Let’s be clear: while there are other search engines, Google is the dominant force in cyberspace. If you want to know if your digital marketing plan is performing, you need to understand Google Analytics terms and how they tie back to your other marketing metrics.
As a digital marketing pro, both on the corporate side, as well as now with my own clients at Lumen Marketing, I’m asked often about Google Analytics terms. If you are an entrepreneur (or someone tasked with running marketing for your company) and find yourself feeling “clueless” when it comes to interpreting GA data, you are definitely not alone! This article was written specifically for you.
Google Analytics terms defined
First, let’s define the terms used by Google Analytics. Who is counted as a user, for instance? What’s the difference between direct and organic traffic? Let’s also look at what each point of data can show you. One caveat: this is by no means an exhaustive list of the terminology used by Google, but rather the most common terms you will run across.
A user is anyone who visits your website. Google has ways of identifying new users versus returning users on the same device (the same computer, tablet, or smart phone) in a specified time period. By comparing the number of new users to returning users, you can tell whether or not you are hitting the mark with meaningful content (and whether visitors to your site come back for more). User stats also allow you to assess what kind of a return you are getting on your investment of marketing time and dollars.
“Understanding how user totals tell a story alongside your other marketing data is important. One good monthly increase in users does not necessarily equal marketing success. Instead, look for user trends over time. Also, remember that data is simply a tool. One single metric, like users, doesn’t tell the entire story.”
Is a low number of users bad?
It depends. Gaining more users (both new and/or returning) is typically seen as positive, but it’s also important to consider other factors such as advertising costs to acquire those users. Let’s say you spend a hefty chunk of your marketing budget on advertising to bring in 100 new users, but none of them return to your website or convert into paying customers.
On the other hand, let’s say you spend zero dollars on ads and instead gain 50 new users from organic traffic (more about organic later). And let’s say that five of these new users convert into paying customers. That’s more valuable to your business, right?
Understanding how user totals tell a story alongside your other marketing data is important. One good monthly increase in users does not necessarily equal marketing success. Instead, look for user trends over time (similar to how you’d look at the performance of a stock). Also, remember that data is simply a tool. One single metric, like users, doesn’t tell the entire story.
Bounce rate is the percentage of all sessions on your website in which users viewed only a single page and then left. Essentially, it’s a share of people that hit your website and then do nothing — they leave.
- Visitor to your website lands on page A and then exits = bounce
- Visitor to your site lands on page A and then clicks through to page B = not a bounce
Bounce rate demonstrates whether your home page, for instance, is delivering well for you. Hopefully it is inviting users to stick around a bit and explore.
If your bounce rate is high, your users might not be having a positive experience with your content. Search engines interpret lots of bounces as meaning the content on your site is low quality or uninteresting, with a few exceptions for things like Wikipedia pages where people likely find what they want in the first click. If you want a good search engine ranking, you need a low bounce rate.
For example, most ‘Contact Us’ pages serve the purpose of providing your website visitors with a quick way to reach you via phone, email, or web form. A high bounce rate on a contact page isn’t necessarily bad. It simply means that the visitor found exactly what they needed and didn’t have to poke around your website trying to figure out how to talk to someone at your company — and that’s good!
Bounce rate benchmarks
Depending on who you ask, a “good” or average bounce rate can vary depending on your industry, as well as whether your business is in the B2B or B2C space.
- Brafton’s 2017 Content Marketing Benchmark Report states that the average overall bounce rate for websites is 58.18%. But if you analyze just the B2B websites in their survey, the average bounce rate goes up to 61.04%. You can check out their report here.
- Bounce rate by industry also varies widely, as demonstrated in an in-depth analysis by digital marketing and SEO expert Neil Patel. You can read his analysis here.
“If your bounce rate is high, your users might not be having a positive experience with your content. On the other hand, it could mean that the visitor found exactly what they needed quickly. Therefore, always put your bounce rates in context.”
To fully utilize bounce rate data, consider it along with the purpose of your page and how long users stay there — which leads us to the next Google Analytics term, average session duration.
Average session duration
Average session duration is a measure of how long users stay on your site, on average, no matter how many pages they are visiting. If they aren’t staying very long, your content might not resonate with them or clearly communicate information. The cause could be a poor site design or an ineffective call to action.
Search engines assume average session duration indicates the value users find in the content. This number must be examined in context, though. It’s generally true that low average session duration is directly related to high bounce rate and fewer pages viewed per session.
It is also important to note that there’s no “ideal” session duration for a website. This metric can vary depending on your industry and the purpose of your website. Google and other search engines factor this in when ranking pages.
What are the differences between traffic types?
Google Analytics breaks down four primary traffic segments: organic, direct, referral, and social.
- Organic traffic comes from search engines, not including paid ads or pay-per-click ads. For example, if you type the keyword phrase ‘lawnmower’ into a search engine, you will get results for lawnmowers. If you click on a link for Home Depot, your visit to the Home Depot website will be counted as organic traffic because it originated from a keyword search. SEO best practices have an impact on organic search results.
- Direct traffic happens when someone types in your site’s specific URL or clicks a link that takes them directly to your site from an email, PDF, or a bookmarked link.
- Referral traffic means someone found a link to your site on another website and clicked on it. Google Analytics will tell you where they came from.
- Social traffic originates from social media channels. Reviewing referral and social traffic data will give you insights into the success of digital marketing campaigns.