In 2019, almost everyone knows how to Google. And, it would be reasonable for any business that is implementing a solid SEO strategy to expect their website to return higher results in the search engine results.
However, even more valuable than someone Googling your website is understanding more about the visitors to your website. The how, why, and from where your website visitors appeared can give you ideas on where to focus your energy and attention to attract more quality traffic. Also, to ensure that your SEO strategy (mentioned above) is actually a solid one.
All of that information is essential to maximizing your website's SEO performance. SEO, aka Search Engine Optimization, is the magic word that every web owner wants to conjure up and control; this is because Search Engine Optimization is exactly what its name implies: obtaining search results where your website shows at the top (or as close to the pinnacle) of Google for keywords related to your content.
A simple example is a website sharing Italian recipes: wouldn't it be nice if someone typed "doctors near me" in Google and your website popped up as the very first listing from Google? Good SEO can help you get there, and understanding Google Analytics is a huge step towards optimizing your website for the best Google results.
Google Analytics Basics
First, the good news about Google Analytics: it is absolutely free!
Signing up is as easy as providing your website URL. You will need install some code on your website, but once implemented, it continually monitors your website activity and provides up-to-the-minute information (okay, there's a five-minute delay) on your command.
When you request a report, there are various metrics that can be analyzed; a metric is a measure of an activity, such as the number of visitors to your site during a given period (i.e., a month). Sounds like a valuable metric to know, doesn't it? Sure it is, but wouldn't it be more beneficial to know:
- Who are these visitors?
- Where did they come from?
- How long did they stay?
- What areas of your website did they visit?
Google Analytics Metrics You Should Understand
There are a lot of metrics that Google can provide, but it can be overwhelming for beginners. It's better to start with some core metrics that every web owner should understand; these seven metrics from Google Analytics provide valuable information that will help you improve and refine your SEO strategy.
This metric is the central focus of SEO and Google Analytics; it tracks each person browsing your website. Technically, a user is identified by using a unique browser cookie and remembered for future visits, which will be attributed to the same user each time.
A user could be counted more than once if your site is accessed through multiple devices (e.g., first using their mobile device, then their tablet, and finally a laptop would be seen as three users). You can overcome this through the user ID feature which can then track the same person across multiple device where they have identified themselves.
According to Google, a session is "a group of user interactions with your website that take place within a given time frame." This delivers a broad overview of a site visitor: it can include multiple page views, ecommerce transactions, events, and social interactions.
A session lasts as long as the user remains on your website, expiring only under these circumstances:
- There has been no activity by the user for 30 minutes (you can change this setting by adjusting your session settings); if a user enters, spends 5 minutes, leaves, and re-enters 20 minutes later, it is the same session because the same user has been active within a 30-minute period (exiting and entering a website are both activities)
- When it turns midnight (in local user's timezone); if a user visits your site at 11:55 PM and stays for 10 minutes (until 12:05 AM, next day), this is considered two sessions
- If a user enters the site twice, but through different links (usually advertising campaigns with unique link-tracking), each entrance is considered one session; if the user clicks an ad and then leaves, and then opens the site again from another ad, the second advertiser would be paid if the user generated revenue on the site
This metric lets you see how well your site holds the interest of real visitors (as compared to the hit-and-run type of user).
3. Average Session Duration
Google defines an average session duration as the "total duration of all sessions (in seconds) / number of sessions." While viewing a user session can offer insights of one activity, it is much more helpful to look at a span of time, measuring the average session duration of all your users.
Here is how Google calculates the average session duration:
- To start, set a time frame for your snapshot - assume the last 7 days
- Google adds up all the time each visitor spent on your website - assume 2,000 minutes
- Google counts the number of user sessions during the same time period - assume 500 users
- Divide minutes by users to get the average session duration - here, the average session duration is 4 minutes (2,000 minutes divided by 500 users)
The average session duration offers an excellent picture of how much time your users are spending on your website. This is more helpful than studying bounce rates (bounce rates tells you the percentage of users visiting just one page). Plus, Google excludes all bounces from the average session duration. You only see true visitors and their time involvement, filtering out swift surfers joyriding on your website.
4. Pages per Visit
This metric is one of the main building blocks you need for generating insightful reports about your users behavior. Also referred to by Google as pages per session, this top-level metric measures user engagement; higher numbers mean more page views on each visit.
Using the same assumptions as the example above (500 users over 7 days), and adding one new piece of data (assuming 1,500 total page views over 7 days), your pages per visit for the last week would be 3 (1,500 pages divided by 500 users).
5. Traffic Sources
Organic food may be good for you, but organic traffic is the best thing for the growth of your website. You can't buy organic traffic, and therefore, it's the most solid traffic anyone can ask for because it typically indicated that searchers are interested in your website content.
This is not to say that Google Ads or other paid advertising is not worth the money; they often deliver stellar returns for website owners. In fact, having strong organic search results plays a role in purchasing paid ads; therefore, it becomes one of (if not THE) most important factors of your website.
This metric is made of multiple dimensions (source, medium, keyword, campaign, and content), which Google explains in greater detail.
6. Top Pages
As your website grows, so do the number of pages. You may imagine that your home page gets the most visits (this is often true), but direct links to other pages skip the home page entry; knowing which pages are attracting traffic gives you all kinds of clues about how you can improve other areas of your website to draw more users.
Another idea is to study your top ten pages in Real Time reports to see what they have in common and if that can be emulated on other pages.
Also, add internal links on your top pages, pointing users where you want them to go.
Does it matter on which device your latest user found you? You bet it does!
This information allows you to tailor your marketing efforts to match your users' tech demographics. If you see a lot of Apple users, make sure your website accommodates them, particularly by including your apps (if any) in the Apple Store. If you are surprised at the unexpected amount of mobile traffic, this tips you off to start or boost your mobile campaigns. Google's overview on devices is explained in the Cross Device reports.
Related Read: How to be Sure That You Have a Mobile-Friendly Website
There is much more to Google Analytics, but grasping these seven metrics is the first step to understanding and improving your SEO efforts and results.