How Popular Posts Can Help You Increase Web Traffic
Quick, what’s the most popular article on your Web site? What topics are covered in your most popular posts? Which articles do people spend the most time reading, and which ones actually extend user sessions by pushing readers onto other pages where they can get lost in your awesome content?
These are basic questions to know about your Web site and as recently as twenty years ago, were but a fantasy for every information publisher. The desire for data is common across all types of publishers, though. Book writers would love to know how far a typical Kindle or ebook reader makes it before bailing on their latest missive. TV producers can draw all sorts of conclusions based on which episodes are watched on demand and where viewers run out of steam and quit binge-watching a series.
Fortunately, we can glean all this data now without A Clockwork Orange sort of setup where viewers have their eyeballs propped open and computers analyzing their eye movements! Far from it: all of this great data for your Web site is available through sophisticated analytics tools, ready for you to analyze.
Using data from popular posts
Tools like Google Analytics can offer up sobering data, as Slate author Farhad Manjoo highlights in the splendid opening sentences of his article on how people read online content:
“I’m going to keep this brief, because you’re not going to stick around for long. I’ve already lost a bunch of you. For every 161 people who landed on this page, about 61 of you—38 percent—are already gone.”
Assuming you’re still with us, however, the first step to understanding your readers and how they interact with your content is to log in to Google Analytics.
It’s possible that even the most sophisticated webmasters will have missed some of the amazing ways data can be crunched inside of this common tool. There are a lot of different data points you can access. To find the most popular posts, click on “Behavior” on the left side, then click on “Site Content”. You’ll see a menu that offers four choices: All Pages, Content Drilldown, Landing Pages and Exit Pages.
Keep it simple, click on All Pages. For this, I’ll look at my film blog DaveOnFilm.com. Here’s how that data looks in Google Analytics:
Notice on the top that I’ve set a date range to just explore the month of January, when I was writing a lot of film reviews to try and catch up from the awards season: you can set any range you’d like and even compare two date ranges if you have specific weeks or months to analyze.
The key information is on the lower portion of the page. It’s URLs sorted by the number of visits. A quick glance at figure two reveals which of my film reviews and articles are the most popular:
You can see that the article 16 Great Films on Amazon Prime Video (written three months earlier) got the most traffic on the site by a significant margin: 386 people accounted for an impressive 19% of overall site traffic. Coming in second is a much older article What’s a “For Your Consideration” Academy Screener? representing almost 10% of the remaining traffic on the site. The first actual film review, of Hidden Figures, is in fourth place. On a film review blog!
Why are these posts popular?
You can dig into your own site and find similar popular posts, but it’s drawing conclusions that are really important. And in this case, each of these represents an important concept relating to how visitors are actually navigating the information published. For example, the Amazon Prime Video piece is obviously a smart way to leverage my film knowledge: I should clearly write more of those types of articles.
Written back in 2013, the Academy Screener article represents evergreen content. It’s an article that “has legs” and is likely going to drive traffic to my site for years to come. Yeah, I should also write more articles on those sort of insider topics.
Are you sure you’re on the right track?
Finally, with some irony, my film reviews aren’t the most popular topics on the site by readership, suggesting that a site focused on the film industry, how it works, what films I like and what it’s like to be a film critic would do much better than just focusing mostly on reviews. Food for thought, unquestionably.
And that’s exactly what I hope you can do on your own by looking at this simple Google Analytics data. Figure out what pages are most popular, which pages people spend the most time reading and thinking about, and even which pages most encourage them to explore your site, and produce more like ‘em! Seems easy, but youd’ be surprised how few online publishers are doing this consistently.
Landing pages are critical in analyzing popular posts
We already know from above that you can easily identify which posts are most popular using Google Analytics. You can also probably draw some conclusions about your sites content with this data. But, do you know how that correlates to earning more ad revenue or possibly improving SEO?
Knowing which landing pages have the lowest bounce rates, highest time on site, and most pageviews per visit can offer a lot of value in the way of extending user sessions. As we already know, extending user sessions is a key part of optimizing revenue and user experiences at the same time.
We actually go way more in-depth on this topic in other posts; however, it is another example of just how powerful the idea of looking at landing pages can be. Landing pages, and data associated with them, give us the most objectively clear picture of how users feel about content and the page that it is on.
I only bring this up as means of showing you that a popular post with a high bounce rate and a low average of pageviews per visit may ultimately not be what you should aspire to recreate. Instead, you should be aspiring to create content more like popular posts that have high pageviews per visit and low bounce rates.
Finishing up my thoughts on popular posts
You can learn a lot from your most popular posts, but first, you have to know what they are. Then, you have to consider why they are popular and the overall value that they bring to your website.
Ultimately, you may be able to find ways to improve the ones that exist already using some of these tips. However, you can only do this if you fully understand the data.
Questions, thoughts? Leave them below and I’ll write back with as many answers as I can.
Tyler is an award-winning digital marketer, SEO veteran, successful start-up founder, and well-known publishing industry speaker. Tyler also serves as the host of Pubtelligence, a publishers-only event hosted at Google offices around the globe. Tyler describes his core competency as learning. He has composed content for some of the world’s top publications and has over a decade of experience building businesses in the digital space. Tyler is currently the Head of Marketing at Ezoic and serves as an SEO and marketing expert for start-up competitions across the U.S.