Which metrics matter: What to track in Google Analytics

Google Analytics (GA) can be complicated to navigate if you’re just starting out. I had a hard time figuring out which metrics matter and which are a waste of my time to monitor. After working with a few SaaS businesses and an assessment firm, I put together this post to share what numbers I pay attention to and why.

Which metrics matter: What to track in Google Analytics

First, make sure you connect your GA account with your website. DKS Systems has a guide on how to use GA, which includes some useful screenshots of the setup process.

Audience Overview

When you go to the overview, these are the metrics you see right off-the-bat.

  • Sessions – how many times a visitor interacted with your site.
  • Users – how many visitors have been to your site at least once (usually, the count doesn’t count repeat visits).
  • Pageviews – how many pages were seen on your site.
  • Pages per Session – the average number of pages someone views on your website each visit.
  • Ave Session Duration – how long someone typically stays on your website.
  • Bounce Rate – when someone goes to your website, views one page, then leaves immediately, they raise your bounce rate. This number indicates how many people are leaving your site without looking around first. High bounce rate usually means the quality of your content is low, or you’re targeting the wrong audience.
  • % of New Sessions – the number of first-time visitors to your site compared to overall visitors.

The only metric I look at in this overview is our bounce rate. According to The Rocket Blog, you should be concerned if your bounce rate goes over 70%.

As a rule of thumb, a bounce rate in the range of 26 to 40 percent is excellent. 41 to 55 percent is roughly average. 56 to 70 percent is higher than average, but may not be cause for alarm depending on the website. Anything over 70 percent is disappointing for everything outside of blogs, news, events, etc. – Good, Bad, Ugly, and Average Bounce Rates

If your bounce rate goes over 50%, I recommend taking a closer look at who you’re targeting. Look at your keywords and key phrases, the audience they’re reaching, your website design (UX), and the pages with the highest bounce rates.

If you have a handful of pages with high bounce rates, revamp and improve the content in those pages, or delete them altogether. If you have multiple pages targeting the same keyword or phrase, combine the content into the page with the lowest bounce rate, then 301 redirect the other pages.

Individual pages

In the left-hand sidebar, go to Behavior > Site Content > All Pages. From here, you can filter by URL to find individual pages and dig a little deeper. You can set the dates to look at as well, so if you want to see a page’s performance over the last week you can customize it to show just those dates.

Blog stats | Which metrics matter: What to track in Google Analytics

Here’s what those numbers mean.

  • Pageviews – how many times that page was seen
  • Unique pageviews – how many times that page was seen by unique invidiuals (not someone leaving then returning a little later)
  • Avg. Time on Page – how long people spend on that page
  • Entrances – how many times a visitor entered your site through this page
  • Bounce Rate – single page visits
  • % Exit – how many people left your website right after this page
  • Page Value – (Transaction Revenue + Total Goal Value) / Unique Pageviews

Out of these numbers, I look at bounce rate, % exit, and unique pageviews. These numbers paint a good picture of how effectively you’re reaching your target audience, and how well the content is serving them.

Want to see where those page views are coming from?

Once you get to the page you want, go to Secondary dimension > Acquisition > Source / Medium.

Which metrics matter: What to track in Google Analytics

You’ll be able to see whether the traffic is direct traffic, from social media, or from another website like Inbound.

Where are your referrers coming from?

To find your main source of views, head to the left-hand sidebar. Go to Acquisition > All Traffic > Channels.

Traffic channels | Which metrics matter: What to track in Google Analytics

Here are the metrics I look at on this page;

  • Organic search – from search engines
  • Direct – from a bookmark or typing the URL directly into the search bar
  • Social – from social media
  • Email – from email newsletters, forwarded emails, or your email signature link
  • Referral – from another website (ie. Reddit, GrowthHackers)

High organic search traffic means we’re handling our keyword and phrase strategy well. Our content is getting found via search engines and thanks to our SEO efforts.

I look deeper into the social traffic to see which channels send the most visitors to the blog. If I see Twitter is doing well, I’ll spend a little more time sharing and engaging on that platform.

If we’re getting an unusual number of views from email, it likely means our content was featured in an email newsletter. I narrow by date and Source / Medium (covered above) to find out whether it was our own email newsletter or another.

Digging deeper into referrals shows which outside websites send the most traffic to our content. You can also look at your overall referral sources by going to the sidebar, Acquisition > All Traffic > Referrals.

Referrals | Which metrics matter: What to track in Google Analytics

This metric is a big one, because it shows me where our content does best. It helps me find out where our audience is, and where I should focus more of my efforts on.

The information above tells me I should be looking at audiences on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Flipboard, and LinkedIn. Most of these are social media networks, so I can see our social efforts are doing well.

Keep in mind these are fairly surface-level metrics that I look at as someone who handles the blogs and social media of my clients. If I had a hand in paid advertising, I’d check out PPC. Eventually, I’ll also research deeper into conversion rates and analyzing why certain traffic converts better than other visitors.

Where to learn more about Google Analytics

Some great places to continue learning about GA;

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