Understanding Google Analytics – Audiences

A website is like a storefront – it’s useless if nobody is walking in. The easiest way to determine traffic on your website is to use the free Google Analytics service. Google Analytics is a great tool, but can be a little daunting at first. There are hundreds of different pages and metrics with literally millions of ways to slice and dice your website statistics. All that power can be overwhelming and that is why I’m here to walk you through it. This is a four-part series on Google Analytics, with each installment focusing on a different area of the tool.

In the first installment, we are going to tackle the audience section.

Who Visits Your Website?

To begin, lets only focus on a handful of metrics that will give us the greatest insight into who your website visitors are. The first metrics I typically check are:

  • Sessions, Users and Pageviews
  • Engagement Metrics
  • Mobile Metrics
  • Other Curiosities

Lets see why these four areas are important.

Sessions, Users and Pageviews

These metrics are closely related and can tell you a lot about how visitors are behaving on your website. Lets look at what each number means.

  • Sessions – a session is a user’s visit to the website. Think of it as a browsing session, the user came to your website, looked around a bit (hopefully) and then left. That’s one session. If they came back again next week, that counts as another session.
  • Users – a user is a bit of a misnomer. It’s a visit from a specific browser. Google Analytics works by sending a tracking code to your browser to identify you (anonymously). Every time you visit a webpage from that website, the browser sends back that identification code. This way, Google Analytics knows that you’ve been to this site before and you are a single unique user and not two users. The part that is confusing is that if I visit the website from my laptop, and from my phone, I’m going to be counted as two distinct users since they are different browsers.
  • Pageviews – This is how many pages were viewed on your website in total irrespective of users and sessions.

Generally speaking, these are the raw metrics that show you how much traffic your site is getting. The ratios of these metrics to each other can also give you some insight into visitor behaviour and site engagement.

Engagement Metrics

A website user is typically engaged when they are exploring your site, spending time on it and doing things that make them valuable to your business. Using metrics to judge engagement is a guess – we don’t actually know if a user is engaged unless we can speak to them directly. However, there are some metrics that give us a pretty good sense of what is going on.

  • Pageviews per Session – This tells you how many pages a user is viewing on your site in a browsing session. This ratio can be interpreted as an engagement metric, with higher numbers meaning visitors are exploring your site more. However, be careful here. Are they exploring because they want to, or because they cannot find what they are looking for?
  • Sessions per User – looking at this metric gives you insight into how often users are coming back to your site. Google Analytics packages this statistic up and calls it the ‘% New Sessions’. The optimal value of this metric is completely dependent on the type of website you have. If you are a professional services company using your website to attract new business, you want a large portion of your sessions to be from new users. On the other hand, if you are a blog or e-commerce website, you would prefer an audience who tends to come back often.

The most important thing to realize with engagement metrics is that they need to be viewed within the context of your website and business objectives.

Mobile Metrics

If you do not have a mobile-friendly website, I encourage you to take a good look at this metric. This metric tells you how many sessions on your website originate from desktop computers (and laptops), tablets or smart phones. Most of our clients are seeing mobile rates around 50% these days, and steadily climbing. Some of our clients have mobile visitor rates as high as 80%. If your website is not mobile-friendly, you are most likely annoying at least half of the visitors to your website which is never a good thing.

Even if your website is mobile-friendly, there are still a few things to check out here. Google Analytics will break down the engagement metrics, along with other metrics, based on device. This can give you insight into the different user behaviours based on how the site is viewed.

  • Are your mobile visitors bouncing at a much higher rate (one page and then exiting)?
  • Is the % of new visitors higher for mobile than desktop? This could indicate that once users experience your site on mobile, they don’t want to come back
  • Are mobile users as engaged as desktop visitors? Do they spend as much time and view as many pages? If not, this could be because they are frustrated with the experience

Being mobile-friendly is not enough these days. You need to be mobile-great!

Other Curiosities

Other metrics in the Audience section may or may not be of interest to you depending on your business. If nothing else, they are interesting to look at if only to use them at your next cocktail party.

That’s just me that talks websites at cocktail parties? Huh. Who knew? Anyways…

  • Browsers – if you are a developer or techno-curious, you can learn what browsers and versions your audience is using. Do you really need to support IE 6? How many people use the Opera browser?
  • Geo-Location – where are your visitors coming from? You may be surprised that there is a significant portion of visitors that come from Russia to your site. Sorry to break it to you, but that’s most likely spammers and not valid traffic.
  • Demographics and Interests – You can gain a deeper insight into your users with these reports, but they are not without controversy. Not all visitors like to be tracked at this close of a level, and with modern ad-blockers, this information is prevented from being collected most times. Take what you see here with a grain of salt. If you want reliable demographic information, a survey of website users is much better.

Hopefully by now you have a better understanding of the Audience section in Google Analytics. Stay tuned for the next article where I will dig into acquisition and where your visitors are coming from.

Tell us what you think.