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Monday, Aug. 9, 2010 at 1:41 pm

Analytics How-To: Segment for Sticky Content

By Brendan Regan
August 9th, 2010

I’m going to share a custom segment that I came up with that has been both fun and useful to apply to our clients’ web analytics data.

One of the best reasons to segment web analytics data is to answer a business question, so let’s start with a few business questions that this segmenting trick might help answer:

I want to optimize the conversion rate for my segment of engaged, return visitors. Where should I focus my optimization budget?

I’m redesigning my Information Architecture. What sections/pages/resources do my loyal visitors find most valuable?

I’m building ad placements into my site design. What sections/pages/resources draw qualified return visitors?

I’m doing a “web content audit.” What types of content do my visitors like the best? Should I produce more or less of a given content type? Which types of content are sticky?

What products in my catalog are people considering, but not buying?

What are my Late Stage prospects gravitating towards?

1advancedSegmentIf you’re interested in answering questions like the above, or are just plain curious, here’s the advanced segment as I set it up in Google Analytics. It’s quite simple to do [click image to enlarge].

First, you have GA look for the dimension of “Visitor Type = Returning Visitor.” This excludes visits made by first-timers.

Second, use the dimension of “Source = direct.” This filters out all visits except those that come from the source of direct. “Direct” visits means that the user arrived at your site by typing your URL into their browser’s address bar or via browser bookmark.

Finally, add an (optional) third dimension “Page does not match exactly ‘/index.html’” or whatever your homepage URI is. This will exclude those who bookmark your homepage (as opposed to pages deeper in your site), or who memorize your domain name and arrive direct. If you believe you have useful tools or access to sticky content on your homepage, you may wish to skip this third step and include homepage in the custom segment.

Since most visitors don’t memorize very many URLs, you can safely assume that this data set will show you visitors who have returned to your site via bookmark. Bookmarks are a great measure of “sticky” content because browsers don’t bookmark pages unless they find them valuable. Further, most people won’t bookmark a page unless they plan to return to it again and again. If I like a site, I might memorize the domain name and return via a direct visit or a branded search, but if I believe I will use a piece of content on multiple occasions over time, I’ll bookmark it.

1topContentOnce you’ve set up the custom segment, apply it to your reports and then navigate to the Top Content report. Here, you’ll see the descending list of pages that are valuable enough a) for visitors to return to and b) valuable enough to memorize the URL or use a bookmark. See the example [click image to enlarge] of the segment applied to

Because the page names are readable and intuitive, I get a very quick idea of what visitors find truly valuable about the site’s content. An opportunity might be to focus on converting traffic to our ever-popular “We We” Customer Focus Copy Calculator tool.

If your site is set up in named directory folders, it’s even easier to get a quick read on what things are most valued. For example, you can ignore file names and just note that the most directory popular is “/games/…”, the second-most popular is “/tools/…”, etc.

I hope this proves helpful as a means to further segment your data. But remember, don’t segment data just to be fancy; segment it to answer business questions or try to find new, actionable insight in your reports. If anyone has come up with a more elegant way to answer similar business questions, please let us know in the comments.

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Comments (30)

  1. I sell Audio Bibles, so for me see what percentage listened to audio samples was improtant to me. So segment on something useful is a good idea too. If you offer downloads or white paper, or some other micro conversion, you should segment on those too.

  2. I don’t know if I am the only one feeling like this, but whenever the topic of the more advanced analytics tasks come up, my mind kinda freeze. I would consider myself to be fairly technical and good with numbers but for some reason the more advanced tracking options are causing me to procrastinate.

    I should probably attend a seminar to force myself to learn this stuff.

  3. Great segment. I was wondering, you note that these visits are probably bookmarks. But what about people sending eachother links by e-mail or chat? Wouldn’t these also pop up in this segment?

  4. This is the first time I hear about sticky content. I read the description in wikipedia and I understand now. Si I guess a good way to make stuff more sticky is to start a conversation in the comments. And to have a “Notify me of followup comments via e-mail” check box in the comment section :P
    @Mortgage By City
    I guess your mind is lazy :P

  5. @Erik: Great point! I felt like there were a few “holes” in my theory, and you’ve found one (chat links). Those would definitely show up in this custom segment report, but I argue that they deserve to be in the report. If you IM me a link, which is essentially a referral, and I click on it, that is a clear expression of the content’s value…similar to bookmarking or memorizing. Links embedded in an email should not show up in this report because they would get picked up with a source of “referral,” not Direct traffic.

  6. Including and even going above and beyond anything else in this list, you have to have information. In its purest form, the Internet is all about information that can be freely accessed and is relevant
    to your site’s topic. Visitors should be able to find the information that they’re looking for quickly and easily, and they should find it in abundance.

  7. Also if you use a directory structure for SEO purposes this is a great opportunity to add valuable googlebot content as well as sticky content.

  8. Sharing custom segments is a great way to connect business problem to analytics data. Kudos.
    My only gripe is with the “Source = Direct” description. Source = Direct just means that the referrer data in the http header is empty. That can happen for many reasons, including typing URLs and Bookmarks. Most of the time though there are technical reasons that the source data is empty. In my experience relying in on “Source = Empty” to represent loyalty is unreliable.

  9. An interesting idea, but I’d echo the previous commenter’s sentiment about other reasons that HTTP_REFERER might be empty.

    Good point about people relying on bookmarks to remember TLDs.

  10. @Don, I guess it is. Better do something about that to avoid it becoming an unbreakable habit.

  11. Nice article, but I am not sure if I follow this correctly:

    “Finally, add an (optional) third dimension “Page does not match exactly ‘/index.html’” or whatever your homepage URI is. This will exclude those who bookmark your homepage (as opposed to pages deeper in your site), or who memorize your domain name and arrive direct. If you believe you have useful tools or access to sticky content on your homepage, you may wish to skip this third step and include homepage in the custom segment.”

    If we want to identify users who go directly to subpages of the web site – shouldn’t we use ‘Landing Page’ dimension instead?

  12. @Matthew: no, b/c the ‘landing page’ dimension would leave in the homepage. i added the optional 3rd step if you want to exclude the homepage (since those who memorize the URL will likely land there)

  13. Thanks for sharing this rather interesting segment.

    As other commenters pointed out, “direct” traffic can also mean other things.
    Top reasons in my experience: referring pages that are https, or searches via the browser location bar.

    Nevertheless: a clever segment, very usable, thanks.

  14. Nice segment Brendan, I have just applied this with some interesting results.

    I must disagree with email showing up as a referrer however – gmail, yahoo etc yes, but at the department I am currently working with, the weekly email blast from the Director General usually does not have tagged links (try as I might to remedy the situation!) and it is sent out and received predominantly in Outlook.

    These links do not show up as referrers but increase the direct traffic. Over time, if a certain page or section is referred to in the email in a couple of blasts, the page/section will receive return visitors if their cookies haven’t been blown away, and so would show as consuming “sticky content” using this segment. However, the context may be radically different for the visitor, as the reason for visiting could have changed between visits depending on the content of the email. I know this is picky, and I agree with your original assertion that showing return visitors deep in the site via direct probably are interested visitors, but as usual with web analytics there are caveats and other situations to take into account.

  15. Good information and thanks for sharing! For real estate, would direct traffic still be a measure of a website’s “Sticky Content”?

    I have some customers who use my website exclusively but once they buy a house, they no longer need a real estate site. I tend to get a very high percentage of “New” traffic. What are your thoughts on the Real Estate specific vertical?

  16. Great segmentation analysis as usual!
    One thing that I find difficult to do analysis on is having Ajax websites. But Ajax can also be a blessing since you can make analytics calls to identify what the user is doing within the page itself
    like if the user clicked on a link or if the user hovered on a certain section of the page.
    So adding this data as another dimension gives visibility not only if the user bookmarked the page, but if they did other actions on the page after they have returned, and what made them or stopped them from the conversion.

  17. Good info Brendan, knowing which pages are most important to your users is paramount to success.

    After your segments are setup up, it would be useful to sort your “top content” report via the new “weighted sorting” for bounce rates to further establish where to focus your efforts.

  18. @Don, same I haven’t heard of this either. But thanks Brendan to posting these tips I will try this guide out.

  19. Sticky content refers to content published on a website, which has the purpose of getting a user to return to that particular website or hold their attention and get them to spend longer periods of time at that site.I have seen in the Wikipedia.Nice Details about this.

  20. [...] Brendan Regan/FutureNow: Analytics How-To: Segment for Sticky Content [...]

  21. I just set up this segment and now I am going through the analyisis. It’s really something I didn’t hink about. Thanks.

  22. [...] Brendan Regan/FutureNow: Analytics How-To: Segment for Sticky Content [...]

  23. Good information and thanks for sharing! For real estate, would direct traffic still be a measure of a website’s “Sticky Content”?

  24. I couldn’t understand certain parts of this post, but I assume I only need to learn a bit more regarding this, because it certainly sounds interesting and kind of though-proviking! By the way, how did you first get started with this?

  25. Analytics information means nothing without proper segmenting. Too many people get carried away by metrics and numbers but forget that they need to clean up their data for it to be meaningful. For example untagged PPC traffic shows up as Direct Traffic on GA!

  26. @ Evan Thomas thanks for the highlight about what exactly sticky content is and to Brendan thanks for your segment.
    I haven’t been someone who studies the traffic to my site but this aticle changed my perception on how I am thinking.

  27. I think it would be useful to sort “top content” report via the new “weighted sorting”

  28. sometimes, i totally refuse to the segment of content, since every part is important to the whole. it will be a subreption to the words itself, for my part.

  29. I have couple of blogs wherein I had an analytic installed on the home page rest of posts were created as subpages but never thought of Sticky content stuff heard about it once about that sticky post do not change its position it remains on top !

  30. Im trying to do something simulair in Piwik, any tips or maybe a followup on this article?

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