The marketing world is becoming more and more driven by data, but it feels like bloggers and creatives are sometimes left behind.
We often unfairly delineate our minds – bloggers are creative and bad at numbers, and an analyst couldn’t write an essay, we believe.
In fact, data can be incredibly helpful to bloggers and content marketers. It can help us increase blog conversions, improve the quality of our content, improve the topics we choose to write about, boost the user experience for readers, and just generally grow your blog (that’s the goal, right?).
And as with most things, there’s a varying degree of technical prowess required to get started – depending how deep you want to go. But with the data analytics outsourcing tools out there today, you can get started pretty easily, and without a ton of technical knowledge. And you can always make the data easier to understand by data visualization.
I like to divide data collection and analysis into two broad categories, just to keep things simple:
- Quantitative Data
- Qualitative Data
Both types are important, and both can help with your blogging. This article will outline both, at a high level, and will also dive deep on particular methods within both broad categories.
Quantitative Data for Bloggers
Quantitative data is the type of data you probably had in mind when you started reading this article. The hard numbers, big data, etc.
For most purposes, and for most blogs and companies, this is going to primarily be Google Analytics. If you’re working on a SaaS product, you may have a product analytics solution like Amplitude or Mixpanel.
It’s also most likely you have other pools of quantitative data in the blogging tools you use – HubSpot has its own data reporting, Sumo has a reporting dashboard, etc.
You can also combine all of this data in a database or a data warehouse. Products like Segment and Hull help you collate and synchronize this data, and also make use of it in real time personalization campaigns.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s look into the basic analytics set up that (pretty much everyone uses). What can Google Analytics do for content marketers? Many things.
Google Analytics for Bloggers
As I’ve written about in my article on content marketing analytics, Google Analytics can help you answer several important business questions:
- How effective are our current content marketing efforts according to analytics?
- What are the content marketing opportunities we’re missing as shown by analytics?
- At what points in the funnel are we dropping users? Can we do anything to plug these holes (or work with a team who can)?
- What can analytics show me about new content marketing ideas and campaigns?
Most people know how to get the basic information, such as how much traffic you’re getting, from which sources, and how that changes over time. That’s still important information, but it’s fairly high level. But you can track interesting things, such as organic blog traffic over time:
If you’re using Google Analytics, you’ll want to make sure you’ve set up goals to track whatever desired action you’re trying to drive. Email list signups? Set up a goal for it.
Without goals, it’s hard to get much value out of Google Analytics, beyond high level traffic trends like the above.
Additionally, it’s important to be able to parse out your blog posts from your transactional web pages so you can get conversion rates and start to build attribution models for your content. Sometimes this means setting up your URLs in a clean way, such as having a subdomain or subfolder. Sometimes it could mean having a separate view for your blog in Google Analytics.
For example, Pique Tea’s blog posts, like this one on best weight loss teas, sit on a subdomain (blog.piquetea.com), but they’ve set up subdomain tracking so you can follow user session through when they click on an ecommerce link or CTA (like those below):
When you do have goals and your views set up properly, however, you can do interesting analyses, such as finding which blog posts lead to more conversions and where readers are dropping off in the funnel. The latter helps you optimize your online forms, while the former may help you pick which content to create more of in the future.
Another cool trick is to find content ideas within your Google Analytics. Assuming you have a site search options (where users can search for stuff within your site), and assuming you have site search reports set up in Google Analytics (easy to do), you can find out some pretty cool stuff about what your readers want.
First, navigate to Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms.
Here you’ll find a big list of search terms people are using on your site within that time period. You’ll also find metrics for those terms, like search exits and time after search.
Now, to find trending terms, things that are more recently being searched more often, you can do a time period comparison. Let’s compare the most recent two months to the two month period before that.
The use “absolute change” to sort your data. This will give you the biggest changes in search data:
Now you’ll have a list of keywords that users are searching for on your site, and you’ll get to see which trends are newly rising. Pretty great for finding new content ideas!
Google Analytics, you’ll find, is an endless rabbit hole. I highly recommend taking a course or reading technical blog posts on it. Also, just start diving in and playing around. Even those who have been using the tool for years on a daily basis don’t know everything there is to know about it.
Heat Maps and Click Maps
Heat maps are another form of quantitative data. If you’ve ever wondered where people are moving their mouse, clicking, and scrolling on a blog posts, heat maps are a highly intuitive and visual way to discover that information.
One of the most prudent uses of heat maps may be scroll depth tracking. You can set this up quantitatively in Google Analytics, but it may be easier to simply use a tool like HotJar to get some quick visual maps printed up:
Third Party Data for Bloggers
Finally, quantitative data can exist outside of your own website. If you’re a blogger or content marketer, you’re probably already familiar with general SEO practices, like keyword research. But you can get pretty darn data-driven when it comes to content creation, such as using Ahrefs to find what blog posts are currently almost ranking on page one for your site.
Just plug in your URL, filter for rankings 8-20, and set your keyword volume at some threshold that you care about. Voila! You’ve got a list of prioritized blog optimization opportunities.
I’ll bring this point home throughout the article, but nowadays, if you have a business question, the data probably exists – in some form and somewhere – to help you answer the question. The real value nowadays is in asking good and important business questions (and knowing where to look for the answers).
Qualitative Data for Bloggers
Qualitative data, in my opinion, gets a bad rap. It’s not as sexy, at least for most people. But it can be insanely valuable, specifically for content marketers.
Qualitative data can help you answer questions like:
- What type of content do my readers want to consume?
- What user experience bottlenecks are frustrating people on my site?
- What doubts and hesitations do readers have on my site?
- Are there questions I’m not answering?
In general, qualitative data can be a great way of teasing out problems and ideas you never even knew existed. Basically, you can fish around in quadrant four of the matrix of knowledge (what you don’t know you don’t know):
It also helps you fish around in quadrant C, when you have a clear question, but you need some insight on the answer.
An example there could be if you know your lead generation forms aren’t converting like they should be, but you don’t know why. A survey or a user test could help point you to the solution.
As is the case with quantitative data, there are various types and methods of collecting qualitative data. A few of them are:
- Reader surveys
- On-site polls
- User testing and session replays
- Heuristic analysis
One of my favorite implementations of qualitative data collection is the reader survey. It’s easy to set up, and provides a great feedback loop.
Basically, when you’re setting up your autoresponder for new email subscribers, just set up one of the emails with an open ended qualitative question. You can pick and tweak the question depending on what you want to know, but it’s a great place to pull some information.
When I was working at CXL, we used our third email in the automation sequence to offer up a subscriber survey. There, we asked a bunch of questions on what type of content people wanted to consumer, what products they would buy, etc.
Then, every few months or whenever we’d be working on a problem, we could open up the data file and fish for answers there.
These types of surveys are probably the most commonly used qualitative data methods for bloggers, but there are several others you can employ.
You’ve probably seen on-site polls from time to time.
These are questionnaires that you can pose to any website visitors who lands on your page (not just leads or customers whose emails you’ve already collected).
There are plenty of commercially interesting questions you can ask about hesitations and doubts, but you can also use these questions to sources interesting content ideas.
Qualaroo actually has a whole section of suggested questions for uncovering missing content in their knowledge base.
Finally, along the same lines, you can talk to readers (or people who resemble your personas) face to face (or over the phone).
This is clearly more time consuming, but it can often result in richer and more subtle insights, since you can sense out emotions and reactions in a deeper way. You can also wind down an unpredictable path when in an interview, and it may lead you to learn things you didn’t even know you needed to know.
Outside of interviews and surveys, you can employ methods commonly used by user experience researchers: user testing and session replays.
These methods are mostly going to be helpful in learning about user behavior and to find common frustrations users are going through on your site.
Session Replay Videos
For session replays, just set up a tool like HotJar, collect the data, and set aside a few hours to watch through session replay videos (which are just anonymized videos of users interacting with your site). These can be incredibly insightful.
For a user test, find 5-7 people who resemble your target reader, and have them interact with your website. It’s best practice to give them a specific task and a broad task. Usually this is more apparent in ecommerce, where you’d ask them to find a specific item, but it can work for content sites as well. You could ask:
- Find an article written by X author on Y topic.
- Sign up for an offer you think is interesting on our site.
And then watch them go through the site and see what snags and confusions come up. It’s an enlightening way to realize that your website isn’t perfectly designed (and it never will be). There’s always room for improvement!
Data analytics isn’t just for quantitative traders and growth nerds. It’s for content marketers and bloggers, too.
Between qualitative and quantitative data collection methods, there are a myriad of ways to get more insights and gain more knowledge about your readers. Some take some technical training, such as Google Analytics or user testing. Some are super easy to set up and start collecting answers, such as on-site polls.
Keep in mind, your data efforts will only be as valuable as the business questions you’re asking. Ask great questions, seek the correct information, and let the data guide you towards making better decisions. Your readers will thank you!