Website Analytics You Need to be Tracking
Irene Hardy is a graphic designer, brand stylist, citrus enthusiast and the owner of Magnoliahouse Creative. She specializes in helping entrepreneurs and small businesses build graceful and exuberant brands that attract their dream clients. When she’s not working, she’s the new girl in town in Columbia, SC with her husband and poorly-behaved bichon, Max. You might catch her with a cold glass of rose on the back porch, cheering for the Texas Longhorns or cooking something delicious from scratch.
A few weeks ago, I was in a room with some seriously impressive business owners. Y’all, I can’t even begin to tell you how much I learned from them. But something surprised me, too. When the topic of website analytics and metrics came up, woman after woman confessed to a) not tracking website metrics, b) having no idea what any of the metrics meant, and/or c) having no idea what to do with the data once they had it in hand.
It so does not need to be this hard.
Understanding your website analytics empowers you to make data-driven decisions for your business. It allows you to spend more of your time on what’s working, less time on what isn’t working. Most importantly, it allows you to spend less time and energy guessing and stressing over what to do next. Today, I’m going to break down the essential metrics you need be tracking on your website. I’ll be back in a few weeks to cover what to do with all this information.
First things first – how should you be gathering this information? Two words: Google Analytics. It’s easy to create an account and install your tracking code, and then you’ll have access to every possible bit of information you could want about your website. Here’s the catch – you’ll only be able to pull data for time when the tracking code was installed on your site, so if you haven’t already added GA to your website, don’t walk, run and get it installed.
Before we get into the specific analytics, a word of warning: you will find no numbers in the information that follows. That’s because your website metrics at any given moment in time are basically meaningless – we’re primarily interested in how they change over time. As you review this information in Google Analytics, you can either create reports that allow you to see how these values change over time, or create a simple spreadsheet to track your numbers week to week. As you make changes to your website and marketing plan, you’ll want to compare that to your analytics to what’s working and what isn’t.
You need to know how much traffic your website’s getting. There are three different numbers to keep an eye on here: sessions, users and pageviews. Users and pageviews are pretty straightforward.
Users refer to the number of unique people who visit your website over the given time period.
Pageviews counts the number of pages those people visit as a whole.
Sessions (also sometimes called visits) counts the number of times users visit your website. This means one user might account for multiple sessions over the time period you’re looking at.
These three numbers are very closely related, and will probably trend together over time. For quick interpretations, feel free to choose just one of these to get a picture of how your overall traffic is changing over time.
Now that you know how much traffic your website is getting, it’s helpful to know where that traffic is coming from. Google Analytics will break it down for you into a few categories – Direct, Social, Referral and Organic Search.
Direct traffic encompasses any time someone visits your website where they type your website address directly into the address bar – or click a link that doesn’t come from another website, like an email or text message.
Social traffic comes from the major social media platforms. If you click further, Google will break this down more specifically by platform.
Referral traffic includes visits to your website from other websites that aren’t social networks. Think other people’s blog posts, resources lists, media features, etc.
Organic search traffic covers all the visits to your site referred from a search engine (including Google, Bing, Yahoo, etc) when your website appeared in the organic results – not paid ads.
There’s a few things we want to keep an eye on when it comes to referrals. It’s helpful to know the proportion of traffic coming from each of these areas, and how that’s changing over time. Alongside your overall traffic numbers, you can get an idea of where any new traffic might be coming from or places where traffic is falling off. If you have conversion goals set up (more info on that below), you’ll also want to track the referral sources for the segment of your traffic that’s actually converting.
In addition to tracking where your website traffic comes from, you can also track which pages visitors are discovering and landing on your site by tracking your landing pages. Your homepage will probably be ranked pretty highly, but you might also discover particular pieces of content that attract a lot of visitors to your site.
Traffic is great, but it doesn’t necessarily mean you’re making money. In addition to tracking general traffic stats, you need to be tracking your conversion rates for the metrics that are most important to your business. Conversions will vary depending on your business, but you might track email list opt ins, contact form submissions, or ecommerce transactions. To calculate your conversion rate, divide the number of conversions for a given time period by the total number of sessions.
Simply tracking your conversion rate is helpful, but for extra credit, set up Goals in Google Analytics to enable you to get more specific information about the segment of your traffic that’s converting.
You know when you click through to a website from Google, quickly realize it’s not what you need, and hit the back button? That’s what your bounce rate is, and we want to keep that as low as possible. Bounce rate measures the percentage of visitors who leave your site without clicking through to another page or interacting in any way.
Average Session Duration & Pages per Session
Once you’ve got traffic visiting your website, you will want to get a sense of what they’re doing on your site. Are you engaging them, and providing valuable information? Or are people taking a quick look, deciding you can’t help them and then moving on to another website? We have two quick and dirty (and self explanatory) ways to monitor this on your site: average session duration and pages per session. Traditionally, we’ve been more concerned with pages per session because it indicates actual user interaction, but with the popularity of long-form scrolling pages, session duration becomes more and more useful.
Finally, it’s critical to monitor your pagespeed. The best UX design in the world won’t lead to conversions if your visitors give up before your site loads – and with user’s attention spans getting shorter and shorter, pagespeed is more important than ever. You can get some pagespeed information in Google Analytics, but because this information is dependent on your users’ internet connections, I prefer to pull full data from Google’s Pagespeed Insights tool and monitor manually.
Tell me in the comments, y’all! Which of these metrics are you currently tracking? Which ones do you need to add to your list?