Drilling Down on Content Engagement w/ Google Analytics

The Content Drilldown report in Google Analytics will show you how visitor attention is distributed — and often wasted — in site areas. It shows you engagement metrics along a navigation path starting from a page or directory. You start with the page or directory, then click to go down a level (hence the name […]



February 20, 2015


The Content Drilldown report in Google Analytics will show you how visitor attention is distributed — and often wasted — in site areas. It shows you engagement metrics along a navigation path starting from a page or directory. You start with the page or directory, then click to go down a level (hence the name drilldown).

Content Drilldown   Google AnalyticsUse this report to spot:

  • Under-utilized (read rarely seen) content,
  • Topics that aren’t getting enough attention from you,
  • Low-value (to visitors) content,
  • Mistakes in site labeling or navigation,
  • Under-performing content relative to your efforts,
  • Content you didn’t realize was appealing to visitors,
  • Content that you should be blocking from visitors or spiders,
  • Content that shouldn’t be part of your tracking

I regularly use this report to spot areas that need better SEO, better in-content navigation (links or CTAs), or better organization. It’s a great report for spotting good content that’s buried in a sub-directory and dead content that’s been forgotten.

Below I give some examples of things you can see in the report, some ways to think about what you see, and some ideas about how to respond.

Start at the Top: Directory Pageviews

At the top-level, the Content Drilldown report is going to show you pageviews and other engagement metrics organized by directory (homepage will be there as well). Look at this level to see how pageviews are distributed across website sections.
Content Drilldown _pagepath1-Google Analytics
So you look at the report and you notice some things. Maybe you notice:

1. A section you’ve given a lot of attention isn’t getting much visibility

First, make sure that your expectations are realistic. Did you just acquire new links? Are you running a small paid search campaign that only generates a few hundred extra impressions? Are you trying to push traffic through social, but have a small following? If your efforts are recent and/or small scale, then don’t expect large shifts in behavior.

But maybe you’ve redesigned navigation to make the section more prominent? Or published new posts daily for over a month? Or invested in a multi-channel campaign to get eyes on this directory? If you’ve taken the time and the resources to grow traffic there, then you want to see an impact.

Here are some things to consider:

  • If you were counting on organic search to provide the boost in visibility, then make sure that the content has been indexed, then check that you have links going to it (both internal and external). Last, check that you are optimizing for the right keywords.
  • If you were expecting social to provide the boost, then you need to look at your sharing practices. Are you tapping influencers? Are you day-parting to improve visibility? Did you use images or video on the different networks to help your posts standout?
  • Are there certain pages that drive people away. You want to look at bounce rate and exit percentage. If your bounce rate is high, then visitors are bouncing back after seeing this page. Maybe the page content is too thin or there is a mismatch between expectations and what you give. Make sure the navigation labels and on-page headings are consistent from one page to the next. For exit percentage, Mark sure there is a clear next step on the page like a CTA, form, or link to next page.

The main thing is to understand where you’re falling short. What can you do to reach your goals? This report is showing that something is off. Either you need to do more of something or do something differently. Maybe you need to take a closer look at your content quality.

2. A low-attention (by you) area is getting a lot of pageviews

First, recognize that this might be a good thing. It’s possible that some asset picked up a strong link. Or social networks are showing it love. Or you might have picked up rankings in a niche that you weren’t focusing on. Maybe you were mentioned in someone’s Top 10 list or weekly roundup email.

On the other hand, you might have something wrong. Is it possible that you are wasting an internal link (or a redirect) to a weak page? Are people ending up here because they can’t figure out where else to go? Is site search serving a lot of pages from this area because your index isn’t up-to-date or you haven’t done a good job with weighting content?

Here are some things to consider:

  • Is this a trend or a momentary surge? Check at least a quarter to see when the shift occurred and if it’s likely to stick around.
  • Are the pageviews to this area coming down a distinct path? For example, are you seeing that people that enter through a specific landing page come here?
  • Is it due to a single traffic channel. Are you getting more organic visits? Did your new product get promoted by a blog? Did your last tweet pickup 400 retweets?
  • How can you take advantage? Should you update CTAs or ads to take advantage of the additional pageviews? Is it time to update content?

Here you’re trying to figure out what is causing the increased engagement & how you can take advantage. I suggest keeping an eye on the section — maybe setup an alert to be notified if growth continues or if it drops.

3. Pageviews are evenly split

This could be a good thing or a big problem. If you have distinct audiences for different content or have demand for several categories or products, then you are probably not worried about this. Of course, we’re assuming you’re not dealing with #1 or #2 above.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Should pageviews be equal? Should more attention be going to higher value or higher effort areas?
  • Are there 2 similar areas that are splitting traffic? If so, would it be better to merge them?
  • Is there a poor-performing section that you are “wasting” pageviews on?

This might not be an issue for you, but make sure that you are not being too democratic with your navigation and internal linking. You always want to focus navigation on your most important customers or user segments.

4. Pageviews where you never want them

Every site has areas and content that re supposed to be invisible to search engines and some visitors. Maybe its a /scripts/ folder or a team folder that you use for sharing materials. You’re looking at the report and seeing this stuff is getting pageviews.

Here are some things to consider:

  • If it’s a defunct directory, then make sure that everything there is either returning a 404 or is 301 redirected to elsewhere.
  • If it’s a system directory (e.g. /pics/, /scripts/), then is it blocked in your robots.txt file?
  • If it’s a directory for company use, then make sure that the file permissions are correct.
  • Bonus: Start filtering these areas from analytics reports. Setup a separate profile if you want usage stats.

With this issue, it’s all about access control. Use tools like http headers, robots.txt and user rights to control access and the problems should go away.

5. Search results are prominent

This ones a little different. It can suggest either hard to find content or content that you’re missing. If you have a lot of search results showing, then it means that people are relying on search to navigate your site. You an probably ignore this section if you want your site to be driven by search or these URLs are part of layered navigation.

Search Pages   Google Analytics

Here are some things to consider:

  • Look at site search reports to find out where the searches are getting made. Is it obvious that people are expecting some content at a certain point and you aren’t delivering?
  • Do you have a labeling problem? Maybe you have the content but the CTAS, copy, headings or anchor text are matching to the words that searcher use.
  • Are the searches “off-topic” relative to your site content? Sometimes things aren’t relevant to you. This should be clear from your content, but some people aren’t that perceptive.
  • How can you use these searches to make the site more useful/user-friendly? Can you create more content or use a better mix of language to clarify things?
  • How can you optimize search? Can you setup rules to redirect certain queries to existing content?

Your response to this issue should be proportionate to the amount of pageviews. If you’re talking about a relatively small set of pageviews, then it may not be a big deal — even it’s across a lot of different queries. Start by figuring out the amount of queries and pageviews you’re talking about, then try to make sense of them. Are a lot of the terms similar? Are some irrelevant? Are some worth investing content effort in?

You Don’t Want Surprises At the Directory Level

The distribution of pageviews at the directory level should align to your content and marketing activities. Expect the sections you promote most heavily to get the most pageviews. Make some adjustments in your estimates if you use a specific directory for campaign landing pages, have some site sections that have been received more SEO attention, or have a big age difference between directories.

Heading Down: Look at Sub-Directories & Pages in a Directory

If you click on any of the directory links on the report, then you get sent down a level to Page Path 2. You can keep drilling down as long as you have deeper directories, but you should focus on the first 2-3 page path levels when you first start using this report because this is where you’ll have the biggest opportunities.
Content Drilldown_pagepath2_Google Analytics
At page path levels 2-n, you’re looking for similar things as at the top directory-level: imbalances in engagement versus effort, the overall distribution of pageviews and areas that shouldn’t be seen.

Yet having pages listed lets you get a much better understanding of how individual content pieces contribute to engagement or diminish it. Think of drilling down as zooming into street-level in Google Maps: you get to see detail and understand the flow of traffic.

Here are some things to consider at the page and sub-directory levels of this report:

1. Rarely seen content

Your content has to be getting some pageviews or it won’t show up in the report. That said, you should note if a page is getting many fewer pageviews than it’s siblings.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Is the page an island? Maybe its not linked to from other content pieces, so its only accessible via external links.
  • Is there a broken link somewhere? Are links to the content working?
  • Does this page matter? Maybe its no accident that this page is rarely seen. Perhaps it needs to be deleted or it serves a very specific purpose (e.g. a privacy policy page).
  • 2. One page hogs pageviews

    Content Drilldown_pageview_contribution_Google AnalyticsIs their a page that gets the lion’s share of pageviews? You obviously want to understand why the pageviews flow the way they do, but you need to look at it from a few different angles.

    Here are some things to consider:

    • The dominant page is the gateway to the other content, but it doesn’t do enough to point out the other available content.
    • The dominant page has some unique advantage like a homepage banner pointing to it or use as a landing page for campaigns.
    • The other pages are thin or not useful. Maybe they need more content or to be merged.
    • These pages are not linking to each other and are only accessible via vertical navigation.

    3. Typos, dupes and variants

    You see this a lot with blogs and other publishing systems where someone needs to manage the taxonomy. It leads to bloat in your index and having thin pages.

    Here are some things to consider:

    No bullet points here. Redirect typos and dupe pages to the canonical versions. Compare the variants to your main page and figure out which one has more value. The higher value page becomese the canonical and the others get redirected to it.

    Useless sub-directories

    Directory structures tend to get built once and bastardized constantly until a new website is built. If you see a lot of sub-directories at levels 2 or higher, then you want to make sure they serve a purpose.

    Here are some things to consider:

    • Does this sub-directory make thematic sense? Meaning, do I need it to organize a concept or content set because it stands alone as a topic?
      Is there anything in here? Some content management systems require index pages for a page to show at the top-level of a site. You might be better off moving the content into a more populated area than having one lonely page.
      What could go here? If it’s getting pageviews, then someone is going their with content expectations. Think about why this sub-directory might be a destination and then start building the right assets.
      Was I supposed to delete that? We all make mistakes and sometimes things slip through the cracks. Think about how the directory fits into your site plan, and delete if it doesn’t serve a purpose.

    Everything in It’s Places

    At the lower page path levels, you want to make sure you have strong assets and that they are visible in the right places. That’s it. Assess things on these criteria and you will make your visitors happier and more engaged. Whether its a page or a directory, you should be asking if the location, linkage and logic standsup to scrutiny and navigation by a new visitor.

    Geography is Destiny

    The Content Drilldown Report is great because it reminds us to look at the location of content within the architecture of the site. Most reports focus on page level and we are conditioned by search and social to think in terms of single pages. But visitors still navigate through sites and search engines still follow links to get from one area to another.

    The Content Drilldown Report forces us to think in terms of collections, and that leads us to being better curators of our content assets.

    Featured image of The Beverly HillBillies via Playbuzz

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