Thought leadership is gaining more traction in marketing, and it’s important to understand not only its importance, but also how you can utilize a variety of web based tools like Google Analytics to track your website’s thought leadership. Here’s what you need to know.
John Maher: Hi, I’m John Maher. This is “Digital Marketing Madness.” This podcast is brought to you by McDougall Interactive. We’re a digital marketing agency in Danvers, Massachusetts. Today, my guest is John McDougall, President and CEO at McDougall Interactive. We’ll be discussing how to use Google Analytics to track thought leadership.
Thought Leadership in Marketing
John Maher: Welcome, John.
John McDougall: Hi, John.
John Maher: John, why is thought leadership important in marketing?
John McDougall: People like to hire thought leaders and authorities, especially for professional services firms. If you’re interested in search engine optimization, Google is said to track who the experts are out there, and they have a quality rater guide where they use the acronym, EAT. E‑A‑T, for Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness.
They are very specifically tracking who the experts are. Not only the experts that might be a guy in a garage who know a lot but aren’t out there in the world.
John Maher: The quality raters, if we want to say that, is just a team of people who actually go look at websites and rate whether or not those websites, like you said, are trustworthy, whether or not they have authoritativeness and give it a score.
John McDougall: Yeah. The quality raters are hired by Google. There’s this perennially leaked document that every year comes out where Google has this whole handbook for them, where they’re asking them to go judge websites and see if they’re good quality.
So, they bake that into the traditional algorithm. It’s done with crawling, with robots and a mathematical algorithm, with hundreds of items. In addition to that mathematical way that they judge websites, they’re baking in a little bit of actual people [who] go and look at the website and judge whether it’s good or not.
Again, you don’t want to just be an expert. They look for expertise, but they also look for authorities. Authorities are experts who have taken it up a notch into the public relations world.
They’re known experts. Maybe they have a book and do public speaking. Then, trustworthiness is when you search for the brand name and the person’s name and they have good reviews.
If there are a lot of negative reviews, [if] they’re not authorities and they’re not experts, then it’s impossible to get a high Google quality score. Not a quality score from the Google page search perspective, but a quality rating just for organic purposes [on] how good is your website?
I think thought leadership is important whether or not Google existed at all. It’s great for companies to be seen as thought leaders. There’s a whole offline component.
John Maher: Right, because who doesn’t want to do business with a company that’s the leader in their industry?
John McDougall: Absolutely. I think there’s a saying, nobody ever got fired for hiring IBM. Because IBM’s just the leader. So again, using that acronym, you can put in perspective just how important this stuff is.
John Maher: Then in terms of Google Analytics, how can you use Google Analytics to track thought leadership and see if you’re becoming more of an authority?
John McDougall: There are a lot of different ways. I’ll touch really quickly on seven. Then we can maybe dig in to a couple.
1. Monitoring Your Site Size
John McDougall: Number one, monitoring your site size. So how big is your site? Size matters. Of course, given your quality is there. You have to have high‑quality content or a larger site’s not going to help you, because you get penalized in Google Panda if you have just weak, thin content or duplicate content and you’re just artificially inflating your site.
But if you do monitor your size, you can go into Google Analytics and in the left navigation go to, what is it? All Channels? Go to the All Traffic, I think it is, and then the channels, and then you look at all the channels driving traffic and you can see how many visits you’re getting and from what places.
John Maher: Right, so from page search or from organic or from referrals or direct traffic, et cetera?
John McDougall: Yup. So monitoring your size overall. We can go into that a little bit more after, and deepening referrals.
2. Deepening Referrals
John McDougall: So are a lot of people linking to you? If you don’t have a lot of referrals, you’re probably not much of an authority. If you want to encourage, from our perspective, social media visits. Most of the time organic search drives a lot of the traffic for websites.
Conductor has a nice study on this. For example, in the education space, it says that 53 percent of traffic comes from organic search, 2 percent from social. I’m not here to badmouth social. We’re big fans of social.
But a lot of times people are doing stuff on Facebook or on your LinkedIn page. That’s all good. We like that. You want to deepen your engagement and do all that good social stuff, sharing your own content, content of others, but then also taking it further with engagement and asking and answering questions, et cetera.
John Maher: But it’s not necessarily driving traffic to your website.
John McDougall: That’s right, and so if you want to track thought leadership using Google Analytics, I think it’s good to get some of the traffic from social media should then go back to your site.
3. Getting Content With High Shares
For example, you start a blog, you write some great content, looking with a tool. BuzzSumo is a great tool to look at what content gets heavily shared, or using Ahrefs, ahrefs.com, and looking at the top content to a website, the top pages to a site that have a lot of links to it, the top content that got the most shares.
You can look at that and then encourage people to share your content in social media, and then that will show up, of course, in the “All Channels,” and you’ll see that you’re actually driving some traffic back to your site, and maybe now they sign up for your email newsletter, and you’ve got them as a customer.
A little different than some social experts, which we also like, again, doing the typical social stuff, but that’s a little tweak that you can do to try and get people to come from social back to your site and to link to it.
4. Tracking People vs. Data
John McDougall: Tracking people versus data, is number four on my little list here. There’s a case study from Gun Dog Supply where they made $10 million more in one year by putting the face of the customer service rep Steve, in the logo, believe it or not. I wouldn’t recommend everybody rush out and throw their own face in their logo, but they did it.
He’s got a little hoodie on, and a baseball cap, but people like Steve. They did surveys, and they found that people identify with this guy. He’s a hunter, and he knows all about the dog collar supplies and things, and so they put his face there and they put little badges throughout the site, and now people, when they go to the site, they say, “Oh, it’s real easy to buy. I know what Steve likes, and I trust Steve, so I’m going to buy very quickly.”
They made $10 million more in one year by encouraging people to relate to the actual people that run the company.
“About Us” pages are important, “Team” pages, “Bio” pages, you can add more pages to your site in your About Us section. Bios in particular are fantastic, and then you’re going to be able to track your thought leadership, and the people visiting the people that work at your company, and their thought leadership if you set those new pages up and have your different people write blog posts, et cetera.
John Maher: And then that helps to humanize you as a company as well, because people don’t do business with nameless, faceless companies. They want to do business with other people, and so by highlighting your people and the thought leadership that your people have, it really puts a nice face to it and lets people be able to relate to it.
John McDougall: The old saying, “People buy from those that they know, like, and trust.” They’re not going to know, like, and trust you if they just come once and there’s not a lot of information there. They should see not only your “About Us” page, with some fun information about who you are, not just what you do, but that should lead them into content and blog posts and videos with your team.
5. Top of the Funnel Call-to-Actions
Tracking people is important, and then setting top of the funnel call‑to‑actions is important. Of course, we want to track if people call you on the phone, if they fill out a form submission, if they buy something from a shopping cart. Those are all things you use track in Google Analytics for judging if you’re marketing [and] if your marketing is working.
Your ROI, or in this case, Return on Influence, instead of Return on Investment. What’s the return on thought leadership? You can track that. One of the great ways to do that is a call‑to‑action with an e‑book, or a white paper download.
You’re actually tracking the thought leadership of your team members, not only that you drove them to your blog, but now they’re downloading something and signing up for, technically, your email list, if that’s a little box, “Download this e‑book, but register.”
John Maher: You get to fill out your name and your email address. That’s typical.
John McDougall: Right. That was actually number seven on my list, so I’ll move it to number six. It’s “Track top of the funnel calls‑to‑action,” and then “Get people to sign up for your email list” is another call to action.
“HubSpot,” says that if you have 30 e‑books or more, you get seven times the amount of leads, and so having one e‑book is amazing. We had a nice customer with a wedding blog that we created for them, and in December of 2014, everyone that became a customer had also downloaded the e‑book.
They were very skeptical at first, whether or not that was going to work, and yet a great correlation ‑‑ I think a hundred percent correlation between people becoming customers, which was fairly staggering.
John Maher: And having downloaded that e‑book.
John McDougall: And having downloaded the e‑book. So that thought leadership turned people on enough to want to become a contact. So the last one is increasing engagement. You want to get people to your site and not have them bounce, which would be a one‑page visit. You want to get them to stay at least a couple of pages ‑‑ two, three pages would be a good start. And you want them to stay at least a couple of minutes. You don’t want them to visit two pages but just click, click.
John Maher: And you can track that in Analytics. You can track the number of pages per visit and also the time onsite.
6. Tracking Your Bounce Rate
John McDougall: Absolutely. And you can also track the bounce rate to go with that. A good bounce rate ‑‑ one that’s always going down is the joke, a good bounce rate ‑‑ but say 60 percent or less. If it’s over 60 percent, 60, 70, 80 percent bounce rate, that’s horrible. It’s not uncommon. I have a page on one of my sites, my legal marketing blog, where 88 percent bounce rate on the top page that’s driving traffic.
I saw that and I went in and found that the social icons at the top of the page were a little screwed up. The developer did something and they were jumbled at the top of the page. Looks kind of unprofessional. Creates a little anxiety, and therefore a bounce.
So I was able to look at that top page, driving traffic, which I call the 80‑20 rule ‑‑ looking at the 20 percent of your content that is probably driving 80 percent of your traffic and then go fix it. So I was able to fix that and now the bounce rate’s going down.
So there are ways to track how to get people to stop bouncing, visit more pages, stay longer, etc., and the last thing with that is to get people to come back more. If you’re really an authority and a thought leader, people are not going to just find you from search and that’s it.
7. The Whole Picture
You should be getting people to your site, having them read your blog, download your e‑book, and say, “This company’s so great, I’m bookmarking this, and I’m coming back, and I’m going to subscribe to the blog, and I’m going to keep reading this content.” That’s more thought leadership.
So really, new visitors and returning visitors are important to track and you want returning visitors. That’s important.
John Maher: That’s a great list. Let’s go ahead and dive into maybe two of those right now and talk about them a little bit more. Why does size matter?
Why Size Matters
John McDougall: Size matters because again, if quality is there, Google is going to look at your site versus your competitors and if you have more content, more blog posts and things like that, more referrals, you’re going to do better.
Some of the things you can look at specifically in Google Analytics would be unique visitors, of course ‑‑ the amount of unique sessions to your site and the amount of page views as well, unique blog visits ‑‑ people coming to just your blog and how that’s growing and hopefully driving people deeper into the site.
John Maher: If you’re blogging on a regular basis, you want to be able to track that and see that more and more people are coming to those blog posts and reading them.
John McDougall: Yeah, and one of the great ways in Google Analytics to do that is look at top content. So again, the wedding blog that we were talking about earlier, that client had no real content before other than product and services pages.
Those were OK and there wasn’t a lot of search engine optimization going on. We had optimized those pages within reason, but there’s only so far you can go just cramming keywords into product or service pages.
So we started podcasting with them and putting the podcast on the blog. Now you go into top content in Google Analytics and bang, there’s just a whole list of different pages that are driving not massive volumes of traffic but good volumes of traffic.
John Maher: A lot of their top pages are these blog posts.
John McDougall: Actually all pretty much; now the blog has pretty much taken over the site. The average blog post is driving far more traffic than they were paying to get from some of the top wedding‑related sites where you can buy a listing in there.
So those are all important, as well as looking at the size of your site, the amount of pages indexed in Google. You can of course go into Google and type in site:, which is an operator ‑‑ S‑I‑T‑E:, no space, your domain name.com, and it will show you how many pages are indexed in Google.
But you can also connect Google Analytics to Google Webmaster Tools, and Google Webmaster Tools shows you not only the amount of indexed pages, but the amount of indexed pages over time. So you can see a graph and it will show a little mountain of pages indexed. If there’s a big drop‑off over the last six months, you go, “Jeez, what happened? Why do we have a lot less pages indexed? Why is our size shrinking?”
Now, that could be a good thing. If you had a lot of crappy, thin content, you’d want to crop that off, and reduce your size because you’d be better to have less pages with quality than you are to have….
John Maher: So that can actually be a strategy.
John McDougall: It can actually be a strategy, but then after you crop out the crap, you’re going to want to bring your size back up with only quality.
John Maher: Replace that content with good, quality content.
Increases in Direct Traffic & Branded Searches
John McDougall: It’s right in Google Analytics, but Google Webmaster Tools is kind of tied at the hip, or it should be. So you can look at the index pages there. Then a couple more things. Increases in direct traffic are important ‑‑ again, talking about the returning visitors that will type in your domain name.
And branded searches. A nice trick is to buy your brand name or variations of your brand name and variations of your people’s names, potentially. Depends if Jane Doe works for you, then you might not want to pay for every click on Jane Doe.
But certainly your company name is going to be something you can buy in Google Ads, and then you’ll get around the not‑provided issue, where Google, through secure search, is hiding the keywords, driving traffic to your site. You start buying your brand name and you’ll get impression data and you can track that in Analytics.
So if you’re an authority and a thought leader, more people are going to keep typing in different variations of your brand name.
John Maher: Right. You’re getting your company name out there, you’re getting your brand out there, and people know about you more so you’re going to see that increase in Google Analytics of people either directly coming to your site by typing it in or by doing a search, say, in Google for your company name, et cetera, or the people at your company.
John McDougall: Right.
Referrals & PR
John Maher: What about referrals and PR?
John McDougall: Referrals, of course, can be tracked in Google Analytics. And it’s one thing to track it. It’s another to improve it. So it’s not doing you a lot of good to go and look and see, “Oh, look, these are our top referrers,” and they’re five little local sites that drive like two clicks a month.
That’s certainly good to look at, but if you have a small amount of referrals, you really need to find a strategy to improve that and then come back and look at that. One of the ways that you can do that is to use ahrefs.com, again. A‑H‑R‑E‑F‑S.com.
There are a lot of tools for this — it’s just one of my personal favorites. And it shows the top pages ‑‑ not only the amount of back links to your site, which end up being a referral when you’re looking at Google Analytics, but you can really see the pages for, say, your competitor.
Go to competitor1.com or whatever that your top competitor is, look at the content that’s driving traffic, and then go make similar content, and possibly even share it with the people that are linking to that page. Ahrefs will give you the list of people that link to that particular page on your competitor’s site. You can make something similar, a little bit different. But your spin on it. Then there’s a whole bunch of people that might like to link to that.
So Ahrefs is a great way to get a view on what pages are getting a lot of links and therefore are likely…you can basically reverse‑engineer some of the referrers to your competitors.
John Maher: If I write an article or post a blog post about a similar topic, maybe I can go after those same back links…
John McDougall: Same people.
John Maher: And get links.
John McDougall: Or certainly other people. You know it’s popular, good content, and a good topic. Another little odd one is using Alexa. You can use upstream and downstream technology. It doesn’t give you a ton of data, but it’s really interesting.
Who was at McDougallInteractive.com? What sites typically send traffic to McDougallInteractive.com? Where were they before upstream, and then where are they after they visit McDougall Interactive and they continue going down the river of the Internet? Now they’re over at some other site. Where did they go?
John Maher: Because people don’t tend to jump around randomly on the Internet and then visit one site and then visit a different site that’s of a totally different topic. People tend to click through these links and visit related sites.
So, by looking at the sites that came before and after visitors looked at your site you get a sense of, what are the related sites in my industry and who are the other authorities in my industry?
John McDougall: Yeah. So if you can figure out what’s driving traffic and what sites are important topically for your competitors, you can go see if you can get placement on those sites.
Sometimes that might be, it’s just Google and Yahoo and some of the big sites. Other times it’s, “Oh, look. ‘The New York Times’ tends to drive a lot of traffic to this site.” Or one of our competitors Moz, of course, an awesome blog about search engine optimization driving a lot of traffic to one of the competitors that we’re tracking.
Hey, you know what? We’re not getting enough traffic from Moz. Let’s go figure out how to get on Moz and get more traffic from them.
John Maher: Maybe I can write an article for them and get a posting on their site.
John McDougall: Yeah. There’s a whole U‑Moz, User‑Generated Content on Moz, which is quite good. Then lastly public relations is another way to get more referrers.
We were just mentioning New York Times, but how do you get on there? You have to have strategies to get your name out there so that you can write a guest blog post on “The New York Times” or be featured on “Forbes.” We were recently featured on “Huffington Post” and Forbes and “Search Engine Journal” and HubSpot and things like that.
Being a thought leader, it kind of snowballs. The rich get richer. The more you start to get out there and you say, “Hey, you know what? My content has been featured on Huffington Post and Forbes and places like that.” Now you can go to “Inc.” magazine and “Entrepreneur” magazine.
It’s more of an easy transition for them to say, “Oh, OK, you’re already credible and a thought leader and I’m going to let you in to either write a blog post or interview you or mention you in an article” and things like that.
So thought leadership is certainly trackable in Google Analytics, but you have to go do something with it and that’s the key.
John Maher: Great information. I appreciate you talking to me today, John. Thanks.
John McDougall: Yeah. Good talking to you, John.
John Maher: And for more information about digital marketing, visit McDougallInteractive.com and make sure you subscribe to this podcast on iTunes. See you next time on Digital Marketing Madness.