This appeared in print as part of the story “Best Laid Plans” In 2007, the City of Columbia’s visioning document suggested that council...
Google Analytics is like a profit and loss report for your website. It allows you to interpret how visitors interact with your website and gauge its success. Here’s how to sort through a report and interpret the findings in a few easy steps.
Filter for Geographic Location
First, sort your website data by the geographic location of your target market — filtering by geographic location is like choosing the report you want to review in QuickBooks. Non-targeted visitor activity skews your data, and it doesn’t reflect the behavior of the visitors you’re looking to work with.
You review your profit and loss report for specific timeframes to monitor the success of your business. Use the same principle when reviewing website data. Adjust your time frame to review how visitors interact with your website during a given period of time. To look at the big picture, start with a year’s worth of data. Then consider reviewing segments of the year: those with increased traffic flow, maybe, or during specific marketing campaigns or throughout your busy sales season. That will help you gauge differences in visitor behavior.
Each time a server accesses your site, it’s considered a session. This is a big picture number — sort of like the bottom line in your profit and loss report. It tells you how many times your site was displayed in a given time period.
Use sessions as a starting point. Each session is like an experiment with how a visitor interacts with your site. The majority of the data in your report is averages, but sessions are a real number; if you don’t have enough sessions in your report, then you can’t draw an accurate conclusion about your data.
Take a quick look at the percentage of new sessions as well. It tells you how many visitors were new in a given time frame. A high percentage of new sessions is typical, but Google likes sites to have return visitors too — it shows visitors’ affinity to your website and indicates you have valuable content.
Look for Signs of Trouble
A negative net income is an indicator to dig deeper into your business finances to see what’s going south. Signs of website trouble may include a high bounce rate, low pages per session, or short session duration. These metrics are all averages benchmarking how visitors interact with the content on your website.
Bounce rate is the number of visitors that enter and exit your website from the same page. I regularly see bounce rates from 25 to 75 percent. Lower bounce rates are usually a result of local traffic to a local firm. Sites with lots of visitors often have a higher bounce rate.
Average pages per session is the number of pages, on average, visitors view on one trip to your website. Most successful websites have an average pages per session of about two, though I often see healthy sites ranging from one and a half to three.
Average session duration is the amount of time, on average, visitors spend on one trip to your website. Most sites I review have a session duration of more than one minute, though I encounter many with two-minute or higher average session durations depending upon the nature of the site.
How visitors interact with your website content is reflective of how it’s promoted. Online advertising, email newsletters, and blogging often result in lower pages per session, higher bounce rates, and shorter session durations. When visitors go to your site from an email newsletter or social media post, they often read the content you were promoting and then leave the site from the same page. That’s not negative, but it’s a factor for why your bounce rate may be higher than what you think it should be.
If your site has less-than-desirable average usage statistics, it may mean your content isn’t engaging. To figure out what’s causing the issue, dig deeper.
To dig deeper, review data in segments. The pages of your site are similar to your products or services. Just as you might review the sales numbers for each product or service to monitor performance, you can review the key indicators outlined above to draw a conclusion about what’s working and what’s not on the pages of your website. Review the data for each page — by specific cities, by mobile phone visitors, and by anything else that will give you a better picture of where your site needs improvement and what your visitors like.
Monica Pitts is the chief creative director of MayeCreate Design