Google Analytics can measure just about anything you want it to from your users on your website. How long are they staying on your website? Are they leaving on a specific page? How are you even getting traffic to your website?
Note: This article is referring to “Universal Analytics” which is now sunsetted. We’ve created a new guide to explain what the new metrics in GA4 are and how you can use them!
With the insane amount of data that there is to digest and the crazy marketing jargon that they use, Google Analytics can look like a foreign language if you’re trying to dive into it for the first time.
Because of that, we want to make sure to highlight some of the most important Google Analytics metrics to track and then define them in a way that is actually easy to understand.
When you dive into your Google Analytics Dashboard for the first time, you’ll notice that it’s separated into four main categories on the left-hand side.
The audience area introduces you to those who visit your site and helps you learn more about them. In this area, you can learn about their age, gender, location, what device they were using, and more things similar to these
This section reveals how users are getting to your site and which of those ways is working the best. Are they finding you by searching organically? Are they directly typing your URL into search? Are they coming from social media? Or are they being referred to your site from another place on the internet?
The Behavior area is used to see trends of what users are doing while they’re on your website. You’ll be able to see which pages are viewed most often on your website and how well they are performing
The Conversions section tracks if users complete the goals you set on your website.
*We’ll define goals later, don’t worry!
Within each of these categories and reports you can view, you’ll notice plenty of other marketing jargon throughout Google Analytics. Understanding these terms will help you succeed in understanding what the data is trying to tell you!
Google defines a Session as, “the period time a user is actively engaged with your website, app, etc.”. Basically, anytime that a user is on your website, it is counted as a session. One user can end up having multiple sessions if they visit your site more than once. By default, a session does expire after 30 minutes of inactivity or at midnight. Google does allow you to adjust this time frame.
How to use this metric: Knowing how many sessions your website generates is a very important number. The more relevant sessions you can get to your website, the better. You’re also able to look at the number of sessions vs. users to figure out how often your website visitors are becoming returning users.
An individual person browsing your website. One user can view as many or few pages on your website as they want. Even if the user comes back to your website ten days in a row, Google Analytics will only count them as one user in your date range.
New users are the number of first-time users within the selected data range dates. A user is considered a new user if their device loads your website up for the first time (or if they deleted cookies and came back).
How to use this metric: If the percentage of users on your website are new users, it means there is a lot of new traffic coming to your website. If this percentage is low, it means most of your users are return visitors who have been to your website before.
Having either a low or a high percentage can both be classified as good things, depending on the goal of your website. Having a high percentage of new users can mean that your website is being found for the first time at a higher rate, while a low percentage can mean that the website traffic that you have is loyal and they like coming back!
This measures the total number of times your website’s pages are viewed. If a page is viewed more than once in a session, each view counts towards the total number of pageviews.
Unlike the general pageviews metric, this metric only counts one pageview per user session. If the user comes back to the page repeatedly, it still only counts as one pageview.
How to use this metric: Take a look at the pages that get the most traffic over a longer period of time. We’ll typically look at a 3-month time frame and then a year time frame. We look at the year time frame to see a larger piece of data to see, on average, what pieces of content on your website are generating the most pageviews. We also look at the 3-month time frame to see if anything is trending over the last few months.
Take a look at what these pages are and if they need to be updated, or if there is anything you can add to these pages to give them a better experience to the user. The other thing to look for is if you can replicate this type of success anywhere else on your website. If all of your high-performing content is similar, there is probably a good reason for this!
This is the average number of pages viewed during a session.
How to use this metric: This is a tough metric to really evaluate. You’d think that overall, the more pages per session, the better… but that’s not always the case. For example, if your website is increasing pages/sessions by decreasing the average session duration, this can be a bad sign – pointing to the possibility of people not finding what they need on your website and going through many pages quickly to attempt to find it.
If you find that your pages/session is increasing without any goals being achieved, it might be a good idea to optimize your site more for conversions. Adding more CTAs, better forms, and easier ways for people to contact you.
Average Session Duration
This is the average time that all users are spending on your website. For whatever reason, Google Analytics does not count time for the last page viewed during a session though, so this number can appear a little lower than it actually is.
How to use this metric: Increased time on your site is almost always a good thing. Low session duration typically points to a majority of users leaving your site quickly. While this number is an average of all users on your website, remember that there are people who may be staying much longer, and there also will be people who bounce off of your website right away.
Average Time on Page
This metric shows the average time users spend on a specific page or screen.
How to use this metric: This is a much more specific metric than average sessions duration. You’re able to see much more specific data on which pages users are spending the most time on. If you have pages that have a high average time on page, see what you can do to replicate this across the rest of your pages!
When a user only views one single web page and then leaves, they “bounce”. The bounce rate is the percentage of sessions with only a single pageview.
How to use this metric: The lower the bounce rate, typically the more relevant the traffic to your website is. An exception here would be if you direct people to your website to read an article and that’s it. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if they spend a few minutes reading your article and then bounce.
Exit percentage measures how often users leave your site from a particular page.
How to use this metric: Every session ends in an exit, but are there certain pages on your website that have a much higher exit percentage? Take a look at which pages have the highest exit percentage on your website, which have the lowest, and if there is anything you can do to make the high percentage pages more like the low percentage pages!
A conversion or goal can be pretty much whatever you set it to be. You can track form submissions or if a person views more than three pages at one time, for a couple of examples.
How to use this metric: Goals are not something that are set up by default on your Google Analytics account. You need to go into your admin area and set up your custom goals under the view area.
You can set up a “goal” for a lot of different things. If you use Google Tag Manager, you can track some very specific things, but if you’re using just Google Analytics, the type of templates that are available are:
- Destination – ex. thanks.html
- Duration – ex. 5 minutes or more
- Pages/Screen per session – ex. 3 pages
- Event – ex. played a video
Check out our outlined version with a few more suggestions on how to make your website convert.
A very common goal that is set up is a destination goal for a “thank you” page that a form submission redirects to. This type of goal shows how many forms were submitted during the time period you have selected, and can give more information on how you received this submission.
Starting with learning these terms will give you a better understanding of how Google Analytics can help you track your digital marketing efforts.
When you understand how to use Google Analytics to its full potential, you’ll see why it can be such a powerful digital marketing tool!