Case Study: Using Google Analytics to Dig Below the Surface

For their New Year’s marketing resolutions, many companies are committing to making better use of Google Analytics to track their traffic and evaluate their marketing efforts. Google Analytics can be a powerful tool, but if you don’t dig deep, it can be misleading, too.

For their New Year’s marketing resolutions, many companies are committing to making better use of Google Analytics to track their traffic and evaluate their marketing efforts. Google Analytics is a powerful tool, offering deep insights into traffic volumes, traffic sources, audience flow, and more. But if you don’t dig deep, these tools can be misleading, too.

Take the example of a print vendor that in 2022 committed to boosting its content marketing. It revived its blog and started posting on a weekly basis. After building a significant content library, it decided to see the impact its efforts were having.

The results were worth cheering about.

  • The blog was getting a lot of traffic—thousands of views every month.
  • Prior to investing in fresh content, the company’s ratio of direct vs. organic traffic was 60:40. After the company started posting more blogs and SEO-optimizing them, the ratio reversed—40% direct traffic vs. 60% organic traffic.
  • The same five or six posts on the same two topics were consistently in the top 10 in page views. These were not topics the company had put on its marketing content calendar (these posts were several years old), which suggested that they were topics the company should consider writing more about.

Clues to Dig Deeper

This was all very important information, so the company wanted to dig deeper. What more can we learn about our customers that our top-line numbers aren’t telling us? This is where things started getting interesting.

The first question was this: Can we find out where these web visitors are going after they land on the blogs? Are they going to the contact page? Specific product pages? If the latter, which ones?  For the answer, the company turned to the “behavior flow” area of Google Analytics. The results were surprising. After reading the blogs, web visitors weren’t going anywhere. Most of the posts had near 100% drop-offs.

This created more questions. Why were readers not visiting any other areas of the website? Was the path from the blogs to other relevant pages not intuitive enough? To address this issue, the company added calls to action to the posts and made highly visible. Then it expanded its search categories for the blog and ensured that all of its recent posts had the appropriate tags. This way, if customers liked a post and went to the main blog page, they could find more like it.

After a month, traffic was checked again. There was no change to the drop-offs.

Picture Starts to Come Together

This was creating an intriguing (and frustrating) picture. The blog was getting a lot of views, and the SEO around those posts was clearly drawing more traffic—enough to flip the traffic source ratio. But even with the addition of clear calls to action and improved tagging and search functionality, blog visitors weren’t continuing on.

The SEO efforts were working. However, the traffic it generated did not represent the company’s target audience. Readers were finding its blogs through web searches, but they were not necessarily people looking to purchase print. This was an unexpected finding, but an important one, and it led to another question. If the blogs weren’t drawing the eyeballs of potential customers, what value did the blog provide?  

When you want to know what your customers think, ask them! So the company’s next step was to send a customer survey. It emailed a survey link to its customer base, asking whether they read its blog, and if so, how valuable they felt the content was. It also asked which of the topics were the most and least useful, as well as what topics customers wanted to hear more about. The results were encouraging, surprising, and enlightening—and the company found a lot of answers to the questions it had been asking.

Good News, and More Questions

Of the customers who did read the company’s blog, all indicated that that the content was useful, with two-thirds saying it was either “very useful” or “extremely useful.” When asked what other types of content they would like to see, they offered a variety of suggestions that the company is now actively working to incorporate. Surprising, however, was that less than half (45%) of customers actually read the company’s blog. In the comments section, customers wrote things like, “I don’t recall seeing your blog,” and “I didn’t know it existed.”

This was a real surprise considering that the blog contained information the company’s customers saw as valuable and the company had been sending out weekly emails featuring a new blog post each week. These emails had a strong 28%–30% open rate, and customers were clearly reading and enjoying the content. How could so many customers be reading the blog, finding it valuable, and not know that the blog itself existed?

A look at the layout of its blog posts revealed the answer:  When customers clicked through the links, the posts just looked like any other type of web content. There was no “subscribe to our blog” link or other tag to indicate that these were part of a blog. Furthermore, the call to action at the end of each post was to “subscribe to our newsletter.” So customers were opening the emails, clicking through to what they thought was newsletter content, and then thinking that’s all there was to it.

This answered two major questions that had been lingering:

  • Why is SEO driving traffic to individual blog posts, but not to the rest of the website?
  • Why are customers reading individual blog posts but not realizing that the company has a blog?

These were important revelations that would ultimately lead to important changes in the format of the posts and to the development of a strategy to draw potential customers as subscribers to the blog and to educate current customers about the blog so they could take advantage of all of its content.

For Insights, Dig Deeper

Ultimately, the use of Google Analytics led to important revelations, confirmation that the company was providing valuable content of use to its customers (and many other readers around the world!), and additions that would improve this engagement even further. But those insights were the result of seeing anomalies and using them as jumping off points to start asking deeper questions and following the clues to the hidden insights to which they led.

So if your New Year’s marketing resolution is to tap into the power of Google Analytics, go for it! But do more than look at the surface numbers.

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