PB030: Dig Into Your Google Analytics Statistics [Day 30 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog]

How to Dig Into Your Blog Statistics

Today’s episode is about how you can dig into your blog statistics to work out patterns in what’s working and what’s not working for your blog. The numbers might seem daunting at first, but I share how you can understand them and use them to uncover the secrets of how people are using your blog.

In this Episode

You can listen to today’s episode above or in iTunes or Stitcher (where we’d also LOVE to get your reviews on those platforms if you have a moment). Today we talk about:

  • What blog statistics really matter
  • How to use Google Analytics to track traffic on your blog
  • How to use Google Analytics to increase traffic on your blog
  • How to use Google Analytics to create killer content
  • 9 questions to ask yourself to improve your site content
  • How to use Google Analytics to measure your blog progress in a meaningful way

Screen Shots from Todays Episode

As promised in the episode – here’s the process I went through to dig into these Google Analytics stats.

Note: I refer numerous times to a previously written post on the ProBlogger Blog in which I go into more depth on using Google Analytics. You can read that post at A Powerful Exercise inside Google Analytics to Set You Up for a Successful Year of Blogging.

Start by opening Google Analytics and clicking the Audience >> Overview menu item.


On the next page you’ll see your ‘sessions’ analytics like this (taken from my last month of blogging on Digital Photography School).

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics 2

To get a ‘comparison’ of this month to last month go up to the date section and put in the two periods you want to compare. Make sure you check the ‘compare to’ check box as pictured below and then hit ‘apply’ and you’ll get a chart like this:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics 3

While you’re in this area of Google Analytics you can look at some of these areas of stats. If you click on each one you’ll be able to see a larger chart:

Audience_Overview_-_Google_Analytics 4

Also in the audience area there are a whole heap of other ares you can dig into in the sidebar menu.


Next we’re moving into the Acquisition area. Click Acquisition >> Overview menu item:


You’ll be given a good overview page but you can drill down further. Go ahead and click the ‘all traffic’ menu item and then ‘channels’ to show you the different areas that traffic is coming from for your blog.


Click on the different channels to drill down and see more detail in where the traffic came from. For example if you click the ‘social’ link you’ll see it broken down into the traffic coming from different social networks.

The last section we’ll look at is ‘behavior’. Click on Behavior >> Overview for the overview page:


Drill down further into the Site Content >> All Pages menu item.


Listed there will be 10 most viewed pages on your blog. Click the ‘show rows’ drop down menu to make it show 100 instead of 10 so you can see more.

Pages_-_Google_Analytics 2

This is where I’m asking these 9 questions:

  1. what posts you might want to reshare on social at some point? – if it did well once it might do well again (see above for an example of this).
  2. what types of posts/mediums get shared most? – for example I notice in our most popular posts this year were a number of cheat sheets and infographics. This gives us hints as to what kind of posts might do well in 2015.
  3. what topics are hot? – for example I noticed in our top 100 posts for social that we had a lot of posts on camera lenses that did well. This informs what we might do more of in 2015.
  4. what headlines did well? – I noticed in our top 100 posts that we saw a number of posts that talked about ‘mistakes‘ that photographers make doing well. While we don’t want to do these posts all the time they do do well on social so we’ll no doubt do a few more in 2015.
  5. what posts could you extend? – some posts that have done well might lend themselves to become a series. For example our post ‘the only three lenses you’ll need for Travel Photography‘ could easily be extended to feature lenses for other types of photography.
  6. what posts could be optimised? – if posts are getting decent long term traffic from search or social it can be worth thinking about how to update them either by adding new content or by optimising them for search or social traffic. For example I noticed that our post on ISO settings is ranking well in Google but was not in the top 2-3 results in searches for ISO – so I’ve tweaked the post hoping to help that.
  7. what posts that I expected to go well under performed? – a lot can be learned from posts that DIDN’T rank in the most visited post lists. Perhaps they had the wrong headline, perhaps they could be republished at a better time, perhaps they are just a signal that the topic isn’t of interest to your readers.
  8. what older posts that need updating are still getting traffic? – this year I’ve noticed a number of 7-8 year old posts still getting significant traffic from Google. While some of them have evergreen content that is still relevant today a couple are very dated and in real need of updating.
  9. what posts are generating a lot of extra page views? – some pages stimulate readers to view a lot of other pages. On dPS I’ve developed number of what I call ‘sneeze pages’ that propel readers deep within the site. For example this year I notice that anyone entering our blog on our Portrait Photography Tips page is going on to view over 5 other posts on the blog. These pages that ‘over perform’ are ones to consider adding to menus, side bars, ‘further reading’ on other posts and sharing more regularly on social media.

Further reading

Full Transcript Expand to view full transcript Compress to smaller transcript view
Welcome to day 30 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog and the 30th episode of the ProBlogger Podcast. Today, we’re on the second last day of the 31-day challenge. Congratulations on getting this far. One more day after today to go. Today, we’re going to look at your stats.

On day one, I asked you to install Google Analytics or some other stats program. Today we’re going to dig into the data that’s being collected. I’m going to walk you through my exact process for analyzing my own Google Analytics. I’m also sharing some screenshots on today’s show notes. It might be worth opening up the show notes if you’re able to just to be able to follow through the podcast as we go. Today show notes are at problogger.com/podcast/30, where you will get some further reading but also see those screen grabs. Let’s get into today’s show.

Hi there, it’s Darren from ProBlogger. Welcome to day 30 of our 31 Days to Build a Better Blog challenge. We’re getting to the end—second last day—and I know some of you are probably feeling a little bit sad, although perhaps some of you are feeling a bit relieved. 

It’s been a fairly intense 31 days but I just wanted to let you know that we will be continuing to podcast not on a daily basis but one maybe two times a week going forward. I’ll continue to share with you some of these types of activities, but I’ll also mix up some other teaching and perhaps a few interviews with bloggers that you can learn from as well. Do stay subscribed to this podcast.

Today’s challenge is to dig into your statistics, into your metrics. Right at the start of this 31 days challenge, I encouraged you to make sure you had analytics installed on your blog in some way, whether you used Google Analytics or something else. My preference is definitely Google Analytics. I hope you did that because today we’re going to dig into those stats that you’ve been collecting on your blog and to track your progress. Now, if you haven’t already installed Google Analytics, your task today is to do that. This is really important to have some way of tracking your blogs. 

For those of you who have done so we’re going to dig into that now. I know some of you are seasoned pros at this and you’ve been looking at these stats every day for years, so you may not need all of what I’m going to share with you today, but I do encourage you to do the challenge particularly looking at the last month of statistics that you’ve been collecting. 

I’m going to link to a post that I wrote recently in today’s show notes that gives you an overview of how I use Google Analytics. I wrote this post at the end of last year and it looks at how I dug into Google Analytics to look at last year’s data for my main blog, Digital Photography School. Now, the process I described there is actually quite long and detailed and it’s what I do at the end of every year, but I do a quite similar thing on a monthly basis as well. You can use the pattern that I’ve outlined there and I’ll just go through some of it now in this podcast as well. For those of you who don’t want to read it, you can listen to it.

You’ll notice when you log into Google Analytics that down the left-hand side there are some menu items. The first one we want to look at is the audience. Audience shows you a lot of information about your audience—funny about that—and it’s a great place to start. 

If you click the audience button—audience link—it will open up the audience overview option. This just gives you a really good overview of the last month of traffic to your blog. In particular, it will show you sessions. The session statistic is defined by Google Analytics as a group of interactions within 30 minutes. If someone comes to your site, they view 10 pages, they leave comments, and they buy a product that’s counted as a session. It’s not looking at the exact number of visitors. It’s counting sessions so when someone comes back every second day for the whole month, that’s 15 sessions being recorded there. 

I don’t want you to get too caught up by the actual numbers that are being shown here in your sessions. Rather, look at the trend. How did you go over the last month? Look at the shape of the graph. Was it trending up? Is it trending down? Did it go up and down? Were there spikes? Were there peaks and troughs?

Start to try and get a feel for what happened over the last month. Particularly pay attention to any peaks and troughs. What happened on those days? You might want to go back and look on your blog and see, was it because I published a post today? Was it a certain type of post? As we dig through these statistics you might get some other hints on why those things happen. 

You’re particularly looking for any peaks that you can work out, that something happened that you can replicate. Maybe it was a certain type of post or maybe you did something on social media that you can replicate in the coming month. 

The other thing I really like to do right even at this point is to compare this month to last month. I’ll show you in quite detail how to do that in the post that I’m linking to from the show notes today. 

There is a compare option in Google Analytics and it’s really fascinating. You can actually compare what happened over this month to what happened over last month or what happened this month or last year, if you like. I find this is really useful because it actually gives you something to compare your stats to.

Many bloggers compare their stats to other bloggers stats and that can be a bit depressing or it can be a bit of an ego boost depending on how your stats do compare. It’s much more useful to compare your stats with your stats, so comparing yourself with last month or last year, will give you a real insight as to whether you’ve had any growth and how that growth has come about. I encourage you to use that compare tool if possible. Again, I outlined how to do that in that post, so compare it. 

You’ll also be able to do that same comparison on some of the other things that you find in the audience section of Google Analytics. There’s a number of options there and it’s worth looking at some of these every month.

You can look at your user numbers. This is a bit different to session numbers because it counts how many people have visited. If someone’s come back 15 times in the month, that discounts them as one. It gives you a slightly different view.  You’ll find that the shape of the graph is probably going to be pretty similar to the session number, though.

Pageviews are probably a similar sort of shape. It shows you how many pages on your blog people are viewed. If someone comes and views 10 pages on your blog in a single session, it counts as 10 rather than 1. 

What I find more interesting than page views and user numbers is pages viewed per session. This one’s worth keeping an eye on, particularly if you’re monetizing through advertising or where you might get paid per page view, but it also gives you an idea of how well you’re doing at getting people to go deeper into your site. This is one of the things that you’ll notice if you use sneeze pages, as we talked about earlier in these 31 days, that you’ll notice this number going up. You’ll also notice the next couple of numbers going up as well. 

Session duration, this is how long people are spending on an average visit on your site. The longer that is, the more they’re reading, the more they’re commenting, the more they are interacting, and the deeper their experience of your brand is. That’s a number that you want to see if you can increase. 

The other one is the bounce rate. This is one you want to actually see a decrease. This is the percentage of people who land on your blog and then leave without seeing any other pages. These statistics really tied to the last two. The duration that people are on your site and the number of pages that they viewed. Keep an eye on those three. It does give you some real insights.

In the audience area, you can all also look at how many people are new to your site versus returning. There’s no right or wrong with this statistic. It just gives you an indication of how well you’re doing, perhaps promoting your blog to new readers. It also shows you how many readers are coming back again, which is a good thing. Both of those things are good, but it’s interesting to see what the mix of new versus old readers is. 

You can also dig into language and the location of your audience. This is something that I certainly would recommend you keep an eye on. It does change over time and it’s fantastic to know where your readers are and their first language as well. It will give you all kinds of insights as to how you write your content, how you use language, and what sort of spelling you might use because there is a UK spelling versus the US spelling of some words. Having that understanding really gives you a lot of insight. It may explain some of the questions you get in the way that people interact with you because there are cultural differences in the way that people interact online. 

The last area in the audiences section of Google Analytics that’s worth having a look at and keeping an eye on is the devices section. Over time, this will have changed. If you’ve had a blog for a year or two, you’ll have seen some changes in this because it shows you how many people are accessing your site on a desktop versus a mobile and tablet.

For most blogs, this is getting to a point now where at least half of the people visiting your blog are probably on a mobile or a tablet or it will get to that point soon for you. I think we’ve just hit 50% so we’re at that switching over point. 

Again, you can do all of those statistics in a comparison mode so you can go back a year and see any of those things; how you are going and then how you’re going now. That’s the audience area. There’s a lot more you can do in there but if you’re just starting out particularly pay attention to some of those statistics.

If you scroll down the page in Google Analytics and look on the left-hand side in the menu, you’ll see that there is a section there for acquisition. This is basically an area that helps you to analyze where traffic is coming from on your blog. 

The overview gives you some great overview analysis. Immediately, on clicking acquisition overview, you’ll get a sense, therefore, how much of your traffic comes from search, how much is coming from social, how much is coming from direct—that’s people just coming directly to your site—how much is coming from referral and email as well. 

I actually find the email statistic isn’t overly accurate because a lot of the people coming from direct on our site seem to be coming from email as well. You can dig a little bit deeper here.

I’d encourage you to click the channels button there. This will allow you to go in and analyze the traffic coming from search, social, and then within social,the different types of social. 

You can do some analysis here. Is search traffic up or down? Can you explain that change? This is really good to keep an eye on because you might notice that you suddenly get a real drop in your search traffic. That gives you a hint that you need to go and look at it. Has Google changed the algorithm? Has something broken on your site that you need to fix and you manage to get some help with that?

The same thing with social. How were some of these social experiments that we’ve done over the last 31 days had an impact on your traffic. Have you done something that’s seen a real spike or have you seen it tail off? That gives you some hints as to what you should keep doing and what you should stop doing. 

What pages on your site did social media drive the most traffic to? This, again, gives you some insights into what type of content is being shared and what type of post you might want to write more of. It also gives you some ideas on what you could continue to be sharing in social media. You don’t want to just keep sharing every post you’ve ever written on social media. You want to pay particular attention to posts that have been shared previously. You might want to continue to share them on a monthly basis.

Lastly, have you had any spikes in traffic from other sites? This is in your referral area. It will identify if you’ve had a lot of traffic coming in from another blog or a forum or some of these other places that you perhaps have been interacting over the last month. 

You begin to see here correlations with some of the other activities you’ve done over the last 30 days, whether it be certain types of posts or certain activities that you’ve been doing on the web in building your presence. Pay attention to the things that you’ve done and what happens to your traffic because it will give you all kinds of insights as to how effective you’ve been in building a presence, how effective you’ve been at creating content. Again, you can do the comparative analysis of this type of data with what happened last month and again that will give you useful insights.

Now, if you scroll down the page in Google Analytics on the left-hand side, you’ll now see that there’s a category behavior. This is my favorite section to dig into. I dig in here on a daily basis. It shows you what type of content has been getting that traffic. 

Acquisition shows you overall how much traffic. Now, you’re going to see where the traffic is going on your site. For me, this is where it’s at. That’s partly because I really love writing content and seeing how people interact with it. In this section, open up behavior, then click on-site content, and then all pages. 

It’s also good to dig into the landing pages tab. All pages show you all of the pages on your site that have had people visit it and it ranks them. Landing pages shows you how many people land on a particular page and it doesn’t really track what happens after they land. You’ll find that they’re slightly different and it’s worth taking a look at both. 

For now, let’s just look at all pages. Once you click site content and then all pages, it will show you the top 10 posts or pages on your site. Scroll down a little bit and click the full report link. That will only allow you to dig beyond the top 10, so you can actually view that page by the top 100 posts or the top 1000 posts. You might want to just stick with 100 because it might overload your computer. This is really great to dig into because it shows you what posts are resonating with your audience and it gives you all kinds of insights.

I’ve actually got a series of nine questions that I ask in this area. I do ask these on that post that I mentioned before. I just want to quickly go through them because I think this is just so key. It will help you to work out what kind of posts to keep writing, what you might want to stop, and how you can share those posts as well. 

The first question is what posts do you want to reshare on social at some point? If you’ve got in that top 100 posts, you might find that some of them have been shared a lot on social media. Take note of those. Actually make a list. I’ve got a spreadsheet of my most shared posts and this is stuff that I continue to reshare on Twitter, on Facebook, in the coming months and years. 

I don’t share them all every day because I don’t want to overload my followers. This is stuff that on a daily basis, I’m trying to share two or three posts that I’ve previously written that otherwise, would be hidden in my archives. What type of post might you want to reshare at some point? 

Number two, what type of posts get shared the most? You begin to notice that there are some trends here. Last time I did this analysis, I noticed that a lot of our cheat sheets and infographics were being shared a whole heap and they were getting a lot of traffic. This gives me some hints as to what type of posts I might want to write next month. Again, you might see certain trends there and the types of posts. 

The third question is what topics are hot at the moment. A bit different to the type of post, but what topic? Last year, I noticed as I did this analysis that we had in our top post a lot that was about camera lenses. This is on Digital Photography School. This, again, informs what I might do in the coming period. We need more posts on lenses. It seems to be resonating with our readers. 

Question number four. Again, similar, what type of headlines did well? What I noticed as I did this analysis last year, is that post that mentioned mistakes that photographers made, did really well. That word “mistake” seems to trigger people to want to find out what this mistake is. 

Another thing I noticed was that a lot of posts that had steps: “12 steps to do this,” or, “14 steps to do this,” or, “how to do this a step-by-step guide.” Our readers seem to really respond to that sort of step-by-step type approach in the headline but also the format of the post. So, pay attention to the headlines of your most popular posts. It may give you hints as to keywords that you might try and use in the future. 

The fifth question I ask as I’m digging into this area is what type of posts could I extend? Some of the posts that you’ve written in the past might lend themselves to a series in the future. 

In the example I gave in the post that I’m referring to today’s is that we had a post last year that did really well titled, The Only Three Lenses You’ll Need for Travel Photography. It struck me that this could easily be extended to do other posts.

We could do, The Only Three Lenses You’ll Need for Wedding Photography or The Only Three Lenses You’ll Need for Portrait Photography. That’s something that we’ve begun to develop as an ongoing series. We’re not going to do a whole week of those posts, but every now and again, we’re throwing that into the mix this next year. 

The sixth question is what type of posts or what post could you optimize? Here, I’m thinking particularly about search engines but also the format of the posts. What I noticed last year is that we had these posts that I had written in 2007 that were still doing really well in terms of getting search traffic, but when I went and had a look at those posts, I realized that the formatting on some of them wasn’t great. Some of them were slightly dated in the information. Some of them mentioned things that were no longer active on our site. Some of them could have had better calls to action. 

I was able to go back and update those key posts that were getting a lot of traffic. By doing so, I’ve been able to increase the user experience on those posts, but also I’ve been able to add some links to give people further reading. It’s decreased our bounce rate and increased the session duration of people landing on those posts. 

The seventh question is what posts did I expect to do well underperformed? Sometimes you have a post that you think is just going to go crazy and it just flops completely. It may be worth doing some analysis on maybe why that happens. Maybe it was the wrong headline. Perhaps you published it at the wrong time. Perhaps you published it on the Fourth of July and everyone was off partying and doing something fun that day. Or perhaps you just want to avoid doing that type of topic again. Or maybe they need to republish that in some way or publish that topic in a different way to see if you can get some traction on that. Doing some analysis on what didn’t work is really important as well. 

The eighth question is what older posts need updating that is still getting traffic? I kind of touched on that already. 

The last question or I’ll get you to ask is what posts are generating a lot of extra page views? What you’ll find is that some pages on your site get your readers to read a whole heap of extra pages. This is probably going to be those sneeze pages that we talked about earlier in the 31 days.

On Digital Photography School, I noticed that probably anyone who lands on our portrait photography tips needs page, goes on to view an average of five extra posts on the site. To me, that really shows the value of these in these pages. You may actually find that you’ve just got other posts in your mix that seem to stimulate people to view a whole heap of extra pages. That’s worth noting. 

There are some of the questions that I ask as I’m going through my Google Analytics. My final words of advice for you when it comes to statistics and doing this exercise. One, don’t become a stats junkie. It’s so easy to become obsessed with this. I think most bloggers that I talk to, at one point or another, get so addicted to checking their stats that it kind of takes them away from creating great content for their blog. Do this but do it in moderation. You may need to […] when you’re going to do it because you might spend your whole day there so you might put some boundaries around that. 

The other thing I’d say is don’t let these exercises get you down. It’s really easy in the early days, even in the middle days, or the later days of your blog to get disillusion with statistics. It does take time to build traffic to your blog. We all feel small when we start out. Many of us continue to feel small particularly when we let ourselves compare ourselves to other people. That’s not a fair thing to do. You don’t want to be comparing yourself to other people. Compare yourself to you when you just started out. You have progressed. You’ve learned. You’ve grown in different ways. Refocus your attention back onto how things used to be for you and where you’ve come from. I think that’s a much better and more useful comparison to make. 

Most successful bloggers that I’ve talked to, it takes them two, three, or more years to get to that tipping point. Then, there are other successful bloggers who never really got to a tipping point and don’t really, even to this day, have a massive amount of traffic. 

I keep bumping into bloggers who have smaller amounts of readers but they’re still doing really significant things with that smaller group both in terms of monetization but also bringing about change in the life of the people who read their blogs. 

The key is to focus on the right type of reader. Really identify who you’re trying to reach and go after that smaller number of people who are much more focused. That will bring about better things than just going after lots of random readers. 

Keep an eye on your trends. Don’t look at the absolute number all the time. In fact, if you’re setting yourself a goal to reach a certain number of readers, that can work. I personally prefer to set a goal that’s more like you know, “I want my readers to go up by 10% or 20%,” or, “This year, I want it to go up by 50%.” I’ve actually found those more percentage-based goals to be better than actual numbers. You want to look at growing exponentially over time. 

When I started out, my goal was 10% growth every month. Now, that may be unrealistic today. Things were a bit different back then. When I focus on that type of goal rather than an absolute number of readers, I actually just found it more helpful to do that. And 10% per month when you’re just starting out doesn’t sound like a lot. If you’ve got 10 readers, it means you’ve got 11 next month, but that adds up over time.

I hope you enjoy today’s challenge. This has been our longest podcast of the 31 days, but there’s so much goodness that can come out of doing this type of analysis. Dig in there, see what you can find, see what you can learn, and most importantly, come out of it with some action points that you can take away that will begin to shape your next month of blogging.

I hope you found today’s challenge useful. As I mentioned at the start of the show, I’ve included some screenshots of my own stats and walking through the process I’ve just outlined on today’s show notes at problogger.com/podcast/30. 

There’s also some further reading there, a link to a survey which we’re doing at the moment with podcast listeners, which helps us to shape our next shows, and an invitation to comment. I’d love you to check those out.

I will talk to you tomorrow on day 31 of 31 Days to Build a Better Blog, where we’re going to start to do some planning and create some next steps for you based upon some of the stats that you’ve dug out today, but also, some of the activities over the last 31 days. I’ll talk to you then.


How did you go with today’s challenge?

What new things have you learned about your blog after looking at your statistics? What are your 10 most popular blog posts?

I’d love to hear about your experience digging into your blog statistics in the comments below.

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