Here’s everything you need to know for using UTM parameters and Google Analytics to track website, content, and campaign performance according to 50+ pros.
Analytics | May 28
Elise Dopson on November 6, 2019 (last modified on November 1, 2019) • 20 minute read
That’s a lot of data.
And while most marketers and businesses are using a number of different tools in order to track their marketing and sales performance, we thought it’d be interesting to poll a bunch of marketers (in this case, 91!) as to the best way to measure your blog’s performance using only Google Analytics.
Forget the other tools for a bit.
This post is all about how to get the most out of Google Analytics––the reports you can build, the metrics to track, etc.––for measuring your blogging and content marketing efforts.
“I rely upon the Session Quality as my best Measurement metric for blogs,” says Saikiran Kumar of Geekschip.
“The real measure of the quality of a blog or article is known by the length of the time people spend on reading it. I access it by finding a specific URL.
“If the average dwell time is less than the estimated read time, its a sure give away that the content is not being read by visitors fully.”
“As [CanIRank] are an SEO agency, we track blog performance primarily through acquisition traffic in Google Analytics,” says Matt Bentley. “By doing so, we can narrow down statistics by what channel the traffic is coming from, see where our organic numbers are, and pivot accordingly.”
You can use this source traffic breakdown to find other important blog metrics, too.
Shauna Ward of Matcha advises: “Create segments of users based on traffic source, whether they’re new or returning visitors, and people who have visited product pages vs. people who haven’t.”
“This will give you deeper insight into which segments of your audience engage and convert at a higher rate, so you can make more informed decisions about which channels and traffic sources to invest in and which onsite activities lead to more conversions.”
In fact, this traffic-measuring KPI is one of the most popular ways our bloggers use Google Analytics:
Following on from traffic source reports, Christina Pappas of Christina Lee Marketing adds: “I focus on the breakdown of sources to see what traffic is coming organically vs other channels and see where I have an opportunity to drive more.”
But Pappas focuses on organic: “I also look at the keywords driving traffic to your blog to see if they align with your brand and focus. The keywords also help influence future blog topics and ensure I am providing the content my audience wants.”
(Note that you’ll need to link your Search Console account to find this out. More on that later.)
Emily Brereton of Napkins-Only advises to “pay attention to behavior flow throughout your website.”
“Most marketers, web designers, and company owners have a preconceived idea of how users will interact with the site. Pay attention to user flow and optimize what customers are already doing, rather than trying to force them through an inorganic funnel.”
Marty Spargo of Kuala Lumpur Tourist adds: “Look at the landing page report under Behavior > Site Content. This report shows your top-performing pieces of content for driving visits to your website.”
Juli Durante of Impulse Creative adds: “When I want to measure blog growth in Google Analytics, I am almost always using the Landing Pages tool. I want to see how many landings a client’s blog posts are generating, and then the mediums and sources that drive the initial traffic.”
However, Durante takes this a step further: “I’ll also layer in the comparison feature. With a mature blogging strategy, I’ll looking for a few compounding posts (the “evergreen” content that gets more views month after month after month) and want to make sure they’re continuing to see growth in organic landings.”
Although you’re tracking month-on-month metrics for your blog, almost half of our experts measure their performance weekly:
Durante continues: “I’m also looking for the “movers and shakers”- are there any posts that, while not the most popular yet, have seen huge growth in organic versus the previous period? How is this contributing to organic traffic growth?”
“On the other side, if I’ve seen fewer sessions from organic in a time period, has blogging affected that? Have we seen fewer landings from organic on a previously-popular post?”
“It’s not just for organic – you can slice and dice any way you need based on your marketing strategy and current tactics.”
“Even with a tool like HubSpot, which gives me great blogging analytics, in place, this report is one of the most valuable in analyzing traffic to blog posts and identifying posts to improve or reoptimize,” Durante summarizes.
Ridgeway‘s Nick Maynard thinks the “Content Drilldown in Google Analytics allows you to keep a close eye on blog category performance (provided you’ve got a sensible site structure) and allocate resources accordingly.”
“It’s a surprisingly underused report feature and great for communicating content opportunities to clients,” Maynard says.
Honest Marketing‘s Filip Silobod recommends tracking this metric because they “found that returning users convert more and are a positive sign.”
“You want people returning to your blog posts. That means they find it useful,” Silobod continues.
“Select your blog pages and add a secondary dimension of user type. Then you will see how many new and how many returned users do you get on your blog.”
Quentin Aisbett of OnQ Marketing agrees: “The best tip for measuring blog performance is to monitor new vs returning users.”
“If people continue to return to your site, it’s a strong indication that you’re publishing content that they enjoy and value – a great indicator of strong performance.”
Angela Ash of Flow SEO summarizes: “Don’t forget to measure your new, unique visitors against your returning visitors.”
“When you’re running a campaign or targeting a new audience, you’ll need to know if it’s working by attracting brand-new visitors, or if you’re still simply drawing your regular visitors.”
Imaginaire Digital‘s Charlie Worrall advises “to make sure you’re looking at the amount of time spent on your page.”
“If your latest piece of content takes around 5 minutes to read and the average time spent on your post is 2.5 minutes, that would suggest that the users on your page aren’t reading your content properly.”
Worrall summarizes: “This could be for a number of reasons but it shows that there is a problem somewhere and it’s one of the easiest ways to notice there a problem.”
Dwell time is the amount of time someone spends on your site after arriving from a search engine results page (SERP.)
To find this metric in your Google Analytics account, head to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. Then, click the “Organic Traffic” segment. This will filter your results by people who arrived from a SERP.
You can use the Average Session Duration metric as your dwell time:
Code Authority‘s Patricio Quiroz explains: “Measuring the average time spent on your blog (aka dwell time) is very important when it comes to tracking your blog’s performance.”
“This metric will let you know whether people are actually viewing your blog posts or not. For example, if we know the blog should take readers at least ten minutes to read it – but in Google Analytics the average time is only thirty seconds. Then we know that readers are not finding value in the content.”
However, Becky Kerr of Becky Kerr Photography thinks you should “compare the dwell time on each post with the word count of articles.”
“To do this, I divide the word count of the article by the average number of seconds the user is on the page. This will give you a metric you can compare to other articles on your website.”
“The smaller the number, the better the article is performing – as it’s keeping people on the website longer per word written,” Kerr continues.
“You would expect this to be fairly consistent – after all, longer articles take longer to read, so people will be on the page longer. However, in carrying out this process, I’ve found that there’s a sweet spot for article length. Too short and users skim through and leave because it doesn’t feel comprehensive. Too long and it feels overwhelming.”
Kerr continues: “Once you find the sweet spot for your audience, you can endeavor to create content that’s around that length – in theory, ensuring that each article is at peak performance.”
Wax Marketing‘s Bonnie Harris concludes: “It’s much better to have fewer people reading your posts for a longer time, than to have thousands hitting it for 20 seconds.”
Scroll depth does what it says on the tin: Records how far users scroll down each page of your website.
“My best tip for measuring blog performance in Google Analytics is to measure user content reading by implementing a custom metric that calculates scroll depth in relation to the time spent on the page,” says Hexe Data‘s Krzysztof Surowiecki.
Surowiecki adds that this “custom metric provides the following feedback to us:
“When we know how users interact and engage with our content, we can better optimize our actions,” Surowiecki explains.
Fancy using this metric for your blog? Here’s a handy guide that will teach you how to create a custom scroll depth metric in Google Analytics.
Bounce rate is the number of visitors who click on your website and leave without visiting another page.
(For example: If 100 people visit your website and 70 leave after viewing one page, your blog’s bounce rate would be 70%.)
“By monitoring things like bounce rate, you are able to tell if people land on your blog, are immediately uninterested, and leave your site,” writes Colin Mosier of JSL Marketing & Web Design.
“This can give you insight into if you need to change the simple things, like layout, attention-grabbing pictures, videos, and more.”
Similarly, Nat Alleblas adds that “by looking at landing and exit data, I can decide if the blog is performing well or needs improvement. Improvements can be a new call to action, an internal link to another relevant blog or page, or editing the content.
“This helps with reducing the bounce rate, increasing the time spent on the site and increasing conversions,” Alleblas continues.
“Things like traffic, average time on page, and bounce rate, are well-known metrics for measuring a blog’s performance. However, what some SEOs fail to pay attention to is pages per session,” writes Best Company‘s McCall Robison.
“The pages per session feature on Google Analytics shows you how many pages your readers visit while on your site, and this is an important metric when you consider your internal linking strategy.”
“Blog posts are a great way to bring in traffic and drive them to your money-making pages, and you do this through internally linking to those pages on your blog post.
Robison adds: “So if you find that your pages per session are really low, that tells you that you need a better internal linking strategy and better CTAs within your content.”
*Editor’s note: Have you picked the most important metrics for your blog? Use our Blog Quality Metrics dashboard to view your KPIs–such as dwell time and pages per session–all in one place:
“Every website is its own world, and has its own purpose and a unique set of goals,” writes Blendhub’s Daniela Furtado.
“Take the time to create a measure plan to outline what your key objectives are for the website, breakdown the strategies and tactics you want to use to reach those objectives and identify the KPIs that are going to help you measure whether or not you are executing your strategies well.”
Furtado continues: “With those KPIs, you will know exactly what you are looking from Google Analytics and you can use Google Data Studio to create custom reports sent to your inbox on a regular basis.”
Your overall goals impact the metrics you’ll track, as Bryan NG of Bryan Digital explains: “Say you are selling things online, you would want to track conversions. But if you are just writing based on building awareness, traffic and bounce rate are good indicators for it.”
Highlights‘ Etienne Garbugli adds: “To evaluate the performance of your blog, you have to start with your high-level objective: What’s your end game? Why are you blogging?”
“The data points you track depend on your end goal. Don’t just blog to blog.”
Garbugli continues: “If you intend to sell products like I do on the Lean B2B blog, focus on traffic, email signups, and your conversion funnel. But if your goal is pure brand awareness and visibility, your should focus on traffic, email signups, and social media visibility.
BrainSpin‘s Daniel Ashton summarizes: “You can always find a piece of data that you could spin and make it look like you are doing well, but if you plan on actually improving you need to choose the metrics that reflect what your goals are and focus on increasing that.”
“Don’t worry too much about the other vanity metrics, focus on what will bring you the best return.”
FinvsFin‘s Healy Jones adds: “Linking Google Search Console data to Google Analytics gives you much more visibility into the organic searches that are driving traffic to your blog.”
“It’s not that hard to set up, and I strongly recommend bloggers who have a lot of organic traffic take advantage of this powerful feature.”
Smallpdf‘s Hung Nguyen agrees: “Looking at Search Console data will give you a better overview of the performance of your content.”
“This can be accessed by going to Acquisition > Search Console > Landing Pages > and then filter our pages belonging to your blog, i.e., searching for landing pages containing ‘blog’ in the URL.”
Nguyen continues: “Search Console data gives the impressions, clicks, CTR, and average position of each article.”
“If you are playing around with your content, i.e., different title tags or meta-descriptions, you can try to analyze the performance of similar ranking pages to see which type of content is most palatable to your audience.”
Daniel Whittaker of dreamfree summarizes: “Connect Google Search Console to Google Analytics and monitor search volumes, positions and specific keywords which drive traffic.”
*Editor’s note: Synced both of your accounts? Get a better oversight of your blog’s SEO performance with our Google Analytics SEO Dashboard. It pulls data from both of your accounts to display metrics like clicks per page and bounce rate–all in one place:
Adswerve‘s Charles Farina thinks “one of the most powerful features in Google Analytics is the ability to create Audiences with Advanced Segments.”
“The Audience Builder allows you to create these sequence segments, so you can see the exact number of times a particular piece or grouping of content led to an outcome you cared about. If you aren’t using Advanced Segments in Google Analytics then you can’t measure blog performance properly.”
Ryo Chiba says that Topic‘s “biggest tip is to use Google Analytics segments to identify underperforming blog posts that can be quickly optimized for easy wins.”
Chiba explains: “For example, high traffic posts with a high bounce rate usually indicate that there is an issue with how information is organized on the post. Or posts with high time on page but low traffic indicate that the quality of the content is high, but the post could use more effort on distribution.”
James Bowen of Ripen Digital thinks “the best thing you can do to measure blog performance in Google Analytics is ensure your blog posts live in a subfolder on your website (ex. /blog/ or /articles/).”
“By doing so, you can easily filter out other pages and website content – quickly drilling down to the data needed.”
(It’s worth noting that if you use this tactic, you’ll need to be wary about breaking your entire internal link structure. Use a tool like Redirection to point your old blog post URLs to your new ones.)
ESM Digital‘s Joseph Colarusso agrees: “Make sure all blog posts follow a consistent URL structure; for example, mysite.com/blog/.”
“Then, create a custom filter in Google Analytics that only includes pages with /blog/ in the URL. This makes it easy to look at only blog traffic in Google Analytics.”
“My best tip for using Google Analytics to measure blog performance is to set up event tracking and goals,” says Elementive‘s Matthew Edgar. “Don’t just use the out of the box reports in Google Analytics because while those are helpful, they aren’t enough.”
That’s why Eagan Heath of Get Found Madison advises that your “Google Analytics goal [should be created] to measure the success of the post (such as email list sign-ups).”
But Evan Ankney of Sportsbook Scout adds: “Running a blog can be tough to measure performance due to the ambiguity in what success means. Setting up goals allows you to track the things that matter to you: email sign ups, free PDF download, watched a video, etc.”
Smart Marketing Reports‘ Vernon Riley shares some examples you could use as a blog conversion:
Riley adds: “Defining these goals and events is a skill. It’s all about distinguishing a tyre kicker from the genuinely interested visitor.”
In fact, Simon Trafford of Social Lite has a smart hack for Goals: “I like to set Duration Goals on specific pages that I’m tracking.”
“If the article is a 9-minute read, I would set the goal to fire at 3 minutes to know my audience is properly engaging. If I have a lead magnet on the page, even better. I’m always very interested to know what posts are driving the most leads,” Trafford explains.
However, Oliver Berger of Gorilla Stack argues that “You don’t just need to set up Goals to track success in GA, you can measure performance using Events which are easily set up with Google Tag Manager.”
Google Tag Manager is just one of the two tools that most marketers use alongside your main Analytics platform:
“You can set up triggers and track important micro and macro conversions like form completions, phone calls, scroll depth, newsletter signups, outbound link clicks, CTA button clicks and more” using Google Tag Manager, according to Brian Jensen of Congruent Digital.
William Chin of My Wife Quit Her Job summarizes: “Being able to track events has given me insights into the on-page experience just as much as heat-mapping or session recording does.”
RocLogic Marketing‘s David LaVine thinks you should “create a new blog-focused view that filters out a lot of the noise. You’re bound to have visitors to your blog that you don’t care about. You don’t want the interactions of these visitors to skew your understanding of your blog’s performance.”
“Start by only including geographies of interest. Then filter out articles that you don’t really care about, yet might be biasing your data significantly,” LaVine continues.
“Finally, filter out repetitive traffic that’s not useful, whether it’s a bot that keep crawling or someone at your company that keeps checking out your articles.”
“Google Analytics has A LOT of reports. Too many, in fact,” writes Mio‘s Dominic Kent.
“Take what you need and move it into your own dashboard on something like Google Sheets. Once you remove the noise, you can focus on what really matters.”
Frank Corso agrees: “All the metrics and reports in Google Analytics can be very overwhelming which is why I always suggest taking the time to set up dashboards to help focus what you are reviewing.”
Dan Jones of Terrarium Tribe summarizes: “Custom dashboards are a huge time saver for bloggers. If you’re like me and you get tired of scrawling through Google Analytics’ endless menu to find your key data – why not put them all on one easy dashboard for you to see?”
*Editor’s note: Don’t spend hours pulling your data into a spreadsheet, and setting a reminder to update it each week. You can create your own dashboards that automatically pull your most important metrics using Google Analytics dashboards in our template gallery:
Speaking of broken links, you might have high-traffic URLs that are sending your readers to 404 error pages.
Hákon Agústsson MyTweetAlerts explains: “A good way to check if a new site has some 404 errors is to check the All Pages section. Go to: Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages > Select Title. Instead of page, go to the search box and type in “404.”
“Now you will find all pages that are getting traffic but are returning 404,” Agústsson adds.
“A neat trick to view your most popular blog tags is to fire an event for each tag when the blog post is viewed,” says Ana Kravitz of Mixed Analytics.
“For example, a recipe tagged “drink”, “holiday”, and “apple cider” would fire 3 separate events. This will produce a ranked listing of the most-viewed tags on your site, so you can see at a glance what topics attract the most interest.”
Chris Christoff of MonsterInsights adds: “Every website has one sub-niche that outperforms others.”
“For instance, email marketing may be the most popular topic on a site about generating leads. When you look at your most popular posts, you can gain valuable insight into your target audience and what kind of content they enjoy.”
“This information can help you make better decisions when creating future content, and you can optimize the existing posts for explosive growth,” Christoff continues.
You can use this tactic to track other types of content, as Carol Hill of Analytics Help explains: “You can also track the author and the categories of the blog posts in order to see which authors generate the best content and which content category your visitors like to read.”
Truck Driver Institute‘s Joe Gast explains: “The best tip for measuring blog posts results with Google Analytics is to make sure that your IP address is excluded when tracking results of traffic going to your blog.”
“This will ensure that your analytics are not including your personal visits to your website and that those visits will not skew your data.”
It’s notoriously difficult to track the ROI of content marketing.
However, ContentFly‘s Annika Helendi thinks that “adding UTM tags to all the links in the blog that should bring visitors to our main product site has brought us the biggest value.”
“Each UTM tag specifies the blog posts name and this gives me the option to check which specific article brings the most MRR on our main site. The info shows up in the Campaigns section in Google Analytics and since we have conversion tracking in place as well, it’s really easy to see how many profitable customers we have gotten from each blog post.”
“We can then analyze which sources are funneling those signups and what topics/keywords are the most valuable ones,” Helendi adds.
Hopefully, we’ll have inspired you to start digging into the data your Google Analytics script is tracking on your blog.
Start with these important blog metrics and reports, and figure out where you can improve.
It’s the best way to grow your blog.
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