usage and user analysis graph

Is my site performing well?

Basic Google Analytics metrics of website success.

Photo of Koen Platteeuw
Thu, 2015-02-05 16:45By koen

In this post, we will try to answer the simple question: how can I see if my site is doing well? We’re looking at this question from a usage perspective. (If you came here to learn about site performance in terms of load speed, we can refer you back to this article.) 

When we are asking ourselves if a site is performing well, we do so in the light of objectives of the site. Is it an e-commerce site? Is it a news based site which main goal is to reach a broad audience? Do we want to site to function as a lead generator? Depending on the type of site, we will focus on different KPIs. To measure the success against these goals, most people use Google Analytics. It’s free, user friendly, and complete. But if you’re new to it, it provides too much data. So where do you start?

In this post, we will look at three things: 

  • What are the basic metrics to start with? 
  • Where do my users come from? 
  • What content do they look at? 

Basic usage metrics explained

A logical place to start is the “Users” metric. How many people visited my site? Google describes users as:

Users that have had at least one session within the selected date range. Includes both new and returning users.

If a visitor came to your site more than once within the date range you are looking at, they will be measured as one user. To be able to measure the actual number of visits, independent from who visited the site, we have the “sessions” metric, which Google defines as:

A session is the period time a user is actively engaged with your website

A third basic metric is the pageviews. That is:

the sum of individual pages viewed on the site. 

These three basic metrics can already tell you a lot of information. Is my traffic increasing or decreasing? Which days of the week give me most visitors? Do people watch more pages now on average than they did last year?

These metrics can also be combined or enriched. For example, Google analytics tells you what percentage of your users is recurring or new. This tells you a lot about how much the users liked your site. Are they willing to come back? An increase of new users on the other hand, could indicate improved SEO performance. But more on that later.

If we combine pageviews and sessions, we also get the metric of pageviews / visit. This would be a KPI on how strong the site can keep the attention of the users that are already there. The more pages an individual user visits, the better the site seems to perform.

Bounce Rate & Average session duration

The capacity of the site to keep people’s attention is also tracked through two related metrics: Bounce Rate & Average time on the site. Unde Bounce Rate, we understand: 

Bounce Rate is the percentage of single-page visits

In other words: Which percentage if users come to your site, and leave the page thereafter without interacting with the site. 
Average session duration is, as its name indicates, the average time of all sessions during the tracked date range. Note that time of single page visits is not tracked. So in reality, this metric measures the Average Session Duration from users that visited more than one page on your site. Therefore it is good to look at these metrics in combination. 

If we look at the metrics mentioned already, people tend to focus on increasing users, pageviews, sessions as well as average session duration. On the other hand site owners aim to keep the bounce rate low. But note that this can depend on your site goals. If you’re running a “customer service resource center” type site, it might be a good sign to have a low average session duration. It might indicate the users find quickly what they came searching for, and didn’t have to search through numerous pages to find the piece of information they needed. So the interpretation of these numbers depends on your individual case. But in most cases, people try to keep the bounce rate as low as possible. 

Where do my users come from?

To find answers to this question, we need to look in Google Analytics to the section Acquisition. Google allows us the identify several categories of users entry path: Organic Search (search engine traffic); Paid Search (ads on Google results page); referral (backlinks found on other websites); Direct (for example, people typing your url in their browser address bar); Social (links on Twitter, Facebook, etc.); Display (ads on other sites); Email (links found in emails, often newsletters sent by mail); and finally other (like rss feeds readers for example). Understanding how your users came to your site can be very helpful to improve its performance. Also, consider taking a new look at the key metrics as mentioned in the previous paragraphs, but this time slicing the data by traffic source. You might see significant differences.

What content are my users looking at?

Now that we know how users got to your site, and what the overall usage metrics are, let's take a look at what content users view. For this information you go look at the Site Content section in the Behavior block. This will tell you what the most popular pages are, individually, as well as per section. When looking at metrics for individual pages, you’ll see the earlier mentioned metrics appearing again: Pageviews, Bounce rate, Time on the page. Additionally, you get two new metrics which give you a lot of insights: Entrances and “% Exit” or Exit Rate.

Entrances is the number of times visitors entered your site through a specified page or set of pages while the Exit Rate of an individual page or section, is the percentage of users that end their session on that page or in that section.

These metrics help you identify popular pages, but also pages that make you “lose” a lot of users.

With the above basics you should now be ready to start understanding the core usage data of your site. As mentioned earlier, it is key to read this data with your site’s objectives in mind. Taking your goals into account, you will be searching for metrics that indicate successful conversions. Remember conversions are the action we would like our users to perform on our site. 

Code Enigma helps its client monitor site usage, and provides consultancy on how to identify key metrics and set up site usage performance tracking.