Understanding Analytics: Audience
Welcome to Understanding Analytics, a multi-part overview series to understanding the main metrics of Google Analytics on a basic level. The first part of this series will cover the Audience section of Google Analytics.
This series is a basic overview of Google Analytics for bloggers and small creative business owners (so probably not ecommerce). If you do not yet have Google Analytics setup and verified on your site. Take a step back and get that setup first. I go over the basics for how to add the tracking code on each of the major blogging platforms here.
Once you’re all set up, continue reading for an overview of understanding the Audience section of Google Analytics.
In most cases, Audience Overview will be your main dashboard. These are the important metrics you’re probably most used to seeing (the ones that show up in basic analytics that come with you dashboard on WordPress.com/Jetpack or in the analytics portion of Squarespace), and the ones that will most likely give you a clear overview of how you’re doing on first glance.
Sessions: This is your traffic metric or the number of visits you get to your site within the given period of time. This includes all sessions (all entrances) on your site, including people who have returned after a previous visit.
Users: This is the total number of unique users who have viewed your website within the given period of time. Google determines unique users through cookies, so someone who deletes cookies or visits your site from a different browser or device will be counted as a new user each time. This is something to keep that in mind before you place too much value in this metric.
Page Views: This is the number of pages that are viewed within a given period of time. Each blog post counts as a different page, and if you have infinite scroll setup on your page, Google will count each new load as another page. This also counts repeated views of a single page. For example, if someone arrives on your home pages, clicks to your about page, and then returns to your home page, that counts as three page views.
Pages Per Session: Closely linked to page views, pages per session gives you an idea of the average number of pages viewed within one session or visit to your website (how many blog posts and pages a single viewer reads). Again, this does count repeated views of a page.
Average Session Duration: This tells you the average amount of time a visitor spends on your site. In most cases, the longer someone spends on your site, the better for you (it means they’re interested in what you have to say/you product!).
Bounce Rate: This is the one metric you generally* want to see go DOWN. Bounce rate is the rate at which people leave your site from the same page they arrived—presumably because they don’t like what they see, the site is not functioning properly, or it isn’t what they thought they were clicking due to a misleading title or keyword search.
*Alternatively, a user may bounce from your site if they were simply visiting to find your contact information and immediately saw it on that same page and didn’t need anything else from there OR if you have a single-page website. The exceptions to this metric are extremely complicated to explain, so look for another post I’ll be writing specifically about Bounce Rate.
New Sessions (or % New Sessions): This is an estimate of the number (or % of total sessions) of new visitors to your site. Depending on your goals, you’ll want a healthy mix of old visitors who love your site and are returning for more, but you always want to see new sessions as well to get in front of new faces. Again, as with Users, depending on cookie deletion and device/browser switching, this metric can be skewed.
Typically, the Audience Overview dashboard will be all you need to see for the purposes of your blog or website, but if you want to look a little deeper, take a look at some of the other items in the navigation sidebar under Audience…
Geo Language + Location: This shows the language your visitors speak and the location (filter by country, city, continent, and sub continent) from which they’re viewing your site. This is an important metric if you are a location-based business or blogger, and mostly just a fun thing to see otherwise (look, Mom! People are reading my blog all the way over in China!).
This can also give you a clue to understanding some of those earlier metrics. For example, I have several posts about the Camino de Santiago, which is a Spanish term about a pilgrimage in Spain. As such, sometimes I attract spanish speakers to my blog. The bounce rate for spanish speakers is high because many of them probably don’t read English.
Behavior (New vs. Returning, Frequency & Recency, Engagement)
New vs. Returning: This section helps you compare the behaviors of new visitors versus returning visitors. For example, this is useful to compare your bounce rate between new vs. returning visitors. If returning visitors bounce, it’s usually not because they disliked your site because they obviously already came back. Likely it’s because they had bookmarked just one page of your site or came back to read just one blog post.
Frequency & Recency: This shows how often the visitors come to your website and how many days go between each visit.
Engagement: This shows how long visitors spend on your site broken up into time increments (keep in mind Google categorizes anyone who only visits one page as between 0-10 seconds. If you’re a blogger, the 0-10 second range will probably be fairly high for this reason), and how many pages they visit within a session.
Technology (Browser & OS + Network): This is an interesting and important metric to make sure your website is functioning for how people are viewing your site. If you see that your bounce rate is incredibly high for a certain OS, for example, it might mean the design of your site does not function properly for that OS.
Mobile (Overview + Devices): Similarly to technology, this metric gives you an idea of how your main audience is viewing your site. Hint: if you have an audience viewing your site on a mobile device or tablet (hello, it’s 2015…you do), then make sure your website is mobile responsive.
Benchmarking (Channels, Location, Devices): This allows you to compare your metrics against similar business and websites based on industry, location, and average number of daily sessions.
User Flow: This is a fun visual to play with based on certain filters to see how visitors interact with your site, which pages they typically visit after their initial landing page, or which pages they typically leave on. This is a great way to visually see how calls to action, internal linking, and navigation menu structures are working for you.
Not covered in this post
Demographics & Interests: These metrics are considered part of the “Advertiser” features of Analytics. For the general readers of this post, this metric would not necessarily apply and would require a modification on the web property setting as well as a modification of the tracking code. This may be a topic I will cover at a later time.
Active Users & Cohort Analysis: These are two metrics that are still in the beta testing phase. I’ll come back and update this post once Google has fully integrated these into its Analytics.
Custom (Custom Variables + User Defined): This is for creating custom reports in your analytics to measure specific occurrences not covered in other sections.
Next week we’ll be moving onto the next session: Acquisition. This section shows you how visitors find you/arrive at your site.
Did I miss anything? Need me to break anything down further? Is something still unclear? Is this helpful? Send me a message! Your question could be my next blog post!