Understanding the Most Popular Metrics in Google Analytics

Audience behaviour is often the first thing people will look at in their web analytics package. How many people visited your website? How long did they stay for? Did they like the content? These insights provide a basic understanding of the website performance (and your marketing performance!), particularly when measured over time. Are the trends consistent or are they changing over time?

When you log into Google Analytics, the first round of data you receive is the ‘Audience Overview’. This data provides you with a very basic overview of your site, but that is exactly what it is: an overview. An overview is only useful when the limitations are understood - these limitations, without understanding will only lead to misinformed decision-making.

What do these things mean!?

The true meaning of some terms are often confused, which can cause some data-driven decisions to be based on misunderstood information. Let’s look at each term and what you can dig out from the data:


The number of times that the website has been visited in the month. Opened up the website, closed it, then reopened it? That’ll be 2 visits. The more technical definition is the number of sessions that have taken place on your website.

Visits will always be higher than unique visitors because some people will visit the website more than once in a month.

Unique Visitors

Okay, so if visits are the number of times a website is opened, then unique visitors is how many ‘people’ have been on your website. If only one person has visited your website in the month but has done so 15 times, then your visits will equal 15 and unique visitors 1.

This starts to get more complicated when we look at the diversity in devices that we use today. Some may have a PC, tablet and mobile. If you visit the same website on all 3 devices then that will be 3 unique visitors. So although is it simpler to say unique visitors is the number of people who visit the website, it doesn’t always hold true. This is the complex world of web analytics.

% New Visits

You can imagine this as the percentage of visitors that have never experienced your school before. Often, returning visitors will be parents or internal staff members - these are people with an experience of your school. New visitors have never visited your website before, which means they need to be ‘sold’ into your school. You need to delight the visitor by matching the experience with their expectation.

Do new visitors spend a lot of time on the website? Where do they go? You can start to segment your audience into returning visitors and new visitors. This is important as they both have completely different intents and behave very differently.

Pages / Visits

Generally speaking, you want this to be as high as possible. Why? Because you want people to have an engaging experience with your website. You want them to explore as many pages as possible and consume really good content. But do not let it mislead you; a high number of pages could mean that the visitor cannot find what they are looking for.

This is where the overview can begin to give misleading information. This metric is an average of all pages, all visitors, all keywords, all referrers etc. A good web analyst will delve deeper into specific pages and types of visitors.

Avg. Visit Duration

Similar to pages per visit, this should be as high as possible - but not too high. You can be mistaking an engaging journey for a confused and lost one. This is a very good ‘overview’ but it doesn’t beat looking at individual pages and segmented visitors (new visitors, referrals from Twitter, people coming from search engines).

If a page only has one line of content but yet users are spending 2 minutes on it, there is something wrong. Alternatively, if a page has a video on but people are only spending 10 seconds on it, you can assume they are not watching the video.

Bounce Rate

This is our favourite metric. The reason being that it provides an insight into a user’s behaviour and reaction to your website. A user ‘bounces’ when they land on a page and then leave instantly without visiting another page. This informs us that a visitor didn’t receive the experience they expected - which can be a variety of reasons.

Web analytics is hugely complex but when you get it right, it is invaluable. Don’t get put off by the complexity though; even a little knowledge can be hugely beneficial.

What is important is that you understand what the data means:

  • People are bouncing on the fees page because they have to download a PDF
  • Nobody is going to the contact page because the links to the page are not visible
  • You have a low avg. time on site because you rank well for the term 'RGS’, and there are a lot of schools (and organisations) with the same initials. Make it clear to users which RGS you are in the page title - this appears in the search engine results page

These are just a few examples of actionable insights that web analytics can provide you. How do you use web analytics? Do you have reports and dashboards set up? Let us know in the comments.

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