From SEO to clever content distribution: why publishers need to care about web traffic analysis

    Fact checked by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and… Read more

    Edited by Vahe Arabian
    Vahe Arabian

    Founder and Editor in Chief of State of Digital Publishing. My vision is to provide digital publishing and media professionals a platform to collaborate and promote their efforts, my passion is to uncover talent and…Read more


    Mia Comic is an experienced Content Marketing Specialist working at Content Insights, a company set out to revolutionize the way content performance and audience behavior...Read more

    You know the saying: “When a tree falls and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

    The same goes for content. Regardless of the content quality, it will go to waste if nobody knows it exists, i.e. if it doesn’t reach the right audience.

    It’s no secret that the internet is oversaturated with content. Brands, agencies, companies of all sizes, solopreneurs, entrepreneurs – literally everyone is investing heavily in content with the goal of effectively communicating their values to their target audience.

    Rising above the noise remains a big challenge, but publishers now need to invest extra effort in promoting their work as well and for more than one reason. Content distribution has become an integral part of any editorial strategy and SEO remains an essential piece of the puzzle in this context.

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    For most publishers, content distribution means dumping links on social media, spamming forums, and running generic ad campaigns in hopes of hooking readers’ attention and driving them to the website.

    What many tend to forget is that not every distribution channel is suited for every type of content nor is every channel equally valuable for their publication.

    That’s where traffic analysis steps into the picture.

    What does it mean to analyze your web traffic?

    Simply put, analyzing web traffic means taking a closer look at how different traffic sources perform. This primarily helps you understand where your audience tends to discover your content.

    Depending on the type of web or content analytics tool you use and how comprehensive and detailed the available data is, traffic analysis can help you make informed decisions about content distribution and budget allocation, and optimize your content production. 

    Most of the analytics recognize the following channels:

    • Direct
    • Internal
    • Organic search
    • Paid
    • Social
    • Email
    • Referral
    • Other

    It’s also possible to track specific campaigns and add them as a unique traffic source.

    In addition, you can distinguish different sources within the above-mentioned channels (e.g. Facebook and Twitter within the Social), explore traffic segments by looking at location, devices your audience uses to consume content (desktop, mobile or tablet), demographics, and more. 

    Applying different traffic filters allows you to “go down the rabbit hole”, i.e. drill down your traffic for more details.

    What actual insights can I get from traffic analysis?

    The type of insights you get highly depends on:

    • the content analytics solution you choose
    • your ability to extract information from data and connect the dots in order to make the right strategic decisions

    In Google Analytics for instance, in the overview part of the Acquisition report – you can see the total number of users and new users each channel brought to your website, the cumulative number of sessions, Avg. Session Duration, Bounce Rate, Pages per Session, etc. These are the metrics that are mostly used across various reports.

    It’s important to bear in mind that Google Analytics relies heavily on single and simple metrics, which are not sufficient for precise content and traffic analysis as they don’t provide any information on the actual value of different channels.

    The vast majority of analytics tools offer traffic reports that just give you an overview of the volume, i.e. the total number of visitors coming from different sources, or they may allow you to filter through different reader types.

    But that doesn’t give you the slightest hint of what you’re supposed to do with this information, does it?

    Let’s take a look at the possible unanswered questions you may end up with:

    • Does the small number of users coming from, let’s say Facebook indicate this channel is not worthy of your time or that you still haven’t figured out how to serve content nicely for this segment of your audience and engage them?
    • How can you distinguish the level of engagement of readers belonging to different traffic segment groups?
    • Is the amount of time spent on the page a reliable indicator of engagement, especially if you know that this metric measures only the time a page has been opened in a browser (i.e. doesn’t measure user’s in-tab focus)?
    • What use do you have of seeing the percentage of New and Returning visitors, especially if you know that users may be registered as New even if they’ve already visited the website – simply because they’ve switched browsers or devices?

    When exposed to nicely designed and straightforward reports, it’s easy to feel equipped with tons of information, somewhat productive and action-ready. But when you scratch beneath the surface, you need to carefully think about what the data actually tells you.

    Our advice is to always take these reports with a grain of salt. 

    What about segmentation and in-depth traffic analysis? 

    Traffic segmentation is available in most of the web and content analytics tools. Segments let you isolate and analyze various subsets of data according to criteria and filters you set. This way, you can make more sense of the data that’s available to you by analyzing different chunks of traffic and their individual performance, up close.

    When it comes to in-depth traffic analysis, we can only speak from our own experience in order to give you first-hand tips. For most of the Content Insights clients, finding the best traffic referral channel for their content and learning how to get the most of it is of paramount importance.

    In June this year, we introduced the traffic-oriented perspective that relies on a new calculation of our Content Performance Indicator (CPI) algorithm which recognizes three different behavioral models: exposure, loyalty, and engagement.

    The CPI scores are always presented in a single number between 0 and 1000, which means that you can easily assess how good a certain article performed in terms of attracting new audiences (exposure), nurturing and expanding your loyal reader base (loyalty), and engaging your overall audience (engagement).

    In addition, you can segment your traffic in the following ways:

    • Reader Type: Subscribed / Anonymous / Registered
    • Article Type: Free / Premium / Preview
    • Channel: AMP / FIA / Native Mobile
    • Referrer Type
    • Referrer
    • Device Type

    This means that, not only can you know the amount of traffic coming from, let’s say, Facebook, but the actual value of this channel in terms of engagement, exposure, and loyalty. 

    So, if Facebook continually brings an engaged and loyal audience to your website, it can be a good idea to see how you can further fine-tune your strategy and allocate your content distribution budget for the biggest ROI.

    In addition, your social media manager and the editor will understand one another better because in this system – data and insights become a common ground. See our data study on the value of Facebook as a referrer here.

    Want another example? Let’s take segmenting traffic by reader type.

    Publishers who rely on the reader revenue business model care deeply about the way subscribers and occasional readers interact with their content. This helps them understand behaviors of readers that showcase different degrees of loyalty and are in different phases of the reader’s journey. As a matter of fact, our research showed subscribers are typically 34,5% more engaged compared to occasional readers. 

    In Content Insights analytics app, you can get an easy-to-understand insightful report on the article, author, topic or section performance of the chosen traffic segment. This allows you to analyze data on a granular level and make smarter editorial decisions, as well as to test your gut feeling and understand how and where people discover your content.

    OK, that covers quite a lot about the value of traffic analysis. But what about SEO?

    Here on State of Digital Publishing, you can find very useful SEO resources and we also covered quite a lot in our lengthy resource on newsroom SEO.

    More and more online newsrooms and media organizations invest in SEO because the way we consume news has changed greatly in the digital era. There is a good chance that today’s media consumers will encounter some piece of news long before they start surfing the web or land on your website. Maybe they find it somewhere on social media or someone from their circles shares a link directly. 

    Readers are not just passive recipients of news but they actively participate in critically assessing information and they search for additional resources via Google to get the full story and understand the context better.

    And that’s why SEO for publishers matters.

    Now, to get back to traffic analysis and SEO.

    You want to know not only how much organic traffic you manage to attract, but also the value of search traffic for your publication. Again, with Content Insights, you can analyze this source of traffic in-depth and by looking at different dimensions.

    But the things you’ll pay attention to depend on your chosen business model and the editorial policy you’ve established. For instance, some publications still rely heavily on display ads to fund themselves, which is why they care primarily about volume. 

    So, what’s the final takeaway?

    Traffic analysis matters, but publishers are often left confused and puzzled with what to do with the served data. Sometimes the quality and the amount of data aren’t good enough, but users are not even aware of the fact. This is why they get disappointed with the lack of results.

    If you’re not a user of our content analytics solution, we encourage you to take a step back and think about the actual information that’s served by your chosen tool:

    • Can you act on it?
    • What does the available data actually tell you?
    • Does the data truly indicate this or that, or are you perhaps jumping to conclusions?

    In addition, if you plan on using some other tool, make sure to pick something that allows you to analyze your traffic beyond just looking at volume and pageviews. Engagement and loyalty remain the trickiest things to measure. It is possible to do so with the right set of metrics and the approach that doesn’t focus exclusively on numbers but context, patterns, and reader habits, too.




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