So, you've set up your analytics and you're now faced with hundreds of percentages, pie charts and graphs. But what do they mean and how can you use them to both improve your visitors experience and increase the amount of traffic on your site?
Understanding the Basics
Let's start with the basic statistics. We'll be running through some of the common statistics found in a number of analytic dashboards. We'll mostly be referring to Google Analytics though, as we think that's the best free analytics account you can get.
Once you're logged in, some of the first things you'll see in the Audience Overview are Sessions, Users, Pageviews, Pages / Session, Session Duration, Avg. Session Duration, Bounce Rate & % New Sessions. So, what do they mean?
Sessions: Here you'll see the amount of 'sessions' - every time a user hits your site, they start a new 'session', when they leave, that's the end of the session. Sessions can be across multiple pages of your site.
Users: This is the amount of unique visitors you have.
Pageviews: Every time someone views a page on your site, that's one pageview.
Pages / Session: This indicates the average amount of pages each visitor looks at on your site before they leave (or end their 'session').
Avg. Session Duration: This is the average length of time visitors spend on your site before leaving.
Bounce Rate: This shows you the percentage of visitors that arrive at your site and only see one page, but don't interact with it before they leave.
% New Sessions: This is the estimated percentage of visitors that haven't previously been on your site.
The above are like your websites 'Vital Signs', they let you know if your website's got a nice steady pulse, or if it's about to have a heart attack. So what do you need to look out for?
Monitoring Your Traffic
Sessions, Users and Pageviews are all fairly easy to get your head around. Generally speaking, you should be aiming to have a steady improvement month-by-month in these figures, as this suggests that your site is steadily growing, with more people viewing your pages and more active or repeat users. If these figures are consistently dropping, there's your first indication that something might be going wrong.
Let's consider Pages / Session, Avg. Session Duration and the Bounce Rate. All of these measures can indicate how much your users are actually engaging with your website. After all, having thousands of users might not necessarily mean you're getting the most out of your website.
Pages / Session
Pages / Session and what it says about your site can be highly dependent on the type of site you run. For instance, if you were to run a forum with thousands of topics and lots of content, you'd expect to see a high number of pages per session. However, if you have a small 5 page site a low number of pages per session wouldn't be anything to be concerned about. This will also depend on the content you put on your pages, if you have a lot of information and provide contact details on a page, then there might not be any reason for someone to use more than one page.
Have a think about what processes and pages your visitors need to go through in order to contact you, place an order or use a feature on your site. If they need to go through a lot of pages, you should be expecting fairly high pages per session figures. If you don't, then these processes may be too complex or overdrawn for your users and it could be time to take a look at simplifying the structure of your site.
Average Session Duration
Again, try to be mindful of what content you have on your site, what function it serves and as a user, how long would you ideally want to spend on your site? By asking yourself these questions you can get a ballpark figure to aim for. A longer Session Duration isn't necessarily a better one, sometimes a low figure can signify that people have found what they're looking for quickly, and your site is working well for your visitors. Obviously if it's too low (for example your average session duration is 10 seconds) there may be a problem. If people don't have time to read your page, or even give it a quick look-over, chances are they've left on first impressions or felt misled when they clicked through.
% New Sessions
This metric is fairly self explanatory - it logs which percentage of your sessions are by 'new' visitors, or people that haven't been to your site before. Depending on the type of site you run, you'll be aiming for different things.
For example, if you run an online game or forum, you would hope that many of your visitors would be returning visitors, logging in again to update their content or play again. A low % New Sessions doesn't necessarily indicate a problem if you have a good, active user base. While on the other hand, an estate agent website would be striving for more new sessions, as the likelihood of one person buying a number of high value houses in a short space of time is pretty low.
By now I'm sure you can see the recurring theme: Again this is going to be dependant on the type of site you run and what kind of visitors you want. Set your own baseline for what you think is acceptable, set a target for yourself and make tweaks to try to get it where you want it. Generally speaking, most sites won't ever get a bounce rate lower than about 25-30% due to the nature of the net, but anything up to around 70% is normally deemed acceptable in the grand scheme of things.
So what happens if you're above 70%? It could be that people feel misled when they hit your page or they might have thought something that was supposed to be there wasn't there. Consider any advertising you do, is it conveying a message that gels with the content on your site? Are people likely to see a promotional message somewhere and click through? Does the page that your visitors land on back up what your saying to potential visitors elsewhere?
Creating Your Own Set of Objectives
Getting analytics right and moving towards better SEO is highly dependant on your site and your visitors, so it has to be a tailored fit. Have a long, hard think about what the core functions of your site are, and whether you're realising those functions to the best of your ability. The statistics mentioned above can give you some idea of if you're meeting your visitors needs, or if you're managing to get your website in front of potential visitors. For each of the above metrics, set yourself a target and continually tinker with your site and promotions, regularly consulting analytics in order to see if the changes you're making are helping are not. With enough patience and persistence, you'll soon start to see your metrics improve and your site grow in all of the right ways.