It’s been said (on this blog and elsewhere) that Google Analytics can overwhelm website managers with data. When creating a measurement plan, it can be helpful to focus on a few key metrics, at least to get started, and refine your plan as you gain more insights. Here are half a dozen easy-to-understand Google Analytics reports and related metrics to help you formulate a more strategic measurement plan:
1. New vs. Returning Visitors
If your audience behavior report for new vs. return visitors (Audience > Behavior > New vs. Returning) is showing a big jump in new visitors, congratulations. Your website is expanding its reach and putting your brand before more interested people. This report also shows the number of sessions and calculates the average pages per session for new (and returning) visitors. If new visitors are exploring on average 2 or more pages of your site, they’re demonstrating some level of interest – and keeping the corresponding bounce rate (also shown on this report) low.
A jump in the number of returning visitors is another bellwether of good performance. Obviously, these visitors value what your website offers enough to return for another look – it’s the first hint of customer loyalty and deeper engagement. These customers are getting familiar with your website and its services, and getting more comfortable with your brand. They’re more likely to get to the next step along the conversion path than a new visitor.
If you’ve previously established goals, the number of goal completions, their aggregate value, and the goal completion ratio are also shown on this report. Often these statistics will underscore the enhanced value of returning visitors.
2. Bounce Rate
To get a handle on which pages of your site are being viewed most, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages, where you’ll see the page views for all your pages arranged, by default, from higher- to lower-traffic pages. Knowing this key information is valuable in and of itself, but this report also shows the bounce rate for each page.
The bounce rate shows what percentage of one-page sessions that began and ended with the page load – no other interaction with the page was recorded, and no additional pages were clicked to. A high bounce rate can indicate a page needs work: it may be boring, irrelevant, incorrect, or lack a clear call to action to move visitors to the next step in the customer journey.
As long as your on this report, look at that average time on page for pages with a high bounce rate vs. those with lower bounce rates. Notice anything? Pages with high bounce rates show less average time on page because bounces record a zero for time on page. Google can’t calculate the time on the page because there is nothing to record after the initial page load.
To get to the bottom of a high bounce rate, look at bounces from other angles, too:
The Audience Overview report shows the bounce rate for your site (Audience > Overview). Any individual page bounce rate higher than the site average should be looked at more closely.
The Channels report shows the bounce rate for each channel group. Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels to examine the bounce rate.
Below the Channels report on the navigation menu is the Source/Medium report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Source/Medium). This can reveal which sources are sending traffic to your site that results in a bounce. You may notice social media sites refer a higher percentage of bouncers – that’s actually normal, since social media users tend to stay on their social media platform of choice, and take one-stop side-trips for additional information to clarify a post or tweet. Still, there may be ways to reduce the social media referral traffic bounce rate by matching your social media messages to the social media you’re using, and by ensuring each message is 100% relevant to the page your posts and tweets refer to. How others use these channels to refer users to your site is out of your control.
3. Channels Report
Similar to the Source/Medium report, the Channels report (Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels) shows what drives the most, and best, traffic to your site. By default, the report shows traffic from organic search, direct traffic, referrals, social media, email, paid search and more – but it helps to understand how these channels are defined by Google. Direct traffic is an example of a channel commonly misunderstood.
Source exactly matches direct AND
Medium exactly matches (not set)
Medium exactly matches (none)
Medium exactly matches organic
Social Source Referral exactly matches Yes
Medium matches regex ^(social|social-network|social-media|sm|social network|social media)$
Medium exactly matches email
Medium exactly matches affiliate
Medium exactly matches referral
Medium matches regex ^(cpc|ppc|paidsearch)$
Ad Distribution Network does not exactly match Content
Medium matches regex ^(cpv|cpa|cpp|content-text)$
Medium matches regex ^(display|cpm|banner)$
Ad Distribution Network exactly matches Content
(unavailable) or (other)
Sessions don’t match any channel description
It’s helpful to view the Channels report in comparison to a previous period to get a sense of how your traffic patterns are evolving. Pay attention to the acquisition, behavior and conversion metrics to gain a clearer picture of these trends.
4. Mobile Overview, Devices Report
More mobile users than ever are visiting your website, and your Mobile Overview report (Audience > Mobile > Overview) likely says as much. That shouldn’t be surprising, since there are now more mobile devices surfing the web than desktops. In the overview report, the Acquisition, Behavior and Conversion metrics take on new significance, since any big performance decline on mobile compared to desktop is a flashing red light demanding immediate action.
If you see such a performance difference, go to the Mobile Devices report, directly below the Mobile Overview report on the left side navigation panel. This report could shed light on which mobile platforms are having the most difficulty in reaching goal completion, incurring the highest bounce rates or viewing the least pages. To answer why this might be the case for a particular device will require some additional exploration and experimentation.
5. Landing Pages
This is the report (Behavior > Site Content > Landing Pages) that shows where people enter your website. It’s easy to think your customers naturally come to your site through the home page, just as they enter your brick-and-mortar location through the front door. Yes, your home page is probably the highest-traffic landing page on your site – but ANY page can be a landing page if users are referred to your site through it.
By default, the report is arranged by landing page sessions, highest to lowest. It can be helpful to sort it instead by Bounce Rate (highest to lowest) to identify high-traffic landing pages that aren’t engaging enough for visitors to continue browsing. Take a close look at these pages to see what may be disrupting the customer journey.
6. Conversion Goals Overview
Your website must have defined goals to make use of this report. Many goals can be defined simply as views of a thank-you or confirmation page displayed following a completed purchase or sign-up. Others can be based on on-page actions (called “events”), spending a predetermined amount of time on the website, or viewing a specified number of pages during a visit. Defining specific actions or destination pages as goals helps you track your progress toward goal completion in many Google Analytics reports, providing useful context to them.
The Goals Overview report gives a snapshot of all defined goals with the number of goal completions, their aggregate value, the goal conversion rate, and even the abandonment rate (if funnels have also been defined). You can drill down into individual goals, too. This helps you see how successful you’ve been at achieving a specific goal over time.
These are some basic reports, most of which are provided in the default configuration of Google Analytics. The Google Solutions Gallery (sign-in required) can help you take your analytics further with custom reports, dashboards and segments. These crowdsourced resources provide some useful tools to bring your analytics to the next level.
6 Google Analytics Essentials
was written by me, Greg Norton – also known as webzenkai. I’ve got more than two decades’ experience building effective websites and powerful email campaigns that yield results. Feel free to contact me regarding this article or anything else you find on this website.