Image Credit: <a href=''>Blue Fountain Media</a>
Image Credit: Blue Fountain Media

How are people finding the articles in your academic journal? How many readers does each article attract every week, month, or year? How long are readers spending on each article?

The answers to these questions and more tell the tales of how readers are interacting with your journal’s content. For traditional print publications, unraveling the plot points of individual article usage is virtually impossible. But in modern online publishing, software makes it not only feasible but relatively easy to track usage metrics.

In our recent blog post on New Year’s resolutions for journal editors, we suggest making metrics a part of your day-to-day in 2015. For journals that do not have a budget to purchase comprehensive publication metrics software Google Analytics, free software by Google, can help you get started!

Getting Started with Google Analytics

You can easily add Google Analytics to your website from the Google Analytics sign up page where, after inputting some basic information about yourself and your journal, you’ll receive a small snippet of code to paste into your journal website in order to begin tracking metrics from your new Google Analytics account. You can do this by either adding the tracking code to your website container or by adding it directly to the HTML of every page of your website, following Google’s instructions for either approach.

If you choose to input the code into the HTML of your individual webpages, keep in mind that you’ll have to remember to add the tracking code to any new pages you create. If the word container is evoking images of physical vessels used to hold or transport things and little else, don’t be afraid to ask your website developer to lend a hand!

Helpful Tip: If your journal has a blog or website with digital supplements to articles you can also use either of the above methods to add Google Analytics tracking to those websites, in order to track the usage and reach of your additional content.

Metrics to Focus On

Abstract Views

If you’re like most journals, you likely have a table of contents (TOC) for each of your digital issues, which visitors can look through to find and click out to content of interest to them. From your journal’s TOC, links likely lead out to webpages that contain either the full article they reference in HTML format or just the article abstract and a link to view the entire paper in PDF format. Before we get to how to track PDFs specifically, let’s cover the basics of webpage-level tracking on Google Analytics.

Once you have Google Analytics you can go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages (see picture above) to view a list of all of your website’s pages in order of popularity. From here you can toggle the chart arrows to see where and when abstract pageviews show up on the list and how many pageviews and unique pageviews each abstract has received. What’s the difference between the two?

  • Pageviews account for all visits to a page, including multiple visits from the same person.
  • Unique pageviews only account for first-time visits, showing the range of people finding and exploring your journal content for the first time.

Article Views

Article views may take an additional step depending on the structure of your journal. If you use HTML publishing you’ll be able to automatically see your article views in the same table you pulled up to track abstract views. However, if you publish your articles in PDF format you’ll need to take one quick step before you can check those stats (but don’t fear, it’s very simple!)

You or whoever manages your website will need to start adding a URL parameter to the links leading to article PDFs on your journal website. You can start with your newest content and make a plan to continue adding parameters to PDF URLs moving forward.

This Moz blog guide offers a helpful walk through on tracking PDF links, offering the following example of a URL for a PDF:

href=”” target=”_blank”>Services Brochure

See what they did there? They added the parameter “**?pdf=Services-Brochure**” to the end of the URL link. As in the above example, your journal can also make each of your PDF link parameters custom text so you can quickly see which PDF the link leads to, like we can see that this example leads to the “Service Brochure.”

One you’ve added your PDF parameters in Google Analytics you can follow the same path you did to reach your article abstract webpages to see your PDF stats: Behavior > Content > All Pages. Only this time, type “PDF” into the search bar (highlighted in the image above). You should see a list of all of the PDFs you tagged, including the custom parameters at the end of each URL allowing you to quickly spot which is which.

Alternatively, you can also track PDF pageviews in Google Analytics as “Events” or “Virtual Pageviews.” Google offers full instructions on how to do both in their guide to “Additional Kinds of Tracking” in the “Download Link Tracking” and “Event Tracking” sections.

Once you have both your abstract and HTML or PDF article pageviews tracking you’ll be able to not only view individual numbers of pageviews per PDF, but also trends in abstract and article views over time. So you’ll be able to quickly note when your journal has had a spike in overall interest.

Time on Page, Entrances, Exits

Beside each abstract or PDF listing you track in the Content > All Pages section of Google Analytics, you will also be able to see other useful stats including “Avg. Time on Page,” which will help you get a sense of how many viewers are actually reading your content and how many are just taking a quick glance. You’ll also be able to see “Entrances” and “% Exit,” which will tell you how many people entered your website from each particular abstract or PDF article in your list, and the % of readers who exited your website from each abstract or article page.

You may also notice “Bounce Rate” in the tracking table. Bounces, which make up your bounce rate, occur when people view a single page on your website and then exit the site without taking any additional action, such as clicking on a link to another article. While this information is interesting, it will likely not be a primary concern for your editors as most scholars will be visiting your journal to look for specific content rather than to browse many webpages.

Traffic Channels

Now that you can track how many people are viewing your journal pages and how long they’re spending on your site, are you curious to know how they found you in the first place? The Google Analytics “Acquisition” section can answer these questions and more.

To view traffic channels, meaning the sources your website traffic is coming from overall, you can easily see the big picture by going to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels (pictured above). From here you will see a breakdown of your top traffic sources. If you’re curious to know which websites specifically are referring to yours you can click on “All Referrals.” This list will include sites that referred people to your content.

Helpful Tip: For journals active on Twitter, note that “” referrals are Twitter shortened links, so likely all referrals that you see came straight from Twitter.

You can also see traffic information on the individual article level. Just go to Site Content > All Pages. Once your page list appears click on the abstract webpage or article PDF link you’re interested in learning more about and start adding segments related to referrals such as: “Direct Traffic,” “Organic Traffic,” and “Referral Traffic” (pictured above). One you’ve added all of the traffic segments you’re interested in click “apply” and you’ll see a breakdown of how many viewers came from each source.

New vs. Returning Visitors

A final piece of traffic information you may be interested in tracking on a journal-wide level is new vs. returning visitors, meaning the number of people coming to your journal website for the first time vs. those returning after a previous visit. You can compare these numbers by going to Audience > Behavior > New vs Returning (pictured above). From here you’ll see a graph and table depicting the number and % of new and returning visitors to your journal website as a whole.

As you promote your journal more you can track new vs. returning visitors over time to see if your promotion is positively impacting the number of people visiting your journal for the first time.

Explore Your New Metrics Software

As you explore Google Analytics you’ll discover countless new ways to use it. There are also TONS of blog posts and guide docs available on the web to help in addition to Google’s suite of training resources. While Google Analytics won’t always be able to give your journal the same level of metrics granularity as many altmetrics services, which can do things like show you the specific tweets and comments where your articles have been mentioned, it is still a versatile tool that can give you a lot of useful insights into how your journal content is being used. Your journals editors can assess and learn from your journal’s analytics and, if you like, you can even send pageview and traffic channel reports to authors to help them track how much interest their articles are garnering and where readers are coming from.

What article level metrics do you focus on tracking at your journal? Please share your approach to, or any questions you have about, article level metrics in the comments section!

Danielle Padula
This post was written by Danielle Padula, Community Development
Tales from the Trenches