Content, content, content – it’s all anyone in SEO seems to talk about. We’re not just a company, we’re a digital publisher! Content is King! Long live content! I’m a content specialist and even I’m getting sick of it.
It’s not the principle that irritates me – indeed, the principle is excellent and key to me keeping my job! No, it’s the execution. Now that content has been universally agreed upon as the way to gain rankings, the world and his dog are churning it out at a rate of knots with little thought as to quality or whether it’s actually doing anyone any good.
So, I’m here to explain to you how you can measure your content, analyse it, and use it to improve what you’re producing, which should benefit both you and your audience.
First things first, what do you need to measure to understand how well your content is doing? As with everything in SEO, there is a wide range of opinions on the matter. But we need a list, so here are my key data points that you MUST be checking:
Simple stuff, but people still seem to be churning out content without bothering to do any analysis. So I’m going to walk you through these data points, how to collect them, how to analyse them, and how to improve your content off the back of them.
This one’s really basic but still incredibly important. Time on page will let you know at a glance whether people are actually reading your content. If they’re only spending a few seconds on the page and then leaving to other areas of your site (or, worse, bouncing back to the SERPs) then your content isn’t working.
To see if this is an issue for you, the easiest way to find this data is in good old Google Analytics. Just go to Behaviour→Site Content→All Pages and find the relevant URL.
If the time spent on the page is worryingly low then it’s time to do something about it. Have a look at your page. Does the title/header make it clear what the page is about whilst engaging the reader? Is the content laid out in an easy-to-read format, ensuring people aren’t put off by huge blocks of impenetrable text? Do you use subheading and images to break things up, making it more aesthetically pleasing and easy to skim?
If not, try making these alterations first. Making your page more user-friendly and engaging should help to get more people to read your content and take in what you’re saying.
Closely tied to time on page is the bounce rate. If people are reaching your content and then immediately heading back to the SERPs you know you’ve got something wrong.
To find your bounce rate, follow the same steps as for time on page – it’s just a couple of columns over in Google Analytics. If you’ve got a high bounce rate then you know you need to make some alterations. As a benchmark, anything over 60% is really worth looking at, but if it’s around 40% or lower then feel free to be smug.
As with time on page, ensuring that your content is user-friendly should be your first step. However, if these changes don’t help then it may be a case of the wrong page being ranked in the SERPs – i.e. your page doesn’t contain the information people are searching for. This can happen for multiple reasons – and isn’t necessarily your fault.
However, there are things you can do to improve the situation. First, take a look at the URL, title tag, meta description and H1 tag for the page. Do they all accurately reflect the content that users can expect to find on that page? If they are inaccurate or misleading then you should make changes to them ASAP. We all want to rank well, but there’s no point ranking for irrelevant terms or getting lots of traffic that won’t convert.
Speaking of traffic, the amount of views your pages get is another great way to evaluate how well your content is doing. We all know Google wants to reward great content by making it rank well so, if you’re producing great content it should be ranking and thus getting lots of visits.
Of course, it doesn’t always work like that. If your page is getting lots of views (and has good stats for time spent on page and a low bounce rate) then you’re doing brilliantly and don’t need to be reading this. However, that’s rarely the case.
Maybe you’re doing well with time on page and have a low bounce rate, but just don’t have much traffic coming through (remember to check all of this via Analytics). If this is an issue for you then you need to have a look at your meta data. Are the title tag and meta description exciting and engaging? Would they make you want to click through to the page? If you’re not interested or intrigued, then you might want to update it.
Have you also linked well to this page? Is it easy to access on your site? Has it, if it’s a blog post or content of that ilk, been well-promoted? Basically – do people know this page exists and can they find it? If not, it’s time to make some changes!
Obviously, some pages are easier to measure conversions on than others. If the aim of your page is to get people to sign up for a newsletter, buy a product, or make an enquiry, then it’s simple to see how well you’re doing. You can even set up Goals in Google Analytics to track things for you.
If your page is harder to analyse then it’s time to do some thinking. Is the page supposed to guide people through to another section of your site? Is it supposed to encourage people to comment and engage with it? Or is it just there to inform? For the first two cases it’s quite easy to assess conversions.
If you’re guiding people through to another area then you want to set up a funnel and look at the drop-off rate. If people are moving through your site as desired then the content is doing well. However, if people are failing to continue along your funnel then you’ll want to make some alterations. Perhaps you need to make the call to action clearer, or make it more obvious what the next step to take is.
If you’re trying to spark conversation then you need to look at how many responses you’re getting. Are people liking, commenting or sharing your content? If not, consider whether you’re making it easy for them to do so. Are there clear, prominent social sharing buttons? Can they leave a comment without having to undergo a long sign-up or sign-in procedure?
Making things simple for your users is essential. You can even use Google Content Experiments (an option within Analytics) to A/B test changes to pages, such as the wording or placement of your call to action. This can be a great way to determine how to encourage more conversions.
However, it may be that your content just isn’t good enough to be shared. In which case it’s time to pull your socks up and start creating something worthwhile and not just for the sake of adding something new to your site. Every page on your site should have a defined purpose. If it doesn’t have one, then it shouldn’t exist.
One of the hardest things to analyse is whether your content is being shared successfully. My two favourite tools for figuring out where your content is getting shares from are Open Site Explorer and Social Crawlytics. Both of these will give you an overall figure for share and then a breakdown of where they’re from – be it Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest etc. A quick note – on OSE you’ll want to filter to “only external links” to get a clear picture.
I like to use both because they give you slightly different pictures. For example, OSE differentiates between Facebook likes and Facebook shares. Social Crawlytics, on the other hand, allows you to see shares broken down by content type and provides some nice graphic representations of the data.
Using these tools can quickly help you understand how much your content is being shared and on what platforms this is happening. If your content is aimed to get shares but isn’t doing so, then you can now focus on promoting it better and ensuring that it is of a high enough quality that people will want to share it with others. If it’s doing well, then give yourself a pat on the back.
So there you go – those are my key data points to keep an eye on when creating content. Using these stats you should easily be able to figure out what is and what isn’t working for you – and fix the areas that are failing. Another bonus – clear figures make it much easier to persuade clients that they need to up their game and invest in their site content – happy days for those of us in SEO. What areas do you analyse? What stats do you find useful? And how do you approach improving website content? I’d love to know your methods, so please get in touch! Either leave a comment here or grab me on Twitter @SamanthaKHall
Image from Kristy Johnson