How to use Google Analytics to identify popular forum threads

by Martin Reed on 5 January 2008 in Articles

Use Google to identify popular forum posts

Interaction is the key ingredient of any community website. When your forum is young, it can be hard to determine just what gets your members talking, therefore it is important that you keep an eye on your traffic statistics to understand what forum threads and posts your members like and make more of them!

Use Google Analytics to improve your forum

Google Analytics is a fantastic service that gives you a huge amount of information about your site traffic, and what is more it’s completely free. In this article, I will be talking about a specific feature of Google Analytics – namely the ‘Top Content’ section of the analytics package.

By using the ‘Top Content’ section of Google Analytics, you can determine what threads and sections of your forum are the most popular. Once you have this information, you can ensure that you post more threads on similar topics – indeed, on the flip-side you can reduce the number of threads you are posting on subjects which are proving to be less popular.

Using the Google Analytics ‘Top Content’ feature

To identify the most popular sections of your forum, simply log into your Google Analytics account and click the ‘Content’ link on the left hand menu. This will then expand, allowing you to click the ‘Top Content’ link.

Google Analytics Top Content

Screenshot showing Google Analytics ‘Top Content’ feature (click to enlarge)

For this example I have used my online television community, Soap Forum. As you can see from the screenshot above, once you click on the link you are immediately shown a list of the most popular pages of your website according to page views. Now, you need to be careful when using this feature as there will often be a bias in favour of older pages on your site – an older page has had more time in which to collect views compared to a brand new thread or section.

To counter this, you can view the top content by a variety of criteria – namely by the time spent on the page, the bounce rate and the number of people that exited after viewing the page or pay attention to specific date ranges.

If you prefer, you can view the information in a pie chart:

Google Analytics Top Content Pie Chart

Screenshot showing Google Analytics ‘Top Content’ pie chart (click to enlarge)

To order the list by different criteria, you can simply use the drop down menu:

Google Analytics Top Content Feature

Screenshot showing Google Analytics ‘Top Content’ criteria (click to enlarge)

As you can see from the screenshots, the five most popular pages in terms of page visits for Soap Forum are:

From this information, I can determine that the most popular soaps for my current membership base are Coronation Street, Hollyoaks and EastEnders. Therefore, these should be the areas I should focus on when creating new content. To find the most popular posts, I simply look deeper down the results for the URLs that contain links to actual posts rather than forums.

The top five threads for the date range 5 December 2007 – 4 January 2008 were:

Now I can see what type of posts (or at least thread titles) attract the most interest, and ensure I encourage – or create – more threads of a similar nature.


Google Analytics is a fantastic tool that everyone should consider installing on their website. If you think traffic statistics tell you little about your members and what they want, you are mistaken – this article has proved that a little delving within your traffic stats can teach you about the tastes and demands of your members.

By taking the time to investigate your traffic logs, you can continue to improve your website and offer the content that is in most demand from your members.

Do you use your traffic stats to identify popular forum posts and threads? Do you even consult your traffic statistics? Have you found anything from analysing your traffic that surprised you or made you change your site design or content? Share your thoughts and opinions by leaving a comment below.

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Online Furniture Store January 6, 2008 at 12:16 pm

That was very informative. i was not even aware of what the google analytics tool is, much less what to do with it. :)

Smiley January 6, 2008 at 7:46 pm

I’ve tried using it, but it doesn’t work. It keeps saying I haven’t added the code, even though I have.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 7, 2008 at 3:10 am

Reena – Have you installed Google Analytics?

Smiley – That’s really odd; are you adding the code into the right part of your site’s code? Have you tried manually viewing the page source once you have added the code to make sure it is there?

Smiley January 7, 2008 at 5:56 am

I’m adding it into the template file of the forums (tried adding it to both the index tpl and the viewtopic tpl). Is this not correct?

Plumbing Course Andy January 8, 2008 at 5:27 am

This tool will help you to know the traffic that your website gets. And it’s really great! You can analyze if you need to make some changes in your website in order to get more traffic.

Nicole Price January 8, 2008 at 6:38 am

It can be used equally well with blogs as well? Check out which posts are most popular? I am new to blogging. How can it be installed in Wordpress?

Online Furniture Store January 8, 2008 at 10:16 am

No i have not Martin, but i think i will try it out.

PPC Blog January 9, 2008 at 10:29 pm

Great article, I recently added analytics in one of the forums and I run and I find it as a great and easy way to manage my categories! By checking the popularity and the bounce rate! all for free :)

John January 10, 2008 at 11:26 am

Combine that with top landing pages and average time spend on page and you have a powerful tool to develop a site.

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 10, 2008 at 5:30 pm

Smiley – Are you still using phpBB? If so, place the Google Analytics code in the file ‘overall_footer.tpl’ just before the < /body > and < /html > tags.

Andy – You’re right. Have you installed Google Analytics? What is your favourite feature?

Nicole – Yes, you can use the same method to find popular blog posts. Just add the code to the ‘footer.php’ file which can be found in your theme folder, before the < /body > and < /html > tags.

Reena – Give it a try, and let me know how you get on!

PPC – It’s a great tool, eh?!?

John – You’re right. Google Analytics really is a fantastic tool that provides so much information it is impossible for you not to find a way of improving your site based on the statistics it provides.

John January 10, 2008 at 7:06 pm

I don’t know about others but I check Analytics stats every day to notice every single thing happening to my sites. Maybe is a bit exaggerated but it helps me to discover the problems as quick as possible.

Smiley January 11, 2008 at 1:59 pm

Yeah, I love phpBB, and thanks! I was placing it in index_body.tpl, d’oh!

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 12, 2008 at 12:23 am

John – I am sure you are not alone in checking your stats on a daily basis. It’s always a good idea to be vigilant and as you say, such checks can enable you to find any problems on your site.

Smiley – No worries, let me know what you think of the software once you have given it a good test drive.

pennsylvania cosmetics January 15, 2008 at 1:17 am

I’ve used Google Analytics on a few sites and I’ve been very impressed with it. It gives a sleek looking interface and a lot of helpful tools. Good Post!

Hirsutism January 17, 2008 at 5:41 am

I was aware of Google Analytics tool. But after reading your article I have got full knowledge about this tool, and how it can be used. Thanks for the information, I guess I should install it right now and check the traffic to my site.

Eva White January 18, 2008 at 9:08 am

I will surely use this on my blog and share my feedback here. Thanks for the link

Martin Reed - Blog Author January 18, 2008 at 5:26 pm

pennsylvania – I agree. I love Analytics, and recommend everyone installs it!

Hirsutism – Did you go ahead and install Analytics? How do you find it?

Eva – Have you got it installed yet? How are you finding it?

Camps Bay Self Catering June 19, 2008 at 4:12 pm

Hi Martin,

I just stumbled upon your blog a few days back, but it’s already becoming required reading. I never really put that much into Analytics, just used it to see how much visitors my site gets, but yes, it’s certainly a powerful analysis tool if used correctly. Thanks for the great post.

Martin Reed - Blog Author June 26, 2008 at 11:36 pm

Camps – Thanks for your kind comment. How long have you been using Google Analytics for, and what are the main features you use?

Craig Smith August 16, 2008 at 2:12 am

Google Analytics is absolutely awesome and as a web analytics consulting company and a partner with Google with GA, its a vital piece of the American “digital” entrepreneur.

I just hope that path analysis within the toolset becomes more emphasized and more effective. This function does not hold water to Omniture. The team at GA has been great in making enhancements, I expect them to keep on going.

Pavlicko June 15, 2009 at 11:52 am

Top content report is one of my faves. You can also use _pageTracker to track downloads, contact form completions, etc…. and then look them up from the top content report – just make sure to put some forethought into your naming conventions…

Good post!

David July 2, 2009 at 11:12 am

Great points, the “top content” feature seems to be another hidden gem, and makes it easier than using RegEx to re-write data using filters to get the information you need. But you also need to ensure that your cms does actually generate unique page titles, as some older shopping cart systems dont always automatically allow this, so you dont get the full benefit of unique breakdown of content.

Shawn July 3, 2009 at 10:33 am

I wish that my traffic was that balanced haha

Jason March 24, 2010 at 9:10 pm

Wow, analytics seems like a very powerful tool, i will have to try it out sometime. Is it the best web traffic analyser available?