12 Apr 2016

Content Measurement: Identify Your Best and Worst Content

The importance of measurement in content marketing cannot be stressed enough. It is the pulse that indicates whether your website is thriving or fading away into obscurity. It provides insights into what may be working or what is not working. It tells you how to build on your strengths and fix your weaknesses. Without measurement, you’re driving blind.

Analysis of your content, and the underlying metrics, is used in your strategy and overall content marketing efforts to drive decision-making. If your decisions aren’t based in the numbers that reflect your website’s performance, you have to wonder about the reliability of what you decide to do. It’s not enough to just create and publish content these days; you have to take the next step in ensuring the success of your content once published.

The Process

There are two main steps to identifying your best and worst performing content: finding your content and measuring it. Seems simple enough, right? Let’s take a look at the process you should go through with your website metrics:

  1. Collect the top content directories, landing pages, and exit pages.
  2. Use engagement metrics to recognize the success or failure of each.
  3. Make adjustments to poor performing pieces of content.
  4. Determine the success of any changes.
  5. Rinse.
  6. Repeat.

This process gives you the opportunity to identify your successful (and weak) content, make changes, and measure the effect. That’s what measurement is all about.

Measurement gives you the ability to identify strong (and weak) #content, make changes, & measure the effect. Click To Tweet

There is no shortage of engagement metrics to measure, but for this article, we’re only going to look at three. Those are the bounce rate, goal completions, and the exit rate. For simplicity, we’ll look at the bounce rate for content directories, goal completions for landing pages, and the exit rate for top exit pages. Examining these metrics will tell us what you need to know about your content to make smarter decisions moving forward.

Let’s take a look at the content directories and bounce rate first.

Top Content Directories

The content directories are the top-level sections of your website, so for example, you might have your blog, a services section, and a resources section. You should be able to move further into each directory as well, so the resources section may have a webinars area that houses recorded webinars. Just take a look at our own website’s navigation to get an idea of how pages are laid out in a hierarchy.

Top Content Directories

These top content directories are important because they break down your website into smaller sections that can be measured for their respective performance. You can use these, in conjunction with engagement and traffic metrics, to reveal areas of your website that are successful and others that need work.

If you are investing your time and effort into building out the resources section with extensive guides, webinars, and more, only to realize that your blog content costs considerably less time and money, while keeping visitors on your website longer and driving goal completions, you may want rethink your decision to expand your dedicated resources.

Let’s dive into a real example.

Google Analytics Content DrilldownThis is from the Content Drilldown section in Google Analytics

This is a common website structure that contains the homepage and the top 9 other directories. The engagement metrics listed here are an average of all the child pages in each directory. Normally you would see the site directories on the left-hand side, but those have been removed for privacy.

Since we are using the engagement metric for the content directories, the first thing we should look for is whether one directory has an unusually high bounce rate. And look at that, the highlighted directory has an average bounce rate of 89%! That means that almost 9/10 people who land on any blog post leave the website without visiting any other page.

What does that reveal? The blog content is not driving users further into the site, and it should be examined this further to find out why. While the data will tell you that there is a problem, it won’t tell you specifically what is happening with your users, so you will have to take some educated guesses. If the bounce rate is high, you can assume that your content is having one of these problems:

  • It is not solving the user’s problem.
  • It is not what the user expected when they clicked to the page, indicating a problem with your meta description, page title, or ad copy.
  • There is a lack of a relevant call-to-action at the bottom of the page to encourage the user to take the next logical action.

After drilling down to the problem, you can make adjustments that will hopefully decrease your bounce rate. Be sure to take note of the bounce rate before your adjustments and also a month later to see if your changes worked. If they did, then try to make those changes in other areas of your site as well. If they didn’t, then you may want to revisit your reasoning for the high bounce rate and make additional changes until something does finally work.

Now that you’ve examined the blog section (and hopefully made successful adjustments to decrease the bounce rate) move on to the next section with the next highest bounce rate, make adjustments, and repeat this process until you’ve adjusted each section accordingly.

The directories on your website should provide an overview of your content and page performance. That will give you the ability to identify which sections are performing best and which ones need a tune-up. Use this information to make future decisions regarding your strategy and content marketing efforts.

Directories will tell you which sections of your site are performing best & which need help. Click To Tweet

Next, we want to dive a little deeper and examine the specific pages that your visitors see first.

Top Landing Pages

Landing pages are the pages someone lands on when they come to your website. It could be your homepage, a contact page, or a well-ranking blog post. These pages are important because they are the first page a user sees and can be the difference between that visitor moving further into your site or leaving and never coming back.

Don't leave my website

You can use the landing pages, and your handy engagement metrics, to find any opportunities for improvement and increase our engaged website visitors. For this example, let’s use the goal completions metric to find the most effective pieces of content.

Landing Pages in Google Analytics
This is from the Landing Page section in Google Analytics

In the screenshot above, you can see a list of landing pages and a handful of engagement metrics, including conversion data. It’s worth noting that I’ve removed any landing pages that have a form on the page because I want to examine only the pages that drive visitors to the conversion page, not the conversion page itself.

You can see that the highlighted entry in the screenshot brought in 796 sessions and 105 conversions, a conversion rate of 13%, which is great! That means the page is optimized to drive traffic to a conversion page and the traffic is qualified and ready to convert. That is a strong piece of content.

So, there are two things you want to do here.

  • Start making an effort to drive more traffic to that page. If you got 105 conversions with 796 visitors, imagine if you managed to drive 5,000 visitors to that page. Some things may change, but the data suggests that you should receive 660 conversions!
  • Take a look at that page and see what’s working. Is there a prominent CTA? Is there a video? Why do you think the conversion rate is so high? If you can figure out why the conversion rate is so high, you then have the opportunity to take those successful elements and implement them on a page that is not performing as well as you would like.

Now, repeat these steps for each of your top 10 landing pages to identify your best and worst performing pages. From there, you can take action to drive more traffic to your higher converting pages and then steal elements of strong-performing pages and implement them on your weakest pages.

Now that we’ve looked at the pages that your visitors first see on your website, let’s take a look at the last pages your visitors see before leaving your site.

Top Exit Pages

Exit pages are the opposite of landing pages. They are the last pages a user sees before they exit your site. Someone either found what they were looking for or they gave up and decided to leave.

Leaving your website

Identifying the pages where people are leaving and the corresponding exit rate is important because they indicate drop-off points in your intended user path. If you imagine your website as a pathway that leads users from an entrance (landing page) to a goal completion (conversion), exit pages are where your visitors are falling off the path for one reason or another. By knowing where they are falling off, you can make adjustments and keep them on your site longer.

Pages with high exit rates can indicate unexpected drop-off points in your intended user path. Click To Tweet

Pages with a high exit rate say one of two things from your user’s perspective:

  • I found what I was looking for and my question was resolved.
  • I didn’t find what I was looking for and I’m done looking on this site.

The first option can consist of pages such as a Locations page, Contact Us, or Thank You page. We would expect those to have high exit rates because the user found what they were looking for and then left. Those are designed exit pages and will hopefully lead the user back to our business at a later date, but for the time being we expect the user to leave.

So let’s focus on the second option, the one where the user didn’t find what they were looking for and then left. Those are the customers that you are leaving on the table. Take a look at the screenshot below:

Exit Pages in Google Analytics
This is from the Exit Pages section in Google Analytics

In the screenshot above, you can see the most common exit pages on this site. The important metric here is the exit rate, which is the number of exits / number of page views. Right away, it’s clear that the highlighted page has an exit rate of 90.45% and that’s not one of the designated exit pages! That means 90% of the people who click to that page decide to leave the site right then and there, but why? That’s a huge chunk of visitors that failed to convert. Let’s change that.

What you can do is take a look at the page from an outside perspective:

  • Is there anything that stands out?
  • What does the formatting look like?
  • Does the content match the page title?
  • When you look at the largest sources of traffic to that page, can you see anything that might indicate a disconnect between what the user expected on that page and what they received?

There is a reason why so many people left when they got to that page, and you can make educated guesses to figure out why. From there you can make adjustments, measure the change, and hopefully celebrate the success of your efforts.

Looking at the top exit pages is important because the corresponding exit rates indicate what pages are not solving the user’s intent. Your website is your best salesperson who works 24/7, but there will be some pages where your content is just not doing a great job. The exit pages will tell you where your salesperson is slacking so you can make the necessary adjustments.

Making Changes

Now that you’ve looked at your top directories, landing pages, and exit pages, you have to act on those insights. It’s not enough to know that your blog content has an abnormally high bounce rate because if you don’t make adjustments, your bounce rate won’t change and you’ll have the same number of users leaving your website as normal.

Since your analytics software likely won’t tell you why your content is performing poorly, you’ll have to test. This is where I would recommend creating an Excel sheet and documenting the page, what you changed, the previous metric, and then monitoring the metric for any future changes. If you notice a positive change in engagement, you can likely attribute that to the adjustment you made, otherwise it’s time to make another adjustment and monitor that one as well.

Measurement template

If creating an Excel sheet sounds daunting or you just don’t have time, I’ve created a Google Sheet (the same one you see above) that you can copy and start using right away. Download it here (click File –> Make a copy).

Now, that process works well in a vacuum, but your website will not always stay the same. There are many variables that can influence the testing of new elements, such as new traffic sources or seasonality, so you should be aware of those.

Conclusion

Identifying the best and worst content on your website can be challenging, but if you break the process down into a handful of steps, I’m confident that in just a few minutes you’ll be able to make positive adjustments.

Those adjustments can mean the difference between 100 users or 1,000 users on your site. 10 leads or 1,000 leads. $1,000 in revenue or $10,000 in revenue.

Don’t think that your job is over when the user gets to your site. Your job has only begun.

tl;dr (too long, didn’t read) – Make note of strong or weak content. Make adjustments. Measure any changes. Rinse. Repeat.

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