What Gets Clicked, What Gets Read

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Writing about how to grow a blog’s audience is popular. Subjects like writing top ten lists, promotion through search, social media, guest posts, submitting links to social bookmarking sites and more are often covered. Repeatedly. Advice and services for getting readers, either in bulk or from a specific group, is an industry of itself. Among the posts, tweets, videos and status updates there is one consistent theme, and it is content. Content matters. So, how do you discover what content is working for you?

Content Audit

What Content Works?

This blog is not popular or successful by any real measure. I have been writing for it for over two years as a sounding board and to attract people who are interested in the same things I am. The posts are long, do not include many lists, have a few graphs and generally don’t follow most blogging best practices.

What is the result of this approach to blogging, how does this affect what returning readers read versus what gets the attention of newcomers? What is the most popular content?

Overall Top Five Blog Posts

The top five blog posts from the last 12 months by unique views include a mix of graphs, Brisbane floods, a local football team and a MMORPG PVP/AdWords comparison.

  1. Mapping a Query Space
  2. Floods, Tourism and Search in Queensland
  3. Roar Season Wrap
  4. Search Engine Marketing is PVP
  5. Floods, Brisbane and What Worked Online

All this list reveals is what was looked at by the most individuals. It sheds no light on whether they liked it, if they read it, or if they muttered ‘wanker’ under their breath and left. It also won’t tell you if it attracted new visitors, or was only viewed by regulars.

What type of visitor?

How new visitors are attracted and what are the differences in what they read compared to an existing audience is a good question. The relationship between the content that brings people to the site, and what they actually read can tell you a lot about what works and what doesn’t.

Returning Visitor Top Five

  1. Mapping a Query Space
  2. Query Cluster Performance and Competition
  3. Twitter Search, Assange and Impure
  4. The Network Effect as a Bell Curve
  5. Turning Yahoo! into Bing in Australia

New Visitor Top Five

  1. Mapping a Query Space
  2. Floods, Tourism and Search in Queensland
  3. Search Engine Marketing is PVP
  4. Roar Season Wrap
  5. Football Crowds and Group Cohesion

The posts that attract the most new visitors are different from those viewed by returning visitors. The two lists only share one post, and of the New Visitor Top Five, only two do not relate to recent events – either the Brisbane floods or the local football team. New visitors are more responsive to topical content, while the returning visitors came back for more posts relating to a small number of themes.

What did they read?

In this case, finding out which content held their attention is more useful than what was viewed by the most people. Google Analytics’ bounce rate is often used to determine what content engages. However it is most valuable if you want to know how many people clicked another link. It won’t tell you if they read the post and then left, or if they exited on seeing the wall of text.

Google Analytics Advanced Segment

The lists below were generated using a number of Advanced Segments, selecting traffic by type and a visit duration of greater than 60 seconds. The aim is to determine if the content was engaging and matched their expectations, motivating them to read it.

Overall

  1. Mapping a Query Space
  2. Query Cluster Performance and Competition
  3. Floods, Tourism and Search in Queensland
  4. Floods, Brisbane and What Worked Online
  5. The Network Effect as a Bell Curve

Once visits shorter than 60 seconds are removed, a number of posts from the unfiltered New Visitor list no longer appear. This implies that most of the posts that attract new readers don’t always get them to stay.

Returning Visitors

  1. Query Cluster Performance and Competition
  2. The Network Effect as a Bell Curve
  3. Mapping a Query Space
  4. Twitter Search, Assange and Impure
  5. Floods, Brisbane and What Worked Online

Out of the top five posts that returning visitors viewed, four of them also appear on the top five list of posts viewed for longer than 60 seconds. On the data here, there is a strong link between what this group will visit, and what they will read, at least for a little while. The same is seen for new visitors as well, at least for the time frame chosen.

New Visitors

  1. Mapping a Query Space
  2. Floods, Tourism and Search in Queensland
  3. Roar Season Wrap
  4. Search Engine Marketing is PVP
  5. Floods, Brisbane and What Worked Online / Football Crowds and Group Cohesion

Taking it further

There is so much more that could be done from here. At best, this is a summary, an indication that there is something to look for. A number of things to follow up on, or further questions to ask are:

  • Use a larger number of pages
  • Examine behaviour for different traffic sources
    • Do new visitors follow more links?
    • Do returning visitors leave once they are up-to-date?
  • Depth of visit by group?
  • What is the median time on page for each group?

Google Analytics can provide a lot of information. While there are some limitations to what it can tell you, for broad analysis of trends it is more than adequate. The most important thing is to know what the right question is.

2 responses to “What Gets Clicked, What Gets Read”

  1. Jeff says:

    Interesting piece. I hadn’t thought of using GA in this manner, but it makes sense.
    And it wasn’t me muttering, that was Simon.

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