The most important Google Analytics definitions

Key Online Metrics

Google Analytics and other web site traffic and metrics measuring tools allow you to keep track of the health of your website, but only if you understand how to use them. This article talks about the importance of each metric and what it means to your website.

Introduction

Television and Radio stations, use standard sampling and journal keeping information to calculate the size of their audience. It's an inefficient method that takes too long and provides data that can have wild swings of accuracy. Online metrics, on the other hand, is available usually a day after and it is extremely accurate. If you're lucky enough to work with a tool like Woopra, then your metrics work in real time.

The problem with metrics is that most people don't learn to develop a proper love for their number. Metrics can be an extremely powerful tool for understanding your audience and to test the effectiveness of your activities. On my sites, metrics are at the core of everything we do. So what do all of those terms mean?

How Google Analytics Collects Data

Google's Analytics is an excellent way to track your online success. Google purchased the analytics package from a company called Urchin, who pioneered the use of cookies and JavaScript to capture accurate information about visitors and their habits.

Google Analytics requires that you use a small piece of JavaScript on every page that you want track. The JavaScript writes and updates a small piece of data stored in your browser (a cookie) to track you anonymously (It doesn't know you as a person, only as a computer) as you navigate through a website.

The Most Important Metrics

Online traffic analysis tools can be very deep. From showing you information about the installed versions of your visitor's Flash plug-ins to displaying the size of their screens, it can get overwhelming. Alghough all of that data can get exciting, there's only a handful of real important metrics you must master.

Visits

A lot of these metrics words wil appear at first glance to be really common sense definitions, but there are some slight technical nuances that have to be addressed. Visits, for example seems straightforward. It should mean the total amount of visits that people made to your website.

Technically this is correct, except that the computer that has your website doesn't really track human beings, they track machines. Machines can't tell them who's using the computer (without tracking registration data). So a visit really means a single time a computer visits the website.

When a computer visits a website, a unique "session" is created as a result of the connection. That session can be tracked. Thankfully, the computer also doesn't know exactly what you're doing. It can't really know whether you're intently reading the site, if you've decided to watch a tv show or go to the kitchen for something to eat for a while.

So it assumes that if you are inactive for more than 30 minutes, you've probably logged off the site. If you've just finished your dinner and come back to the same site after 30 minutes, that will count as a separate visit. It's not a perfect way of tracking people, but it's the standard that all of the sites use.

The more visits your site has, the more popular it is, so this number really a measure of popularity. It's doesn't really determine the size of your audience, but how active your audience is. For a look at the size of your audience, you have to dig into something called Absolute Unique Visitors

Absolute Unique Visitors

Another important metric, Absolute Unique visitors is available from the Visitors section of the navigation. This represents the size of your audience during any particular time period. The default time period for GA is the last 30 days. So, if a user comes to the site more than once in that time period, they would only count once as an Absolute Unique Visitor.

This is a very important number that your advertisers will want to know and be very interested in. This will give them a better idea of the size of your website and how many people can be expected to see their ads in a month.

Pageviews

The next important number is the number of pages viewed during a specific time period. This shows your the healthiness of your size. It also defines the amount of impressions available for ads. So if you have 200,000 pageviews on your site, you can place ads in those pages and charge for the number of times those ads are displayed.

On newer websites, this number is less important because pages pages update without having to reload. In those cases, new ads can also be loaded without a page refresh.

Pages/Visit

This is a measure of the what people refer to as the "stickiness" of the website. When people come to your website, if they visit other pages, then how many pages they visit before leaving the site is counted and averaged. This number will give you an idea of the healthyness of the site and it's more important to you than to advertisers.

Bounce Rate

The bounce rate is a percentage of how many people came to your site and stayed to see other pages after they got to the landing page (what page they first encountered when they visited the site). The bounce rate helps you measure relevance and stickyness. A high bounce rate means a lot of people came to your site, but didn't see anything else they wanted to read and left your site inmediately afterwards. Bounce rates are relatively high and are generally between 40-70% (check out this video for a further explanation). The lower your number is the better.

In Google, you can analyze your bounce rate for every page, so it's especially usefull to take a look at your landing pages (the pages where people arrive at your website) and check their individual bounce rates. That will let you see the relevance of your pages and how well you're encouraging users to visit other pages from that page.

Time on Site

Another metric for measuring stickiness is the amount of time people spend on your site. If users like your site, they will spend a lot of time in it. So this number helps you gauge how interesting the content is on your site. A larger number here is better.

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