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A Better Google Analytics Dashboard for Content Marketing (and How to Use It)

Google Analytics logoGoogle Analytics (GA) is a free and amazingly powerful tool for understanding your traffic, but it’s also poorly designed, overly complicated, and hard to use.

For many of our customers who are looking to use a simple, free analytics product to do content marketing, this complexity is a huge obstacle to getting anything out of the service.

To get a sense of the problem, here’s a tiny slice from one of GA’s most popular custom reports, which was built for content and inbound marketers:

Example Google Analytics Custom Report

A table from one of GA’s most popular custom reports

This gargantuan table might be good for a data junkie, but there are three big problems for the rest of us:

1. Most of the data is duplicative or irrelevant chart-porn

You don’t need to know entrances, unique visitors, AND page-views each piece of content has. They all tell you the same basic piece of information (how many people viewed your content). At the same time, missing here is any data to tell content marketers where their visitors came from and how well those sources performed, which is crucial to doing effective content marketing.

2. Much of the data is worthless without analysis

Second, even relevant data in these reports needs to be analyzed to make any sense. Is your content’s bounces high because the content was poor or because the content got a lot of traffic? You’d have to first calculate the bounce rate associated with each entry, and then make some kind of additional inference involving that rate’s change over time for it to be at all meaningful.

Maybe that kind of work is valuable, but it assumes there’s a person on your team whose job involves pouring over giant tables of traffic data making hyper-specific inferences about relatively trivial observations. Ask yourself if this conversation has ever happened on your team:

Data junkie rage comic

If not, then the data is not relevant and probably distracting to you, unless you want to spend time analyzing it, and that’s likely not a good use of your time.

3. The remaining data is meaningless at such a granular level

Finally, at such a granular level of detail, the remaining stats here like “avg. time on page” are less meaningful because there’s not enough traffic to make valid inferences. If you only get 50 views on a piece of content, for example, a single person spending 20-30 minutes on your page could raise an average time-spend by more than 10%.

Download Your Content Marketing Dashboard

Realizing the very big problems with how GA is set up to analyze traffic, we thought we’d build a better custom dashboard for doing content marketing with Google Analytics, and share it for free.

Our dashboard follows three rules:

  1. It excludes all information you don’t need, so that every piece of data answers a relevant content marketing question.
  2. It takes less than three minutes to understand and get out
  3. It doesn’t mislead you by giving you too much information.

If you’re frustrated with GA or otherwise find this stuff confusing, this dashboard is designed to be a good place to start. You can download our Dashboard simply by clicking on this link while logged into your Google Analytics Account:


Download Your Custom Analytics Dashboard


Enjoy! And read on for instructions on how to use it.

How to Use Your New Content Marketing Dashboard

Before you get started, you’ll have to do two things:

  1. Set up “Goal Tracking” for the conversions you care about: We have an excellent step-by-step tutorial on how to do so using GA forms and Google has one for destination pages. Pick your most important conversion goal (we used email sign-ups) and assign it to Goal 1.
  2. Download the Content Marketing Dashboard: Click the link above and the Dashboard will automatically open in your site. Name it whatever you want.

Now you’re ready: the Dashboard is divided into three columns, representing the three things you should care about—traffic, conversions, and content. Here’s how to use each column:

Left Column – Measure Overall Traffic 

Traffic Stats Screenshot

A screenshot from the traffic stats column

This is the least important column, and instead of a typical massive data dump you get only get 2 numbers: (visits and unique visitors). Use these simple stats like a thermometer for your website’s health. If you see a big dip or spike in the graphs, investigate further.

Here’s what the left column tells you:

  • Is traffic growing in pace with my weekly/monthly goal?
    • Check the Overall Visits and Unique Visitors widgets.
  • How much is my content driving the overall growth in traffic?
    • Compare the stat from the Overall Visits to the Blog Visits widget in the right column

Middle Column – Match Conversions to Marketing Efforts

Your goal in producing content is to drive business value from that content, and this column tells you which channels are producing that value. It’s important to think in this way: when you’re doing content marketing, only half of your job is to produce awesome content. The  other half is getting that content in front of people who are likely to sign-up or buy from you.

The middle column assumes you find these people in three basic ways – (1) through social media, (2) through being referenced on other websites, and (3) through Google searches.

Here’s what the middle column tells you:

  • How many people bought or signed up?
    • Check the Conversions widget for the overall number of people who bought or signed up.
  • Where did those conversions come from?
    • Check the Conversions by Traffic Source widget, which says where all the people who bought or signed-up came from.
  • What is the ROI of my content marketing?
    • Each of the channel widgets (Conversions by Social Network, Conversions by Traffic Source, and Conversions by Search Query) has a conversion rate associated with every entry.  Since each of those entries represent an investment of marketing attention, they give you instant feedback on how well they performed.

Middle Column Screenshot

Often, you can get the most out of this data by combining it with a bit of extra visit info and context. In the example pictured for instance, you can use the Conversions by Social Network widget to form several testable observations: that (1) Twitter generated significant ROI: it has the highest number of visits and a conversion rate roughly in line with the site average; that (2) Facebook generated traffic but not much ROI: based on the low ROI, you might question whether you are you targeting the right people on Facebook, if you should you spend less time and energy marketing there, etc.; and (3) Quora may have a high potential ROI: while Quora generated a lower level of traffic (perhaps from not spending as much time marketing into it), it produced a higher-than-average conversion rate. You might spend more time engaging your Quora followers next week.

 Right Column – Track Content 

Finally, the right column is designed to let you track content, especially over time.

The dashboard assumes all of the content is located in a blog, but it’s easy to change it if it’s not. Just click on the top right corner of each right-column widget and change the filter to whichever path your content is located.

blog filter

How to change content path

What the right column tells you:

  • Is traffic to my blog going up?
    • Check the Blog Visits widget.
  • Which content is driving the most traffic (over time)?
    • The Blog Post Visits widget automatically ranks your content over any time period. Some content that’s seeded into Google or referenced in another website might continue to drive traffic long after it was originally posted, so pay attention to your date ranges.

Conclusion

If you like this Dashboard, feel free to use it or customize it to your project. And if you have any additions or changes you’d make, let us know via email or in the comments.

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  • http://justinfreid.com Justin Freid

    What’s the bounce rate for this post?

    • http://www.facebook.com/bonnifield Adam Bonnifield

      you’re so clever.

      • http://justinfreid.com Justin Freid

        less is more think outside the box paradigm shifting data analysis

        • http://www.facebook.com/bonnifield Adam Bonnifield

          I’m going to stop liking your comments if you keep making fun of me.

  • http://pavelreva.com/ Pavel Reva

    Hey, you might check this chrome extension that pulls out important data from Google Analytics right to the page you’re viewing 
    https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/nnjddncjfaimmmbamijonddhflmnhfdg

    • http://www.facebook.com/bonnifield Adam Bonnifield

      Hey Pavel -

      Not sure if this is directly relevant to the post, but certainly to the thesis of Spinnakr, which is that analytics should be built into the web experience (ideally requiring as little intervention from the user as possible).

      I like the concept of taking it out of a dashboard and embedding it into the browser experience. I wonder what the genesis and ambition is for the idea.

  • Doug Kessler

    Glad to hear I’m not the only one who finds Google Analytics amazing, free… but full of data that isn’t particularly useful.

    I like the sound of your dashboard…

  • http://lexity.com/ Amelia

    getting a 404 error on attempting to d/l custom dashboard.

    • http://www.facebook.com/bonnifield Adam Bonnifield

      Hey Amelia:

      I just checked and it’s working for me – try this link:  https://www.google.com/analytics/web/permalink?uid=PMJ_FGlOSc2xgjdxRJ_09A

      Make sure you’re logged into GA to deploy it, and let me know via email (adam@spinnakr.com) if it still doesn’t work.

  • http://www.storyonsales.com/ Stanley Rao

     Glad to hear I’m not the only one who finds Google Analytics amazing, free… but full of data that isn’t particularly useful.

  • jsearles

    Love it. <3

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