Some people might think that Google Analytics is just used to crunch numbers. While this is true, analytics can tell you so much more than just how many people view your site. Google Analytics offers a ton of data that you can use to drive UX and design decisions, as well as influence content and marketing.
I’m going to tell you about some of the really useful information that you can take from Google Analytics. I will start with some basic concepts, and then show you how those relate to broader sets of data. Often this data is important on its own, but when different sets of data are combined and analyzed, then you can really get a good idea of what is going on with your website. Here are a few important metrics, and how you can use this data to make sense of your website.
Sessions and Users
Sessions and users are helpful statistics on how many times people come to your website. Sessions is a total count of people who came to your site in a given period of time, while users are the unique visitors of those sessions. So in this case, sessions would include the same user visiting the site multiple times. This is great insight into how many people visit your site, and how many come back. This plays directly into the next point.
New and Returning Users
This is a count of how many people are new visitors to your site and how many have visited and decided to come back. While a bit abstract, you can use this data to make some inferences about your site. If you have a lot of new visitors, people are generally finding you, be it through ads, search, off site links, etc. If you have a lot of returning customers, it means that people are staying engaged with your website and/or find that your website provides them some sort of value. You can dig deeper too, seeing how often these people return to your site.
Do you ever get to a site and leave right away? That counts as a bounce. Bounce Rate is the percent of people who get to a page on your site, and leave without any further engagement. You can infer a lot from this. Some pages you might see a high bounce rate and realize that there's a lot of content, but it isn't really applicable to the user (or maybe it's just not good content at all).
However, one of the most common things I have noticed is a high bounce rate on blogs. This is bad because for a lot of websites, blogs generally have higher traffic. This indicates people are reading the post and leaving right away, which is a huge missed opportunity. Doing something as small as suggesting relevant content can have a huge impact on user retention and get people to keep looking around your site.
This is an interesting one, especially if you look back at years past for changes in analytics. This is the percent of users that use each of these formats to look at websites. At this point, it is best practice to have a responsive website, but seeing the true numbers of how people are looking at your website can really be that extra push to be responsive. Matching this metric with bounce rate gives you even more insight. Maybe you see a low percent of mobile traffic and think “people just aren’t using phones on my site,” which may be true. When you match that with a high bounce rate, it can be really telling that while the user might not be using a phone, the ones that do are having a terrible time and some changes need to occur.
This is more specific in terms of what brand phone or tablet the user is actually using. Different devices have slightly different screen sizes and browser specifications. This is more useful for QA to make sure that your site works on all of the main devices that are use to visit the site.
Building off the last two points is screen resolution. This is an overview of the top resolutions used. This is interesting to note because you can see how many users have wider screen monitors, and who still uses smaller phones. This is good from both a QA and a design spectrum, showing you exactly how much real estate you have to work with. This lets you potentially expand the size of your desktop experience, while fine tuning the mobile one.
Every browser renders things slightly differently. With this in mind, the browser report tells you exactly which browsers people are using. This is most helpful when planning for Internet Explorer. While it seems most normal users have switched to Chrome, lots of companies have internal regulations that restrict users to Internet Explorer (in one of its many versions). This statistic helps you plan for and QA for the various limitations set by certain browsers.
Locations (City and Metro)
You can also see where your traffic is coming from. You can see by country, state, city, and metro area. This is great for doing things like setting up marketing campaigns, or deciding if you need your site to be in multiple languages.
Source and Medium
Source is the origin of your traffic, while Medium is the category of the source. With this, you can see exactly how people are finding you. These categories include broad information like organic search, PPC ads, emails, or directly typing in a url, as well as more specific information, like which individual social networks are sending the most people your way.
These are the most viewed pages on your whole site. You can also add additional metrics to these to get more insight. I like to see the bounce rate because it helps paint an even better picture of how people interact with the site. Even if they are the top pages, a high bounce rate means there is room for improvement.
Landing Pages/Exit Pages
These are the pages where people enter your site, and leave your site. It is telling to again look at bounce rate, and compare which pages are similar. If your landing page is frequently visited, but has a high bounce rate and also shows up on the exit page, you know people are not engaging with your content and the rest of your website like they should be.
Are you trying to figure out the best time to send out that blog post, or maybe do some marketing through Google? You can look at the top days/months/times metrics to see when people are really looking for you. This makes it easy to see when traffic is highest, which allows you to engage your customers at the perfect time.
Page Load Time
The great thing about this is that you can see how your site loads on desktop and mobile. This is important, especially on mobile, because a longer load time leads to more people leaving your site without seeing anything. The thing to be wary of with this statistic is you don’t know the internet connection or network that people are accessing the site from. Personally, I think that generally under 5 seconds is not a huge deal, but statistically every seconds leads to an exponential increase in abandonment. So if you are getting up in that 7, 8 second range, you should look for improvements. Anything in double digits is almost inexcusable at this point.
Not all metrics are good metrics though. Some of them are misleading, and need to be taken with a grain of salt. Two main ones to look at are Session Duration and Average Time On Page. These metrics relate to how long someone spends on a page and how long their entire session is. Sounds perfect, right? Not quite.
The problem with these metrics is in how Google calculates this time. Page time is calculate on the load of the following page. So the page time on the Homepage of your site isn't calculated when you click a link or leave the site, it’s calculated when the next page OF YOUR SITE actually loads. This means users that bounce are not counted in this, even if they read your whole article. It also means that the last page that was viewed on the site will not be counted on towards the time because there is not code to load when they leave the site.
Luckily, all of the other metrics listed in the post are good ways to make some sense of your users’ engagement with the site. In an upcoming post, we'll discuss how to set up Goals and Filters in Google Analytics to dive further into your data.