How to Analyze Source Data in Your Content Analytics
Marketing ROI

How to Analyze Source Data in Your Content Analytics


Being able to analyze your content analytics is a critical component of every content marketing program. There are numerous data points and sources available to marketers these days, and understanding all the data can be the difference between flat content marketing performance and consistent month-over-month growth.

One specific area of content performance that is essential to understanding how your audience is finding your content is Source / Medium data. Source data can be defined as the channel in which a visitor to your site left to visit your content. For example, you Tweet a link to an article that was just published on your blog, and someone clicks the link to read that article. That person left the social media channel they were on (Twitter) to visit your site and read your content.

This is Google’s definition:

Source / Medium Definition - Google Analytics

Where Does Source Data Come From?

Before we look at the ways in which source data can be analyzed to optimize your content marketing program’s performance, let’s define the types of source data that are available, or the channels in which our audience will find our content. Let’s focus in on these four main channels:


There are two key elements of organic traffic: social media and search. When a visitor comes to your content from a search engine result page or a social media network, that is not a paid placement or promotion. That source is defined as organic. Building credibility in search is one of the most important performance drivers in content marketing. Credibility or authority is Google’s perception of how qualified your website or content is for a certain subject. Credibility is important because without it, your content won’t rank highly in search. If you’re not creating content that Google perceives as credible or valuable for its users, why are you creating it in the first place?


Traffic to your content from any means of advertising, promotion, or sponsorship is defined as a paid source. A good example of a paid source is promoting your content in a content discovery network like Taboola, or promoting your content via a sponsored or promoted post in social media.

There is a difference between organic traffic from social media and paid traffic from social media—and different learnings with each, too. Organic traffic indicates relevance and engagement from your audience with your content, which can be insightful when planning future topics. Paying to amplify your content in social media is a means to distribute those insights faster. To reach a wide audience quickly, consider promoting your content through paid distribution efforts like content discovery or paid social media


A referral source can be defined as any traffic to your content from a referring website. If you publish a great piece of content and Forbes links to it in one of their articles, resulting in increased traffic from Forbes to your content, that is a referral. Direct traffic can be a bit trickier to map. As Google says in its analytics help center: “A session is processed as direct traffic when no information about the referral source is available, or when the referring source or search term has been configured to be ignored.”


This is a big one and warrants a topic on its own, but for the purposes of this article, I define email as any traffic received from an email that includes links to your content. The most common examples of this are content newsletters.

There are many referral sources to analyze, which will depend on how many channels you have—newsletters, mobile, Twitter paid—and others. It’s vital to your content strategy to regularly monitor Google Analytics for where your engagement is coming from, when a referral source percentage of overall traffic fluctuates, and why this change occurred. Only then will you be able to accurately make adjustments to your content and distribution strategies.

Analyzing source data Optimize Your Content Analytics for Success

Now that we know the content analytics channels we want to analyze, how can we derive insights from the traffic we’re receiving from these channels?

It starts with content measurement—look at the content that is performing the highest within each channel. Try to answer the question “What content is resonating most?” for each channel and sub-channel. What content is ranking highly in search and driving organic search traffic? Where is it listed in the SERPs? What competitive content exists in those SERPs? Answers to these questions will give you a good understanding of the competitive landscape and why or why not your content is ranking. From there, apply those learnings to your program. If you see that your content is ranking highly for a certain phrase or phrases because you chose a keyword that is a question, create more content that answers questions and apply the same SEO strategy. Or maybe you find that organic search is driving traffic to your best how-to content. You can assume your audience is on search trying to find answers. Go out and find the questions your audience has and answer more of them with your content.

For organic social media, look at what topics are driving the most traffic from each channel. Does your audience on Facebook react to fun and light-hearted content vs your audience on Twitter that enjoys short, snackable news articles? What does the audience do after they land on your website? How can you take the learnings from your source data and create an experience on the page that offers more content related to the intent of the audience within that channel?

Optimizing your topics is one way to further engage an audience and continue to drive traffic from a variety of sources. But what about understanding the source data to determine which pieces of content are driving ROI or driving people to take action? The same theory applies, except instead of looking at what topics are resonating to create more of those topics, look at which topics are driving ROI and why. Is there a different call to action? Was it written differently? Look at the source data for the highest converting articles, find similar articles, apply the same conversion strategy, and distribute that content to the channels that are performing best.

Seek Multiple Data Points for Content Marketing Success

Analyzizing source data is one step on the path to content marketing success. It can give marketers the insights they need to build bigger and better strategies based on where their audience is coming from. Taking it a step further to understand all of your content analytics will give you the big picture you need to ensure your strategy is correct, you’re meeting KPIs, and building a loyal audience.

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