How to use Google Analytics to discover audience interests
One of the keys to writing effective content is to first know what your audience wants. They’re telling you what they want to hear by the actions they take on your website, blog, and enewsletter. Are you listening?
In this article I will walk you through some specific places in Google Analytics to find out what your audience is interested in.
Before we dive into the strategy, I’m going to give you a quick overview of why it’s important to know your audience interests. If you’re already convinced, use these links to jump straight to the strategy:
Why you should care about audience interests
The bottom line is, the more relevant your content is, the less time and money you’ll have to spend on marketing. Your articles will also be more likely to be read and shared with little effort on your end.
The best articles will be timely, trigger an emotion, and/or address a pain point.
You don’t want to write just any article you think will be viral, though. It needs to be relevant for both your organization AND your audience.
For example, everyone knows cat memes and videos are shared widely. But unless your organization is an animal rescue organization or otherwise related to cats, you probably want to steer clear of cat memes.
You want to find that sweet spot at the intersection of what you want to talk about and what your audience wants to hear.
OK, enough background info for now. Let’s dig into the strategy.
Your website visitors are telling you exactly what they’re looking for by the actions they take on your site. Optimizing your website should be your #1 priority, so if nothing else, you should take action on this section.
What to look for:
If this is your first time doing this kind of deep analysis, set your date range to one or two years. That way, you’ll have enough content to give you a birds-eye view of what people are looking for on your site. Afterwards, it’s a good practice to take a look at these stats about once a quarter.
Most visited pages
In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
Take a look at your top 10 most visited pages. Think about these questions:
- Is there anything that surprises you? Any pages you didn’t expect to be on your top 10 list? Any pages you thought would be there, but weren’t?
- Are the pages on that list new? Are some of them older articles or resources?
Write down any insights and save them for future use.
Articles with most time spent on page
Now sort your content list by average time on page. Most likely what comes up will be pages that only have one or two visits, so you’ll also want to apply an advanced filter to get more relevant results.
To apply a filter, click “advanced” near the search bar. In the “Page” dropdown menu, select “Site Usage,” then “Pageviews.” I would choose at least 20, but you’ll need to decide what number will work for you. If you have a modest amount of visitors, 20 should be enough. If you have several thousand website visitors a month or more, you may want to choose a higher number.
Then click “Apply.” Your results should now show you only links that received 20 visits or more (or whichever number you ended up choosing).
What do you notice about the pages that people spent the most time on? Were they blog posts? Downloadable resources? Information about your organization?
What pops up on this list will give you more clues as to what kind of information your audience values. Write down your observations.
Search terms from search engines
This section will display the words or phrases people searched for in Google that showed your website in the search results. They may not have clicked over to your site after using those search terms, but your site did show up in the list of results.
Go to Acquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries or Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels > Organic Search.
Sort the list by CTR (click-through rate). You’ll probably want to add an advanced filter to include only results with two or more impressions. Scroll through one or two hundred terms and write down any themes you come across (Hint: At the bottom of the page you can select to show more than 10 rows at a time).
One at a time, input each of those themes in the search box. This will filter the results so you can get a better idea of what people are looking for related to that theme.
What are some of the common themes in the results that received a high CTR? Are there any terms that received less than a 5% CTR that you think your organization should focus more on?
To make the data a little more visual, click the “Term Cloud” button.
Here’s an example:
Take a screenshot of each term cloud. Circle the phrases you think your organization should write about.
Is there any language people use in the search terms that you’re not using on your website? Are there any intersections with what your audience looks for and what you do as an organization?
In the search box, enter each of these terms one at a time:
- What is
- How to
If there are a lot of queries for any of those terms, note the questions that would make sense for your organization to address. You may also want to create term clouds for the results and circle the best options.
Are there any intersections with what your audience looks for and what you do as an organization?
Search terms in your website
This section will show you what people searched for while they were on your site. These terms are very useful because they show what your website visitors expect to find on your page.
Go to Behavior > Site Search > Search Terms
NOTE: If you go to this section and there’s no data, you’ll need to turn this feature on. Go to “Admin” at the top of the page, then click “View Settings.” Scroll down until you see “Site search Tracking” and turn it on. Unfortunately, you won’t be able to see results prior to turning on this tracking feature.
Scroll through the first 100 or so results and write down some common themes. As you’re scrolling, ask yourself:
- Are there a lot of queries for things you already have on your website? If so, you might want to consider changing the navigation or adding more visible links to those pages.
- What are some things that people searched for that you don’t have already on your website? If you need to, put the themes into the search box and create trend clouds for popular topics (see the previous section).
- Is there any language people use in the search terms that you’re not using on your website? For example if you say “partner projects” but your website visitors are searching for the term “stories,” then you might consider changing the language on your site to match the terms your website visitors actually use.
Write down all your observations.
You now have a great start to finding out your audience interests
Now that you’ve gone through those sections of your analytics, you should have notes that have:
- Themes from the pages people visited the most and spent the most time on
- Word clouds from search queries
- Questions people often ask
- Language you can use that reflects what your audience is searching for (not your internal jargon)
Wow! That was a lot!
However, there’s much more you can find out by looking deeper at your blog and enewsletter. Keep scrolling to learn more!
I know you’ve already took a deep look at your website’s analytics. Why do you need to look at your blog too? Because this is where your newest content lives. This is where people go to learn about what you as a thought leader. This is the reason people come back to your website because it’s fresh, new content.
Even if you don’t have a blog, there still may be a section of your website you could use to look for clues on your audience’s interests. This could be a news, stories, and/or resource section.
If you’d like to look deeper into more than one section of your site, make sure you keep your notes separate. For example, not everything that’s popular in your “stories” section will also be popular in your “news” section, and vice versa. If there are any nuances between the different sections on your website, you’ll want to find them.
What to look for:
Most and least visited pages
In Google Analytics, go to Behavior > Site Content > Content Drilldown to find stats about the subsections of your website. Click on the section you want to evaluate to see information about the individual pages.
Take a look at the 10 most visited and least visited pages.
Only include pages on your “least visited” list that were published within the timeframe of your analytics. For example, if you’re looking at stats from the past year, only include articles that were published in the past year on your least visited list.
Think about these questions:
- Is there anything that surprises you? Any pages you didn’t expect to be on these lists? Any pages you thought would be there, but weren’t?
- Do you notice any differences in the topics that are on these two lists? (If nothing jumps out, you might want to expand your list to 20 articles on each list.)
Write down any insights and save them for future use.
NOTE: If your site does not use folders to organize content, you won’t be able to use the Content Drilldown. Instead, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. Use the search box to sort content by type. For example, if you used the word “blog” in the URL of your blog posts, then you’ll just need to type in “blog” into the search box to pull up those results.
If your page doesn’t use folders and you don’t have an easy way of determining the section from the URL, you can download an Excel document with your information. Just click “Export” at the top of the page and choose your preferred file type. You’ll have to manually extract the posts from a certain section to a different sheet in order to get the results you need. This will likely be a time-consuming process and may not be worth the effort if you have a small team.
Pages with the most and least time on page
Sort the content in your blog (or another section you’re evaluating) by the average time on page.
Apply an advanced filter to only include links with 20 or more pageviews.
Make a list of the pages with the most and least time on page. Only include articles published within the date range of your evaluation on your list of articles with the least time on page.
Write down any differences in the topics that are on these two lists. If nothing jumps out, you might want to expand your list to 20 articles on each list.
How to take action:
What to do with the most popular articles
The key is to do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t.
Take a look at the list of popular topics you’ve developed so far that seem to resonate with your audience, both from your website and blog. Do you see any similarities?
Do you see any differences? Your general website audience, the people who follow your blog, and the people who subscribe to your enewsletter are likely slightly different. Don’t clump all of your popular topics into one long list.
Instead, make note of which topics are popular on each channel. That way, you can share different articles on different channels based on what’s popular on each.
What to do with the least popular articles
Look at your lists of articles with the least pageviews and lowest time on site. What are some reasons people might not read or share these articles? Is it the headline? Topic? Something else?
Think about whether you really need to have these on your website or not. If the links on the bottom lists are critical to your organization, think about how you can adjust the content to make it more appealing.
If you’re not ready to retire a particular topic and you have a hunch that a better headline or a different writing style could help, do some experiments. Try out your theories to improve articles on a topic that’s not doing well. If they just needed a snazzier headline or a few photos to bring the content to life, great! If you’ve made improvements and those articles still don’t do well, it may be time to retire that topic.
It’s easy to have an emotional attachment to our work. If this is the case, be honest with yourself. Let the data determine what your audience wants to hear about, and if the data is telling you that your audience doesn’t want to hear about those topics, listen.
As they say on Frozen… let it go. (Side note: In case you’re wondering, this is Channing Tatum performing “Let It Go” for a lip sync battle. It’s awesome…)
Your enewsletter should be the main way you communicate with your audience on a regular basis. It’s important to take a good look at what kinds of things they’re interested in hearing about. Otherwise, they won’t open the emails or they’ll unsubscribe altogether.
What to look for:
Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium. Click on the link that indicates people came from your enewsletter. This may look slightly different for you depending on which email program you use.
To see which pages people visited from your e-letter, click the dropdown for “Secondary dimension.” Then select “Behavior,” then “Landing Page.”
If you’ve been doing the exercises for the website and blog, you can probably guess what comes next.
Take a look at the articles that got the most and least clicks. Ten or 20 links for the most and least clicks should be enough to see patterns in your data. If it you’d like, you can export your data to a spreadsheet by clicking the “Export” tab at the top of the page.
Most likely, the links on the most popular list will have been published within the time frame of your analytics. However, if there are any posts that were published earlier and they still made it to the popular list, that means they were extra popular. These are resources people truly value and they’re things that they’ve saved and refer to time and time again.
Double check the publish dates for all the posts on your least visited list. Only include links that were published in the time frame you’ve set.
Write down any observations you notice about the topics that are popular, and the ones that are not. Think about ways you can do more of what’s working and less of what’s not.
Are there any opportunities for you to segment your list based on topic?
Segmenting can work for your least popular topics as well as your most popular. For example, if the articles that landed on the least popular list were topics that are core to your mission, you may not be able to stop writing them or putting them in your e-letter. But you can use segments to send the information only to the people who do care.
Note: Your email provider needs to have the capability to connect with Google Analytics for these stats to show up. If your email provider does connect with Google Analytics, make sure the settings are turned on.
If you can’t connect, you can still get some insights by downloading the analytics directly from your email program. In the spreadsheet, sort the links by the number of clicks.
Final step: Compare popular topics across your channels
By now you should have a pretty solid list of what topics that are popular on your website, blog, and enewsletter. (Plus the list of topics that are not popular.)
If you’ve made it this far, you definitely deserve a pat on the back. Seriously. This is pretty complicated stuff.
To round out your research, ask yourself: Are there any common themes across your lists? Any noticeable differences in what works and what doesn’t on your channels?
If you see the same patterns happen over and over on your site, it can be safe to add that to your list of best practices for your organization.
Be cautious if you find a topic that is only popular on one of your channels. This could mean one of two things: People only want to hear about that topic on that particular channel. Or, something random could have happened that made that post or topic popular. For example, it was related to a current event that’s no longer relevant, or one person with a lot of influence shared the article. Dig a little deeper to see if it was a one-time, random event.
If it wasn’t a random event, or you’re unsure, do some experiments to see if that topic is indeed something you should continue to talk about.
The ultimate goal is to post more of what your audience likes, less of what they don’t.
Keep this in mind as you work on shifting your strategy based on what you’ve found in this research.
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