Ask the Expert: Benchmarking Your Traffic
Question. What if we stopped focusing so much on traffic, and started focusing on experience? On your site, a visitor should be considered “engaged” if they 1.) Have a browser tab open, and 2.) take an action (scroll, click, mouse-over) at least once every ten seconds.
Watch as Neil Powell, Solutions Engineer at Parse.ly gives you a close look at how Parse.ly measures engaged time differently than other analytics platforms.
In this session you’ll get:
- Suggested starting points for benchmarking engaged time
- A look at the benefits of adding content analytics to your CMS and content strategy
- A live Q&A
Neil Powell, Solutions Engineer, Parse.ly
Neil Powell is a Product Specialist at WordPress VIP representing the company’s analytics offering and providing customers with a 360-degree view of content to tie engagement directly to business goals.
Prior to his current role, Neil was an Associate Director of Unstructured Content at S&P Global within their Market Intelligence division. He was responsible for helping to drive strategy and platform development across S&P’s business news, research, and events analytics offerings. Previously, he spent eight years growing and leading a team of data journalists to create data-driven news and analysis for S&P clients’ daily consumption.
Neil has a B.B.A in Economics from James Madison University.
Good afternoon, everyone, and welcome to today’s webcast. My name is David Cardiel. I’m the vice president of marketing here at WordPress VIP, and we’ve got a special Ask the Expert series going on with us today. Really excited to have everyone join. We’re welcomed by Neil Powell, he’s the solutions engineer at Parse.ly. Really what we wanted to do, really the intent of today’s discussion really was to bring folks in to have a conversation about content analytics, specifically about benchmarking your traffic. Again, excited to welcome Neil in here.
A little bit about him. As I mentioned before, he’s a product specialist at Parse.ly and WordPress VIP. He’s been in the really the analytics game when you think about content and all its far-reaching abilities, he’s been in the game for quite some time now. He’s been an associate director of prospective content at S&P Global within their market intelligence division. He’s been responsible for helping to drive key strategies and platform developments across S&P’s business, news, research and events and analytics offering. He’s got a BBA in economics from James Madison University and he’s just an all around rockstar when it comes to looking at content analytics and deep dives into under the hood, so bring your questions, bring your energy. Neil’s going to be diving into benchmarking your traffic. Neil, welcome today.
Yeah. Thanks, Dave. Appreciate the intro. Today, we’re going to get into benchmarking our traffic and we really want you to be able to understand audience engagement and how you can create more compelling content. In the first two sessions, we focused on understanding how content can tie to business objectives, and that’s really important in terms of helping us show how content drives revenue and you can create new content with the highest business goals and prove that worth. But that being said, content’s ability to influence behavior and drive conversions really depends on writing to the correct audience and engaging with them. Our content has to make that connection. The truth is engagement really needs to be incorporated into the measure of your quality of content. If it’s not part of that, really the chances are you won’t get the return on investment you seek. It’s not going to educate your top of funnel, it’s not going to bring leads into your marketing funnel and it’s not going to convert your new customers, so engagement really goes beyond those page views and session times.
Content’s ability to influence requires people to invest their time into content. They need to actually read and interact with what’s on the page. A page view doesn’t always convey that engagement. We need to move to something more meaningful. We need something to help us know that people are actually interested in our content, listening to our story. That’s really where today’s session and the Parse.ly dashboard is going to come into play. Our dashboard is tailor-made for content metrics that allow you to go beyond the page view. We want you to understand that true engagement with your audience, so why don’t we dive into the dashboard? I’ll show you some of the use cases and we can talk about those engagement metrics. I’m going to stop sharing my webcam now and share the dashboard. We’ll get a little bit of extra space on the screen here.
What we can do here is you should see the blog for Parse.ly. I think we can start to use this as our jumping off point. Let’s say that I am back in the shoes of a content creator at Parse.ly and we want to understand and optimize engagement for a certain part of our blog today. Parse.ly has a few different types of categories and we’re really going to focus on analytics that matter, so we’ve been creating blog content for analytics that matter. It’s kind of like some of our thought leadership, so it’s going to be informing customers and potential customers.
What Parse.ly can do, some of those important topical things and ultimately, we’re looking to engage them, retain them and push them deeper. Really, we’re going to be focusing on engaging them and retaining them. If I’m a content creator today and I want to take a look at how that’s working, I can start and come into the dashboard, so we’re moving away from the blog and now we’re on the dashboard. I want to start to see where we’re capturing that audience and how it’s working because we’ve been utilizing kind of a hub and spoke strategy. If I go into our Refer section, I can expand out my historical time range here and start to see how the first quarter has been engaged with. Ultimately, our social strategy has been working. We’re getting a large amount of engagement from social, but what I really want to focus on today is that search piece.
It’s potentially dropped in terms of the overall amount of traffic we’re getting from search, so as a content creator, I’m thinking, okay, how do I see what content’s performing? How do I maybe partner that up with Semrush, maybe update that content, get new links in, see what’s being engaged with, ultimately understand what that journey looks like. I’m going to look into the traffic from search and I’m going to just start to see what content is being engaged with. I’ve got a couple posts that really we’ve optimized for keywords that have been returning that content, that search traffic and ultimately it’s the first journey when they get to our platform and we want to one, see how that’s working and then two, push them deeper. I can see that what we’re going to want to do here is focus on the analytics that matter.
If you look here, this is the section of the blog. Instead of just having to read down and say, “Hey, analytics that matter, analytics that matter,” I can actually start to filter that out here, and so I can apply and just say, “Okay, we’re going to focus on analytics that matter.” This is the section that I really want to optimize for. This is the part of the blog that I care about today because I can’t optimize all parts of the blog every single day across pieces of time, so we need to do this piecemeal, we need to focus.
All right, so here are the top pieces that are really driving traffic from search. I’m seeing the most referral traffic from search, and now I want to make sure that we’re pushing them deeper, we’re seeing how they’re moving into the platform. I can click into the piece that we’ve optimized from search is giving our most traffic. Let’s try to say, “Hey, how are we moving deeper?” It looks like it’s taking a second to load here. I apologize for my slow internet speed.
If we scroll down, what we can start to do and what we can start to see is where they’re going after this post, so we’re capturing their attention from search. These are the pieces that are most optimized. I’ve worked in Semrush. I’ve started to say, “Okay, here are the keywords, here are what we want to associate. These are the pages that I’m spending for AdWords.” Ultimately, here’s where they’re going next. If I scroll up and I take a look at the top here, I can click into the copy and I can start to see the content that’s related, those links that I’ve associated. Now some of this, this is an old blog, so these are some of the pieces that we’ve had around for a while, and I want to see how people are clicking into these, how they’re going to our related posts, how they’re going to the links that I have here because that’s in my control, I can change that. If I scroll down, these are those links.
Some of that is continuing to do a large amount of referral traffic, and so we’re successfully driving 3%, 4% of traffic to that content and it’s making up a lot of the referral traffic from that page, but there’s some things that just aren’t necessarily driving as much traffic, they’re not being engaged with on the page, and so I want to sub those out. I want to use that valuable landscape to push people to other pieces of content that can nurture them, that can engage them, so how do I find new pieces of content to do that? We can also do that in the dashboard.
Let’s say I want to replace some of these bottom-performing articles, get new links, update those, hopefully, increase engagement with that article and move people through. I can go back now to our post section and I can start to look at something like Engage Time. I can look at Engage Time for new visitors. If we’re looking for somebody that’s just visited the site, maybe we’re trying to get them up to speed and educate them about Parse.ly services holistically from the analytics that matter or I can look at just returning visitation, so people that are a little bit more familiar, people that are a little bit more comfortable with complex topics about what Parse.ly’s about, or I could just look at it on the aggregate, co-mingled, right? And just say, “Okay, what are people looking at the most across total engage time?”
What we can start to do here is we can start to say, “Hey, some of this content, we could potentially look to put in that piece that is really the hub in our spoke, so how we move people down once we’ve captured them?” You’ll see that I still have that section for analytics that matter here as my filter criteria, so I’m only getting related content. I’m only getting content that it makes sense to put together that’s housed in that same area of the blog. You can see at the top level, define the jargon. That piece that we’re looking at optimizes the top. But below that, there’s other things that we haven’t included. There’s this case study on monetizing our digital audience. There’s more information around time well spent. There’s things around like Flipboard and Google AMP, so if we want to look at other aggregators. We can start to think about how we want to up update this older copy and put in content that is being engaged with, is spending time.
I think now is probably a good time to talk just a little bit about Engage Time with Parse.ly. And so engage Time with Parse.ly means something that’s a little bit different than like a session time that you’d see on like a web analytics tool. Our Engage Time has an interactivity piece to it. It’s a heartbeat pixel is what we call it. What we do is we look to see is this page an active page in your browser tab? We look to infer engagement through movement, through interactivity with the content. If you’re moving your cursor side to side, if you’re scrolling up and down, if you’re clicking play on embedded video, if you’re clicking on an infographic that’s on the page, all of those things are keeping the clock running.
As soon as that stops after that 10-second window, we pause the clock. A session time that you have with another analytics tool could be two, three, four times what you see from our Engage Time metric. We think Engage Time really is important because content requires it, right? Somebody needs to read, somebody needs to interact, somebody needs to be educated about the goods and services that we provide. Our content has to have a takeaway. Really at the heart of it, we’re telling stories and people need to listen and they need to engage in order for that power of the story to take effect. If you’re looking at something just like a session time, that doesn’t necessarily mean that people are taking something away from your content, so that’s why we think Engage Time is so important.
Focusing on something like Engage Time rather than a session time or just a page view can help you create more focused content, create more educational content, really put the things in front of them that are nurturing them. It can also allow you to move away from some of those quick baity-type things where you look to optimize maybe just the headline but don’t really provide any meat on the bones, and so really that that’s the power of Engage Time. Across the board, whether you’re in a newsroom, whether you’re a SaaS company that’s providing some technology solutions or whether you’re B2C, engage time really translates across all of those industries.
We’ve talked a little bit just about finding content that works, things that have worked based off that engage time, based off those metrics, plugging them in. But what if we don’t necessarily have everything we need? What if the content that I have here that’s the most engaging, it has already been linked in that story or doesn’t seem to fit? How can we look to produce new content that’s engaging? What we can start to do is we can start to prospect off a couple different things. We could potentially look at something like our keyword tags and say, “Okay, what else are we writing about for our analytics that matter?” If we are writing about certain topics, how are those topics engaging people? Is there anything else that we need to write about? Are there missing pieces in that user path, in that user journey that we want to see?
We can move to the tag section here on the dashboard, and this is the keyword taxonomy that we’re using, that we’re tagging to the blog and that you can see when you’re tagging. Ultimately, if we look here and we have it on engage time, we can start to see on aggregate, the topics that are being invested in, that are being spent with the most over this engage time. Maybe we want to expand this out instead of just the quarter. We want to start to grab the back half or Q4 of 2021 as well, and so we can load this up and then as soon as this loads, we’re going to start to be able to see what topics across time are working and we can see that both in the aggregate, and I apologize for the speed of my internet here, let me try to refresh one more time. There we go.
We can see what topics are working on the aggregate, but we also get a little bit of additional context here and we can start to say, “Hey, what’s capturing the bulk of visitation? What does that average time look like that feeds into this?” But also on a minutes per post perspective. I think this is really helpful and important in understanding where you’re saturating your content. We write a lot of Facebook, about Google, they’re very common referral sites. We write a lot about engage time, unsurprisingly, we’re talking about engage time today. But we can also start to see other topics that we’re writing about, other things that are a little bit more specific to Google and Facebook where we’re actually getting more engagement on a per post metric.
Then, we can also click into this and we can also see the specific copy that’s driving that and that’s actually being engaged with here. When I take a look at these two posts, as soon as this loads, what I can look and see is what copy I’ve done. Are both of these pieces, are they both being engaged with at a similar rate? Is there one really just standout piece? We can start to dive into the details on that standout piece and start to see, hey, are there other things that we could do? Are there other angles we could take? Are there other tags that we could ultimately write about? You can start to prospect on those pieces of content, those topics that you’ve done, and start to decide, hey, do we need to write more about this? Is this actually giving us the best bang for our buck in terms of engagement for the next article that we’ve written or have we saturated that? If we’re looking to create more engaging content to help fill and update this older copy that we have, that’s how we can do it.
Those are a couple of pieces in terms of utilizing your search and seeing where your referral traffic is coming from, and then pushing people deeper into the funnel to ultimately engage them, nurture them, inform them about other things around this section of the blog that we care about today. Ultimately the idea there is we take that content, we plug in our most engaging content, and then ultimately, we’re capturing their attention more, they’re spending more time on the page, they’re going deeper and we can continue to look on this week on week, right? Next week, I can go in after I’ve updated this article and say, “Go back to the page and say, hey, for define the jargon, did that content actually resonate?” When we click down and go all the way into the bottom of the article here, was that content actually being engaged with or do I need to update it and change it again? Let me try to refresh this really quickly and try to move through.
I think from there, okay, it looks like this piece isn’t loading here, so I’m going to move into a different dashboard and try to show different, oh, there we go, as soon as I said that. If we scroll down here, remember, we can start to see next week, how did the new copy that we put in here, how did that rank? How that work? If it works well, if we get a large portion of referrals, if it is helpful to the referral traffic, we can keep that there. We can move through. If it doesn’t work, we can try something new. We can do something different, so Parse.ly can help you understand what’s working, what’s not working, and then take steps to change that based off those hypotheses. Ultimately that whole point is to say let’s capture their attention, let’s engage them and let’s do better than what we have done in the past. Let’s contribute more. Let’s grow that. That’s just understanding how we can capture it from a search perspective and then push them down with that hub and spoke system.
But we can also do the same thing from a campaign perspective. What I’m going to do is go into this other dashboard here and talk a little bit about a newsletter campaign. I think what we can start to do here is start to see how content works in a newsletter. A lot of you all use newsletters just in terms of engaging your client base. They sign up for it, they can get information pushed to them, we can meet them where they are in their email, but part of that piece of being in their inboxes is you need to be relevant. You only have a few touch points before they stop opening that email, don’t click through to your newsletter. The quickest way to end up in spam or deleted is to have somebody scroll through a newsletter and say, “Hey, none of this matters to me. None of this makes a lot of sense.” If you’re utilizing a daily and a weekly newsletter, there’s a couple things we can do.
The first thing I would say is if you’re looking to create a newsletter, start with the content that’s being engaged with the most on your platform. Use that engage time, either for new visitation or for returning visitation or for the personas that you care about because we can segment our audience based off certain aspects. Then, what we can start to do, let’s expand our timeframe a little bit here. What we can start to do is then see how that works, so that jumping off point for our first daily newsletter, so let’s pretend that yesterday was the first time we ran a daily newsletter.
What we can start to do is say, okay, with the UTM parameter tied to that newsletter, we can start to see how that campaign is being engaged with. We can start to compare that to all of the campaign traffic that we have or the average traffic per campaign or the average traffic across similar campaigns. But then, we can also click into those campaign details themselves and see how each piece of content within that newsletter worked. Here’s the content that we curated in that first newsletter, and this is based off engage time and we thought it was doing well, and so we can actually take that total engage time example again.
What we can start to see here is how each piece of content within the newsletter ranked and worked, but also how each piece of content drove traffic as a whole to that page. In a web analytics tool, a lot of the times, the information is aggregated to a URL string, query string, but for us, it’s aggregated to the piece of content itself, so it’s very easy to quickly see how a campaign impacts total engagement to an article. What we can start to do here is we can start to say, “Hey, I typically get 5% of my traffic from a newsletter. How does each piece of content that we put in this newsletter, how does that compare to that average 5%?”
Well, for a couple pieces, 8%, 6% of traffic, that seems fine. Now some of these other pieces, even though they’re the most popular, they’re actually not being engaged with, not being referred with the most, and so you can say okay, let’s start to create other content. Let’s start to create different content, stuff that’s being engaged with, stuff that’s working from those tags, from those pieces themselves and we can sub that content in and out, so you can start to make sure that your content is being engaged with, that it’s compelling. Ultimately, that you’re driving a large portion of traffic and then if you’re also utilizing multiple campaigns, multiple newsletters. If we go back, you can see we also have a weekly newsletter. Well, if I’m curating content into that weekly newsletter, let’s just take the last five days of content from our daily newsletters, see what is the most popular, and use that as a jumping off point to say, “Hey, maybe we should include some of these pieces of content that are doing well,” and you can also pepper in new copy.
You could also pepper in things that are driving the most conversions, what we talked about on some of those previous sessions, things that are getting the most hand raises, things that are getting people to subscribe to the newsletter, so you can utilize multiple pieces of content that drive people across all of the funnel to make sure that they’re being engaged with, make sure the content’s working so we can build off of that.
These are really a couple of the ways that you can ultimately understand what your content’s doing, understand what’s actually being engaged with, actually being read, and then pushing that out to people. We optimize pages from search or they do well on social and then we look to push people deeper. Let’s make sure people are actually moving deeper to those pages that we’re doing all the work to capture people. We can see topics that are being engaged with the most. We can write more about those, we can try new things with those. We can build on top of those.
Then ultimately with our campaigns, we can start to see what works at the campaign level, what’s the most successful campaigns, what’s the most successful content within those campaigns, and how can they be used for future campaigns? How can we curate additional campaigns? How can we build off of that success? Then ultimately, how we make sure every piece of content within that campaign is succeeding based off of those average metrics that we’ve seen, so you can continue to meet people where they are and make sure you’re putting the most compelling content in front of them so you don’t end up on a do not contact or straight to spam. Those are a couple of strategies that you can utilize with engage time, making sure your copy’s up to speed and being engaged with the most. I think ultimately, that’s it for today. I know, Dave, we were looking to take some questions. Do we have any questions from the audience today?
Yeah. Thanks, Neil. That was a great overview, and then yeah, to the audience there, we’ve got a few questions in the queue, keep them coming. We’ve got, oh, a couple of five, six minutes here to get to a few. Neil, first one up. What’s the difference between a session time on GA and Parse.ly? Can you articulate that a little bit?
Yeah, yeah. We touched on that a little bit during the call, and really the bulk of that for us on a session time versus an engage time for Parse.ly really is around that heartbeat pixel. The session time is really going to be the page when it’s open. It doesn’t necessarily mean there’s interaction on the page where Parse.ly’s engage time means there has to be interaction, right? We look for that mouse, we look for that interactivity. We look for somebody actually engaging with the content. If they’re not doing anything within a 10-second window, we stop that clock.
Got it. Let’s talk UTM parameters a bit. Does one need to create UTM parameters within Parse.ly to understand engagement with their campaigns?
Yeah, that’s a good question. The campaign tracking that we saw, you do not need to create any sort of specific parameters only for Parse.ly. We plug into your standard UTM parameters and we capture that and we’re able to do that out of the box, so you don’t need to worry about creating new campaigns, creating something in the Parse.ly interface. You could use UTM, you could use whatever you’re doing today to craft those UTM parameters. We’re going to pick that and we’re going to show that information and you’re able to filter the entire dashboard based off those campaigns.
Great. Got a question in here, which I kind of love because I’ve been in this situation before. I’ll kind of summarize it here, but it’s kind of like small content team, we just kind of walk through this. Small content team looking to get a little bit more proficient in benchmarking their traffic, in investing in their content analytics. What’s your advice for a smaller team in terms of getting started and knowing that maybe a little bit of an uphill battle when you think about investment into a platform or something?
Yeah, yeah. I think analytics plays an outsized role for a small content team in some ways where it doesn’t necessarily for a larger content team, because as a small content team, you need to make sure like pound for pound your content is punching. What I like about Parse.ly is, there’s two aspects of that that I think are really helpful is one, the real time nature. If you’re looking to create the content, you can really micromanage that and see how that’s working and see what’s working well and see what’s not working well real time, so if you need to adjust the copy, if you need to make a change, if you need to try something different quickly, you can do that. Then, the other piece I think is just if you don’t have a lot of content and you’re not creating a lot of content, you can start to experiment a little bit more and find out what works and find out what works with your voice.
Some of those things where I mentioned like being a bit of a mad scientist with your content is you can write in a certain voice one week and change that the next week to see what works and see what your audience resonates with. You can make updates to your copy, you can try new things with your copy and you can quickly see if that hypothesis makes sense, and so I think Parse.ly helps you be responsive, helps you find that path. Even if you’re not creating a lot of copy and a lot of content, you can very quickly see what’s working, what’s not working. You can try new things and you can ultimately just make sure that the content you are creating is resonating. You can give that TLC, you can suss out those hypotheses and ultimately see what works and see what doesn’t work to guide your strategy.
Great. Great. Yeah, that’s about it for the questions in the queue that we just got there, and so we’re right at the 30-minute mark here, folks. But Neil, I want to thank you for your time today. I do want to let the audience know that we’ll get a recording out here about, takes us less than 24 hours, but we’ll have a recording in your inbox here really soon. In the meantime, feel free to ping, partially directly we’re on standby to answer any questions that you may have. Neil, again, thanks for your time today.
Thanks, Dave. Happy to do it.
All right, this concludes our webinar, folks, and we will get this recording out. Everyone, have a wonderful afternoon.