Low time-on-page, high bounce rates, and sudden dips in traffic. Here's how to deal with these, and other common engagement analytics issues.

How to deal with 6 common engagement analytics problems

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Balancing your content marketing campaign with accurately measuring and analyzing your content’s engagement can be an art. Engagement analytics are crucial for continued, successful marketing efforts. In fact, according to Rapt Media, 81 percent of marketers say they only allocate budgets for continued content marketing technology after seeing increased engagement analytics.

The weakest link in content marketing campaigns is often the interpretation of engagement data. When a marketer underestimates or overreacts to their analytics reports, it can dramatically affect what they do next.

Problem 1: There’s too much returning traffic, and not enough new traffic (and vice versa)

Many marketers struggle to find a healthy balance between new and returning traffic to their sites, but determining the unique values of each will depend on what your site is designed for.

Goals of sites that attract returning visitors:

  • Dedicated readership
  • Thought leadership
  • Entertainment

Goals of sites that attract new visitors:

  • As much traffic (of any kind) as possible
  • Converterting traffic quickly and efficiently

There are also exceptions. Returning traffic doesn’t always mean your content is having a hard time converting your visitors. Websites with high return traffic, such as news, staffing firms, some stores, and any site that has community portals, can still convert. Set up goals and make sure you are using the right attribution models to correspond to those goals when you are analyzing your data.

→ Still seeing unexplained swells in your returning traffic? You didn’t forget to exclude your company’s IP address from your analytics information, did you? Disable your business’ IP(s), as well as your and your colleagues’ personal IPs so that your numbers won’t skew.

Problem 2: Are bots and spammers skewing my traffic numbers?

Check your referral traffic. There are good bots and bad bots, and the bad ones are going to skew your data. Most likely, Ghost spam is affecting your traffic statistics, and traditional filters might not be the best way to combat the issue. Ghost spam never actually accesses your site – instead, it allows people to send data directly to Google Analytics’ servers and leave a “visit” with fake data and a randomly generated tracking code. Often times, the spammers don’t even know who they are “visiting.”

A common mistake  is blocking Ghost spam from the .htaccess file, but you can’t block access to someone who isn’t technically visiting your site. Using the referral exclusion list to stop the spam also will be no help. Here’s a step-by-step guide to stop the spam by setting up a filter in Google Analytics. The filter will make sure that your site won’t get any more Ghost spam in the future, and will help to give you a normalized view of your analytics.

Problem 3: Why am I seeing unexplained dips in my numbers?

Before you panic about mysterious, sudden drops in your traffic, conversions and sign-ups, first take another look at your goals, and check the date range you’re comparing your data to.

  • Are you a seasonal product or service?
  • Did something notable recently happen in your industry or market?

To get a better idea of how and why your numbers are fluctuating, examine period-over-period data to identify if your website is on a positive or negative trend from your own marketing efforts. Look at your year-to-year data to eliminate any seasonality in your industry.

When drastically dipping numbers in your analytics don’t make sense, they likely aren’t accurate, or they aren’t your fault, and they don’t mean your content is ineffective. If you are seeing continued poor performance in your engagement analytics, and have eliminated seasonality from the potential cause, consider whether the data is due to:

  • A technical problem with the site such as a broken link
  • Penguin/Panda updates
  • Migrating your site to a different host
  • Modifying the navigation structure of your website

Before you resort to rewriting and updating your content strategy, make sure that your engagement isn’t dipping because of these technical and structural problems.

Problem 4: What can I do about my site’s high bounce rate?

High bounce rates are never good for your site, but depending on what your site is designed for, bounce rates don’t always mean your audience has abandoned you. Long-term strategies, where customers return to your site later, can lead to sales just as well as short term strategies that drive conversions quickly.

Refer back to your website’s content goals: Are they to convert your traffic immediately, or are they to lay the groundwork for continuous engagement, thought leadership and return visits to ultimately make a sale? Compare your bounce rate with the average session duration. If you have a high bounce rate but also have a high average session duration, that’s a good indication that people are interested in your landing pages and reading your content, but aren’t ready to convert. A middle-of-funnel CTA toward the bottom of your blog can be a very effective way of driving a conversion from a reader who needs an extra push.

Make sure you compare each page’s bounce rate with its exit rate. Are your visitors hitting this particular page and leaving within the same session, or is it the last page on the site they are leaving? Provide your users with a clear path to more information to keep them from leaving.

High bounce rates can also result from simple UX problems with your site. Google Analytics has an option to look at in-page analytics, so you can see where users are clicking links on each individual page, as well as where they aren’t. This is a great tool for discovering the weakest parts of your page that contribute to bounces and it can help you fine-tune your site’s structure and UX to deliver the content and links that your audience wants, in the places that they are likely to click.

Problem 5: My pages per session are lower than what I want

Traffic to your site could increase dramatically, but if your pages per session are too low, chances are that your conversions will be too. A high level of pages per visit show that your audience is interested, exploring and engaging with your content to learn more about your brand. The solution is often a simple matter of site efficiency, flow and logic.

Low pages per session can be a result of poor site planning, and ineffective navigation tools. Audit your site’s navigation, internal linking structure and layout to see if you are losing pages per session due to audience confusion.

With the average online user’s attention span dropping year-over-year, it’s more important than ever to avoid dead-end pages. Instead, give them the option to navigate elsewhere, and make sure those options are clear and descriptive.

Make sure you are adhering to the best linking practices:

  • Use the proper, crawlable, pyramidal structure not only for SEO purposes, but for ease of use
  • Put your most important links in easy-to-find areas, and give them recognizable, but original titles
  • Keep the number of options low
  • When outbound, open in new tab
  • Keep navigation options clean, clear and mobile-friendly
  • Don’t link to the same page too often
  • Avoid dropdowns
  • Don’t only link to CTA pages
  • Don’t use buttons. Use text links. Not only are buttons not SEO- or update-friendly, but their formatting is hard to account for in mobile, and can even load more slowly than text.

Problem 6: Visitors aren’t spending enough time on my site

Similar to websites with low pages per session, a low time on site is often a symptom of your readers not finding what they are looking for. If you think this might be the case, but feel your content is generally sound, it might be time to refer back to your audience persona guidelines to see how you can make adjustments. Whether you are touching up your writing or re-evaluating where each piece of content should be hosted on your website, ask yourself where each piece of content fits into the journey of the persona you are engaging with.

While the urgency of a low time on page might depend on whether your site meant to push a sale or provide value and information to your visitors, both types of strategies require that you:

  • Leverage multiple types of media and have a healthy mix of content types to appeal to as many sections of your audience as possible
  • Write to the proper reading and expertise level
  • Cover the right topics in the right order.

Remember that not all sales happen immediately, especially in B2B industries, and not all short time-on-sites are bad news for your ROI. To make the most of even the briefest of visits:

  • Set up tracking pixels to retarget visitors who have expressed interest and engaged with your site previously
  • Create a memorable experience that will leave a lasting impression and keep you top of mind even after your visitors have left. Buzzfeed, for example, creates entertaining, engaging content. that leads businesses to value it as a prime site on which to advertise.
  • Provide value with your content so that people treat it like an industry resource. When they are ready to buy, they will likely return to the site that they consider an authority. For example, if you attend a carpentry demonstration at Home Depot in January, and you renovate your house in May, Home Depot will likely be where you go when you need to buy lumber. Similarly, when an internet security company provides value with an eBook on identity fraud, a company that is trying to secure its site will think of you when it’s time to make a purchase.

For more tips for engaging your audience, you can read more about boosting your site traffic with the right headline, and reaching your audience most effectively on social media.

Ben Silverman
Ben Silverman is a former marketing writer for Brafton. His writing experience dates back to his time reviewing music for The UMass Daily Collegian at UMass Amherst. Ben comes from a background in marketing in the classical and jazz industries.

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