First, the disclaimer

I’m not an expert on Google Analytics.  That would take years; there’s a lot to it!

I’m a web designer.  I do small business websites, and I often set up Google Analytics for my clients. Since it can be overwhelming to make sense of all that data, I am writing with my clients in mind – to get them started, and to get them interested.

Now, it’s possible to completely customize your Dashboard (your data overview page), and there’s a good article on that from KISSmetrics: How Google Analytics Dashboards Can Make Your Life Easier. But my purpose here is to work with the standard Dashboard.

Specifically, I want to list and comment on my favorite links / data views.  I’m not promising to be comprehensive about it, either!  This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Finding your way to the good stuff

analytics_overviewWhen you log into your account and click on the All Website Data link beneath your website name, you are taken to the Audience Overview page.

If you look at the left column navigation menu, you’ll see that Overview is the first link under the Audience section. Makes sense so far, doesn’t it?


navNow, if you click on Audience in the navigation menu, you’ll see that the Audience section collapses (it’s an accordion-style menu), and when it does, you’ll notice the two sections beneath it:  Aquisition and Behavior. Audience, Aquisition and Behavior will soon be your three favorite sections, so you need to know where they are!

Oh and, it would help to know what they are.  Think of it this way:

Audience:  Who is visiting your website?
Aquistion:  How do they find you?
Behavior:  What do they do / see on your website?

Who are my peeps? Audience > Overview


So, back to Audience > Overview.  Here you will notice that by default it shows you data from the past 30 days.  You can change that if you like. The graph at the top of the page shows the number of sessions each day, and if you move your mouse over it, you’ll get a detailed view. A session can be thought of as a visit.  A visitor (user) could view multiple pages in a single session, and the same user could come back  later in the day for another session. So, your number of users would be different from your number of sessions, and also from your number of page views.


The information beneath the graph is, for the most part, self explanatory.  You can see numbers for users, sessions, page views, average session duration, and percent of new (vs returning) visitors.

One stat needs special mention:  the Bounce Rate.  A Bounce happens when a user lands on a web page, them leaves your website without visiting any other pages.  A high bounce rate could mean that users are are not finding what they came for, or that they found your website by mistake.  Bounces are quite common –  after all, the average web users has the attention span of a gnat on meth! Consequently,  a bounce rate of 50% or lower is considered good.

Other fun Audience stats

Audience > Geo > Location: Shows a world map so you can see what countries your visitors come from.  Scroll down to see the list version, where you can compare countries and see who stays on your website longest (among other stats).

Audience > Behavior > Engagement: Shows how long people stay on your website.

Audience > Technology > Browser & OS: This interests me as a web designer.  I want to see  how many people are still using Internet Explorer, even after we web designers have told them not to!

Audience > Technology > Network: Lists what internet service provider (ISP) your visitors are using. This data, combined with the Browser data above, helps me infer what percentage of the website sessions were created by me.  While working on a website, I view many pages repeatedly, generating statistics (ie sessions and page views) that inflate the numbers.  Since I use Chrome as my browser and Comcast as my ISP, I can get some idea of what impact I’m having on the stats.  Good to keep in mind….

Audience > Mobile > Overview: Shows how many users are on desktops, phones and tablets.  You might be surprised!

How did they find me? Aquisition > Overview

channelsThe Aquisition > Overview page helps you see how users get to your website.  The breakdown is like this:

  • Organic Search:  They used a search engine
  • Referral:  They came from another website
  • Direct:  They typed in your web address directly, or had it bookmarked
  • Social:  They came from a social media site (probably your Facebook page)
  • Email:  They clicked on a link in an email (probably because you are sending out eNewsletters)

It’s helpful to know where your traffic is coming from.  But even more helpful is being able to correlate that with other behaviors.   You could answer questions like this:

  • Do my Facebook visitors stay on my website longer than others?
  • Who is more likely to buy a product on my website?  Organic traffic or Referral traffic?
  • Are my blog posts driving traffic to my website?

For instance, from the first line of the example table below, you can see that, for this website, organic traffic generates the highest number of sessions, and also the lowest bounce rate.
But it gets even better.  You can drill down by clicking on the traffic type in the table above.

If you click on:

  • Organic Search: You’ll see a list of keywords (search terms) that people used to find your site.  Brilliant!
  • Referral:  You’ll see which websites are sending you traffic.
  • Direct:You’ll see which landing pages people go to.  This lets you know which pages are being bookmarked or re-visited.

Other fun Aquisition stats

Aquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Queries: Shows the keywords / search terms that caused Google to display your website in the SERPs (search engine results pages).  This answers a different question from “which keywords do people use to find me?” (see Organic Search above)   Instead, it answers “which keywords does Google think are pertinent to my site?“. Just because Google decides to show your web address to a searcher doesn’t mean the searcher clicked on it.  If fact, the searcher may not have even seen it,  since Google might have displayed it on the 20th page for that particular search!

Fortunately, Google gives you a bunch of information along with these “queries”:

  • Impressions:  Number of times Google showed your web address  (for that particular search term)
  • Clicks:  Number of times users clicked on an impression  (for that particular search term)
  • Average Position: Average ranking when Google showed your web address  (for that particular search term).  IE Was it #1, at the very top of the first page, or was it #90, where no one will ever see it?
  • CTR or  Click Through Rate:  The ratio of impressions to clicks.  4% is considered “OK”.

Aquisition > Search Engine Optimization > Landing Pages: Show the pages that users “land” on. These are the pages that Google is showing in the SERPS (search engine results pages).  So, they represent the popular pages, or the pages that Google thinks is most relevant to searches on your website’s topic.

What do they like? Behavior > Overview

The Behavior > Overview page is not that interesting, and it’s redundant with the links I mention below.  But I had to put a sentence here to keep with the format of this blog post!  Moving on…

Other fun Behavior stats

flowBehavior > Behavior Flow: A very cool graphic display of where people go once the land on your website.  It’ll make sense after you stare at it for awhile!

Behavior > Site Content > All Pages: Shows user stats for each page.  A good way to see the strong vs. weak pages on your website.

A note about the data

My Wilderness First Responder instructor told me that a set of vital stats (pulse, blood pressure etc), is practically useless by itself, because everyone is different. One set of vitals only tells you that your patient is alive, not how s/he’s doing.  To be meaningful, you must look at vital stats over a period of time;  you must look for trends.

The same applies to website stats, albeit for  different reasons. User stats are artificially inflated by owners and web designers checking the website.  Search engines have trouble telling if a new user is really “new”, or just a repeat visitor on a different computer.  And how long does a “session” last, anyway?

Google, our main source for this type of information, does not report all search terms, due to privacy concerns.  Hard to believe, I know –  but the point is that you are not getting the full picture.

Take these stats with a grain of salt;  they are not as precise as the appear to be. Better to look for trends as your website grows and improves.  Over time, if you continue to devote attention to your website, you’ll see results!


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