Tracking numbers on your traffic, audience, content and geography are the basic metrics journalists track in Google Analytics. But when you get into more specific metrics, such as referral sources, the time spent on a story and entrance pages, the stats can become a bit mystifying.
Still, it's important to do it. When you cross-examine these less commonly tracked metrics, you can start to make inferences about the numbers that can help you make strategic decisions to drive the growth of your site.
IJNet tuned in and found a few key factors worth measuring:
- Referral traffic and time spent on site
When you cross-examine referral traffic (where your most engaged users are coming from) and the amount of time they spent on a story, you get an idea of where your most engaged and interested users spend their time. Oakland Local found that its site visitors coming from Twitter spent a half minute more on stories than visitors who came from Facebook or search engines. This told them they should spend a little more effort on Twitter outreach because the users there are more in tune with the site's content.
- Content stats per story with average time spent per story
Compare the average time spent per story with the amount of time spent on more successful content. If your average time per story is two minutes, but you see visitors spending five or six minutes on a certain story, these content types are clearly more successful. This can give you an idea of what content works best and where to invest time and money on content that has the biggest payoff.
"Maybe you invested a lot of effort in something that not only didn’t get high pageviews, but [also] people who went there didn’t really look at it very hard, they just didn’t like it," Mernit said.
- Top entrance pages with search engine traffic
Visitors who reach your site from search engines aren't actually typing in your site’s URL and hitting the main page. They’re entering sideways and landing on specific entrance pages. This shows you what the search engines are doing the best job of finding. “If these are evergreen pages that aren’t topical and breaking [news], you might want to actually put messages or content on those pages that would help drive people around your site.”
These top entrance pages could just be featuring great content or they could have frequently searched-for keywords. In this case, you could consider creating landing pages for these keywords or doing more stories on that topic.
Mernit explained quite a few more Google Analytics features, and also covered how online journalists can use Facebook Insights and Tweetreach to evaluate their social media audience. Watch the live webinar here.
IJNet Editorial Assistant Margaret Looney writes stories and blog posts on the latest media trends, reporting tools and journalism resources.
Image CC-licensed on Flickr via yukop.