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Google Analytics 101: Basic Metrics and Reports

Two weeks ago, I wrote the first part of this series titled Google Analytics 101: Get Started in 3 Steps. Those tips should work with anyone using a website builder, or who built there site from scratch. I'm going to assume that every single person who read that blog post installed Google Analytics on their website immediately, right? Jokes aside, if you did set it up and you've waited a couple of days or weeks for the data to start rolling in, now's a good time to learn about some basic metrics and reports that every user should look at.


Google Analytics Basic Metrics and Reports
As I've mentioned before, Google Analytics is a bit daunting to new users. But the wealth of information you get far outweighs the learning curve. It's definitely worth a little bit of your time, and I'll walk you through the steps. Here are a few simple things I'll cover that will help you better understand your website traffic:
  1. Basic Google Analytics metrics
  2. Website performance overview report
  3. Main traffic sources report
  4. Top landing pages report

Note: If you haven't set up a Google Analytics account yet or connected it to your website, start with my first post. It will get you started in three easy steps.


1. Basic metrics to track in Google Analytics

If you're just getting started with Google Analytics, the most important metrics to track are sessions, users, pageviews, pages per session, average session duration, bounce rate, and percent of new sessions. There are many other metrics that you can add or view in the future, but for now I recommend starting with these.


Here's a basic, non-technical breakdown (or so I hope!) of what each of these metrics mean:

  • Sessions: the number of times visitors are actively engaged on your website. Generally speaking, every visitor has at least one "session" when they visit your site, but they could have multiple depending on the circumstances.

  • Users: the number of visitors that have at least one session on your website. This number is more accurate in telling you how many "individual" people visited your website.

  • Pageviews: the total number of pages people visited on your website. Assuming you have multiple pages on your website, you'll want this number to be higher than the number of sessions.

  • Pages per Session: the average number of pages viewed during a session on your website. More pages per session means that users are more engaged and exploring more of your site.

  • Average Session Duration: the average length of visitors' sessions. Again, longer sessions indicate that users are more engaged.

  • Bounce Rate: the percent of visits that are single-page only (i.e. people who visit one page and leave). Usually a high bounce rate is a sign that people are leaving your site (or a certain page) because they aren't finding what they are looking for.

  • Percent of New Sessions: an average percentage of first-time visitors on your website. Ideally, a good website will have a solid mix of new and returning visitors.

Thankfully, Google Analytics includes these metrics in one simple website performance "Overview" tab. Let me show how to find this.


2. How to get an overview of your website performance in Google Analytics

The best way to track your success as a website is by comparing your traffic over time. As more time passes and you collect more data, you'll be able to compare results from month to month, quarter to quarter, and year to year. Let me show how to find an "Overview" of your website performance (with all of the metrics above) and how you go about comparing data over time:


1. Log into your Google Analytics account.
2. Select "All Web Site Data" (i.e. MAIN VIEW).
3. You'll immediately be taken to the "Audience Overview" tab within the Google Analytics reporting section.
4. Set the data range in the top right corner to your desired time period.
5. Select the "Compare to" tab.
6. Select "Previous period."
7. Hit "Apply."


Google Analytics traffic over time Here’s how to compare traffic over time.


Google Analytics Audience Overview Tab Here's what the "Audience Overview" tab looks like.

Within this overview tab, you'll want to pay attention to each of the metrics on a regular basis. On a very basic level, these are your engagement metrics. So to start, you'll want to make sure that your sessions, users, and pageviews continue to increase over time. You'll also want to see the majority of your visitors going to more than one page per session, especially if you continue to add new pages. You'll want to see your average session duration increase over time, so you know that visitors are really engaging with your content. And you'll want to see that your percent of new sessions increases while maintaining a steady number of returning visitors, as it indicates that your site and your content are reaching new people on the web but also bringing repeat visitors.


Of all of these metrics, the one that you don't want to see go up is your bounce rate. Depending on your industry and website, a healthy bounce rate should not be above 70-80%. If it is, it's clear that your visitors are not happy with your website, and you'll need to look into finding some tips for improving your web design. If you don't see an uptick in traffic from week to week (or month to month), I suggest you work on your search engine optimization.


3. How to find your main traffic sources in Google Analytics

Another important report that all website owners should pay attention to is traffic sources. For newer websites, you'll likely only see four sources of traffic:

  • Direct traffic: visitors who arrive to your website by typing your URL into their browser or via a bookmark.

  • Organic trafic: visitors who arrive to your website from a search engine.

  • Referral traffic: visitors who arrive to your website from another website that has linked to you.

  • Social traffic: visitors who arrive to your website from a social media network.

However, whether or not you see more sources of traffic will depend on your SEO and marketing efforts. Here's how you can find your main traffic sources from within Google Analytics:


1. Log into your Google Analytics account.
2. Select "All Web Site Data" (i.e. MAIN VIEW).
3. You'll immediately be taken to the "Audience Overview" tab within the Google Analytics reporting section.
4. Select the "Acquisition" tab on the left navigation bar.
5. Select the "Overview" tab.
6. Adjust the date range in the top right corner based on your preferences.
7. Hit "Apply."


Google Analytics Acquisition Overview Tab Here’s what the “Acquisition Overview” tab looks like.

There's no rule for how much traffic should come from each individual traffic source. But it's my opinion that new websites should have a healthy mix of all types. If you see too much traffic from one source, you'll likely want to do research on improving some of the other traffic sources. For organic search and referral traffic, you can start by working on building high-quality links. For social referral traffic, you'll want to improve your social media strategy. I would suggest focusing on your Twitter strategy to start.


4. How to discover where your visitors land first using Google Analytics

One of the other main reports that you should track when you first build a website is "Landing Pages." This report will show you exactly which of your webpages your visitors come to first. Paying attention to visitor metrics on landing pages will help you understand whether the content of your pages matches what the visitor is looking for. For instance, if you see a high bounce rate (e.g. 90%) on one of your top landing pages, then you may want to adjust the content on that page. High bounce rates can mean many things, but in most cases, it means that visitors aren't happy with the webpage they've landed on. And so they leave.


Here's how to see your top landing pages:


1. Log into your Google Analytics account.
2. Select "All Web Site Data" (i.e. MAIN VIEW).
3. You'll immediately be taken to the "Audience Overview" tab within the Google Analytics reporting section.
4. Select the "Behavior" tab on the left navigation bar.
5. Select the "Site Content" tab.
6. Select the "Landing Pages" tab.
7. Adjust the date range in the top right corner based on your preferences.
8. Hit "Apply."


Google Analytics Landing Pages Tab Here’s what the “Landing Pages” tab looks like.

You'll immediately see a list of all of the top pages on your website that visitors land on first. Hubspot has a wonderful infographic that will give you a few ideas of how to decrease your bounce rate. If you're seeing high bounce rates on any or all of your pages, then you'll want to spend the additional time it takes to fix these pages.


Tracking progress over time

There you have it: three basic reports that you can run in Google Analytics. Now the sky is really the limit with what you can do with this information, and as you get more familiar with the tool, you can explore more possibilities. But for now, I recommend taking this information and using it to see which pages you can potentially improve, which traffic sources you can focus on, and how users are currently using your site. Then, as you make improvements, you can track your progress and see the effects over time.


Jesse Modoono

SEO Hero Agency


 Jesse is a proud Jimdo alumnus with a focus on SEO and content marketing. Born in Colombia, raised in the USA, and currently residing in Germany, Jesse runs the SEO Hero Agency, a digital marketing firm. In his free time, Jesse enjoys trying new restaurants, planning his next vacation, and reading Russian literature.