Using Google Analytics to calculate the time to index content

Google News Results

I was recently running a Google Analytics training course for an organisation that, among other services, published news articles.  A question that was asked during this training was how could this company calculate the length of time it takes Google (or other search engines) to index their news articles?  That was a new question for me, not something I had ever thought of within a Digital Analytics context – it felt more like an SEO question.

But, after a couple of minutes thinking, I came up with a solution.   It is not accurate but it gives a method of calculating this time that you can use to evaluate and improve this performance.  Best news – the solution works for any organisation without additional tracking required!

How to Calculate the Time to Index

The first step is to create a new Custom Report – or possibly to just use this Custom Report I prepared earlier. The logic in the report is:

  • Filter for Organic Search (based on channel grouping or medium)
  • Filter for Landing Pages that are articles (however you identify these pages for your website)
  • Dimensions of Landing Page => Hour of Day => Minute => Source
  • The only metric required is Sessions

When you run the report, you will see a list of articles that were the landing page for your website.

  1. Start by clicking on an article that was published within the date range selected for the report.
  2. Click on the Hour of Day heading twice to sort the column in ascending order
  3. Click on the first Hour of Day for this report
  4. Click on the Minute heading twice to sort the column in ascending order
  5. Click on first Minute for this report

Custom Report for time to index

The combination of the Hour of Day and Minute gives you the first minute someone clicked through to the view the article from a Search Engine.  It is not the first minute that the article was indexed but it must have been indexed for it to be clicked on.  The report now displays the search engine that this happened in.

Compare the exact time the article was published against the time of the first click through from a search engine.  The difference approximates the time it took to index the article.

Using this Information to Improve Performance

The calculation will always be higher than reality as it is unlikely that an article would be clicked on instantly after being indexed.  But for more popular breaking news articles where visitors are likely to be searching for this content, this discrepancy would be less.  By averaging the time to index across five (or more) breaking news articles, you gain a benchmark for this time to index.

The initial value of this benchmark is in first evaluating if you need to take actions to improve the speed in which articles are indexed.  Unfortunately I don’t have a general benchmark or rule of thumb to share.  But you should be able to judge for yourselves if the time feels acceptable. Hopefully, if people find this approach useful, they will even share they own benchmarks in the comments.

Then, as actions are being taken to improve the speed at which news articles are indexed, this calculation is the KPI for evaluating the impact of changes.  You have the original figure as a baseline and hopefully you have set a target for what you want to achieve.  Get the average down to below your target and celebrate accordingly…

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