So you’re consistently pumping out engaging content and have a solid distribution strategy in motion. Now you need to know how that content is performing, who’s visiting your website, and how you can hook your audience so they’ll return. And here’s the kicker: You don’t want to use up half your budget for such a service.
For every content marketer worrying about engagement stats, there are options, many of which are free. Analytics tools are key to today’s marketing success, and of all the choices out there, 10 stand above the rest as particularly useful for content strategists. Let’s take a look.
1. Google Analytics
Google Analytics is the go-to platform for many marketers, in large part because it’s totally free, chock-full of features, and comes with the clout of the Google brand name1.
After you enter the Google Analytics code into your website’s HTML, the service will measure certain goals for you, including which pages a visitor clicks on, how long they stay, and the actions they take. For example, the tool can tell you whether a visitor is sharing the content on social media or clicking on an ad. Each time a goal is completed, Google logs the conversion in your analytics report.
As Kissmetrics points out, one of Google Analytics’ best features—especially for retail sites and marketers tracking purchases—is the Goal Funnel, with which you can set up a string of URLs that a consumer clicks through when purchasing an item. You can find out not only how many people are going through the process of making a purchase, but also how many are abandoning it at a certain stage. This information will allow marketers to adjust their strategies and make the purchasing experience easier for the consumer.
Google will also report the keywords people search that bring them to your site, as well as which browsers and devices they are using—not to mention from where they are being referred. I often monitor the behavior on our site in order to see which pieces are driving the most traffic and where that traffic is coming from.
When it comes to customizing data, you can track certain campaigns that are driving traffic to your site, create your own reports with hand-picked metrics, and set up custom alerts to have your insights delivered at specific times.
Perhaps the most common complaint about using Google Analytics is the information can be cluttered and the interface difficult to navigate. However, Google is working to counter these complaints with new tools like Data Studio, which lets users turn data into shareable, visually engaging reports. While the platform still may not be the most intuitive, you should be more comfortable with the settings after about a month, and, in turn, get the most out of Google’s free service.
Bitly may be best known as a free link shortener, but its features do more than just save space. Once you’ve shortened links—and possibly even added a vanity URL shortener—Bitly gives you the tools to efficiently share those links and analyze their performances.
For example, Bitly reports how many clicks each link generated and when people clicked, down to the hour. The report will also include which platforms people used to share the link so you know if most of your traffic is coming from Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. Below is an example of Bitly’s map of your link’s geographic distribution of clicks, which is helpful for optimizing and targeting future content.
On the stats page, Bitly gathers results from all of your links so you can assess how your collection of content has performed in the past hour, day, week, and month.
Bitly may not provide as much detailed information as Google Analytics, but if you’re already taking advantage of its free link shortener and clean interface, you might as well use the perks that come with the package.
Piwik’s free software comes with a caveat: You’re required to download the program and host it on your own server. Piwik offers similar features to other popular analytics programs, including event tracking, visitor maps, and keyword search, but what sets it apart from its competitors is its mobile app and unlimited data storage.
The Piwik dashboard is rather involved, which can be either a pro or con depending on how much time you want to put in. The setup also requires some patience and the ability to install the necessary tags on your website. Once you get comfortable with Piwik, however, you can customize it to your liking, since the dashboard is full of widgets that can be arranged for most analytical needs.
The most distinct features include “row evolution,” which allows you to hover your mouse over any link or event, click on the graph icon, and view a detailed history of that data point. Additionally, you can sort rows and compare them to see how each performed on different platforms, such as browsers and mobile devices.
Piwik also offers the ability to set up automatic email reports so you can stay updated on your content’s performance and optimize accordingly.
4. Open Web Analytics
Open Web Analytics (OWA) is an open-source software, just like Piwik. Similarly, there is no limit on the amount of data you can store or the number of websites you can measure through the program.
OWA provides information much like the kind you’ll see on its competitors’ platforms, such as views, unique visits, referral sites, and visitor location. Additionally, OWA can measure the click-stream of each visitor, pinpointing exactly where they click on your page.
As Divi Fernando points out on the Woorank blog, OWA offers three distinct features that many analytics programs like Google’s do not. The first is heat maps, which track where visitors click on your site. The second is the ability to record mouse movements so you can see how visitors navigate your pages and officially become conversions. Third, the program provides Document Object Model (DOM) click tracking, which uses code snippets to report when visitors click on specified links, buttons, and images.
More bloggers are starting to profess their love for Clicky, an analytics program that prides itself on offering up-to-the-minute results. For this reason, I think it’s necessary to include Clicky on this list despite the fact that for most it won’t be free. You won’t be required to pay for Clicky’s service if you have one website that receives fewer than 3,000 pageviews a day, but after that pricing can range from $9.99 to $79.99 per month.
At first glance, Clicky has something very attractive to offer—similar in-depth results to Google Analytics, but with a much cleaner interface. After all, what’s the use of mining data from your website performance if you can’t understand and interpret the information?
Clicky clearly lists every visitor, including when they visited, where they’re located, where they were referred from, how long they stayed on your page, and what actions they took. Clicky also provides heat maps in real time, not just for a collection of visitors, but for each individual. This is a feature normally offered only by analytics programs that specialize in heat map information, such as Crazy Egg, setting Clicky apart from its biggest competitors.
Clicky also offers an integration with Twitter that makes it easy to monitor Twitter mentions of your account, website, or any URL or keyword. As Clicky’s website points out, Twitter’s built-in search only goes back about a week, but Clicky can provide an almost unlimited history of tweets, including summary reports of activity by user, hashtags, links, and sentiment.
Want to spy on your competitors? (Don’t worry, this is totally legal.)1 SimilarWeb lets you plug in any website or mobile app, receive insights about traffic and rankings, and compare the data against competing sites.
After entering a URL, you can see the website’s global rank, country rank, category rank (such as Books and Literature, Shopping, and Marketing and Advertising), and traffic by country. You’re also treated to an overview of total desktop and mobile visits from the past six months, which are broken down by time on site, pages per visit, and bounce rate.
For instance, here’s what these results look like for Facebook.com:
As you scroll down, SimilarWeb shares other useful data reports, including top referral sites, organic search traffic vs. paid search traffic, a breakdown of traffic from social platforms, the most popular subdomains, a ranking of similar sites, and categories that interest your audience (e.g., News and Media, Business and Industry).
As marketer Jeff Bullas writes, “I use SimilarWeb to help me understand where I should spend my time, i.e., which channels and strategies I need to investigate further.”
However, if you want to see how your traffic stands against your competitor’s, just click Add Competitors at the top of the screen, and select from the drop-down list or enter your own suggestion. You’ll see side-by-side comparisons of your ranking, traffic overview, and referrals.
To compare more than two sites at a time and receive more in-depth insights, users can upgrade to a paid version of SimilarWeb, starting at $199 per month.
SEMrush can also help you get ahead of your competitors by researching keywords in display ads, organic and paid search, and link building. Just enter a domain, keyword, or URL in the search bar, and you’ll gain access to a wealth of insights. Take this sample search for eBay.com:
Users can see a website or keyword’s traffic breakdown by organic search, paid search, backlinks, and display ads. Below that data, you can see live updates of top organic keywords and organic competitors, paid keywords and paid competitors, and sample ads. There are also lists of backlinks and indexed pages to browse through.
Users can click on any of these graphs or lists to view an expanded report. Here’s one for eBay’s top organic competitors:
This report shows the number of organic keywords bringing users to each website and the number of users expected to visit the website in the coming month (assuming average monthly traffic stays the same). There’s also a breakdown of competitors by criteria such as competition level, common keywords, traffic, and the estimated price of organic keywords in Google AdWords.
For free, users can make 10 requests per day (e.g., searching a term or viewing a full report). For full access to the platform, as well as API access, you can register for a pro account starting at $69.95 per month.
8. Moz Keyword Explorer
While SEMrush is often cited as a top keyword search tool, there might be a new sheriff in town since SEO software company Moz launched its own tool this May. It’s more comprehensive than most keyword search options out there, and it’s built to take the manual labor out of keyword research. As founder Rand Fishkin writes, the tool “takes you all the way through the keyword research process—from discovering keyword ideas to getting metrics to building a list, filtering the keywords on it, and prioritizing which ones to target based on the numbers that matter.”
Once you search a term, you’ll first see an overview of the analysis. For instance, here’s Fishkin’s example of a search for “Striped Shirts”:
At the top of the page, you’ll see five metrics, which can help you determine how valuable the term might be for your content efforts. You’ll also be able to click on a SERP (Search Engine Results Page) analysis, which shows you the actual Google search result for that keyword, including any images or AdWords ads that appear.
If you’re looking to include this keyword in your content, Moz offers suggestions of up to 1,000 related terms, ranked by relevancy and volume. You can filter those suggestions to show keywords from a mix of sources, keywords that only include the terms your search for or keywords that don’t include the terms you searched for—if you want fresh ideas.
To save your research, simply add your keywords to a list. From there, you’ll be able to compare, sort, and rank them by importance.
While the service is free, there is a usage limit. Anyone can run two keyword searches each day at no charge; community members get an additional five searches. For more comprehensive access to the tool, you can buy the standalone service starting at $600 per year or become a Moz PRO member.
Cyfe is an all-in-one dashboard that helps you monitor data across multiple sites and applications, such as Google AdWords, Salesforce, PayPal, MailChimp, and WordPress.
Not only can you see all of this data in one place, but you can also customize your dashboard with over 40 widgets for different sources and platforms. And if you don’t find what you want from Cyfe’s widget pool, you can create your own widgets. All you have to do is upload external data from your source, CSV, or Google Sheet. For example, you might want a donut graph of certain results shown in orange, blue, and green.
Once your dashboard is up, you can create real-time reports to download and share. If that’s not enough, you can even connect Cyfe to your TV and rotate one or more dashboards on the big screen.
Previously called Google Webmaster Tools, Google’s search insights tool was rebranded to be more inclusive of “everyone who cares about Search,” including “hobbyists, small business owners, SEO experts, marketers, programmers, designers, app developers.”
The platform basically helps you make sure your website or Android app is Google-friendly and shows up in relevant search results.
Google Search Console helps website owners optimize their pages by providing three important resources:
- Search analytics reports, which show how often your site appears in Google search results, how many clicks and impressions came from those results, and which queries prompted those results. You can also compare data to see how your search results fare between mobile and desktop users, U.S. and UK visitors, etc.
- Alerts for errors or issues. If you run a URL that Google can’t crawl or that returns an HTTP error code, Google will send a notification so you can address the problem.
- Tests to see if Google can “understand” your content. Through a program called Fetch as Google, you can see whether the Googlebot can access a page on your site. If there are issues, you can even see if resources such as images are being blocked by the bot. This way, you can go back in and debug your site, if need be.
You may decide to use a combination of these platforms for your analytics, or you may even experiment with free trials and then upgrade your favorite tools. Just remember that whichever analytics platform you choose, you can track vital engagement stats without emptying your wallet.