As a website owner, we all want endless amounts of organic traffic and users who interact with our site – whether that be reading through popular blog posts, or perusing through our products and making their way to the checkout.
Tools like Google Analytics give webmasters tremendous insight as to how users interact with your website, what pages they visit, how long they stay on your site and allows you to discover user experience (UX) flaws without skipping a beat.
As the amount of data-tracking tools that marketers can use increases, Google Analytics remains a core part of any digital marketing stack given its ability to track users on all ends of the marketing funnel and discover how they “behave” on your website.
If you’re conducting a marketing campaign, you should make use of Google Analytics to measure and understand the impact that your website experience has on important factors such as conversions and user retention rates.
Not all of the metrics are equally as important, so when it comes to tracking the most important virtues of how your website is performing, you’ll want to know what the most metrics are to track as digging through mountains of data can be time-wasting if you’re looking in all of the wrong places.
In this Endpoint Digital article, we’ll discuss what a “metric” is and the most important Google Analytics metrics to track which will help you build a data-driven strategy for 2021.
What Is A Metric In Google Analytics?
Before we dive into the most important metrics to track in Google Analytics, we firstly need to understand what a “metric” is and how we classify them in terms of importance to your overall marketing strategy.
The Simplified Definition Of A “Metric”
To put it simply, a metric is a unit of information that can measure how users interacted with parts of your website, performed at one given time, expressed in numerical format.
If you’re looking for a more interesting way to describe what a metric is, then you might want to refer to it as a quantitative measurement of data expressed in number values, $, % and time, which analyses data and how that data performs in relation to a specific dimension.
This means that you’re able to observe these metrics in a tangible fashion – seeing specific numbers of how many users were on your site, how long they spent on one page on average, etc.
The below screenshot shows you an example of the different metrics you can track against specific dimensions.
A Quick Side Note About “Dimensions”
When the word metric is mentioned in Google Analytics, it’s often accompanied by “dimensions”, which are attributes of your data and can be explained as a qualitative variable.
The below screenshot has examples of what dimensions are and as you can see, there are many different dimensions that you can click which will provide you with metrics against that dimension.
How Metrics & Dimensions Work Together To Showcase Data
Metrics and dimensions work hand in hand to describe the data you’re seeing, otherwise without dimensions, this data would be no more than meaningless numbers.
Each metric is paired with a dimension to display a particular piece of data, usually in a table format.
Rather than try and explain how they work cohesively to showcase the data, this image will clear it all up for you.
As you can see, metrics are in the column header with dimension and data in rows.
Before We Start Digging For Data In Google Analytics
In order to get the most out of your time and effort for your marketing strategy, you need to understand what data to look for.
This data will answer many of the core questions you have because after all – you should be looking at this data in order to see how users interact with your site and where your website experience might be falling flat.
Google Analytics will give you a complete overview of your website’s ecosystem, giving you valuable insight as to how your overall website and individual pages perform when users interact with them.
But before you start trying to analyse this data, take a second to ask yourself why this data might be important for your business.
- What are people doing on your website?
What do you want to know specifically? Do you want to see the channels that push users to your website? Do you want to identify sources of traffic with high bounce rates?
The following Google Analytics metrics we’ll discuss will help you identify what users are doing on your website.
- Is your website growing over time?
If you’re running an SEO campaign, you might want to see how your website’s traffic is increasing over time.
You’ll be able to answer key questions about growth, how many users come from using Google’s search engine to find you, and of the new visitors coming to your site, how many of them are new?
- Are people buying or taking desired actions on your website?
This is the most important value for most website owners given these actions tend to increase sales and retention rates.
Are you users navigating through your products page and checking out? Are they signing up on your enquiry form to receive a free quote?
You should always look to set up some sort of conversion tracking on your website, otherwise you’ll have no way of knowing how well your website is performing conversion-wise.
For contact form enquiries, setting up a simple AJAX listener through Google Tag Manager is the most ideal way to send data to Google Analytics about a new enquiry any time someone completes a particular form.
With these things in mind, let’s get into the most valuable metrics to track in Google Analytics.
The Most Important Metrics You Need To Track In Google Analytics
Here are the 7 most vital metrics (in no order) to track in Google Analytics, their definitions, why you should track them and how to understand the data presented to help you adjust your marketing strategy.
Acquisition is one of the most important metrics, as it gives you insight on how users get to your website.
It will reveal all of the many different channels that are being utilised to push traffic to your website, whether this be organic search, direct, social media or referral traffic.
If you’re wondering what these channels mean, here’s a simple breakdown below.
Organic Search Traffic
Organic search is when users type in a search query into Google to which Google provides a list of the most relevant websites related to that query.
If you have a large brand following, you might notice your “direct” traffic is quite high. This traffic is when users type your website URL into their browser which takes them directly to your website without any external influence.
Social Media Traffic
Fairly obvious – traffic from social platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest that take users to your website will be included here.
Referral traffic refers to links from other websites that will push users from that website across to your website. If you get mentioned in an article or are listed on a directory, you might notice you’re getting some referral traffic.
You may also notice there are other channels of traffic listed in the Acquisition tab, such as paid search, display and Google Maps.
If you are running a pay-per-click (PPC) campaign through Google Ads and have connectors set up, you’ll notice users from your paid advertising campaigns will also show up in this section.
Why You Should Track The “Acquisition” Metric
It’s essential to know where your users are coming from – without this; you might not know where to find quick wins or keep working on channels that are clearly working for you.
For example, websites that have a low organic search penetration might want to invest their time and effort into SEO.
Google receives over 3.5 billion searches per day and without any users coming to your website from popular search engines, you’re missing out on a great deal of organic traffic.
Conversely, if you notice you have low social traffic, make more of an effort to refine your social media marketing strategy.
The acquisition report will provide some scarce data on what these users are doing once they arrive, such as bounce rate and how long they stay, but for a more comprehensive overview of what your users are doing, you’ll want to stick around.
Just as a side note, users navigating between multiple pages and aren’t bouncing straight away, are more than likely a legitimate source of traffic.
You can find it by navigating to Acquisition > Overview.
There are also other tabs designed to provide more refined data depending on the channel you’re looking for, so navigate to All Traffic > Channels for more comprehensive data on how these channels are performing.
#2. Bounce Rate
Bounce rate is an important metric of Google Analytics because the data provided gives you insight on why users may be behaving a certain way on your website.
Bounce rate is defied as
Holistically, Google Analytics cannot definitively tell you why users interact a certain way with your website, but this data allows for creative brainstorming and troubleshooting if your bounce rate is “high”.
There is no right or wrong answer regarding what your bounce rate should be, but anything above 90% is cause for concern a majority of the time.
Why You Should Track The “Bounce Rate” Metric
You need to come up with a diagnosis of why users are leaving your website immediately at such an alarming rate and this starts with analysing bounce rate.
There is an element of psychology behind bounce rate – it’s up to you to put yourself in the shoes of your users and figure out what your UX flaws are and rectify them.
A high bounce rate provides a plethora of possible reasons as to why this behaviour may be happening, such as:
- The page the users are landing on is not relevant to them or not what they are looking for.
- The page the users are landing on is taking a significant portion of time to completely load
- The page the users are landing on may not be adequately optimised for their device
- The page the users are landing on may have intrusive advertisements or popups
- The page the users are landing on lacks trust signals such as an SSL certificate
- The page the users are landing on lacks visual design and good user experience
As we mentioned, Google Analytics won’t tell you why users interact a certain way, but when things aren’t going the way you expect, you need to consider every possibility of why that might be the case.
For example, bounce rate can be used with the dimension ‘device type’.
If you have a higher bounce rate from people viewing your site from smartphones, it might suggest you need to improve your site for mobile devices.
A poorly optimised website for mobile users will lead to a high bounce rate if they are unable to effectively navigate your website.
It’s also important to remember that ‘bounces’ count as a single-page session and will lower your average user session, as single-page sessions have a duration of 0 seconds.
You can find this metric under Behaviour > Site Content > All Pages.
#3. Average Session Duration
Average session duration is a metric that helps you understand how long, on average, users are staying on your website from their first initial connection.
Based on the date range selected, the data is calculated by the entire amount of sessions divided by the total durations of all sessions (in seconds).
The average session duration data can vary depending on the type of content your website publishes and all sessions should not be treated equally.
Similar to bounce rate, there is no “right or wrong” session duration, but ultimately, the more users that are sticking around – the better.
If you’re a content heavy website such as a blog or news media publisher, you may find your average session duration is quite high which is expected behaviour.
When there’s more content on a page for users to read, it tends to keep them around if the content is high-quality and engaging.
Conversely, if you’re a visual website or a small website with not many pages, your session duration will tend to be lower.
Why You Should Track The “Average Session Duration” Metric
Depending on the type of website you have, the average session duration can expose holes in your content strategy.
For content heavy websites, having a low average session duration isn’t ideal for obvious reasons.
This means that your content could be sub-par in comparison to competitors, is too convoluted to read or simply isn’t what they’re looking for.
There are also plenty of things you can include on your pages to make them more user-friendly, such as:
- Add compelling visuals to help break up chunks of text
- Have a solid internal linking strategy to help users bounce between helpful resources
- Include video content
- Format your content nicely and make it easily readable
It might also be a good idea to keep your date range relatively small given there could be major variables at play on a particular day and can help you iron out problems.
You can find the average session duration under Audience” > Overview
#4. New Visitors Vs Returning Visitors
Understanding the percentage of new visitors in comparison to your returning visitors is a vital piece of information and helps you understand if your brand is growing or you’re relying on repeating traffic.
New users are classified as users who have been before to your website, whereas returning visitors have visited your website before.
To determine a new user, Google assign’s a client ID to every user and if there isn’t a cookie present, Google will create one and mark this user a “new user”.
If there is a cookie present, this user is then considered a “returning visitor”.
This cookie contains a wide range of data such as the number of previous visits, the start and end of a session, traffic source and domain.
There are also times where Google Analytics gets it wrong and can’t accurately detect returning visitors and may mark returning visitors as new users.
Why You Should Track The “New Visitors Vs Returning Visitors“ Metric
This data might not be entirely accurate if users are making use of private browsing (incognito mode), if users delete or block cookies or if they use different devices to access your website.
It still pays to keep this metric in mind because if a great deal of your traffic is returning, it affirms what you’re doing is right and can open your doors up to build more brand loyalty.
It’s also a great metric to evaluate any new campaigns you might’ve released, particularly if you have lead magnets in place and want to gauge if they are bringing in any new users.
You can find this under Audience > Behaviour > New vs Returning.
For some businesses, arguably the most important metric of all.
Commonly known as “goals”, which refers to when users take a desired action on your website – from completely an enquiry form, to purchasing a product.
Before tracking any sort of “conversion”, you need to set up a goal and define what sort of action you’d like to monitor.
Why You Should Track The “Goals/Conversions” Metric
Tracking your conversions is a no-brainer. Conversions refer to an increase in sales and sales is the driving force between success and failure for every business.
The “goals” you set are dependent on what you deem as a desired action on your website.
For eCommerce businesses, you’ll want to set up conversion tracking when users reach the checkout page to signify that a sale has been completed.
Conversely, if you’re a business who offers services and relies on lead generation, you’ll want to track things like email sign-ups, enquiry form submissions and even resource downloads.
Tracking your goals can help you measure the success of your ongoing marketing campaign and if you aren’t generating sales, you may need to refine your strategy.
You can find the “Goals” metric under Conversions > Goals > Overview.
#6. Device Usage
Device usage is a metric that is often overlooked and isn’t touted as a vital factor to monitor, but in 2021 – we disagree.
The rise of mobile traffic is very real and some users browse the web using smartphones at much higher rates than desktop.
There are many ways to track device usage and given that Google have switched to a mobile-first index, we’re not surprised that they provide a lot of mobile dimensions that you can gather data from.
Take the below for example. You can see the different mobile devices that people use to browse your website with, right down to the model and brand.
Not only that, you can also determine what browser and operating system your users have on their devices too.
Why You Should Track The “Device Usage” Metric
The first and most obvious reason that marketers must understand is that Google prioritises crawling on a mobile level.
This means that your website should be optimised for any mobile device and optimised well enough that Googlebot can render your pages without any issues.
More importantly, your website must be optimised for mobile user as poorly optimised websites can lead to a negative user experience and users that are sure to never return.
Mobile devices also differ in screen size and width, so you need to take a proactive approach when optimising your website to be responsive to every device regardless of its screen size.
On a browser level, you might have images on your website that are in WEBP format – something that not every version of Safari supports.
It’s important to keep these small things in mind because marketing should be looked at from a holistic approach as all of these metrics play a vital role in your marketing strategy.
You can find this under Audience > Mobile > Overview.
#7. Behaviour Flow
Behaviour flow looks like a bunch of daunting charts with flowing lines to indicate a relationship between them, but it’s not as complicated as it seems.
This metric shows you where users make their first entrance and how they interact on your site from that point on.
Unlike other Google Analytics metrics, behaviour flow does give you insight about why users might be jumping from one page to another.
It shows you the journey users take on your website and if they’re stuck in a “never-ending” journey to find the information they’re looking for.
Why You Should Track The “Behaviour Flow” Metric
By now you should understand that the most important metrics are ones where you can gauge how users interact on your site.
The behaviour flow metric is a great way to analyse the content on your website for consistency.
If you have many users on your website coming through these pages, but notice a recurring trend that they’re hopping from one page, then coming back to the original page – you might be frustrating your users and trapping their engagement.
They can also be very insightful when trying to recover from a Google core update, as Glenn Gabe of G-Square Interactive says “it’s never one smoking gun – there’s typically a battery of things.”
You can find this metric under Behavior > Behavior Flow
Tracking your metrics in Google can all come down to understanding what your users are doing on your website and why they may be performing those actions.
Analysing this data can help you refine your marketing strategy by identify areas of your website or content that need drastic improvement.
It also gives you insight regarding your user experience which is a core focus that every website owner should be looking hard at in 2021.
This rounds out our post and we hope you find those 7 Google Analytics metrics beneficial for your marketing campaigns.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on 15th November 2019, but has been updated on 21st of January 2021 to reflect higher-quality information and transparency.