Analytics Basics: Measuring Content Consumption

When organizations have difficulties getting their Web analytics program to work effectively it’s often because of issues involving planning and processes rather than the technology itself.

Typically when Web analytics systems are deployed “out of the box,” reports show how content being looked at on the basis of page level. We are all familiar with reports such as the “Top Pages” report that identifies a Web site’s most popular pages. Problem is, these reports rarely change and it’s difficult to understand overall patterns of content consumption. The data is too granular. Often it’s more useful to know what types of content are being consumed the most (or the least) rather than the individual pages.

A solution to this problem is to assign pages into “Content Groups.” A content group will represent pages that have something in common. For example, all news items might belong to a content group called “News” and there may also be sub-groups or a hierarchy such as “News: domestic, News: international” for example. Once all the pages are assigned to a content group, it’s possible to take a look at how many people looked at a particular group of content, how long they looked at it, where they came from to reach that content, and where they went to afterwards. For sites that depend on content reach and do not have much transactional activity, this is more useful and more important.

Content grouping is fine in theory, but how does it work in practice? Different Web analytics systems tackle content grouping in different ways and some have more flexibility than others. If you look at different systems, this might be relevant to your decisions. Content grouping, in some systems, is dependent on the URL and folder structure and is usually fixed in the reporting interface. Google Analytics has an example of this approach where it’s possible to use the Content Drilldown report to look at content consumption at each level in the folder structure. This approach can work well for sites where the content is organized with a neat folder structure but for many sites this isn’t the case and a different approach is required.

An alterative approach to content grouping is to assign pages to groups in the data collection tag. This approach is more flexible. Content groups can be defined independently from the folder structure of the Web site and in some cases a different hierarchy can be developed as well. Pages can then be assigned to content groups by customizing the page tag. But flexibility comes at a cost and that cost is in development and maintenance.

At his point of implementation, a plan is needed to determine what the content group structure will look like and how it will be implemented. For a large site with lots of content, this can be a significant exercise and requires a good deal of planning. It’s also something that must be considered for site refreshes or rebuilds. The implementation approach will depend on the technology behind the site such as the content management system being used but ideally there will be some rules-based approaches that will help with the ease of implementation. At the end of the day there may be trade offs that must be made between what the content groupings might look like in an ideal world and those that can be achieved in practice.

After implementation, maintenance must be considered. Most sites are dynamic in the sense that content is regularly being updated and changed. Pages are added, changed, or deleted. To maintain the integrity of the data, processes must be put in place to ensure that as pages or sections of content are added, the content grouping is managed at the same time. So, issues that must be worked out include: who’s going to own the process, who’s going to manage it, and who’s going to be responsible for doing it.

As with campaign tracking, which I examined in my last column, the success of measuring content consumption on the Web site is not just down to what technology you’ve got, but also down to the planning skills and the maintenance resources that you put behind it.

Related reading