“What should I track in Google Analytics?” That’s a common question when I help new clients with their Google Analytics accounts. And my reply – which I’m sure is frustrating – is “That depends”. The amount of data available is overwhelming and I encourage people to not track every single number. Instead I suggest a few metrics that are important for all website owners while also reminding people that they are only numbers. It’s up to us as marketers to decide what to do with those numbers.
New vs. Returning Visitors
If there are a lot of returning visitors on your site, it implies your website is interesting enough for people to come back and see what’s new – whether it’s content or products. It could also indicate that your social media efforts or email newsletters are doing a good job of bringing people back when you view this metrics in the context of traffic source. If there are a lot of new visitors, that’s a good sign that your branding campaigns are doing well. New brands need to use multiple channels to become known so a large new visitor count is an especially useful metric to monitor.
Session duration vs. Pages per session
Session duration is the period of time visitors are engaged with a website. I’m not a fan of this metric because of how much multitasking people do when they get online. Visitors may pull up your website and then get distracted. They open another tab on their browser so it appears there is still a session on your website but it’s not meaningful interaction because the site visitor ended up doing something else on another site. Or after pulling up your website, visitors leave the office to get a cup of coffee. Google is still tracking a session even though the person is not even in front of the computer. My preference with most sites I manage is to look at the pages per session instead of duration. Do people only visit one or two pages of a site and leave? A content-heavy site will want to see visitors scrolling through several pages as an indicator that the content is interesting and it’s a more meaningful number to track.
Bounce rate is the number that makes a lot of people very uncomfortable. When there is a bounce, it means that someone viewed a single page and left right away. But before determining whether that’s a good thing or a bad thing, think about the purpose of the page that they bounced from. There are still some smaller businesses that have websites that are brochure-ware. By that, I mean there it’s just giving them a web presence to show their address and phone number. For that type of business, if I were to visit their site to get the phone number or the address before leaving the site, then that bounce rate isn’t a bad thing because I got what I needed. The problem would be if the bounce happens a lot on a lead generation page. If I come to your website and see your lead generation form has ten fields to fill out to download your white paper, I’m going to leave because I do not want to share that much information. Seeing a bounce rate here could mean that you need to modify your lead generation form to have fewer fields; perhaps trimming it down to name and email address only. However, if there are only a couple fields on the form, it could be an issue with the usability of the page or perhaps the offer isn’t very clear. These metrics are a starting point, but you have to do the work of determining how they apply.
In every training I do with clients, I always remind people that the best benchmark for all of their Google Analytics data is their own site. Obviously this won’t be meaningful for a brand new site, but over time there will be enough data for comparison. For example, is 1,000 visitors a day a good number or a bad number? For sites that were only receiving 200 or so visitors a day, a trend of 1,000 visitors is a positive thing. But for sites that regularly see 10,000 visitors a day and drop down to 1,000, which indicates a problem. Always look at your numbers in context and start with the most basic question of all – “What do I want people to do on my website that will help drive revenue?” – And let that drive your decision of what to track.