How To Track Website Traffic Using Google Analytics

If you want to know how to check google analytics for a website, or if you have a website but you don't analyze its performance. If you do but you are a little lost among all the different Google Analytics reports, then let me give you a hand. First of all...

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What Is Google Analytics?

How To Track Website Traffic Using Google Analytics

Google Analytics is a web analytics service offered by Google that allows you to track and analyze your website traffic. It is a free tool that you install by copying and pasting a few lines of code into your website. It then starts recording data about visits and visitors. What pages are visited, for how long, that sort of thing.

There are actually dozens and dozens of metrics and dimensions available to help you analyze the performance of your website. And in the Google Analytics interface, you have a lot of handy, pre-built reports to make your job easier. They are great, but the problem is that every website is unique, which these reports don't necessarily take into account.

However, with a little understanding of the most important metrics and dimensions, you'll be able to create your own dashboards and reports focused on your specific website in Google Analytics or outside of it, using another analytics tool that will help you make sense of your website traffic.

User Intent Google Analytics

How To Track Website Traffic Using Google Analytics

Before we talk about the important metrics and dimensions you need to follow, it is important that you understand the concept of intent. That is the intent of the visitor.

Most visitors, when they arrive at your website, do so for a specific purpose. Whether it's to find information, search for a product or service, sign up for something, make an appointment, etc. So whether or not your website achieves its goals doesn't just depend on the number of visits it receives. It depends on how well the visitor's intent is served. If they were successful in doing what they came to your site to do. You might think it's hard to determine visitor intent, but it's actually easier than you think. I'll talk more about how to analyze intent later.

Let's start by looking at some of the important metrics available to evaluate the success of your website. First, as key performance indicators (KPIs) and second, in conjunction with some relevant dimensions to help you drill down into the data.  

Metrics Google Analytics

How To Track Website Traffic Using Google Analytics

First, we have the visits and visitors that Google calls Sessions and Users. These metrics are useful for measuring overall traffic. But what might be more useful are the metrics New Users (the number of users who visit your site for the first time) and Number of Sessions per User, which is the total number of sessions divided by the total number of users. This last measure is useful to know if users tend to visit your site more than once. If you have a blog, for example, this is a good KPI to measure, because the more sessions per user, the more people will come back to read the blog posts.

So all these indicators are great for measuring overall traffic. But what about more detailed metrics that measure what users do once they land on your site?

You can measure the bounce rate, which is the rate of single page visits to your site. This means that the user arrives and bounces directly to the same page. You may think this is an interesting metric to track, and it is, but not in all cases. For example, some websites have only one page. In this case, the bounce rate is redundant because the user has nowhere to go. Another situation where bounce rate may not be very useful is when you drive users to a particular page to perform a specific action, such as signing up for a newsletter, and they are not directed to another page afterward. It is also possible that the page you direct them to does not contain any links to other pages. In these cases, the expected behavior is that the user visits only one page. The bounce rate will therefore always be 100%, or thereabouts, for these pages. This will obviously have an impact on the overall bounce rate of the site. So, as you can see, it's not that simple. My advice is to only measure the bounce rate for specific pages when it makes sense.

When it comes to tracking page performance, besides bounce rate, there are different metrics you can use. First, you have the basic Pageviews metric which is the number of times each page is loaded by users. But I tend to prefer the Unique Pageviews metric which only counts one page load per session. Simply because I think it gives a more accurate picture of the amount of content consumed on my website. Just because the same user loads the same page twice in the same session doesn't necessarily mean they are spending time consuming the same content twice. I prefer to know if the user has viewed the page rather than how many times they have done so. Also, you have the time on page metric to help you understand how much time people spend on a page.

What I also like to measure is the number of pages per session, also known as page depth. Again, this metric is only relevant if your website has multiple pages, but it can help you determine how engaging your site is to users. Another measure of engagement is the average time on the page. However, this is another metric similar to bounce rate in that there is a big caveat. Basically, time on a page is measured as the time from when the user lands on the page to when they load the next page. However, as with single page websites, the user has nowhere to go and therefore cannot load another page on your website, which means that time on page cannot be measured at all. That's right, time on page is only calculated for sessions of more than one page view. So keep that in mind.

The same problem occurs with the session duration and time on the page, which I mentioned earlier, which is calculated as the time between the first and last time the tracking code is activated for each user. So if the user loads the page they land on and then leaves without doing anything else that triggers the tracking code, the session time will not be calculated. So, again, use with caution.

There are more advanced ways to better track things like time on page and session duration. To do this, you need to set up events that trigger tracking code when something specific happens. One I like to use is called Scroll Depth, which triggers when the user passes specific points on the page. But that's a bit more advanced than the basics we're focusing on in this article. Just know that there are workarounds.

Dimensions Google Analytics

How To Track Website Traffic Using Google Analytics

Now that we've explored some of the key metrics you might want to track, let's talk about some dimensions you can use to break them down and get a more accurate picture of your website's performance.

One of the most important things you'll want to track is where your website visitors are coming from. This is known as the traffic source. You also have the average size which tells you if the visitor arrived via organic search, paid search, referral, email, etc. But if you don't want to go into detail about individual sources and mediums, Google is kind enough to provide another dimension called "Default Channel Grouping" that gives you convenient combinations of different sources and mediums. It's a good place to start. And if you want to go further, you can do so.

You may also want to know where your visitors live, and Google Analytics offers many geographic dimensions. From the continent to the longitude and latitude of the user's city based on their IP address. Depending on your business or website, you may think that the user's location is not that important. And maybe it isn't. However, you can use this data to filter visits from countries that might seem suspicious. For example, you may run a store in a specific city, but you get way too many visits from a place like Kathmandu and they load all the pages on your website. In this kind of case, there is usually something fishy going on. What you can do is filter Kathmandu users from your analytics to get a more accurate picture of your user data.

I'll come back to filtering and segmentation in a minute, but before I do, let's talk about page tracking dimensions, which are some of the most useful. After all, it's pretty important to know what pages users are visiting and what their journey is on your website.

First of all, we have the basic Page dimension which is the full URL that comes after your domain name. But depending on how your website has been set up, you may prefer to use Page Title which is the name given to the page. This can be easier to read. But the page title always stays the same, while the page URL may contain useful tracking information to keep in mind.

One dimension that, for me, is crucial to track and analyze is called Landing Page. This is the first page of a session, where the user has landed on your site. With the landing page, it is important to measure the bounce rate. Especially in cases where you expect the user to move from this page to another.

Then you have the second page dimension that you can use in conjunction with the landing page to see where people go (if they go anywhere) once they land on your site. I talked earlier about intent and this can give you an idea of a user's intent. Especially if you look at your home page. If the About page is the second page, the user is probably looking for information about your business. If the second page is your contact page, they are there to contact you, etc. These are just a few examples. Obviously, every website is different, but this gives you some ideas for measuring the performance of specific pages.

In addition to the landing page and second page, which are defined for each session, you also have the next page, which tells you what the next page is when used in conjunction with, for example, the second page or the usual page dimensions.

A final page dimension you might want to track is the exit page. It tells you what the last page of a user's session was. You may be driving users to a specific page to complete a task that will redirect them to, say, a thank you page. You could then see how many people landed on the first page and exited on the second.   

Goals and Events Google Analytics

How To Track Website Traffic Using Google Analytics

These kinds of things can also be tracked by setting up goals and events in Google Analytics. That's outside the scope of this article, but if you'd like to know how to do it, let me know in the comments below and I may be able to write a new article on the subject.

Segmentation Google Analytics

How To Track Website Traffic Using Google Analytics

The last thing I want to talk about is also something you set up via the Google Analytics interface, namely segments.

Segments are like filters that you can use to create subsets of users or sessions. Earlier, I gave the example of explaining visits from an unexpected country. In this case, you can use a segment to exclude users or sessions from that country to analyze only the "good" traffic. Segments are therefore very useful tools.

There are a number of predefined segments that Google sets up by default that you can use or create yourself. I really think you should at least play with them and see if you can learn anything from these subsets of your data.

Okay, that's it for this article, I hope you found it useful. If so, feel free to follow me and be notified when I publish new articles.

I'm also always looking for new content ideas. Things you'd like to know more about when it comes to business intelligence or working with data. Let me know in the comments.

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