Many questions keep content marketers up at night:
How do we know if people are really reading our content?
How do we know if they are enjoying what they’re reading?
Can we determine how engagement correlates with meeting business goals?
Did I remember to hit “Publish”?
While there’s no shortage of marketing analytics tools out there, many content marketers remain reliant on tracking bounce rate and other engagement metrics via Google Analytics. While sometimes this is useful on a comparative level, most of the data in Analytics just doesn’t go far enough.
Our content team recently investigated six free tools that expand the operation of Google Analytics so you can start gathering more reliable and actionable content marketing analytics.
How Bounce Rate Works, and Why It’s Not Enough
As a reminder, Google counts any visit as a bounce if that visit doesn’t trigger any other actions.
That means any of these events will cause your analytics to record a bounce:
- Visitor arrives from search results, reads an article, then clicks their back button without visiting a second page
- Visitor closes their browser
- Visitor types a new URL in the browser and leaves the site
- Visitor clicks a link to an external site
- Visitor does not click on another page for 30 minutes (meaning they left their window open but aren’t engaged with the site)
Bounce rate takes no account whatsoever of the time someone spends on a page, so someone could land on your page, read an entire 2,000-word article, then hit their back button and get counted as a bounce.
We can keep an eye on our Time on Page stats in conjunction with the bounce rate of course, but it seems borderline ridiculous to call someone a “bounce” if they engage with your content for two whole minutes.
Clearly, content marketers need better information. Here are a few ways you can get it.
Free Tools For Measuring Content Marketing Success
All six of the tools below are totally free. Where possible we installed these on IdealPath to test them, and we’ll show you screenshots of the data we’ve been getting when we can.
Disclaimer: most of these tools required us to enlist development help. If you’re a one-person show with little to no programming know-how, you may have trouble implementing some of these tools.
Tool #1: Adjusting Your Bounce Rate to Account for Time on Page
A great way to get around your bounce rate counting people as bounces when they really aren’t is by adding a line of code to your Google analytics tracking. This snippet allows you to set the amount of time on page that disqualifies someone from being counted as a bounce.
To adjust your tracking so that a visitor will not be counted as a bounce if they spend at least 15 seconds on your page, the code looks like this:
setTimeout(“ga(‘send’, ‘event’, ‘unbounce’, ’15_sec’)”, 15000);
Will Fleiss over at Outbrain reports that when they implemented this technique (with a 30-second timer) “Over a period of 7 days our bounce rate went from an average of 82% to 29%.”
On IdealPath we had a similar experience. Our site-wide bounce rate dropped from 84% to 37%.
For landing pages from organic search, the drop was even more dramatic: it went from 87% to a tiny 15%.
IdealPath Grade: A
For a site as young as ours, getting people to hang out on the page for even a short amount of time familiarizes them with our brand, and hopefully establishes a baseline level of trust and familiarity.
Changing how we look at bounce rate in this way gives us a more accurate metric around this type of low-level engagement.
Because we still have the time on page data (and the highly detailed information from the plugins we’ll talk about below), we can still feel confident that we’re getting an accurate measure of on page engagement without the “traditional” bounce rate measurement.
Tool #2: Investigating Content Investment With Scroll Depth
Scroll Depth, a Google Analytics plugin courtesy of Rob Flaherty and MIT, lets you find out how far into your page readers are scrolling, so you can get a better idea of whether they’re actually reading your content.
This handy little plugin monitors the 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% scroll points on a page, sending a Google Analytics Event when point is reached.
You can also track when specific elements on the page are scrolled into view, so you can determine if people scrolled far enough to see your call to action or your most important ads, for example.
Other options include tracking when particular page elements get scrolled into view, how many absolute pixels have been scrolled through, and how long a user is on the page before they scroll.
IdealPath Grade: B-
We found this to be an interesting deep dive into on-page engagement. Seeing what percentage of readers scrolled down the page offered a previously unavailable look at how our readers read.
One drawback: many online readers scroll directly to the bottom of the page to see how long an article is before scrolling back up and starting to read. In this case a 100% scroll event would trigger even though the visitor didn’t actually read the whole article.
Tool #3: Tracking Time on Page With Riveted and Google Analytics
Made by the same guy who created Scroll Depth, Riveted is another simple plugin that adds another dimension to content marketing analytics.
Instead of scroll distance, Riveted measures the number of time users are actively engaged within a page (e.g., clicking, scrolling, using the keyboard) and then reports the data to Google Analytics by frequent intervals.
The plugin tracks mouse movements, clicks, scrolling, and keyboard activity to determine if a user is remaining active. It also checks whether the tab where your content is located is currently visible on the visitor’s screen.
Every 5 seconds it checks if the user is active and pings Google Analytics. If the user goes 30 seconds without registering an action, then the user is considered idle.
The events that Riveted reports are simply numbers – 5, 10, 15, 20, etc. – that correspond to the number of seconds people remained active on your page.
IdealPath Grade: C+
While somewhat interesting, this plugin wasn’t a huge win compared to the existing ability to track people’s time on page in Google Analytics.
It is nice that to know that any time you are getting from these visitors is “quality” time, meaning you know that they are somehow engaging with the page.
Tool #4: Scoring Page Sections with Screentime
The final tool from Flaherty is called Screentime, which lets you determine how long specific areas of your page appear on a visitor’s screen.
You define areas called “Fields,” then Screentime lets you know how much, um, screen time each gets. You can also use it to track smaller elements, like ad units or call to action buttons.
You can adjust the interval at which the plugin reports data (the default is every ten seconds), and the timer will stop if the user switches to another tab in their browser.
A couple of notes about limitations: using this plugin solely in Google Analytics isn’t a scalable tracking solution, as Flaherty points out himself. As he says, “For each field that you’re gathering data on you need a separate GA [Google Analytics] event. If you’re only tracking 2 or 3 fields, this is probably fine. But anything more than that and you might start hitting the GA collection limit.”
He suggests providing your own backend to collect the data or using a third party service like Keen.io.
Because of these limitations, we didn’t install this particular plugin on IdealPath, so we don’t have screenshots to share.
Tool #5: Using Events and Custom Dimensions to Track Page Activity
This Google Analytics customization courtesy of Justin Cutroni on Analytics Talk collects data as users scroll down a page much like the Scroll Depth plugin.
It tracks when a post loads, when the user scrolls more than 150 pixels down the page, when the user reaches the bottom of the content, and when the user reaches the bottom of the page.
Each of these activities creates an event, which you can see in your Google Analytics (Behavior→ Events).
One nifty thing that sets this particular tool apart from the others we investigated is that it sets a Custom Dimension so that whenever a user reaches the bottom of the post content (not the bottom of the page), they are categorized as either a “reader” or a “scanner.”
If they hit the bottom of the content in less than 60 seconds they get labeled as a scanner. If it takes them more than 60 seconds they’re a reader.
Although not exactly scientific, this solution does at least remove the problem with tracking scrollers that the other plugins don’t address.
Tool #6: Benchmarking in Google Analytics
If you lack the technical expertise needed to implement some of these more advanced marketing analytics techniques, you can always get an idea of your metrics level relative to similar sites by benchmarking your data.
Benchmarking compares your site’s stats with those from similar sites.
To do this, check under the Audience tab, then select the Benchmarking option. You can choose to benchmark based on Channel, Location, or Devices. For content marketing metrics, the Channel option will be most useful.
You’ll be given the chance to choose your site’s vertical from a big list:
Grab the one most similar to your site’s content, then you can drill down further based on your geographic location and the number of daily sessions that your site receives.
You can then see how your site stacks up against similar ones in terms of not only bounce rate but also sessions, pages per session, and session duration.
Keep in mind that this is a limited overview and that you shouldn’t live or die by these particular metrics; they’re just what they’re called: benchmarks.
Don’t Settle For Mediocre Content Marketing Analytics
When the tools aren’t there, managing your content marketing stats can be time-consuming, frustrating, and maybe not even useful. But with a little time and effort, you can create an accurate tracking system that gives you the insight you need into how your content is actually performing.
Hopefully, these tools will help get you on that path.
Are you using other tools to track your content marketing efforts? Let us know in the comments.