To get real value out of your analytics, it’s important to understand what your analytics have the potential to tell you. And before that full potential can be realized, it is often necessary to start with the very basics. Remember that analytics are just numbers that represent events on your website. Knowing what those events signal about potential problems on your site, and where to go from there, is up to you.
Unless of course, you hire a company like us to help you make your website better. Regardless of whether or not you hire someone to help you interpret your analytics, it’s a good idea to make sure you have a firm understanding of what each reported metric represents in terms of your website or business. Of course, many of our readers are already proficient in analytics definitions, but for those of you still new to analytics, this post provides a list of definitions here for the “Visitor” section of reporting, and explores what each metric might be trying to tell you.
The Visitors Overview Report provides you with some general information about the visitors that come to your site, such as how many there are and how they interact with the site. You can access the view by clicking on the “Visitors” selection in the Dashboard menu of your Google Analytics account. Below is a sample screenshot of how the “Visitors Overview” screen looks. The “Visitors Overview” features metrics for site visits, absolute unique visitors, pageviews, average pageviews, time on site, bounce rate, and new visits. Let’s go through each metric to break down what it means and what the data could possibly be telling you.
What it Means: Provides you with the total number of visits to your site for a given period. The time frame is shown in the upper right-hand side of the active window and can be changed by clicking on the arrow to the right of the current dates, and selecting new start and end dates from the calendar.
What it Tells You: This provides you with a general overview of how well your site is being promoted. This can be affected by changes in your marketing efforts such as PPC, SEO and offline marketing.
Absolute Unique Visitors
What it Means: Absolute unique visitors accounts for the number of distinct people who come to your website during a particular time period by counting each visit only once within a selected date range. It recognizes the uniqueness of a visitor by using cookies. Since this number is calculated using cookies, you should be aware that this number could be affected by users deleting their cookies anytime within the date range selected.
What it Tells You: This can help you to get a more accurate representation of how many individuals visit the site, how often they are coming back and what pages they view on the site.
What it Means: Total number of pages viewed on your site, as triggered by the Analytics tracking code. This takes into account when a visitor refreshes the page or navigates away from a page and returns to it within the same session – each of these will be counted as a separate pageview.
What it Tells You: This number doesn’t necessarily help to give you an understanding of your site’s performance, but can be a measure of traffic load information for server purposes.
What it Means: Represents the average of number of pages viewed per visit on your site during the time period. It’s determined by dividing the total number of page views within a time frame by the total number of visits for that same time frame.
What it Tells You: This number can give you some indication of how qualified your site traffic is or how effective your site content is. If you have a high number of average pageviews, then this can be an indication that visitors are interacting with your site. This can be the result of targeted traffic landing on your site, having effective content on the site, or a combination of both. However, if the average pageviews are low, the reverse is true. In that case you will want to review your traffic sources and if the content on your site is meeting prospects’ expectations.
Time on Site
What it Means: Measures the average amount of time spent on your site per visit.
What it Tells You: If there is a high time on site then this may be telling you that prospects are engaged with the site content. This can be used as a measure of visit quality for your potential prospects. Similarly, a low number here tells you the same thing as a low number for average pageviews: take action by reviewing your traffic sources and site content for scent and relevance. Note: high time on site could also reveal potential usability issues on your site. If people can’t easily accomplish their task(s), time on site will be high. You want time on site to be “in the middle;” too low is a problem and too high is also potentially a problem.
What it Means: Often confused with exit rates, the bounce rate actually measures the percentage of visitors that leave your site from the first page they land on (i.e. their entrance page, or landing page).
What it Tells You: If you have a high bounce rate, this could likely be an indication that the content on a landing page is not relevant for your visitors or that there is a loss of scent from the ad copy to the landing page. Analytics Evangelist and author Avinash Kaushik jokes that bounce rate means “I came, I puked, I left.”
What it Means: New visits shows the percentage of visits (sessions) to the site that have landed on the site for the first time (vs. repeat/return visits) during the same period.
What it Tells You: This metric tells you about your success/failure in bringing new prospects to your site (via your marketing efforts) with the hopes of converting them. In order to grow your online business, you’ll need to acquire traffic that is “new,” but remember that cookie deletion impacts this number, so use it as a proxy, not an exact number. Also keep in mind that there’s nothing wrong with “Return Visitors,” as they often convert better, buy more, etc.
Each of these metrics just skims the top layer of all the site performance data available to you through your Google Analytics account, but is useful for highlighting some of your core problems and determining where it is prudent for you to dig deeper. For instance, a low time on site in combination with a high average page views may indicate that visitors are bouncing around your site a lot and aren’t successfully finding the information they seek. You can start to triage that problem by looking into your site navigation. But that certainly shouldn’t be the end of your efforts.