how to understand google analytics

Marketing is where Art and Science meet.

The majority of what I write about on this blog is the Art stuff. It’s the creativity. It’s the more “fun side”. However, the core of marketing is strategy and the best way to form and pivot that strategy is based around what is working and what is not. And the best way to do this is to know your numbers!

There are many numbers that you want to track for your business such as your Sales, your Social Media Follower Count and your Email List size. Then there are those website numbers which is what I want to share with you today.

Enter Google Analytics. This powerful tool can tell you all you want to know about how well your website is performing. But it also has the downside of being almost too powerful and too helpful so that it can sometimes just be downright confusing.

To simplify all of that for you, in this post I’m going to share the 5 things you should be tracking each month, where to find them in your Analytics dashboard and an explanation of some of the terminology. It’s a rundown on how to understand Google Analytics.

Finally, to make this extra useful I have included an epic freebie to go with this week’s post – an Excel tracking template that once a month you can go into Google Analytics find the relevant numbers and plug them into this spreadsheet. Not only will this help you compare each of the important metrics each month it will also put some of them into some charts for you so you can visualise what is working and what is not.  Get the spreadsheet here  (no email address required)

first a little tour…

Before I get stuck into the exact numbers I want you to be tracking there are a few things you want to get acquainted with.

First, is the date range. This can be configured to any date range you like. Simply click the arrow next to the date in the top right corner at set it up. For your monthly tracking you want to make sure you set this up for the “last month” before you pull out any of the data I mention below.

The next is the left hand menu where you will find the 4 main sections you will likely be looking at:

  • Audience –  provides an overview of how many visitors you get, where they are from and what devices they are using
  • Acquisition –  lets you know where your traffic is coming from
  • Behavior – lets you know what pages people are looking at
  • Conversions – if you have goals or e-commerce setup this will show you what proportion of visitors are either buying or signing up.


Finally, there are a few terms you will see used regularly throughout the reports. Many I will explain in the following section, but there are two main ones you need to be aware of:

  • “Sessions” – This means how many times your website has been visited. Google defines one session as any interactions a user takes on your website within a 30 minute time period.
  • “Users” – This means how many unique users visited your site during the period you set

The users number will always be lower than the sessions as there will (hopefully) be people that come back!

top 5 google analytics numbers you should be looking at every month

how to understand google analytics no. 1: unique vs repeat visitors

It’s kind of obvious that you want to be tracking how many people are coming to your website each month. But you also want to be looking at how many of those are new visitors and how many are returning. Ideally both should be increasing each month.

What this Means for your Strategy: If your new visitors are not increasing you might need to look at new reach or promotional strategies. If returning visitors are not you might need to consider some retention and retargeting strategies.

Where to Find it: Audience > Overview

Note: This isn’t 100% accurate as it will not identify repeat visitors that have deleted their cookie data, visits from multiple devices (computer and phone) or view it in incognito mode. However, it should still give a fair idea.

how to understand google analytics no. 2: how long they are visiting for

Visitors are great but of course you want to make sure they are not just clicking in and out of your website. You want to see that they are having a good look around.

There are a few numbers that can help you figure this out:

  • Pages/Session – This is the average number of pages a visitor will go to on your site within one session.
  • Average Session Duration – This is the average time a visitor spends on your website within one session
  • Bounce Rate – This is the % of the time that someone only visits one page on your website. For example, they click on a blog post, read it and exit.

Ideally you want to see your Pages/Session and Average Session Duration increasing and the Bounce Rate decreasing.

What this Means for your Strategy: All of these will help you to see if your website is providing someone with a reason to keep clicking through on your website to either learn more, find out more about you or see what offerings you have.  If you are not happy with the numbers you want to have a look at your website pages and check that you are making it easy for your visitors to click through by providing lots of links to the next step you’d like them to take.

Where to Find It: Audience > Overview

Note: Don’t get too caught up in seemingly high bounce rates. For traditional websites a rate of between 40-70% is good. Brilliant if you are at the lower end of that range! If you are below 40%, you are doing amazing!! (But if it is lower than 20% you might want to check your Analytics setup as there could be a chance you have doubled up). For blog and news websites, aim for below 80% but don’t be concerned if it is as high as 90%. This is because people are much more likely to come and read what they are interested in and then click immediately out.


how to understand google analytics no. 3: where they are coming from

You are working hard (and likely spending money) to get people to your website so you want to make sure that you are getting bang for your buck or your time. By having a look at where your visitors are coming from you can figure out which ones are performing the best and then focus your efforts there. This is extra important if you are trying out a new strategy

Where to Find It: Acquisition >  All Traffic > Channels . You’ll also want to click through on  some of the channels to get more details for example “Social” to see the exact breakdown of each of your Social Media Platforms

Next to each channel you will want to look at all the numbers I mention above, the goal or e-commerce conversion rates and see which ones are doing the best. You might find some surprises like one channel you get a lot of traffic from but no one is buying while another might have low traffic but awesome conversion rates.

Here’s what each of the Channels are:

  • Direct – When someone types in your website address manually or from a Bookmark
  • Social – All of your Social Media accounts. Facebook Ads will appear under here too
  • Email – Clicking through from any emails you send.
  • Organic Search – Clicks through from the organic/free results in a search engine
  • Paid Search – Clicks through from Google Adwords
  • Display – Clicks through from Google’s Display Network Advertising
  • Referral – Clicks through from Other Websites

Note: If Google can’t identify a channel properly it will put it into “Direct”. A common culprit for this is the links in your emails. If this is the case you might want to configure a special URL in URL builder.

how to understand google analytics no. 4: what they are looking at

In addition to where your visitors are coming from you want to be able to see what they are looking at. This will tell you what people are most interested in.

What this Means for your Strategy: Once you know what is the most popular you can create more content or information based around that interest area. Another useful trick is that if there is a few blog posts of yours that are really popular you can add a special Content Upgrade (such as the  Free Excel Template that comes with this one) to get people to sign up to your email list.

Where to Find It: Behavior > Site Content > All Pages

A few more definitions:

  • Pageviews – The total number of times a page has been viewed. This can include multiple views from the same visitor (e.g. if a visitor views the page 3 times it will be counted as 3 views)
  • Unique Pageviews – The total number of visitors that have viewed that page
  • Entrances – The number of times someone came to this page first on your website
  • % Exit – The percent of time a visitor exits your site after visiting this page
  • Page Value – If you have E-commerce setup in your Analytics this will calculate how much each visit to this page is worth (transactional revenue divided by unique page views)

how to understand google analytics no. 5: if they are converting

A Conversion is another one of those buzz terms you will hear a lot and I have already used it a fair bit in this post already. It can be anything you configure it to be but it is typically either someone signing up to your email list or buying from you.

These need to be setup manually before they will start showing.

To setup a “signup” conversion you need to go to Admin > All Website Data > Goals and add in a “Custom Goal” that reaches a “Destination” web page such as your signup thank you page.

The setup for E-commerce conversions depends on your web platform. Some might filter through automatically, some might not. For my WordPress Site with Woocommerce I have been using a special plugin “WooCommerce Google Analytics Pro”

Where to Find It: Once they are setup you will begin to see this information come through on each of the reports for Acquisition and Behavior mentioned above. Or you can go to  Conversions > Goals > Overview to see a breakdown of the goals you have setup or for E-commerce go to Conversions > E-commerce > Overview.

What this Means for your Strategy: How many email sign ups or e-commerce transactions you get each month will depend on how much campaigning or focus you have been putting in those areas so they may vary a bit month to month. However, it is good to see an upward trend and if you are running a campaign if it is successful or not.

If you are not seeing the numbers you desire, you first want to check that you have made it as easy as possible for people to achieve the goal you have set by making it a clear easy path and providing many options for them to do so. You might also want to check that what you are promising in your campaigns matches what you are communicating on your web pages.

Note: “Conversion Rates” (the % of people visiting that actually buy) can be a scarily low number. A recent study by SmartInsights shows that the average conversion rate for e-commerce stores is 2.5% so if you are getting higher than that you are doing well!


now it’s your turn!

To help you out tracking all of these numbers for your business I have created an amazing free Upgrade for this Post – an Excel Template!

All you need to do is each month go into your Analytics and find the numbers you require as per the instructions above. Then you just need to enter them into the relevant spreadsheet and see what trends emerge. I’ve also included some automated Graphs that will help you to visualise all those numbers.

This will save you a tonne of time in trying to figure all of this out and help you focus on those marketing efforts that are working best for your business.

Download it here. 


What other questions do you have about Analytics? Or have you got any useful tricks to share? Let me know in the Comments below!