The Beginner’s Guide to Google Analytics: Frequently Asked Questions and Facts to Know
Google Analytics is an incredibly valuable tool that is also incredibly intimidating to many of our clients. If you log into your account and immediately become overwhelmed with the array of data, what it all means and what you need to know, then this blog post is for you. Of course, the data that matters most to you and your business is based on your individual goals, industry and target audience. We always recommend working with a professional (shameless plug) to analyze your data and provide reports and recommendations that are customized to your goals, but if you’re looking for an introduction to the world of Google Analytics, you’ve come to the right place.
The Audience > Overview Dashboard
When you log into your Google Analytics account and select your website/property, you will automatically be taken to the Audience Overview dashboard, and with good reason. This is a great place to get a quick snapshot of how much traffic your site has garnered over a specific time period. Speaking of time periods, note that you can always adjust the period of time that you are analyzing. Google Analytics, by default, will show you the previous month’s worth of data, but feel free to change that up as you see fit. A day, a week, or even a year — the choice is yours.
Now, once you have the date range set and you’re looking at the Audience Overview dashboard, thinking, “but what does it all mean!?” take a few deep breaths and let us help you make sense of the common questions that come up while looking at this page.
Sessions, Users, Pageviews: What’s the Difference?
- Sessions: A session is essentially a visit to your website. Sessions have expiration limits, so when I leave a tab open for 30 minutes with no activity, my session expires. If I come back to that tab later on, a new session begins.
- Users: A user is the amount of unique visits your website receives. While I may have multiple sessions on your site during the time frame, I am only counted once as a user.
- Pageviews: The total amount of pages viewed on your site during the set timeframe.
What is Average Session Duration?
The hours, minutes and seconds a user spends on your site on average.
What is Bounce Rate?
The percentage of visitors who leave after viewing one page of your site. This often occurs on a homepage, specific blog posts, and campaign-specific landing pages.
Is My Bounce Rate Too High?
This is a difficult question to answer. Typically, you want users to stay on your site for an extended period and look at more than one page. While a general rule of thumb is to maintain a bounce rate under 50%, this benchmark number changes drastically based on your industry, goals, and audience.For example, a restaurant that has the menu and phone number on its homepage will most likely have a higher bounce rate, as people are getting the information they’re looking for right away. They look at the menu, decide that the food looks good, give the restaurant a call to make a reservation and all is well: the restaurant’s goals are met, even with the relatively high bounce rate on the website.
If your bounce rate seems higher than you think it logically should be, investigate it a bit further by looking at the bounce rate on mobile devices, as well as specific landing pages. To view your bounce rate across mobile, desktop and tablet, go to Audience > Mobile > Overview. This allows you to see not only the bounce rate on each screen size, but also the amount of sessions your site gets on the various screens. If your bounce rate is much higher on mobile or tablet than desktop, then it’s worth taking a good, hard look at your site in mobile and tablet view and thinking as a user: are pages easy to navigate? Are links easy to click on? Is the site responsive? If the answer is “no” to any of these questions, you will likely need to improve your website’s user experience.
Specific landing pages may also be the culprit. To view your top landing pages, go to Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages. This allows you to see how your homepage stacks up to other landing pages. Oftentimes, we find that the homepage bounce rate is much lower (below 50%), while a specific blog post or job listing, for example, has a very high bounce rate. Users may be finding exactly what they’re looking for via a Google search, reading your content and leaving, which drives your average bounce rate up. While this is not a necessarily a negative (as the user is getting exactly what they’re looking for), you can entice them to continue reading content on your site by adding a list of relevant blog articles or internal links to learn more about your company culture, for example.
Where Else Should I Look in Google Analytics?
There is life (and great data) beyond the Audience > Overview dashboard, and we highly recommend exploring many of the tools and options that await your experimentation. While you could spend days sifting through all of the data Google Analytics provides, below is a list of some of the most useful data to observe and regularly review:
- Traffic Sources: By going to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels, you can view a breakdown of how users come to your site, whether it’s through search engines like Google (“Organic Search”), typing in your URL directly into their browser (“Direct”), links from other sites (“Referral”), or from social media channels (“Social”). Pro tip: click on the pie chart icon on the right to see a more visual breakdown of the percentages.
- Referrals: Referrals, or other sites linking to your site, have a big impact on rankings and SEO. The quality of these links is what truly matters, so it’s important to review the sites that are linking to your site. To view the referrals, go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals.
- Site Content: Since we already went over how to navigate to your top landing pages, you may be wondering which pages of your site have received the most views, overall. Note: a landing page is the page a user entered the site through, while top “Site Content” refers to the site’s top page views, regardless of the user’s entry point. To view the most viewed pages on your site, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
- Geography: Curious as to what part of the world, U.S., or even city your site’s visitors are coming from? Luckily for you, Google Analytics is not afraid to be ever-so-helpfully creepy. Navigate to Audience > Geo > Location to view the top countries. From there, you can drill in deeper by clicking on a specific country, and, from there, even a specific state.
- Social Media: If you’re posting social media links to your site, such as blog posts, career postings, news items and more, then you should be monitoring how much traffic these posts are driving to your site. To do this, go to Acquisition > Social > Overview. From there, you can see a snapshot of all the social media channels that are bringing traffic to your site.
Once you have that down, there is plenty more to discover and track through Google Analytics. To take it to the next level, explore behavior flow, search console and goals and events to help you better understand and track website activity and rankings.
For now, we’ll leave with you the basic-but-essential Google Analytics tips above. By all means, once you have your bearings straight on these, feel free to poke around into the unknown, do a bit of experimentation and get your hands (digitally) dirty in the countless tools that this fantastic service provides. In our industry (and, honestly, any industry), results and goal setting are vital to measuring success and failure. Google has granted us with a priceless tool to help put real numbers to our virtual storefronts.