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If you have a blog, you know how much time you invest and that it can be a lot of work. You probably also know that if you're going to put that much work into something, it is absolutely imperative you know whether or not it's working. The last thing you want to do is pour hours and hours into making a blog you feel is going to connect with people, and then it just falls flat. I go full data ninja in today's episode and blog post to take you through what I do to determine if a blog is working.

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Hosted By
Monica Maye Pitts
Monica Maye Pitts Chief Creative Officer

How to Tell if Your Blog is Working

We recently released a Digging into Data series where I talked about looking at the data from your email marketing, your social media and your website to help you make sense of it. And believe it or not, I thought these topics were just something I was passionate about, especially after hearing clients say, “Monica, you send these reports every month, and they don't make a hill of beans worth of sense to me,” and then I also have clients who just completely ignore me when I try to explain to them every month what's going on in their marketing. So I just kind of felt a little bit like maybe people didn't care. 

I also really want to empower people to understand what's going on in their marketing so they can make good decisions that will help them grow their organizations and reach more people, so I released the Digging into Data series

What was amazing is I actually had people tell me it was great (Thank you so much for your feedback!). Then I sat down with a client the other day and reviewed their online marketing for them, something we do regularly with our clients, and I noticed their blog wasn't going as well as it should’ve been going.

For those of you who have a blog, you know how much time you invest and that it can be a lot of work. You probably also know that if you're going to put that much work into something, it is absolutely imperative you know whether or not it's working. The last thing you want to do is pour hours and hours into making a blog you feel is going to connect with people, and then it just falls flat. 

So here, we’ll look at all the different places I typically go to find information that will indicate to me on a relatively big picture level whether or not a blog is working. If you already blog, you can use this as a guide for gauging the success of your own blog, and if you're considering blogging, you’ll know how to gauge the payoff for the time you’re investing in blogging.

How does blogging serve you?

Most blogs serve an organization in two ways, they 

  1. Make relationships.
  2. Maintain relationships.

What do I mean by that? 

Making Relationships

Your blog hangs out on the Internet, and when people search for certain keywords or phrases, your blog posts can show up in search results. When this happens, it may be the very first time anybody has ever encountered you. In that way, your blog is making relationships with people. Later on, I’ll go over the things I do to ensure a blog is making relationships with people. 

Maintaining Relationships

When you make your blog post, you're not just going to let it sit on your website, you're also going to talk about your blog posts in your email marketing and in your social media, all over the place, really. This allows you to drive traffic back into your website and talk to people again.

Think of it this way: you can't just suddenly meet somebody and ask them to marry you, right? Maybe it’s worked for someone out there, but the odds are slim to none that a relationship starting blindly with marriage is a healthy or desirable one. We have to continue the relationships we have if we want to keep them. 

For those of you who are married, you know it's work to maintain a relationship — you don't just get married and stay best friends with somebody you never communicate with, you have to work on that relationship. 

It's the same thing with your donor relationships and your customer relationships: you start at one place and then you work through to another. Your blog is there to help you maintain that relationship by giving them more information they need, and allowing them to understand who you really are.

How do you know if your blog is working?

I start with Google Analytics when I’m trying to gauge how well blogging is working. If you don't have your website hooked up to Google Analytics, you’ll have to get that set up and wait a while — at least a month — so you have some data to look at. 

If you have a low amount of traffic on your website, you might have to wait a few months. When I say low, I mean you've only got a couple hundred visitors a month on your website. If you have more traffic than that, you’ll have to wait closer to three months or more before you really have enough data to understand if your blog is working.

Too small of a window of data limits your view, which would mean you’re making decisions about your blog based on information that isn’t truly reflective.

Review your website metrics.

Overall Sessions

If you have a blog on your website, your Sessions should be creeping up over time. You can compare month over month, and you can look at the timeline and benchmark by month as well. 

For our MayeCreate website, I keep a spreadsheet to track every month’s sessions data… Does this sound old school to you? It totally sounds old school to me. 

But here's what I have learned from this activity: If I have it in a report where I can see it whenever I want, and it's really easy to grab it, then I don't ever look at the report. I'm not exactly held accountable to check it regularly just because it’s there and easy to get to, right? When I physically put the numbers I want to track into a spreadsheet, I’m able to see and know and experience what’s happening with my site. Space is created in my brain to truly consider what I’m seeing, and in that way, I'm held accountable to it.

You can probably sense how much I love this method. We use it to record the amount of hours each one of our employees has billed out over the course of the month. The act of calling up the information and typing it in somehow for me, gave me time and space to process it and notice the trends. 

You’re looking for patterns. Your traffic should be trending up with an active blog. If it’s not something’s off. 

For my clients, I have a Data Studio report that benchmarks every six months what's happening in different areas of their websites. That way, I can see that time continuum without having to run a bunch of reports and manually enter them into a spreadsheet for every single client.

Organic Traffic

Your organic traffic should also be going up because you're putting content out for people to find on Google, which is what your organic traffic is measuring: search engines pulling people into your site. 

Email Traffic

If you are promoting and maintaining relationships by sending your blog posts out via email to your email list, then your email traffic should also be going up. And I'll talk a little bit more about emails in a minute. Because that is another way to see how well your blog articles are doing individually. 

Social Traffic

Ideally, you're promoting your blog posts on social media, and you have good topics. If that’s the case, the social traffic to your website should also be picking up.

The thing about social media traffic and email traffic is, at first, you should see a bump, and then it'll probably level off because you're not going to have a ton of extra traffic coming in from social media posts about your blog posts. It should increase incrementally, too, as your email list and social following grows. It's not going to rise nearly as quickly, though,as that organic traffic or your overall sessions. So just keep that in mind. 

If nobody's coming in via email or social traffic after you start blogging and sharing your blog topics through these online marketing mediums, then your blog topics are not on point and therefore aren’t working, at least not for maintaining relationships with those followers. 

Remember, you meet these people, and then you want to deepen your relationship with them. Ask them to sign up for your email as you ask them to join your Facebook page. From there, you start the conversation over and over again with the content you're putting out in your blog because you send it out to them. If nobody is going to your website from your emails or social media posts, it probably means you're not publishing content they're interested in. 

Return Visitors

Returning visitors are people who have gone to your website more than once in the given timeframe.

Looking at this metric is another way to gauge whether or not you're maintaining your relationships well through your blog. Those return visitors are coming from email traffic and social traffic most of the time. They could also be coming from organic traffic, too. You never know, they're from all over the place. 

A healthy nonprofit website will probably have around 15% or more return visitors; it kind of depends on what's going on with your site, like if you're doing tons of events where people have to sign up online, or if there’s a membership portal that lets users log in over and over again. In those cases, you're going to see higher return traffic, but for the most part, if you're not doing those types of things, you should probably see around a 15% return traffic to your website. 

This would also mean you have a good relationship with people and that they're returning to you. As you keep blogging and promoting your new content, the percentage of return visitors, at first, should jump up. Then they should remain steady. Over time, it should continue to creep up as you get more followers.

Review metrics for your blog-specific traffic.

The way you can tell blog-specific traffic is by searching specifically for landing pages that include a specific part of your blog URL that all of your blog articles will include.

Normally, typing “blog” into the search bar in the header of your data table should pull up all of your blog articles. However, your website has to be set up correctly for you to do it this way. 

A lot of websites are going to be set up one of two ways:

With “blog” in the URL

Go out to your blog page and click on one of your blog articles. Now look up in the URL at the top. If it has your website URL with “/blog” after it, followed by the name of the article, you’re good to go for this “blog” search method.

With the year/month in the URL

If your blog article URL is your website URL followed by a forward slash and a number (it could be the year, month, or some form of the date it was published), followed by another slash and the name of the article, you won’t be able to use the “blog” search method. But you can still find your information. 

  1. Go to the search bar and click Edit.
  2. Include landing pages matching a regular expression. 
  3. Type in “blog”
  4. Use the pipe (“|”) sign (that means “or” in regular expressions). So, blog | 2020, blog | 2019, blog | 2018...back for as many years as you've been blogging.
  5. Click Apply

Then it will sort of the pages and show you just the blog pages. Once you get there, you can tell the exact percentage of visitors that come into your website from your blog pages. 

Now, a good website would have 25% or more of their traffic coming in through their blog, If you're publishing a whole bunch of stuff, then you should have more people coming in.

If you're not publishing very often then you would probably have less people coming in, unless you have some amazing blog posts that are just bringing in thousands of people. 

But let's just say that your blog posts are pretty normal. And that means someplace around that 25% return visitor mark is pretty great. 

Now, my website brings in like 85% of its traffic through the blog. But we've also been blogging since like 2009, or ‘10. Either way, we've been doing it for a long time. So we have a lot of pages out there that Google can find and share with people, and that's why we have so much traffic coming in through our blog. 

Now the client that I was telling you about that I reviewed their website data, they only had like 4% of their traffic coming in through their blog. And I know that they've been blogging for a really long time (years). They publish multiple times a month. And I thought, “Oh, man, this isn't right. It's just really not right.” 

So that doesn't mean that they should stop blogging, or that blogging is the wrong thing. For them, it means that we need to get more organized about planning what they're doing.

Okay, so you're going to look at that blog-specific traffic. And if it's low (in single digit percentages), that's probably not what you want. 

When it starts getting up into double digits and climbing, that's great. That's what we want this blog to be doing. 

Review your email data to see which blog posts work well.

The next place that you're going to look is your email data. Remember – we're going to email people about our blog posts. 

So look and see. Are you getting more email signups? Your email signup form should be on every single page in your website (especially your blog pages), because that's where you're going to meet people. 

The first thing you're going to do is make sure that you're getting more email signups all the time. That should always be growing. 

And then the next thing that you can do is look at what pages those email signups came from. If it’s from your blog pages, then that's awesome. It means that your blog is doing what it's supposed to do. But even if you don't have a ton of traffic coming to your blog, if lots of people are signing up,, your email is still winning! You're getting what you need. You're starting relationships. 

You can also tell which blog topics are working with your current list (with the people that you're trying to maintain relationships with) by looking at the click through rates (CTR) on your emails. 

In a lot of our emails (especially automated ones) the title is going to be the name of a blog post. So the open rate on that email would let me know how interested my audience is in that particular topic, then the click through rate on it would be another great indicator. 

What works on email may not work on your blog.

One thing that email subscribers tend to love is when you talk about yourself. Funny enough, right? So every time we publish a post like to welcome Rayce to the team (because he's a new guy), or Rebecca got a new puppy, or if we welcome Stacy's new baby, they all worked really well. 

And it's because the people that we're maintaining relationships with, they're in a different spot. They want to learn harder things and improve their marketing, because they already went through the beginning journey. But they also want to continue a relationship with us and our team. 

So do you only blog about the new babies in the company, and how to tell if your blog is working? No, you don't just talk about those things. Those are part of your mix, they're a good indicator that people are interested in that content, and that you can keep maintaining that relationship with them by sharing that with them. 

But you don't just want to focus there. Because remember, the other part of your blog is to meet new people, and they don't know you yet. And so they don't care about Stacy's baby. I mean they might care about Stacy's baby, but they don't know that they care about Stacy's baby yet, so they're not going to go out into Google and search for Stacy's new baby. That would be weird.

A lot of the stories that you publish to your blog to continue relationships with your donors are not things that people are going to find online to start relationships with you. And that's why your blogging mix is going to spread out over many different topics. 

Use Google Search Console.

The last place that I look to see if my blog is working is Google Search Console. Search Console lets you know how Google is interacting with your website. 

It tells you things like:

  • If your website is terrible on mobile
  • If you have errors on your pages
  • If your site is being indexed properly

But it also tells you what search terms people are using to find your website. That's awesome. 

So when you set up your search console, it's really easy. It's as easy as setting up Google Analytics. 

The cool thing is, it will often give you past information (retroactive). So unlike Google Analytics (which when you set it up, you're just going to get from today moving forward), Search Console actually gives me past data. That's pretty awesome, because I really like to start with something instead of nothing. 

What to look for in Search Console.

When you look at Search Console, you're going to look at performance and your search terms.

Your search terms, if your blogging is working, will have all kinds of people that are searching for your name (branded searches). That's probably going to be a large percentage of the traffic that's coming in through Google.

If you find that your name is not showing up in your top search terms, you should be worried.

Then you're going to go up to the top and exclude all terms that include your name. You only need a portion of your name, you don't need to have the whole thing. So I would put a “create” in there, and I would exclude it. And that's gonna give me all the other search terms that people are using that are not branded to me. 

I should have those. And they should be increasing all the time, because I'm always publishing new stuff. 

Here’s a video walkthrough on it:

So you're gonna look at a few things there:

  • How many impressions you’re getting
  • Clickthrough rates (CTR)
  • Placement
  • Compare time frames
Impressions

You're gonna look at Search Console and see, “Hmm, how many times do I show my listings?” That’s impressions, and it's gonna fluctuate four times a year because sometimes people are looking for answers more than others. But if you're publishing more content in general, impressions should be moving up. 

Clickthrough Rates (CTR)

Better clickthrough rates = more traffic to your site. 

Placement

Your placement is the ranking of your different search queries. Are you ranking #100 or #1 for your organization’s name? Placement will show you. In general, you want your placement (especially for your name) to be constantly getting higher.

Time frame comparisons

Search Console lets you compare spaces of time. I like to compare six month periods. So I like to look at the six month period that I'm in, and compare it with the six month period before then, and look at it for both my branded keywords (things that have my name in it), and things that don't have my name in it. 

Conclusion

So that was a lot. But now you know that these are the things that I look at to make sure that your blog is working for you. 

So let's start at the beginning and recap really quickly:

  • Remember that your blog is serving you in two ways, it's going to make relationships and maintain relationships. And when you look at the data, you're trying to understand those two different audiences and how they're interacting with this content. 
  • So when we're looking at making relationships, the overall sessions on your website should be going up, your organic traffic and your blog specific traffic should be going up. Those are all things that should be going up. 
  • And we're also going to look in Search Console. And we're going to look for general terms, not branded not with your name in it. But without your name in it, those, we should have more impressions and more clicks from those. That means your blog is working to make new relationships for you. 
  • Now for maintaining relationships, remember, we're going to look at our email traffic in Google Analytics, we're going to look at our social traffic, we're going to look at our return visitors. And we are then going to go into our email system because we're publishing this also on email. And we're going to see how many people are signing up, we can look and see what page they signed up on. We can also look at what topics resonated with them. And if they're clicking and coming through to our website or not. And then in Search Console, you should have more traffic, more impressions for your general terms as well, because you're pushing more traffic to your website by putting more content out there. 

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