Congratulations, you just launched your new website. Presumably you built it with the end user in mind—wrote relevant content, structured it in an intuitive manner, and presented it in a compelling fashion. Now that it is done, both you and management want to know how the site is performing.
To evaluate a site’s effectiveness, you need some kind of stats package running. Google Analytics (GA) is far and away the most popular, offering comprehensive data at a compelling price: free. GA provides access to a trove of information that can help you:
- Understand whether the new site is accomplishing your goals
- Monitor trends and respond accordingly
- Identify critical opportunities for improving the user experience
GA is a powerful tool, although tapping into its advanced capabilities can require special configuration.
These are some of the more basic metrics we look at to assess how well a site is performing:
- Sessions – This is essentially the number of visits your site received in a given period. It’s a measure of the overall traffic level, which (clearly) is not something you want decreasing over time. That said, in addition to quantity, you should consider the quality of your traffic—which you can gauge through some of the metrics below. And when you see fluctuations, there is often a reasonable explanation unrelated to the quality of your site.
Example: As a B2B agency, we typically see client website traffic drop during the summer and holiday season.
- Bounce rate – This stat receives a lot of attention—and it certainly is important, but can also be misleading. Generally speaking, the bounce rate is the percentage of sessions in which users visited only one page before leaving the site. A high bounce rate (see sidebar) could indicate users aren’t finding what they need; maybe the site is confusing, or they arrived there by mistake. But this stat isn’t always the best indicator of actual user engagement—for example, if you have a one-page scrolling site.
Example: To simplify the user experience on a client’s site, we moved all the preliminary information a prospect might need to the home page. After deploying the changes and seeing relatively high bounce rates, we configured GA to track a broad range of on-page interactions to understand what was really going on. These included file downloads, clicks on an interactive slide show, and the length down the page users were scrolling.
- Average session duration – This is another measure of traffic quality—and the quality of the user experience. The caveat here is that, without special configuration, GA doesn’t measure the length of time users spend on the last page they visit before leaving your site. That means the session duration for a single-page visit (i.e., a “bounce”) is reported as 0:00… and that this metric is somewhat misleading.
Example: For the site mentioned in #2, we configured GA to track how often users spent at least 30 seconds on the home page. Again, we wanted to get a better sense of user engagement during visits that were being characterized as “bounces.”
- Pages per session – We consider this a companion stat to average session duration. Again, however, you should look beyond the number. Check out which pages received the most views to find out whether users are seeing the content you consider most important. If not, you may need to tweak the layout or language (or both) to steer them in the right direction.
Example: A client was posting updates on current events and linking to them from the home page, but GA indicated they were receiving relatively little traffic. We updated the home page layout to make draw more attention to the posts and increase their appeal.
- Desktop vs. mobile – GA breaks down your traffic by the technology used to access your site—desktop computer, smartphone, or tablet. This provides good insight into the technology preferences of your target audience. Pairing this information with some of the user statistics listed above (bounce rate, etc.) can help you understand the quality of the experience you’re providing to mobile users.
Example: A client had a much higher bounce rate for smartphones than desktops and tablets. Based on this revelation, they engaged us to build a responsive site that would adjust the presentation to the screen size.
- Traffic sources – GA also breaks down traffic by acquisition channel. There are two channels we focus on most: organic search and referrals (i.e., traffic from links posted on other sites). If your organic search traffic is low, you should consider search engine optimization (SEO). To increase referral traffic, consider trying to get yourself listed on the sites of industry associations and business partners. All that being said, in our experience, generating high-quality content that others want to share is key to increasing traffic from both channels.
Example: One of our clients wrote a blog post in 2014 that a Yale University website linked to. The link not only generated referral traffic, but continues to help drive organic search traffic. That’s because links from highly credible sites boost your own credibility in Google’s eyes—and, in turn, your search rankings.
Want a report on your website traffic or more information about Google Analytics’ tracking capabilities? Call or drop us an email.