Corporate Blog Analytics: Is Engagement Quantitative or Qualitative?
Can blog analytics truly identify audience engagement? What metrics really signify a piece of engaging content? Is it the most viewed, the most shared, or is it content that successfully compels a reader to take the next step down the sales funnel from awareness to conversion?
That’s the question I’ve been grappling with in my latest series of blog posts:
It’s also one we deal with weekly here at OpenView as we look back at the week’s Blog and Labs site content and choose the best to include in our weekly Viewing Value newsletter. By “best” we don’t necessarily mean most popular. Rather than settle for logging into Google Analytics, sorting posts by pageviews, and calling it a day, we prefer to dive a little deeper. That’s not to say we dismiss total number of pageviews, it’s just that we’re often more interested in determining how “active” each view is.
To do so, we typically look at a combination the following blog analytics and metrics:
Average Time on Page
For our purposes selecting articles for the newsletter, we’re looking for posts that were most actively read, not just clicked, and average time on page can be a good indicator of that. One post may have twice as many views as another, but if the average visitor bailed after just 12 seconds they clearly determined it wasn’t worth their time to read. Not exactly a success story.
But low average time on page isn’t always a bad thing — in the cases of landing pages, for example, it may be a good sign that visitors didn’t spend a lot of time mulling over whether to download an eBook or sign up for your email list. It can also obviously be impacted by the length and format of the content on the page — a two minute video vs. a 20 minute podcast, for example. For our purposes here (choosing articles to include in our newsletter), we really just look to make sure average time on page for a typical post is at least 3 minutes or above. That gives us the indication that the majority of visitors agree the post is worth reading (or at least skimming).
According to Google, bounce rate is defined as “the percentage of single-page visits (i.e. visits in which the person left your site from the entrance page). Bounce rate is a measure of visit quality and a high Bounce Rate generally indicates that site entrance (landing) pages aren’t relevant to your visitors.” (For more see KISSmetrics’s infographic “Bounce Rate Demystified.”)
“A measure of visit quality,” that’s what we’re after, right?! Well, not so fast — it turns out it’s incredibly easy to misinterpret bounce rate, and it may or may not reflect the quality or relevance of any particular post (sigh, if only it were that simple).
In theory, the way it works is that a visitor arrives on a post on your site, finds the content relevant and interesting, and then continues on to another page for more information. If the visitor decides the content in the post isn’t relevant to them, they bounce. But what if that post gave them all the information they currently need? They could be extremely satisfied with the post, and yet because they exited your site without visiting any additional pages their visit counts as a bounce.
As Tom Ewer, Chief Blog Officer of ManageWP puts it in his great post “5 Reasons Why You May Have Your Approach to Analytics All Wrong” (also referenced in Part 1 of this post), “Say you have a subscriber – an ardent fan of your content – and they receive an email notification of a new post on your blog. They click the link, read the article in full, then get on with their day. That counts as a bounce – and yet the visitor was thoroughly engaged.” (Side note: One approach we’ve taken to lower our bounce rate is to make sure we include links to additional content our visitors might be interested in and establish clear next steps for them to take to learn more and/or get more involved.)
While, on its own, bounce rate may be a shaky stat to look at, combined with average time on page we’re generally able to determine what posts are a) actually being read, and b) leading visitors on to additional content on our site. And those are type of posts we’re looking to share with our newsletter subscribers.
Additional Factors: Social Shares, Comments, and the Human Element
Of course, attempt to measure quality with quantitative measurements and you’re bound to come up short. Compared with stats like page views, average time on page, and bounce rate, some might argue that social shares are ahead by leaps and bounds when it comes to determining the perceived value of your content. After all, a “tweet this” or a “like”can essentially be equated with the visitor vouching for a post, asserting that it has some value and that it will have value for others, as well.
Likewise, a comment is a direct confirmation that a visitor has engaged with your content and has taken action in response to it. The comment may not always be positive, but in any case it indicates that the content merited a reaction.
How much are the various types of social shares and/or comments worth? It’s difficult to compare them to each other and, and while you can always track the referral traffic they generate, it’s still impossible to produce a clear answer to a question like, which post was more successful — the one with 2,000 hits or the one with 52 tweets and six comments?
Warning: Sometimes Focusing Too Narrowly on Your Blog Analytics can Cause You to Lose Perspective
With all of these metrics yielding such spotty results at best, perhaps it’s permissible to allow slightly more old fashioned method of measurement into the mix: editorial judgment. Yes, it may be notoriously fickle as well, but there’s something to be said of its longer track record of reasonable success.
Marketers can spend such a great deal of time chasing stats and data down the Google Analytics rabbit hole that they sometimes forget they come equipped with a natural gauge and divining rod of their own. The best refine it by developing an understanding of their audience, and by becoming attuned to their interests and needs. How can they do that? By the most tried and true method of all: asking them.
Like a good pair of binoculars, the right blog analytics and metrics can help you clarify and bring things into focus, but it takes a developed understanding of your audience and a firm grasp of your blog’s purpose to know where to point them in the first place.
How do you define and measure engagement? Do you think it’s simply another buzzword or something worth striving for? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!
If you enjoyed this piece you may want to read the other posts in the series: