Google Analytics has always been an overwhelming interface. Even seasoned website owners and internet marketers have a tough time keeping up with the changing landscape of Google Analytics and new terms used to describe metrics.
Below we’ve listed out some of the most frequently questioned Google Analytics metrics as well as several metrics that we consider big KPIs as SEOs and paid search marketers. Because Google has a tendency of changing the format of Google Analytics, and often changes the verbiage used to describe a metric, we’ll do our best to keep this summary of metrics up to date.
There are various metrics that quantify website traffic:
Users refer to the visitors that interact with your website. They include both new and returning users.
When someone talks about website traffic going up or down by a certain percentage, they are usually referring to a change in the “Users” metric.
Google Analytics tracks users by browser, so if a person used Google Chrome to access your website then the next day they accessed your website on Firefox, it would be recorded as two new users. That is presuming the person had not used either browser to access your website before.
New users are users of your website that have likely not visited your website recently.
Google Analytics does not always report both Returning Users along with New Users, but calculating that number is easy: Returning Users = Users – New Users
This refers to the number of times users have been actively engaged with your website. Google Analytics defines this as activity on a website that is not separated by more than 30 minutes.
Think of Sessions as the number of times a website visitor goes through the process of interacting with a website. They may arrive to a website via the home page, visit the About Us page, navigate through a few service pages, and then finish by visiting a contact page. Assuming that they did not take over 30 minutes to do all of this, i.e. they remained actively engaged with the website, it would be considered one session.
If a user accesses your website and then comes back at a later date, it would be considered multiple sessions but not multiple users.
Pageviews make up the total number of webpages viewed by users in a given period.
As an example, if two users each only visit a single page on your website before leaving, that would equal two sessions. If they instead visit three different pages, that would equal six sessions.
User Retention Metrics
When looking at a list of data in Google Analytics, you are often presented with three main metrics that indicate the quality of your visitors.
Bounce rate refers to the percentage of visitors that enter your website and do not navigate to another page – the one and done visitors.
There are a number of factors that can influence bounce rate – here are the big ones:
- A bad website – This is the obvious factor. If a visitor has issues with a page loading slowly or not at all, a poor navigational system, distracting advertisements, etc. they are not likely going to spend much time on your website. This often boils down to either a bad website design or poor content.
- Non-Relevant Visitors or Content – Also self-explanatory – if a visitor clicks through to your site and they can’t find what they are looking for or their expectation does not meet the reality of what your website offers, they likely won’t stick around your website for long.
- Intent of Visitors – Additionally, it is important to distinguish bounce rates between various pages on your website. You may have an in-depth blog post or resource page on your website. Even if your visitors spend several minutes on that single page, receive all the information they need, and become aware of your brand name and product/service offering, there may still be a higher than average bounce rate for that page. If that page represents a significant percentage of all of your website’s traffic, it may throw off your overall bounce rate numbers. We also see different bounce rate numbers for branded vs non-branded traffic as well as traffic sources.
- Landing Page – You may notice that certain pages of your website have different bounce rate numbers. Quite often the home page has a much lower bounce rate than internal product or service pages. This is because home page visitors often need to navigate throughout a website to find what they are looking for, while users who land on a specific internal page most likely have arrived at a page that matches their intent.
So what is a good bounce rate? It’s very much dependent on the type of content and the means to which users are arriving to the website. You can read our article on What’s a High Bounce Rate? for more information.
Average Session Duration
Also referred to as “Time On Site”, average session duration indicates the average amount of time a user spends interacting with a website. Many of the factors that determine session durations are the same as what influence bounce rates.
Session duration is more important to SEO than ever before as dwell time plays a big part of Google’s ranking algorithm RankBrain. Finding ways to keep users actively engaged with your website may include adding additional descriptive content to pages, restructuring content so it is easier to read and digest, and providing call to actions.
Pages per Session
Often referred to as “Pages per Visit”, this is the average number of webpages a user accesses during a session. If a user visits the same page multiple times during a session, it is still counted as a part of the total number of pages per session.
Again, many of the four factors that can impact bounce rate also affect pages per session. Giving users the ability to navigate seamlessly through pages on your website, as well as having content readily available that they are interested in, is critical to having good pages per session numbers.
Where website visitors come from is always a top priority metric to look at:
Organic search engine traffic represents users that access a website by means of an organic (non-sponsored) listing in a search engine. This includes organic traffic from all sources that Google would qualify as a search engine – Google, Bing, Yahoo, AOL, Ask, and Baidu are all examples.
Changes in acquisition and user retention metrics of traffic that come from organic search engines are some of the most important KPIs when assessing an SEO campaign.
This tracks traffic that arrives at a website via search engine sponsored listings. If your website runs campaigns through a platform like Google Ads or Bing Ads, the traffic generated by those sponsored listings would appear here.
Referral traffic includes users who arrive at a website by means of another website. For example, if your business is referenced in your local newspaper’s website and they include a link to your website, a visitor that clicks through to your website would be recorded as a referral visit.
Social traffic includes website visitors that originated from social media sources. This includes but is not limited to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. YouTube may also show up under this category.
Direct traffic is traffic that Google Analytics cannot attribute to any source. Quite often it makes up users who type in a URL, have a page bookmarked on their browser, or do not rely on any source for finding or accessing a website.
Additionally, there are situations where Google Analytics simply cannot recorded the source of the user and simply records it as direct traffic. For example, if a user clicks through from a secure HTTPS page to a HTTP page, no referral data is passed (another reason to mitigate your website to HTTPS if you haven’t already done so).
Are there any metrics that we did not address that you would like to see? Let us know. Have questions about your website’s traffic, what metrics you should be paying attention to, or any other Google Analytics related questions? Feel free to ask!