How to Use Google Analytics: Best Metrics & Reports
Google Analytics has become the industry standard for measuring website traffic and business performance. This article will teach you the basics of Google Analytics reports such ABC (Acquisition - Behavior - Conversion), Dimensions vs. Metrics, common KPIs and more. If you haven’t done so, make sure to read How to Set up Google Analytics: Getting Started to set up your account and get access to the reports.
Before we dig in, it is important to have an understanding of some basic terminology you will find in Google Analytics. In particular, there are two building blocks that are important—dimensions and metrics. Dimensions describe data. For example, a geographic location can be described by coordinates, zip code, city or country. These are all dimensions. A value for a city dimension could be Chicago, Los Angeles or New York. Dimensions appear throughout reports and can be added or applied to organize, segment and analyze your data. Some examples of dimensions in Google Analytics include geographic locations, demographics, traffic sources, landing pages and more. Metrics measure data. They are individual elements of a dimension that are measured by a sum or a ratio. For example, a city dimension could be associated with a population metric that measures the sum of all residents in a given city. In other words, for a Chicago dimension, a population of 2.8 million would be its metric. Some examples of metrics in Google Analytics include number of visits, pages per visit, conversion rate, bounce rate, etc. All reports in Google Analytics maintain default dimensions and metrics. However, in order to get the most from your reports and to achieve a more in-depth analysis, you will need to apply additional dimensions and metrics. If you want more tips on how to use Google Analytics metrics, get our free guide, How to Measure Your Website Metrics with Google Analytics.
What Analytics Reports Should I Be Looking at?
As I previously argued in the article How to Measure Your Website’s Performance: Best Metrics & KPIs, your primary focus should be on KPIs that are vital to reaching your website's goal. When using Google Analytics or any other analytics tool, you will see dozens of reports showing various data. How do you know which KPIs are important for your website? Good starting points are your SMART website objectives. Review your objectives and methods for reaching these objectives, then work in reverse—from the desired result, backward. For example, if your website's overall objective is to increase the number of leads, you should focus on your website’s effectiveness in converting visitors to quality leads in relation to the total amount of traffic your website gets.
Let's look at some of the most common KPIs and how they are used to measure your website's progress toward various objectives. We will use Google Analytics as an example, referencing Google Analytics Reports. Similar reports and terminology are available in other analytics programs as well.
Acquisition - Behavior - Conversion (ABC)
Google Analytics clusters data and reports based on ABC's: Acquisition (amount of traffic to your website), Behavior (level of engagement on your website) and Conversions (effectiveness of your website in converting visitors to customers or leads). You will identify this Acquisition - Behavior - Conversion (ABC) breakdown in many reports throughout Google Analytics. Audience is also a larger component of Google Analytics, but AABCs doesn’t make as much sense, so we will focus on ABC's: Acquisition, Behavior and Conversions:
Why ABC's Are the Most Important KPIs?
We described the importance of measuring KPIs that are vital in achieving your website's SMART business objectives. Regardless of your website's specific objectives, measuring the Acquisition - Behavior - Conversion (ABC) cycle will be crucial to reaching them, and here is why:
- Acquisition measures traffic to your website and tells you how your website acquires visitors.
- Behavior tells you how effective your website is at engaging visitors; it also points out what pages they view and the actions they take on the website
- Conversion tracks the effectiveness of your website in persuading website visitors to take desirable action.
A conversion is the completion of an activity on your website that is important to your business' success. Tacking conversions ultimately measures your website's overall business performance.
"Conversion" is typically the most important metric for showing whether or not your website is on track for meeting your SMART business objectives. Conversions usually refer to sales (checkouts), leads (in the form of completed Contact Us forms), user registrations, and other actions users take that measure your website's effectiveness in persuading them to take the desired action. For the complete guide to website KPIs, download our free guide, How to Measure Your Website Metrics with Google Analytics.
Acquisition Reports & KPIs
Without traffic, your website is dead weight in the digital space. Regardless of the level of effectiveness your website has, it cannot fulfill its mission if there are no visitors. This is why you must track the following Acquisition KPIs:
Sessions & Users
Users measures the number of unique visitors to your website. Sessions shows how many visits there were (non-unique). Both Users and Sessions show how effective your marketing is in generating traffic by bringing people to the website. You want the traffic to your website to be consistent and increasing over time. A large amount of traffic can always be converted into leads, sales or other forms of revenue. However, it is also about the quality of traffic, not only quantity. We will focus on this later in the article.
New Sessions (%) estimates the percentage of first-time visits. It is the ratio of unique visitors to returning visitors. You have to look at this number in the context of what is happening and what you are trying to accomplish. A high percentage of new users may be a good sign that your new marketing campaign is producing results by drawing in new visitors. However, a high percentage may also represent a substantial base of one-time visitors which could mean you are not building a loyal following or generating residual traffic to your website. New Sessions is the number of first-time visits (people who had never visited your site before). To learn more about various Google Analytics traffic acquisition reports and what they mean, download the our free guide, Measure Website Audience & Acquisition with Google Analytics.
Behavior Reports & KPIs
Behaviors are best thought of as a path toward a goal. Behavior KPIs inform you of users’ behaviors on your website. This insight is crucial to ensuring optimal user experience and improving it over time in order to maximize conversions. Following are a few basic behavior KPIs you should track:
Bounce Rate is a metric that shows the percentage of single-page visits (i.e., people who leave the website quickly after visiting only the first page). These users didn't proceed anywhere from the landing page. This number needs to remain low. If you have a high bounce rate, it usually means one of two things:
- Your website is ineffective in capturing and engaging visitors. It is not user-centric or user-friendly. This can also mean there’s a “turnoff” that causes a visitor to lose interest.
- Your website is attracting the wrong audience. Your visitors may be seeking something else and they abandon your site when they realize it is not exactly what they want.
Pages per Sessions
Pages per Session shows the average number of pages people view during their visit. The higher this number, the more effective your website is in promoting the view of additional pages on your site.
Average Session Duration
Average Session Duration reveals the visit duration or the average amount of time visitors spend on your site per visit. This also provides a level-of-engagement indicator. However, there is a flip side to this metric and the Pages per Session metric. A high number may represent a problem. For example, if your website visitors hit several pages or spend an inordinate amount of time on the website, it may mean they can't easily find what they are seeking. It is imperative that you analyze this metric in the context of your website and discern what it actually represents. Is it good that more pages are visited and more time is spent on the website? It depends on the pages. For example, if visitors spend a lot of time reading multiple articles on your blog, that's great. Your website is performing well! However, if you are observing the same behavior in the checkout process of your e-commerce component, this may be an area of concern. Perhaps the checkout process is laborious and unnecessarily complicated.
Measuring Goal Conversions with Google Analytics A conversion is the completion of an activity on your website that is important to your business' success. As previously described, tracking conversions ultimately measures your website's overall business performance. Google Analytics tracks conversions using a function called Goals so they require separate setup. In the next post, I'll show you how to set up tracking of goals using Google Analytics and help interpret the reports. Next post: How to Set Up Google Analytics Goals and Conversion Tracking