“I know I should be looking at Google Analytics, but I don’t know where to start!” Does this sound like you? Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. It’s the response I most often get from small business owners when I ask this dreaded question. And I completely understand why!
Believe me, I spent hours working out what I should be looking at, and what it all meant when my partner and I started our e-commerce business, Animal Outfitters. It’s a complete minefield. So I’m not surprised that many small business owners don’t bother accessing google analytics, let alone knowing what to look at and how to interpret all that data.
So I’m going to save you a ton of effort by sharing some key metrics that are really important and informative for your business without overwhelming you.
Why use Google Analytics?
You are probably thinking – what’s the big deal, why is this so important anyway? My website host looks after everything for me. Sadly, that’s not the case, it’s your job to know whether your online presence is driving your business forward. Here are six reasons you need to look at Google Analytics if you are serious about succeeding. Google Analytics can help you:
- Understand the performance and effectiveness of your website
- Pin-point where you need to improve your website
- Understand what your prospects and customers look like
- Learn how people use and interact with your website
- Track your search engine optimisation (SEO) performance
- Determine whether your digital and social marketing activities are working
Still not convinced you need to be looking at it? Then just think about how much it has cost you to build and maintain a website. Throw in the costs for AdWords, SEO and/or social media marketing and we are talking about a substantial sum to keep your business online. So it makes sense to make the most of the investment you’ve made.
What Google Analytics metrics are important?
There are so many Google Analytics metrics to look at, but we are going to keep it simple. I’ve split some basic metrics into three categories to get you started and familiar with your website performance. Once in Google Analytics you can set the time frame you want to analyse (I like to compare months).
1 – Your website traffic volume
Number of sessions
The first thing you want to look at is the number of website sessions. This is the number of times your website has been visited in a given time period (note – this is not the number of people). I like to look at this monthly. So what is good? It depends on a lot of factors (age of your website, size of your business, your industry etc). Don’t get hung up on whether it’s 1,000 or 10,000. The key thing to understand is whether your number of sessions is growing over time. If you want your website traffic to grow and it’s not, then this gives you good hint that you either need to improve your SEO, do marketing activity to increase traffic, or both!
Percentage new sessions
This tells you what percentage of your total sessions are from people who have not visited your website before. Again, what a good percentage is depends on your business. If you are trying to grow your business then you want a higher percentage of your visitors to be new. But if your business is oriented to a strong customer base that needs to frequently visit your website that percentage might be lower. This metric shows if your marketing efforts to grow your brand are working.
2 – Where your website visitors come from
It’s important to understand how people get to your website. And it’s invaluable for measuring how effective your marketing is at getting people to your website. Google helpfully breaks down your website sessions in the acquisition section:
- Direct – someone goes into google and enters your website address
- Organic – someone searches for something on the internet and chooses your website
- Paid Search – If you run google Adwords, or bing ads this is where you will see these visitors.
- Social – anyone who visits your website from social media
- Referral – This is where other websites have a link to yours, and people clicked that link to visit your site.
- Email – Visitors who have clicked a link in an email to visit your website.
- Other – sometimes has traffic that can’t be coded against one of the above
You can also look at the bounce rate for those acquisition channels (more on that below), and if you have marketing goals set up (e.g. you track when someone purchases on your website, or signs up for your newsletter) you can see which acquisition channels are driving your sales. This is an excellent way to see how your marketing pays back.
3 – How good your website is at engaging people
Is your website interesting to your target audience, and does it help them solve the question they asked google? There are three metrics you can look at that will give you an indication of how engaging your website is.
Average session duration
This tells you how long people spend on your website when they visit. Usually, the longer they spend, the more engaged they are. But again, it does depend on what your website is designed to do. If you simply want someone to get your phone number and call you, then a shorter session duration is OK. But as a general rule, a very sort session is normally a bit of a warning sign – people are not sticking around. So either you are targeting the wrong people, or your site isn’t meeting your customers needs.
Pages per session
This is a good metric to look at alongside the session duration (above). This tells you how many pages are viewed per session. Again, the higher the number the better as a general rule, unless you only have a few pages. The logic is that the more pages a person looks at, the more they are interested in your site. A word of warning though – a really high number could also indicate that your visitors can’t find what they are looking for or your site navigation is confusing.
This tells you what percentage of your visitors left your website after only visiting the page they arrived at. So the lower this percentage the better. Typically, if someone visits a website and leaves straight away without looking around you either didn’t solve their problem, or your website wasn’t compelling enough for them to look around. It could also mean that your advertising is not performing well. This is the value of looking at your bounce rate by acquisition channel. Just remember that some channels will perform better than others. As a general rule, your organic and direct traffic should perform best.
If you take these three metrics together and see a high bounce rate, low session duration and a small number of pages visited per session you have some work to do on making your website better.
Start looking at these metrics as a starting point to understand how your business is performing online. Don’t worry overly about the actual numbers because there is no magic number you should strive for. It’s most valuable to monitor these metrics each month and make improvements to your website and marketing activities to see what moves the numbers in the right direction.