Understanding Google Analytics, in a nutshell

What Is Google Analytics?

Google Analytics (GA) is a free, powerful data analysis tool that can give you a plethora of information about your website traffic and users. It can answer a myriad of questions about your website and its performance, for example:

– Where are users coming from? – How do they find you? – What do they do once they have found your site? – What kind of devices are they using to access it? – Where do they live? – What are they looking at most? – How many visits have successfully converted into new clients or customers? – Are users getting stuck on certain pages or experiences within the site?

Having these insights can then help you to better evaluate the performance of your content and products. You can use them to identify what’s already working well and areas to improve. Most importantly, they will help you to understand your users, who they are, and how they are interacting with you.

Understanding Google Analytics

Google Analytics: The basic metrics:

Users – A user is a unique individual that visits your website. The number of users reported within a given date range is simply a headcount of all the unique visitors to your site – it does NOT look at how many times they came back, how many pages they went to, or any other specific activity they may have had.

Sessions – Formerly known as Visitors in the GA readout, this represents the number of times that a given user was active on your site. As soon as a user hits your site, a new session is triggered. This sessions ends only after 30 minutes of inactivity, or at midnight. This metric does not distinguish individual users, it’s merely counting the number of sessions engaged by all users. Therefor, a user can have multiple sessions on your site within a given day.

% New Sessions – This is an estimate of first-time visits from users within a date range. If this number is low, then it means that most of your users are returning, having been to your site before. New traffic means you are reaching new users. Ideally, you want to strike a balance between the number of new and returning users that you have – getting new traffic is great, but retaining your other users is important for continual engagement.

Average Session Duration – This tells you how much time people are spending on your site, on average. It is calculated by taking the number of users for a given period of time, and dividing it by the number of sessions.

Pageviews – The number of views to a page on your site. This shows you less about the people visiting and more about the activity being undertaken when they are there. It gives you an indication of what is the most popular content on your site – however, looking at pageviews alone is not enough to get an understanding of how engaged your users are.

Pages per Session – This is the average number of pageviews that occur in a single session. Are users visiting multiple page on your site? Or just one or two? This can provide another clue into how engaged your users are.

Bounce Rate – Google Analytics defines a bounce as a single-page session on your site. Your bounce rate tells you the number of single-page sessions that took place, divided by the number of all sessions. A high bounce rate can indicate problems with individual pages or the site as a whole – perhaps your visitors aren’t finding what they are looking for, or are not enticed to stick around. Conversely, it could mean that they are finding what they need quickly. Digging further into page metrics can help you better interpret this data.


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Slightly more advanced datapoints

While those are some of the more basic metrics offered by GA, their incredible range of data points makes it possible to delve into the data even further. Some other stats and measurements I like to look at when reviewing a site’s analytics, include more details about the users, user flow, and traffic sources.

Browsers – Browser testing is important because your users will use a variety of browser types, and you want to ensure that all of them have the same experience. Understanding the technology being used by your visitors will help you to better troubleshoot bugs and issues, as well as identify opportunities to use new technology.

Traffic from mobile & tablet devices – Additionally, how are they interacting with the site? This can surface areas of opportunity for mobile optimization or advertising.

Traffic sources – Where are your users coming from? Did they find you organically using a search engine? Were they referred to you from another website or social media? Are they coming from marketing and Pay-Per-Click advertising efforts? A healthy website will have a good balance of traffic from search engines, other websites, and direct traffic.

Site referrals – Which sites on the web are sending traffic to your website? Referral traffic can be a great way to learn which external sources are most valuable to you in helping achieve your goals.

Visitor Flow – One thing that Google Analytics can show you is a graphical representation of the pathways that users take through your site – from the source of the traffic, the pages they went to, and where they exited the site. Do users move through your website the way you expected? Are there pages on which they are getting stuck and leaving? This report allows you to compare volumes of traffic coming in from different sources, examine traffic patterns & trends through your site, and troubleshoot the site’s efficacy.

Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of the numbers you see in your Google Analytics reports, and how you can use it to improve your website users’ experience. These basic metrics consist of numbers that are generally easy to understand and interpret. As you get a feel for these metrics and what they mean, you’ll be able to make your way into more advanced metrics and reports that can provide insights on a deeper level.


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