How To Read Google Analytics

HowToReadAGoogleAnalyticsReport

Photo by Clément G

If you’ve installed the Google Analytics tracking code on your web site, you already have one the most powerful analytics tools out there collecting data on your behalf. Every time you log in to your analytics account, you see reams of new information, colorful graphics displaying information about your site visitors. After months, or even years, of being in the dark about who visits your site and why, now you know everything you ever wanted.

There’s only one problem. None of it makes sense. Sure, you can produce a report, click on pathways, and inspect various sources of traffic, but you don’t understand what Google is measuring and why. You appreciate the information, but it’s hard to use it if you don’t understand it.

While we could write a series on Google Analytics, or even offer a webinar on the subject, today we’ll focus on what you need to know in order to be a confident user of Google Analytics.

1. Know a few Key Words

While Google Analytics adds features all the time, in order to read any report you need to understand a few key concepts. Here’s what you need to know to get started:

Bounce rate—This is one of the key metrics used in analytics. The bounce rate is the percentage of site visitors who “bounce,” or leave, your site after visiting a particular page.

Because you generally want site visitors to do something on your site—read a few blog posts, learn about your company, buy a product—a high bounce rate is usually bad news. By determining the bounce rates of particular pages, you can diagnose problems and come up with strategies to drive down bounce rates.

Pages Per Visit—While this is an obvious metric—it’s the number of pages a visitor views on a single visit to your site—it is important because it provides you more systemic view of your site’s performance.

For example, if your site is relatively simple, it might not matter that visitors spend time at just a few pages, while if it’s a more complex site—an online store, or a blog—you want to continue to grow that number. By reducing your bounce rate, you might also increase your page per visit number.

Average Visit Duration—For some sites, the number of pages one sees isn’t important, but the time they spend looking at the pages matters a lot. By tracking duration, you’ll be able to develop strategies to keep your visitors on your site.

Conversions—Although usually used for e-commerce sites, where one is converting a visitor to a paying customer, this term now has broad application in web analytics. One can convert a visitor by convincing him or her to sign up for an email newsletter, enter their contact information in a web form, or click on a particular page.

2. Understand Dimensions

When you first look at your site traffic, you’re seeing all of it, regardless of its origin. A dimension is a way of breaking down that traffic in a way that will be more useful to you. For example, if you want to focus on traffic that originates from a particular country—say you can only sell to American customers—you can exclude all non-US traffic from your search information. Or, if you’re wondering whether your mobile site is as effective as your desktop site, you can choose to focus on traffic from mobile devices.

With dimensions you can refine your analysis to focus on the things that matter most for your site, whether its where your visitors come from, what operating system they use, or how they get to your site.

3. Making Reports That Matter

While you can view metrics and dimensions of your data on the Google Analytics site, it’s often helpful to produce a report that allows you to assess where you are at a particular time. When you make reports, specify the duration of the report—do you want the past month, or the past year?—as well as particular metrics and dimensions that matter most to you.

The raw data produced by Google Analytics is often distracting and unmanageable, so simplifying it in a report is often a necessary step when it comes time to assess what’s going right, and wrong, with your site. By knowing the basic analytics vocabulary, it’s easy to start putting the data to work for you.

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