Understanding A Journalism Portfolio With Google Analytics

One of the most common questions I receive is around how journalists can use statistics to better understand the impact of their portfolio. It makes sense - if you've spent time creating something, you want to know what it's doing for you, and so often this will be a simple "how do I know how many people have visited?".

This metric is known as a count of 'unique visitors', and while it's a good starting point, focusing purely on visitors can be a mistake. Some of the journalists on clippings.me have phenomenally popular portfolios, because they're ranked highly for well-trafficked keywords on Google. But those who receive many visitors often have far lower engagement.

To get a full picture of how visitors interact with a portfolio, I'd always recommend that journalists measure the usage of their portfolio using Google Analytics, which is a free tool designed to help web publishers understand their visitors' behaviour. Since January 2015, clippings.me has allowed Premium users to install Google Analytics with a single click, but the advice below can be used for any portfolio with Google Analytics installed.

Getting Started

To begin tracking using Google Analytics, you'll need to sign up for an account and create a Property. Properties are effectively the websites you want to track, and Google Analytics will give you a unique tracking ID for each one, which will usually take the form 'UA-xxxxxxxx-x'. To read Google's handy guide on where to find this, click here.

Once you've got your tracking ID, head over to clippings.me and sign in. If you're a Premium user, you'll be able to access 'Domains' from the top menu, and you'll see that there's a box for you to enter the tracking ID. Add it and click save, and you should see visit data flowing through to your Google Analytics account within 24 hours.

If you're not a clippings.me user, the process is a bit more involved as you'll need to install some javascript on your website - click here for Google's instructions on how to do that.

Understanding Visits

As I mentioned above, visits are the basic measurement we'll start with. To see all of your visits in Google Analytics, click on Audience (in the left hand menu bar) and then Overview. You should see something like the below, which shows us (in this case) that 934 people visited over the selected time period (you'll see this at the top right of the screen). Not bad!

Understanding Behaviour

There are two other metrics we want to pay attention to here as well. First, the Avg. Session Duration, which tells us how long people stayed on our portfolio for on average. In general, you want this number to be as high as possible - more time on site means visitors are reading more and engaging more with your content.

Second, check out the percentage of New Sessions. This is a measure of how many new visitors we're bringing in - the implication of the number above is that about 16 percent of visitors have visited before and are therefore returning visitors. Returning visitors are likely to be loyal readers who value your content - in general, a good thing.

Understanding Sources

Google Analytics tells us where our visitors are coming from, which is a valuable thing to know if we're looking to drive more. To discover this, click Acquisition and then Overview again.

Here, we're looking at where we picked up our visitors from. In this cast, most are arriving Direct (i.e., they typed the address into the browser). Only 33 sessions were started by Organic Search (usually being found through Google), while 8 were sent from other websites and 6 were sent via social networks.

To try to improve these numbers, journalists should ensure that publications link through to their portfolio websites where possible, and list their portfolios on Twitter and Facebook pages.

Understanding Content

In-Page Analytics allows journalists to see which particular pieces of content are resonating with an audience. To use it, click on Behaviour, and then In-Page Analytics.

Once it's loaded you should be able to see your portfolio, with little bubbles over each link:

The bubbles show you what percentage of visitors to the page clicked on the link, so you can easily compare which content visitors liked the most. Use this information to get a feel for what content engages your audience the best.

Questions? Comments? Leave them in the box below and I'll do my best to answer them!