distribution list.
  • A network that will share your content on social media
  • A strategy to drive back-links to your content
  • A social media strategy for your client to share the content to their network. This includes graphics, multiple variations of posts and a posting schedule.

Low-Cost Pay-To-Play Strategies To Boost The Brand

If your client is investing in your top-notch writing, you should convince them to maximize their investment by providing support and creating a budget for:

  • Boosting posts on Facebook. Using the in-market segments you discovered in Google, you’re primed to target the right Facebook segments.
  • Remarketing on both Google and Facebook. Sure, this is out of the scope of most content marketers, but this is also a way to increase your value and billable hours. Besides, a company like Teacup can do the heavy lifting here.
  • Search Engine Marketing. If your content factors in the buyer-journey and micro-moments, it may be worth marketing your content based on keyword searches too.

Again, this is where a partnership with a freelancer or a service like Teacup comes in. You can offer the service to your client and sub-contract digital marketing to someone else, freeing you up to do what you love.


Content Marketing Goal 2: Micro-Moments and the Customer Journey

Micro-moments describe the many instances in a day that consumers turn to their phones to get help making a decision. Micro-moments are opportunities for a business to connect with customers at the instant of need.

I’ve written extensively about micro-moments, what they are, and how to measure them here.

Fact is, the only possible way for a business to be there for the customer when a micro-moment arises is through thoughtful content and requires research into the customer journeys the buyer process.

Then you’ll need to map out the micro-moments for each type:

  • I-want-to-know
  • I-want-to-go
  • I-want-to-do
  • I-want-to-buy

If you, as a content marketer take the time to work with your clients in discovering these moments, you’ll not only generate a lot of work to be done (billings!), you’ll help your clients with a marketing tactic that pays dividends over time.


Measuring The Micro-Moment Impact Of Your Content

The micro-moment frames your client as the answer to the customer’s question. Whether it’s a comparison of luxury watches or affirming the buying decision with technical specifications, this is an opportunity to help your client build relationships with customers by providing useful information.

81% of people turn to search when they have1 experience a micro-moment and your client can play a role in providing advice to these searchers.

As before, Google Analytics provides useful micro-moment measurement. Head over to Google Analytics and click on Acquisition > Search Console > Queries.

You’ll want to go for the long-tail here and set the number of rows to 100 or more. The lower down you explore, the more specific the queries become. As you look for those moments, you’ll notice patterns in the search queries that imply the topics that interest people. Take a look at this tour operator’s results:

Search Queries Report

These searchers are exploring the idea of travel to Africa. If your content is meeting the needs of informational searches like these and drawing in people to your client’s site, you’re doing your job!

Looking at the keywords report in Google Analytics can also offer insight. However, due to the frequent issue of keywords showing as (not provided), the usefulness here is minimized. Keywords are the high-level idea or overall topic while queries are what people type into the search engine. That’s why I find search queries to be the best option here when demonstrating the relevance of your content.

Another fantastic report to show clients the long-term impact of your content is to use multi-channel attribution and the assisted conversion report.

In Google Analytics, click on Conversions > Multi-Channel Funnels > Assisted Conversions. It’ll look something like this:

Multi-Channel Attribution Assisted Conversions Report

Then, add Landing Page as a secondary dimension like this:

Multi-Channel Attribution Assisted Conversions Report

Ok, so what are you looking at in the Assisted Conversions report?

You’re noticing which landing pages played a role in driving sales for your client during the entire buyer journey. Pretty cool, right? This way, your content gets credit for the sale, even if the customer purchased two weeks after they read your article and entered the site through an ad.

If your content has either Assisted Conversions or Last Click Conversions, then your content paid a return on your client’s investment in you.


Make Sure You’re Part Of The Solution

Your content is part of the solution when it comes to answering customer questions and driving sales over time.

The challenge is in making sure that you’re writing the right content for the right micro-moments and then tracking them.


Finding The Micro-Moments, You Need To Impact

First, you need to talk to your clients and create a plan. Think of every objection, concern, competitor or question that a customer faces during their buyer journey. Each of those items will need you, the writer, to craft answers. It can add up quickly, so think which micro-moments you’re best suited to help by walking in the customer’s shoes.

Where are the gaps in the customer’s search for a solution? Where do they see your client’s business and where do competitors win them over? A great example is the search keywords “buy” or “near me.”

Imagine a brand new Aunt whose sister just had her first child. Auntie might google something like “what do new mothers need?”

Here’s where useful content like “The top 10 products every new mother needs” would win over an E-commerce-centric page. Then, later the Aunt will search “buy Happy Brand diapers” and find their way back to your client’s site.

In competitive industries, educational content is gold in the long run, and the only way to solve this is through great content that helps customers make good decisions. Combined with well-designed websites with calls-to-action micro-moment friendly content generates revenue.


Can AdWords Boost Micro-Moment Visibility?

Yes, Adwords with good content can help reach customers at the right micro-moment. It requires a moderately sophisticated understanding of your client’s customers and the buyer journey.  

The good news is that the AdWords Search campaign will, by nature, focus on searches that are long-tail. That’s good news because long-tail keywords are also often low-cost keywords. If your customer research finds the “how do I…” or “what are the…” or “the best…” types of searches then you can target those and deliver the content at the perfect moment.

Answer the Public is a fantastic tool to find these questions.


Content Marketing Goal 3: Search Engine Ranking

Rising in rank in Google’s search results is the holy grail of online marketing.

A good organic search ranking is a long-term strategy that requires long-term thinking, and in the end, it results in regular traffic and leads arriving at your digital doorstep.

The bad news is that from your client’s perspective, waiting for an ROI somewhere out there in the murky future can feel like they’re being taken for a fool.


Short-Term Measurement Of Long-Term Gain

It might be almost intangible to show the power of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) but the operative word there is almost.

It is indeed possible.

The trick to keeping clients happy during the long haul to first-page ranking is communication.

Start here.

Write out a list of the essential keywords that your client wants to rank for. There could be 10, 20 or even 50 or more keywords relevant to the business. Think long tail, short tail and you can also refer to the micro-moments above for some ideas.

Then, armed with this list, show your client exactly where they rank in search engine results for each of those keywords. The best tool that I know of is Moz Pro. With SERP tools, that’s Search Engine Results Page tools, like Moz, you can follow the keywords, just like fans watch their sports team in a league.  

The point on all this is that you can show how your client rises, slow but steady from position 50 on a specific keyword to carving out a spot on the first page.


Tracking The Increase In Organic Search Traffic

Want more metrics to measure your content marketing magic?

The super simple metric is the number of website visits your client gets through organic search.

Organic Search Traffic Report

By showing a steady climb over time in the number of organic search visitors, you can demonstrate the efficacy of your content. A word of warning, though it probably isn’t needed.

Search engine traffic takes time to start appearing, and it grows as your rankings improve. Keep your client grounded in realistic expectations and educate them.

Also, keep in kind the power of multi-channel attribution that was mentioned above in the micro-moments section. You can always show your client the impact of Organic search in assisting conversions. Combined with growth in rankings and traffic, Multi-channel attribution is a cherry on the analytics sundae.


How To Rise Up The Ranks Through Through Good Content

There are three primary elements needed to improve ranking in the results. You won’t be able to influence all three as a content marketer, but you can indeed be instrumental in influencing your client! These pillars of ranking are site structure, backlinks, and quality content.

Website Structure and SEO

Google and other search engines need understand your client’s website to know where to rank it.

To facilitate Google’s understanding, the site should be appropriately structured, with descriptive Semantic HTML, Schema, appropriate meta tags, sitemaps and a whole host of other structural requirements. These are the domain of web designers, not content marketers.

If you’re writing your heart out, it behooves you to set yourself up for success. Encourage your client to take this seriously.

Grab a report at WooRank and show your client where their big SEO structural pitfalls are. Don’t be afraid to nag your client, from time to time either so they fix some of the more pressing issues.

Also, make sure Google indexes their website.

Find out who the IT guy or webmaster is and push hard for confirmation that they take this seriously. If you can swing it, get access to their Search Console account (or set it up yourself with Google Analytics as the validation) and make sure Google is crawling your content.

While your site will still be indexed without this step, being engaged here will help you uncover any issues that might prevent your site from being indexed.


Building Backlinks

Backlink-building is contentious due to black-hat corruption. Anytime a “trick” to improving SEO arises, someone inevitably abuses it and ultimately, Google finds a new way to determine rank. Regardless, if reputable websites, related to the content you’re righting, are sharing or linking to your content then Google will consider you to be respectable too.

Distribution matters here and the advice as we gave earlier applies just as much here. Distribution of your content helps your SEO.

Create a plan, find friendly sites which can share your content and don’t leave it up to your client.


Quality Content Consistently

Quality and consistency are immune to the whims of Google updates and black-hat tactics. If you regularly write new content that is of value to customers, Google will reward you.

Be uncompromising in your goal to write quality content that serves the searcher and potential customers. Be consistent in releasing new material and keeping old content fresh.

That’s it!


Content Marketing Goal 4: Generate Leads

Generating leads for your clients is a primary reason they’re paying for great content. You’re there to help their salespeople receive engaged inbound leads.

Tracking this is obvious – you directly measure the number of leads. The challenge is in making sure leads are indeed counted.

When someone fills out a “get a quote” form on a client’s website, that needs to be tracked as a conversion. Once that is done, you’re all set to use the tools we’ve discussed above to prove that your content was part of the customer journey. Multi-channel attribution is a meaningful way to ensure you get the credit for the lead taking that final step and reaching out.

But that isn’t all. If you’re creating compelling content, you’ll want to ensure that you can turn readers into leads by including your client’s phone number, or a contact form and again, ensuring that any signups from these pages are correctly attributed to you.


Getting Leads Through E-books, Whitepapers or Guides

The list of companies that use this tactic is vast. Offering a guide to your client’s chief specialty and requiring an email or phone number before gaining access to the knowledge is a conventional method of lead generation.

When you look at what many online companies do, is they compile related articles into a single e-book, create a landing page and voila! Crafting an e-book requires some design efforts, but it’s an efficient way to repurpose past content and “stretch” the value of your content.


Connecting Content Marketing To Lead Generation

To highlight the role you’re playing in generating leads and revenue for your clients requires some nagging. You’ll need to nag your clients into setting up appropriate tracking and into sharing the data with you. If this is done correctly, whether your client sees this in their company reports or you show them via your reporting, all depends on how they track leads. 

If your client is amenable to it, find out what their close rate is and also their average revenue per customer. You can then calculate the exact ROI of your content.

Content Marketing ROI = Leads divided by Sales multiplied by Avg. Revenue.

For example, let’s say you generate 50 leads through your content and the sales team closes on 10 of them. Each sale is worth $3,000. That looks like:

50/10 * $3,000 = $15,000

Your content is worth $15,000 in gross revenue.

The hard part, as always, is getting access to this information. Try to convince your client that they’ll get more transparency and accountability if they share.


Generating More Leads Through Paid Channels

If no one sees your content, you’re merely treading water so distributing your content to new eyes is vital to finding new leads. One of the most effective channels is Facebook but cutting through the noise is getting harder and harder, especially when relying on organic methods.

Avinash Kaushik has written a blistering indictment of the impact of organic social media: Stop All Social Media Activity (Organic).

However, you’re able to generate new leads by paid boosts of your content on Facebook. Facebook makes it easy to “boost” any post, and your top content should get the financial backing. That’s the crux of our article. Investing in great content also means spending in sharing the content.

However, taking your best content and turning it into regular Facebook ads can also reap benefits, primarily if the content is hosted on a page that encourages form submission.

If you followed the e-book route we describe above, then paid ads is a valuable way to find the people most likely to benefit from your guide. When your client’s industry is very competitive, advertising a “buyers guide” on the keywords in AdWords can be an effective way to beat the sale-schtick of competitors ads and, indeed, get those leads.


Content Marketing Goal 5: Customer Re-Engagement

A standard business truism states that it’s easier and cheaper to sell to existing customers than to acquire new customers. That’s where you come in! Staying in touch with past customers requires great content disseminated frequently.

Great blog posts, email newsletters, marketing automation and social media; these are all content marketing channels.


Newsletters For Customer Re-Engagement

My favorite tool to stay in touch with existing customers is email newsletters. Where so many companies fail is that they use newsletters like digital “flyers” which sell, sell, sell and treat customer inboxes as a dumping ground for marketing junk.

The reality is that we all read emails from businesses when the content is exciting and informative. Again, this is where helpful content wins.

If you’re writing excellent blog posts for your client, then the newsletter ensures a baseline readership. So every blog post should become a newsletter or, at the very least, should be included in a regular newsletter.

Push for ownership of your client’s monthly newsletter, and you’ll end up with a client who relies on you more and more.


Proving Content Marketing’s Role In Repeat Business

Measurement is fractured when measuring repeat business. There are newsletter opens and clicks. There is “returning” blog visits which are tracked in Google Analytics. There is also “mindshare” which can be nigh impossible to measure.

So, how do you do it?

Well, you do it all together.

Using Google Analytics data, you can track some fascinating metrics like Frequency, Recency and, the trend of retaining past visitors. I’ll demonstrate with a Teacup report called Am I Attracting Both New And Return Visitors To My Website?

New Vs. Returning Line Graph

We’re looking at the trend of return visitors. As long as it’s increasing over time, this implies that you’re retaining past visitors and converting first-time visitors into repeat traffic.

You can also track conversions in this report specific to returning visitors to show that repeat visits translate into repeat business:

Returning visitors report

In this same report, you can see Frequency which describes how often people return to the site. You can view this in more detail in a unique Frequency report too. Superficially, this context should suffice. Measuring conversions alongside frequency can demonstrate how many visits it takes before a visitor converts.

Cool, right?!


Remarketing To Past Customers

Businesses often use Remarketing to close sales that didn’t complete their journey through the funnel on the first visit. However, a great benefit of remarketing is, in fact, re-engagement of existing customers.

Both AdWords and Facebook allow for you upload your customer lists and market to them but I prefer Facebook for this idea. Consider this. Sharing new articles, new ideas and new products with people who already know and love you is the most granular targeting I can think of. It is far cheaper and more potent than a spray-and-pray boost on any ad network too.

So, suggest to your clients that they help share great content with those most likely to care!

If past customers love your clients’ company, staying in touch is worth the investment in generating more sales through directly sharing great content.


The Measurement Of Content Creation

At no point do I recommend enacting all the suggestions in this article.

Pick and choose whatever might fit but I hope this serves as inspiration. The goal denoted to help you think creatively about measurement as it pertains to content creation. The other goal was to help your clients feel great each time they sign your paycheck.

Let me know how it goes or ask me anything, anytime!



1. Google/Purchased Digital Diary “How Consumers Solve Their Needs In The Moment

Analysis, Action, and Assessment with Google Analytics

How to Actually Use Key Metrics and Data Analysis to Make a Difference On any given day, I spend a few hours discussing web analytics with a bevy of businesses, small to large. The one thing I consistently notice in companies without a staff analyst, is randomness. Seldom is there a coherent strategy for analysis […]

How to Actually Use Key Metrics and Data Analysis to Make a Difference

On any given day, I spend a few hours discussing web analytics with a bevy of businesses, small to large.

The one thing I consistently notice in companies without a staff analyst, is randomness.

Seldom is there a coherent strategy for analysis and measurement.

By basic logic, random actions lead to random results ~ Neil Patel

Without strategy, analysis usually consists of the following steps:

1. First, look at some collection of data (any data you can find will suffice).
2. Step two, make wild assumptions.
3. Step three, do something.

Weeks later, someone in a meeting will ask if “something” worked. No one will be able to say for sure. Usually, no one remembers to measure the results properly anyway.

Luckily, this is easily solved. With a smidgen of focus, you’ll be jostling answers loose from your web analytics questions in no time!

Measurements inform uncertain decisions ~ Douglas W. Hubbard

It doesn’t matter which web analytics tool you use. Almost any half-decent tool will give you enough data to work with. Analytics is not about all-the-data; analytics is about reducing uncertainty.

I use Google Analytics and it does a fine job of uncovering the insights I usually look for. Then, throw in some Excel or Google Docs for the occasional sum, and I’m good to go.

As the founder of Teacup Analytics, it is tempting to recommend my own tool and, while I believe it can make your life easier, I’ll keep things platform agnostic.

As you wade through the rest of this post, please remember the following two points:

One of the harder things to do is correlate measured results back to specific and repeatable actions ~ Ash Maura

1. As you test ideas, just be aware that you don’t muddy the waters too much. Try things out, but please avoid trying too many things at once. Oh, and avoid multiple concurrent tests aimed at improving the same metric.

An unrepeatable result is no result at all ~ Johannes Cabal, necromancer

2.Once you’ve taken an action, you’ll need to monitor the results over time. Often, you’ll notice a sharp impact right away, but it is the ongoing impact that matters. We’ll discuss how to measure this in more detail later.


Understanding Quality With “Good” Metrics

Take a look at a metric. Any metric. Is it good?

A good metric changes the way you behave ~ Ben Yoskovitz, author of Lean Analytics

As weird as that question might sound to you, it’s a common one. Some people want ponderable numbers and data with significance. Others simply prefer the reassurance that they’re doing alright. That, to them, is a good metric.

To me, a metric should point you in the right direction and inspire you to act. That is a good metric.

And to get inspired by a metric, I first calculate its “quality.”

I’ve used Excel, Google Analytics and Teacup Analytics to handle the following calculations in varying degrees of complexity but I’ll keep it somewhat simple for now. We’re not necessarily aiming for precision, merely for reducing uncertainty.


Calculate Your Baseline

The baseline is your point of comparison. When looking at your performance today, and when looking at your performance after you take action, you’ll need to be able state, unequivocally, that your change resulted in an increase, decrease, or had no tangible impact. The baseline will help contextualize your results. This baseline allows you to classify your results as successful or as failure.


Step 1: Choose Your Metrics

Depending on your business, you might have one, or two metrics that matter the most to you. The easiest metric to hang your hopes on is conversion rate. Revenue per transaction, bounce rate, site depth are all great metrics too.

You can roll everything up into a larger KPI so you don’t need to limit yourself to one metric. I usually use three or four metrics depending on the website and product range.

For our example, let’s calculate quality using the engagement metrics of conversion rate, bounce rate and site depth (pageviews per session).


Step 2: Calculate the Average

Select a time period. I like to use three months as my period.

In my experience, this is a long enough timeframe for ideas to manifest results as well as smooth out the impact of outliers like holidays and sales.

Depending on your customer behavior and sales cycle you might increase this time period, even up to a year.

Next, find your average bounce rate, conversion rate and site depth for that time period. For three months, I prefer to take the weekly averages as my unit of measurement and then average that out for the twelve weeks.

For a shortcut, you can just grab the overall average in Google Analytics. Set your time period in the upper right corner of any Google Analytics page. Then, navigate to Acquisition > Overview. You’ll see your averages for each metric here:

Calculating your average metrics in Google Analytics

Write these averages down somewhere. We’ll be coming back to them shortly.


Calculating Your Quality

Next, we’ll be unearthing the quality of various traffic channels. It’s actually quite simple. I use this technique to “troubleshoot” channels by repeating this process for segments of channels to find where the weakest links are.

Let’s look at current performance. Simply stay on the same page in Google Analytics we were last on, and change the time period to the last week.

Now, type in each channel’s weekly avg. into Excel and follow these steps:

1. Calculate the difference between Current Performance and your Baseline
2. Add the results of the differences up into an overall KPI

It might look a little something like this:

Excel Example of Metric Analysis

We’ve just calculated which traffic channels are currently the highest quality (green), average quality (yellow) and lowest quality (red). We’ve calculated this relative to our recent history.

At Teacup Analytics, we do something quite similar to this. After assessing your unique variability, Teacup grades your traffic on a curve, offering more nuance to these concepts. However, these ideas apply all the same, despite a somewhat simplistic approach in this example.


Analysis Is Easy!

OK, we’ve visually ranked our traffic channels by “quality.” So what? Well, here is where the insights lie. And after insights, comes inspiration and action!

Let’s take a look at our data on a graph:

Graph of acquisition quality via traffic channel

What we’re looking at here is our channels, ascending by volume along the X-axis. The Y-axis is our quality. What we’re looking for is which channels offer us the best opportunities to act!

Let’s pause a second and think about the following statement:

All analysis boils down to three possible actions.

1. Do Nothing
2. Grow
3. Optimize


Do Nothing:

Channels that are both low quality, and low volume aren’t worth your time and effort. There is too little payoff. These are the channels that will offer little return for your investment.


Growth Opportunities:

When a channel has significant volume and is high quality, it indicates that they’re the right type of audience and they are engaging nicely with your site (i.e. they’re converting). You want more! Thus, you’d grow the channel.


Optimization Needed:

When you have a low quality channel with significant volume, the returns on growth efforts are minimized. What the smart folks do is optimize these channels first. Once the channel has improved, and has become high quality, it will be ripe for growth.
Let’s take a look at our graph again through this analysis lens:

Low Volume High Quality to High Volume Low Quality

Insights abound!

Social and Email channels are simply too low volume to offer much return so they don’t warrant any effort.

Both Paid Search and Organic Search have an engaged audience and are absolutely ripe for further investment to grow those channels.

Referral is doing alright, but could be performing better. Here, the best thing to do is improve the experience for the referral traffic we’re already getting. Like a leaky bucket, you want to plug the holes first, before pouring more water in.

Direct is a special case. Direct traffic is notoriously challenging to optimize, due to the difficulty in understanding the audience intent. I’ve left that off of the actionable items here but if you’re interested in “cleaning up” your Direct traffic, I heartily recommend this awesome article by Avinash Kaushik: Excellent Analytics Tip #18: Make Love To Your Direct Traffic.

Note: Check your trend! Please don’t make big decisions if your current performance is an outlier. Rather wait a week or two until things level out. Most outliers level out around four weeks anyway.

Another note: When I say “significant” traffic, I simply mean that there should be enough traffic to consider the channel impactful.


Actions Are Easy Too

We’ve analyzed our web traffic and come up with plausible opportunities for growth and optimization. Now that we know where the opportunities lie, deciding on the actions to take is not difficult. Sure, the details will need to be threshed out, but at the high level, you can now decide on where to focus.

Want to grow Organic Search traffic? Google has a ton of ideas for you:

Grow Organic Traffic Search Results 2016
Need to optimize your referral traffic? Guess where to find some tips!

Optimize Referral Traffic Google SERPS 2016

Finding the actionable insights is quite feasible, isn’t it? But before you charge ahead, weigh your options.


Some Things To Consider Before You Act

When deciding on a plan of attack, inspired by your analytics, you want to consider where you can get the most return for the least effort.

While discussing these ideas in detail is beyond the scope of this article, I encourage you to investigate these ideas further one day.


Calculate Traffic Value Per Visitor:

Before deciding which channel to grow, try calculating the value of each visitor. The formula is:

Total_value_of_conversions_per_channel / Total_unique_visits = Value_per_visitor

Using this formula, you can decide between two growth opportunities and choose the one that offers the most return.


Cost To Benefit:

I shouldn’t need to mention cost to benefit but, well, too many people ignore this. Either it’s too disheartening, or it’s not fun enough when you’re inspired to act. If your planned action requires any investment in time and money, please calculate the costs relative to likely benefit.


The Cost Of Inaction:

But what about not doing anything at all? If you’re not sure whether optimizing a channel is worth your time, try figuring out what inaction is costing you using Monetization Models.

Monetization models, which I first read about in Actionable Web Analytics assign value to specific actions on your site – the types of actions you’d optimize for. With these models, you can learn which optimizations offer the most ROI as well as what you’re losing by not doing anything.


The Long Term Benefits Of Optimization:

Don’t forget this simple idea! Even the smallest real increase to your conversion rate continues to pay dividends in the long run. As your traffic grows, you continue to reap the benefits of that extra percentage point!


Assessing Your Results

Ignorance is never better than knowledge ~ Enrico Fermi

Assessment takes time. However, because monitoring results lacks sustained dramatic interest, many take action and then wander off to find new, excited things to do.

My guess is that many ignore the results because not knowing is easier than admitting you took the wrong actions. Not you, though, right?

If you’re not measuring the results of your actions, you’re wallowing in ignorance! And that is silly, considering how hard you’ve worked to take action! Sometimes the steps you took worked out well. Other times, they cause adverse reactions in customer behavior. Being aware, and able to react is important.

Here is the process to properly assess whether your actions are positively impactful or not.


Step 1: Check Current Performance Against A Segmented Baseline

Now that you’ve taken an action, it’s time to see if there was any immediate impact.

To do this, you’ll need to create a baseline again. Previously, we’d created a baseline for all website traffic to uncover which channels are over- and under-performing. This time, you’re following those exact same steps but focusing only on the metrics you wanted to impact. Let’s call this the segmented or granular baseline.

For example, let’s say we wanted to impact the bounce rate of referral traffic. To do this, you’d first find the average bounce rate on referral traffic for the last three months. This is the granular baseline. Give it about a week and then compare your latest week’s referral traffic bounce rate to your granular baseline.

This is the early warning system! Depending on your changes, some dips are expected but if something drastic occurs, at least you’ll be aware and ready to change course if needed. However, like The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy says, don’t panic. Give things time to level off.


Step 2: Average Out Results

As each week progresses, start averaging out the results. Just like you created your granular baseline, you’re creating a new post-action baseline as time goes by.

After a month, you’ll be able to compare your new baseline average to the granular baseline. Ideally, you should see an improvement by now.


Step 3: Compare Time Periods

Our baselines have been three month periods. We want to give our actions that same amount of time to make their impact.

By comparing averages over longer time periods, you’ll be able to smooth out the variability. A significant overall improvement over three months indicates that the improvements are likely to be “real” and ongoing.

You’ll be able to say, with certainty, that your actions resulted in genuine improvements.


Web Analytics Wonderland

Anything you need to quantify can be measured in some way that is superior to not measuring it at all ~ Gilb’s Law

Certainty is hard to come by, but in a world gone mad, you don’t need certainty. You just need to reduce uncertainty.

Look at your analytics and you’ll find insights, if you’re open to it. By assessing the results, you’ll be able understand the relationship between your actions and your audience.

Be wary of ignorance! You should have a good idea as to why your actions worked, not just that they do. Interview customers, use surveys and listen to feedback. Armed with this understanding, you’ll be able to replicate your successes and avoid your mistakes.

The best part of analysis? It never ends! Each success offers a further opportunity to learn, act and measure.

A Guide To High-Quality Growth With Google Analytics

My interest in Google Analytics began about 6 years ago. Two years after my brother, Gary, and I launched Mad Mimi Email Marketing. Whilst we had installed Google Analytics from the start, we used it almost entirely for its vanity metrics. We looked at our traffic numbers and very little else. Sure, we glanced at […]

My interest in Google Analytics began about 6 years ago. Two years after my brother, Gary, and I launched Mad Mimi Email Marketing. Whilst we had installed Google Analytics from the start, we used it almost entirely for its vanity metrics. We looked at our traffic numbers and very little else.

Sure, we glanced at conversion rates, bounce rates, landing pages and a handful of other metrics. And yet not once did we ask the right questions of our analytics. Of course, without asking the right question, one never gets the right answer.

So I hired an analyst. Then another and another. Unfortunately, instead of simplifying our data, and looking for an area of improvement, these analysts collected heaping swaths of information into reports and dropped them on me like a ton of bricks. I was perplexed. I mean to say, there’s something about data that paralyses the mind and reduces the contents of the brain to mush.

So, no longer enamored of the idea of analysts, I decided to strike out on my own, to learn the mysteries of Google Analytics. Along the way I did meet phenomenal analysts with ready intelligence – they’re out there –  who helped me learn a lot. I’d like to share one of my favorite ideas.

So, How Is My Website Traffic Doing?

As far as questions go, this one is a doozy. It’s really a poor question that leaves out all the pertinent points one might hope to glean from an answer. It reminds me a little of myself at the age of 14 when my father would ask me how my day at school was. I’d answer “fine.”

Really, if you’re asking this question of your data, you’re probably answering “fine,” to yourself. And yet I bet I could throw a rock and hit a business owner, or marketer, or growth hacker, who asked this question. A better question to ask is:

Have I been growing my high-quality traffic recently?

Now that is a good question that will yield insights and inspire you to act.

Defining High-Quality Traffic

First, do you want to look at all your traffic? You might want to focus entirely on new visitors, or referrals or even mobile traffic that arrives on your site via organic search. Whatever defines “ideal” to you. Here are the steps to segmenting traffic in Google Analytics.

To answer the question above, we need to first define what high-quality traffic is. The way I do it is that I select two or more Google Analytics metrics that I feel make up a great visitor. The obvious ones are Bounce Rate and Conversion Rate but you might want to add in Site Depth, or Revenue per Transaction. Whatever suits your goals.

Then, I like to create my own, internal benchmark to compare myself to. I generally look at my site’s average bounce rate and conversion rate for the last quarter and set that as my goal to surpass. A simplistic example may be a bounce rate of 40% and a conversion rate of 10%.

Now, anytime I look at my traffic, if it has a bounce rate of lower than 40% and a conversion rate of 10% or higher, I consider it of good quality.

So, time to define what you feel is “high quality” for your website. Take a break, write down what you’d love for your audience to do on your site. Then choose 2 to 4 metrics that would quantify your audience behavior. If you want them to explore your site, then site depth is a good one. If you want them to purchase something, then transactions per session might be the right metric for you. If you’re unsure, start simple with bounce rate and conversion rate.  

Getting Analytics’ Answer To The Right Question

Jolly good, we’ve got our definition of high quality. Now, let’s look at our site traffic. I’m going to say, for this example, that we’re only interested in growing high-quality new visitors.

Note: By keeping things focused, you’ll find clearer opportunities to act. We might rephrase our question now as: Has my growth strategy been attracting high-quality new visitors recently?

Now that’s a great question to ask yourself! So, let’s look at our traffic through this lens. I created a custom report in Google Analytics that shows me only new users along with their bounce rate and conversion rate. Marvelous, but that’s not all. I also made sure to add in dimension drill downs of default channel grouping and filter by user type. Here’s what it looks like:


Well, now you have your report. Excited? I jolly well am. Because now we have this report, we can monitor our growth weekly, or monthly, in the context of our own definition of high-quality traffic.  

You can actually answer the question in a yes or no way. Has your growth strategy been attracting high-quality new visitors recently? This report has that answer. Keep a close eye on it!

Optimizing For A Traffic Source

Monitoring your traffic is all very well, for those that like to monitor things. I, and I feel safe in assuming you too, like to act. So here is what I do next: I review each traffic channel in the context of our ideal traffic and ask a new question. Are new visitors who visit my site via a specific channel, bouncing and converting at the rate I’d like?

If I notice a channel that has a significant volume of traffic but is letting me down somewhat in the quality metrics (i.e. it has a poor bounce rate), then I know I need to optimize for that.

Perhaps it’s the referral traffic channel that is sending me a nice amount of traffic but simply not converting at a rate I’d love. My next actions are crystal clear. I can investigate which referrers are sending me the traffic and explore their site. I could then look at the landing pages they’re arriving on and optimize them. For example, I’d make sure that the new visitors, coming from a blogger, writing about my app versus my competitors, see an awesome chart highlighting my strengths over my competitors.

Because I’m considering quality in the context of traffic, it helps clarify the actions I can take. Once I’ve optimized my site or strategy to improve the experience for new visitors, I’ll likely see growth in conversion rate too. Quality results tend to be holistic.

Best of all, I can simply keep an eye on this report and make sure that my actions haven’t had an adverse effect on my quality.

Growing A Traffic Source

On the other hand, perhaps I notice that a traffic channel has outstanding quality. My bounce rate is rock bottom with an high conversion rate. Amazing! I know that the next actions for me to take are to grow this traffic source.

Let’s use referrals as an example again. Say I notice that referral traffic volume is somewhat low, but of a generally high quality, I can define and enact a strategy of inbound link building, simultaneously improving my SEO. I can note which types of referrals are bringing me great traffic and seek out other opportunities, either with those sites or with similar sites.

Again, because I’m monitoring my growth in a specific context on traffic and quality, I’m able to keep tabs on the success of my strategy. I can note that I’m growing my traffic without sacrificing quality. Or, if I see a correlated drop in quality, I can act quickly to fix that.

Growing Versus Optimizing

Well, this is simple but it’s so much fun to lay out. If you have low quality traffic and a high volume, you should optimize! If you have high quality traffic at a low volume, grow it!

Ultimately, by switching between these two ideas, you’ll end up growing your high-quality traffic!